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Early in the Second World War (II), the government of the United States of America (USA) chose not to intervene, but to remain neutral and to practice isolationism throughout the war. The Second World War had been fought at first between the allied powers, England, France, and finally Russia following the invasion of Germany in June 1941 and the Axis powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan. The war officially began on September 1, 1939, after Germany invaded Poland after creating an alliance with Russia that ultimately collapsed after Germany invaded Russia.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Air Force attacked a US naval base at Pearl Harbor, home to most of the US Navy’s ships. Roughly 2,403 people died as a result of the attack and close to 18 vessels had been or destroyed. Nine of these vessels were battleships and 68 civilians lost their lives. As a result of the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt went to war with Japan, bringing the United States into World War II. Initially, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began to investigate and detain the Japanese, Italians, and Germans suspects and began to eliminate any potential mole that would expose America’s secrets to their countries of origin. More Japanese have been held than Germans and Italians because of Pearl Harbor and the fear of the public at the time. Then, in January 1942, Roosevelt adopted a decree aimed at sending all US citizens of Japanese origin to internment camps. This lasted until March 1944, when Roosevelt decided to withdraw the decree and began to close all Japanese internment camps in the United States as the Second World War began to end. While the internment of Japanese American citizens was argued to be for the safety of ‘American citizens’ at the time it took place, it is often viewed today as a result of racism in the government that favored the white population over non-white citizens living in the United States. So was the internment of the Japanese justified? Many people compared the treatment of Japanese American citizens during the Second World War with the way African Americans, Latinos, Jews, and Italians had been treated in the past and present in America. However, Roosevelt and his military officials had always been wary of the Japanese people in the United States due to past tensions and were pushed by numerous local, state, and national officials to act. This extended essay will discuss if the determination made by Roosevelt was morally correct or a result of racism towards Japanese Americans living in America.
In the 1920s after World War One (WWI) had ended, the Republican party retook over the House, Senate, and eventually, the Oval Office when Democratic President Woodrow Wilson had failed to receive approval from the House and Senate to enter the United States into the League of Nations and was voted out of office once his second term had ceased. Once Wilson was removed from office, the US government began isolationism after being implicated in the back half of the First World War, resulting in the death of 116,708 soldiers. The United States was in the habit of practicing extreme isolationism until the Spanish-American War in the 1880s when Spain began to extend to Central America and the Philippines claiming territories of European nations. According to The Office of The Historian, the theory of being an isolated state in the eyes of Americans was; “Isolationists advocated non-involvement in European and Asian conflicts and non-entanglement in international politics.” In the 1920s, America still participated in peacemaking talks and treaties with foreign countries including Japan. However, the United States was very suspicious of Japan because of the future threat its army and navy might pose to the territories the United States had in the Pacific.
In the 1930s, America’s main focus was the repair of its economy, with very little success until Democratic President Roosevelt was elected in 1933. The government remained isolated, refusing to become involved with the alliance systems that were tearing Europe and Asia apart.
Roosevelt placed the “New Deal” into place, the regulation swiftly began to lessen the effects brought by the Great Depression in America. The New Deal helped deal with unemployment in America by implanting a series of programs like the CCC, the WPA, the TVA, the SEC, and others. By 1939, the US had become detached from foreign affairs, in fear of getting involved with WWII and by 1940, America had pulled itself from the depression, using Roosevelt’s relief methods. Immigration policies in America during the 1930s were limited by the climate of isolationism, racism, and economic instability. It was certainly more restrictive on immigrants from Asia than it was on immigrants from Europe.
Japanese immigrants began arriving in the United States in the 1860s, starting in Hawaii and moving slowly towards the mainland. Before the 1880s, Japan was very reluctant to allow its citizens to immigrate, but once the government relaxed these restrictions, the increase in Japanese immigrants came almost immediately. In the 1900s, more than 25,000 Japanese emigrated to the United States, and the number grew to more than 100,000 in 25 years. Japanese immigrants mainly became farmers and miners and soon became the majority of every job. According to the Library of Congress; “By 1920, Japanese immigrant farmers controlled more than 450,000 acres of land in California, brought to market more than 10 percent of its crop revenue, and had produced at least one American-made millionaire.” As more and more Japanese immigrants came to the country, Americans became suspicious and untrusting of them.
In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt and Japanese Prime Minister Saionji Kinmochi reached an informal agreement on Japanese entry into the United States. The Japanese who had already entered the country would be accepted as unofficial citizens, and the Japanese who wanted to enter the United States would be denied admission by the Japanese government. According to Politico; “ President Theodore Roosevelt reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” with representatives of the Empire of Japan aimed at reducing tensions between Washington and Tokyo by curbing Japanese immigration to the United States. Under the informal deal, Washington agreed to accept the presence of Japanese immigrants already in America; permit immigrants’ wives, children, and parents to enter the country; and ban discrimination against Japanese-American children in California schools. In exchange, Tokyo agreed to stop issuing passports to Japanese workers seeking to immigrate to the United States.” That agreement has never really been ratified by the two leaders. In 1924, the United States government passed the Immigration Act, making it illegal for all Asian immigrants to enter the United States. Japan and the USA failed to fully comply with the terms of their agreement. California gave Japanese students the right to go to school, but they were forced to go to schools completely separated from white students, a situation similar to the way African-American students were treated in the era of civil rights. Japan has continued to provide its citizens with passports for immigration to Hawaii, where immigrants could then travel to the mainland.
Throughout the 1920s, several anti-Japanese groups were formed in response to Japanese immigrants who had come to land. One such group was called the Anti-Japanese League, as reported by the Seattle Civil Rights History; “Seattle’s Anti-Japanese League, however, waged the campaign to extend the congressional hearings to Washington. The League was primarily comprised of members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Washington State’s Veteran’s Welfare Commission (VFW). The Anti-Japanese League was founded in 1916 by former Washington State legislator and director of the local United States Naval training facility, Miller Freeman. Freeman was the League’s president at the time of the congressional hearings. He had also been appointed to the head of the Washington State VFW by Governor Hart. Freeman had testified before the committee in Washington D.C. in 1919 and was asked by Chairman Johnson to solicit additional anti-Japanese witnesses. In the 1919 testimony, Freeman framed his animosity toward Japanese immigrants in the context of competition for control over the Pacific Rim: “To-day, in my opinion, the Japanese of our country look upon the Pacific coast really like nothing more than a colony of Japan, and the whites as a subject race.” Adding to this sense of conflict was the strong military presence at the Seattle and Tacoma hearings, which worried the Seattle Union Record, the city’s labor newspaper.” (Blair) This fear of a Japanese takeover while immigrants continued to flock was called the ‘yellow peril’.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, known as FDR, was born in 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. He attended Havard and following his cousin Theodore Roosevelts’ footsteps, he went into politics in 1910. He was in the Senate as a Democrat and later was appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Navy by Woodrow Wilson. Shortly after that, he was chosen to be the Democratic nominee for Vice President. In the summer of 1921, he was diagnosed with poliomyelitis, an infection more commonly seen in children but it can lead to permanent paralysis. Unfortunately, FDR became paralyzed but he continued to work hard at his job and was elected as New York’s governor in 1928. He was elected as President in 1932, helping solve the country’s huge problem with the Great Depression and recovering the economy swiftly. FDR was reelected in 1936 and began to take bigger steps in his policymaking. One example of this was him enacting a good neighbor policy towards foreign countries, something another president had not done since the Monroe Doctrine was enacted. He also wanted to enlarge the Supreme Court but was ultimately turned down.
At first, when the Japanese were placed under internment, it was assumed that FDR had gone through with the order to protect the American people; however, that was never truly the case. According to TabletMag; “the parallels between anti-Jewish and anti-Japanese stereotypes to which Takei alluded are crucial to understanding both Roosevelt’s decision on Japanese internment and his response to the Holocaust. Even FDR’s most ardent supporters today concede that the internment was wrong. The website of the Roosevelt presidential library, in Hyde Park, N.Y., calls the decision “a blemish on Roosevelt’s wartime record,” and curriculum materials designed for schools by the museum characterize it as “a great injustice.” In private FDR spoke in great detail about his opinions about Jews and Japanese Americans. Referring back to TabletMag; “Robinson concluded that FDR’s longstanding negative beliefs about Japanese-Americans’ played a significant role in the internment decision. Those beliefs help explain why Roosevelt was so quick to agree with the pro-internment positions of some of his advisers, despite the paucity of evidence of disloyalty among Japanese Americans. It also helps explain why he chose to imprison Japanese Americans, while not taking similar action against German Americans or Italian Americans despite their relation to countries America was fighting in the war”…. “found several troubling remarks by the president in this vein. For example, he complained about Jews “overcrowding” certain professions in Germany, North Africa, and even in Oregon. He was one of the initiators of a quota on the admission of Jews to Harvard. He boasted to one friend—a U.S. senator—that “we have no Jewish blood in our veins.” He claimed antisemitism in Poland was a reaction to Jews dominating the local economy. And he embraced an adviser’s proposal to “spread the Jews thin” around the world, to prevent them from dominating their host countries.” FDR never truly viewed that Japanese American citizens or Jewish people were truly loyal to America and thought of them as traitors to the nation.
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