Law in Contemporary Society

Japanese Americans in World War II: A Fight for their Country and their Rights

-- By KaylieChen - 19 Apr 2024

The history of Asian Americans in the United States is a complex narrative of struggle, resilience, and determination. Despite a long history of devaluation and discrimination, Asian Americans continue to strive to prove their worth in American society. One pertinent example of this phenomenon can be found in the actions of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Historical Background

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States government, driven by fear and racial prejudice, issued Executive Order 9066. This order sanctioned the forced removal of Japanese Americans from their homes, primarily on the West Coast, and their subsequent internment in desolate camps under harsh and degrading conditions. The internment was justified with accusations of espionage and sabotage, despite the lack of any concrete evidence. Japanese American men of draft age were additionally classified as enemy aliens and therefore prohibited from serving in the armed forces. However, one year later, President Roosevelt authorized the enlistment of Japanese American men into a special segregated unit which would come to be known as the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Loyalty, Patriotism, and Challenging Discrimination

Despite being unjustly interned, many felt an overwhelming pressure to prove their allegiance to the United States in the face of rampant racism and exclusion. Although it would mean swallowing their outrage at the discrimination and injustices they had faced, it could help counteract the suspicion cast upon them and demonstrate their loyalty to the place they called home. In her memoir Letters to Memory, Karen Tei Yamashita recounts one solider’s explanation for enlisting, claiming that volunteering to join "will be in favor of all Japanese sincerely wishing to remain in the U.S. And it is only by such positive action that the country will open up decent jobs for a decent living.” Although idealistic, his words represented the sentiments of many. One such soldier who shared this belief was Daniel Inouye, a member of the 442nd who would go on to be a U.S. Senator and President pro tempore. Inouye initially attempted to enlist in the military shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor but was denied due to his then-classification as an enemy alien. Despite this rejection, once the enlistment ban on Japanese Americans was lifted, Inouye enlisted, determined to honor his country. Even though the 442nd were sent on suicide missions, due to certain commanders’ beliefs that the Japanese American soldiers were “expendable cannon fodder,” they went on to become the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the entire history of the U.S. military. The 442nd’s motto, “Go for Broke,” ironically highlights the lengths to which these soldiers went to prove their worth to a country that had stripped them of their dignity and freedom and continued to treat them as inferior even while they served their nation. Inouye’s story, along with many others, underscores the painful reality that these individuals were fighting not just for victory, but for the basic human rights denied to them at home.

Japanese Americans also enlisted in an attempt to confront the pervasive stereotypes and discrimination they faced. By serving in the military, they sought to validate their worth and capabilities as American citizens and win approval from a society that had systematically dehumanized them. Their participation in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) exemplifies this struggle. Comprising primarily Japanese American soldiers, the MIS played a crucial role in the Pacific Theater, using their language skills to translate intercepted messages, interrogate prisoners, and gather intelligence. Although their contributions were vital to the war effort, the classified nature of their service meant they were wholly unacknowledged until their existence was revealed as a result of the passage of the Freedom of Information Act of 1971. Even so, the bravery and skills demonstrated by the MIS soldiers were a testament to their determination to prove their worth and contribute meaningfully to the war effort, despite the contempt and lack of recognition they faced from the very people they were fighting for.

Sacrifice and Struggle

The decision of Japanese Americans to enlist in the military during World War II, despite being subjected to internment, reveals a complex story of desperation and hope for acceptance in a country that had turned its back on them. Through their service, they sought to prove their loyalty, challenge discrimination, and improve their community's future. Their contributions, though significant, were a somber reminder of the deep-seated racism that persisted in American society. The stories of the 442nd and the MIS highlight the extraordinary courage and resilience of Japanese Americans, but also the profound injustices they faced in their struggle for recognition and equality.

The history of Japanese Americans during World War II exemplifies the broader struggles of Asian Americans in the United States—a narrative marked by resilience and a quest for dignity amidst adversity. Reflecting on the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, it is easy to become disillusioned by the stark injustices they faced. Despite their unwavering loyalty and considerable contributions to the war effort, they were met with suspicion and subjected to internment, a testament to the racist views of the era. Their sacrifices were largely overlooked, and recognition came only decades later, long after many had passed away. However, the resilience and courage of the Japanese Americans who served ultimately forced a reckoning with the injustices they endured. While they still suffered from discrimination upon returning home—like being denied something as simple as a haircut even though they were in uniform—their story challenged the racist stereotypes and exclusionary practices of their time, contributing to the ongoing struggle for civil rights and equality in America. Today, their legacy is a reminder that progress is possible despite the persistence of prejudice, and the fight for justice can yield profound, positive change.

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r3 - 30 May 2024 - 01:23:29 - KaylieChen
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