The Japanese in Our Midst

Our treatment of the Japanese is surely a test case of whether we can help to direct alien communities when this war is over


The future of the Japanese minority in the United States is no longer a domestic issue for three states of the Pacific Coast: it is the responsibility of the entire Union. Most of the West Coast Japanese are now settled in permanent relocation centers where they were moved by the Army and where they remain as wards of the nation. The American people have thus assumed the power to plan the lives of these 112,000 persons, more than half of whom are American citizens.

The distinction between citizen and noncitizen among the Japanese evacuees arises from our refusal to permit the issei, the first generation of Japanese immigrants, to take out naturalization papers. The law, however, made the children of the first generation American citizens by virtue of their birth in this country, These are the nisei. Some of these were sent back to Japan for their education and are often considered as a separate group, the kibei a group upon whom more suspicion has fallen, perhaps, than on either of the other two.

These distinctions among the various groups within the Japanese minority are no sure guide to their degree of loyalty to America. For most people it is more difficult to accept oven the nisei as loyal citizens than the corresponding second generation from German or Italian stock. While there is no doubt that the Japanese in America had an excellent espionage system before Pearl Harbor and that Japanese Consuls made efforts to win over the nisei by forcing them to attend Japanese language schools, there is little evidence to show that the nisei were deflected from their loyalty to the United States.

The reactions of the nisei to America and to the war seem to be roughly parallel to those of secondgeneration Germans and Italians. The reasons are clear. These American citizens of Japanese ancestry have lived their lives in this country, have gone through our high schools, taken honors in our universities, and tried to share in our life. They responded with alacrity when the Army recently opened its ranks to them. From the experiment in relocation which they are now undergoing; may well emerge the techniques for dealing with the numerous relocations which will accompany amid follow the winning of the war. In our relocation centers important international policies are taking shape.

Once evacuation was decided upon, it followed logically that these people should become at least temporary wards of the Federal government. The charges against Washington would have been severe indeed if the evacuees had been let loose outside the Western Defense zone and told to fend for themselves. For the majority of the Japanese this would have meant victimization, exploitation, and possible starvation. As it is, the appropriation of $70,000,000 to the War Relocation Authority is about equal to the estimated capital losses of the evacuees. Although feeding and housing involve detention, this was the only civilized way of handling a mass migration.

It was a gigantic problem and I must say it was carried out with reasonable credit to the American people. A JapaneseAmerican colleague wrote me that he considered the evacuation from Seattle an excellent example of American democracy at work. Nor must one overlook the cooperation of the evacuees themselves, their disciplined acceptance of a hard decision. But now that we have the Japanese evacuated, what are we going to do about them?


The Tolan Commission pointed out that incarceration, if continued for the duration of the , could end only in wholesale deportation; we could hardly expect years of detention to encourage loyalty to American institutions. “If the nation believes as the Committee does, that we must live with these people as loyal citizens when the war is over, then every consideration should be given to the question: What, is to become of these people after they enter reception centers?"

The question uppermost in the minds of the evacuees is naturally: What is our attitude towards them? What are our intentions for their future?

At first sight, the position of the Japanese minority seems full of anomalies. Immediately after Pearl Harbor about three thousand persons of Japanese ancestry, suspected of fifth-column activity by the FBI, were rounded up and incarcerated at Bismark, North Dakota, with persons of other nationalities. At the same time, forty thousand aliens and seventy thousand JapaneseAmerican citizens have been excluded from the West Coast and located in ten main centers situated in the states of California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas. But those Japanese who evacuated the West Coast before the freezing order of March 19, as well as those who were already domiciled in the eastern part of the United States, are free to come and go as they please, and even if they are aliens, do not suffer the same restrictions as citizens of the West Coast,

In Hawaii, where the Japanese outnumber the white population, only a few hundred Japanese have been imprisoned and a few thousand deported. Defense plans count on the loyalty of the general population. There was plenty of espionage among the Japanese aliens before Pearl Harbor, but we have the authority of the Chief of Police at Honolulu that "there were no acts of sabotage committed in the city and County of Honolulu December 7, nor have there been any acts of sabotage reported to the Police Department since that date." His statement was published three months after Pearl Harbor. Nor has sabotage been reported on the West Coast.

The chief reason for evacuation was fear of mob violence against persons of Japanese ancestry in case of attack on the West Coast. Fear of espionage and sabotage came next in order of importance. As far as Japanese aliens and the kibei are concerned, fears of espionage were probably well grounded. But there is less reason to doubt the loyalty of the Japanese Americans, the nisei, who form the majority in the relocation centers. Their average age is twentytwo years, their knowledge of Japan and Japanese is negligible, their ambition to be Americans is genuine and compelling. No charges are brought against them or, for that matter, against anyone not sent to Bisinark, North Dakota.

In spite of the extracurricular Japanese schools which they have always attended reluctantly, a very effective job of Americanization has been done on the nisei one wishes sometimes that it were not so complete. As a group they think like the middle class, they aspire to a mastery of business, jazz, and dancing; they are essentially conservative in social life and politics. Private enterprise could have no firmer supporters. They were not politically minded; they worried much less about international affairs than about getting the family car for Saturday night. They wonder what we mold against them.

Mainly we hold against them the charge that they were not assimilated and were therefore a danger to the public peace in time of war with Japan. We were emotionally unprepared for the war, passions could easily be aroused, Japanese were too easily suspected. Part of our suspicion arisen from our ignorance of the Japanese minority. Had the war come ten years later the problem would not have arisen in the same form because succeeding generations would have lost their economic dependence on the first, noncitizen generation. The influence of the Japanese consulates and banks might well have been broken. As it was, the danger of mob violence against anyone of Japanese ancestry was very real.

Most of the nisei, therefore, see that they have to suffer with the rest, not because they are charged with disloyalty but because they are not assimilated. One of them called the evacuation policy a "necessary injustice." But what of our responsibility? Having carried out the surgical operation, having removed so many persons from the living tissue of American life and isolated them from the main currents of world conflict, it would be an even greater tragedy if full advantage were not taken of this to bring about a just and lasting solution of the Japanese minority problem.

Presented by

George E. Taylor

George E. Taylor, head of the Far Eastern Department of the University of Washington, was an authority on the Far East. During the decade 1930 – 1940 he spent eight years in China and Japan. He wrote regularly for the Manchester Guardian and the New Statesman, he taught at Yenching University, he collected medical supplies for the Chinese guerrillas and for a time traveled with them. He read and spoke Chinese. His books, Struggle for North China and America in the New Pacific, marked him as one of the most intelligent of our liaison officers with the Far East during his era.

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