A HELPLESS minority of 100,000 persons of Japanese origin was the immediate butt of American resentment after Pearl Harbor. Although three fourths were native-born American citizens, concentration along the Pacific Coast and ancestral ties to our enemy drew suspicion to the group as a whole. An unreasoning hatred, whipped up by sinister special interests, restricted personal freedom by one measure after another, produced a mass deportation unjustified by military necessity, and led to a system of detention in camps and relocation unprecedented in American history.
The origin and development of this movement furnish the subjects of this excellent volume, Prejudice: JapaneseAmerlcans, Symbol of Racial Intolerance. Carey McWilliams writes as both thoughtful student and practical administrator. His conclusions will furnish Americans with food for much thought as to the limitations of their democracy.
Two points emerge from the study with particular clarity. Race prejudice is an indivisible unity whose infectiousness is not limited by space or color. Demonstration of a clear connection between the lily-white Southern agitators and the anti-Oriental movement of the Far West positively refutes the arguments of those who insist that the Negro is a regional problem only. Hatreds built up against one minority are easily transferred to another; much anti-Japanese feeling, for instance, eventually found release against the Mexicans in the zoot-suit riots.
Nor is this prejudice purely an internal American affair. In the last half-century at least, it has been closely intertwined with foreign policy and with our relations to the non-European world. Those who fanned the flames of race hatred in California served perfectly the plans of Japanese militarists seeking expansion in areas inhabited by colored nationalities. Here was the perfect issue, used to detach first the people of Japan and then the people of East Asia in general from a traditional respect and admiration for the United States. And the question is still alive. For our treatment of the colored minorities in our midst may well determine the degree of confidence which Asiatics and Africans will place in our promises in the future.
Mr. McWilliams is too civilized to ascribe prejudice to biological differences. He recognizes that conflicts come from external social causes. But he interjects another factor that weakens his argument. The emphasis upon differences in “racial ideologies” as a source of the antiJapanese movement creates a dangerous pitfall. The weakest section of the work is that which tries to define these ideologies or mores.
Actually, the traditions and habits of the JapaneseAmericans seem little different from those of many other minority groups of peasant origin. The sentiments of the second-generation Watanabe might as well have been expressed by Studs Lonigan. And the very same arguments used against the Orientals, as Mr. McWilliams knows, were also used against the Anglo-Saxon Okies. The roots of intolerance lie not in the innate qualities of the peoples involved, but in a diseased social environment. Little, Brown, $3.00.