Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy..."

*NOTE FROM DENSHO: Japanese-American Legacy Project


"Today is the 69th anniversary of a date that causes discomfort for many Japanese Americans. It is a date that reminds Japanese Americans of the wartime hysteria and prejudice that led to the removal and incarceration of people of Japanese descent from the West Coast during World War II. Since 1941 much has been researched, written and learned about the injustice of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II. But what still needs to happen is to apply these learnings to divisive issues facing our country today. During peacetime many racist tendencies exist only as slumbering thoughts, but they emerge during wartime into vicious words and hurtful actions because of fear and ignorance. Through education Densho hopes to make things better during the next crisis by helping Americans to be a little more informed, a little more thoughtful, and a little more accepting of the next group to be targeted. We do this work not only to make our country better, but to honor and remember the 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. An end of year note of appreciation: As 2010 comes to an end, I want to express my deep appreciation for your interest and support in Densho. More people than ever came to Densho's websites to learn about the Japanese American experience. We also had more donations from more people than in any previous year. These expressions of interest and support are the fuel that inspire and keep us charging forward. Thank you!"



The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 killed or wounded over 3,500 Americans. The attack, then unparalleled in U.S. history, left people frightened and angry. "It is difficult forty years later to recreate the fear and uncertainty about the country's safety which was generally felt after Pearl Harbor; it is equally impossible to convey…the virulence and breadth of anti-Japanese feeling which erupted on the West Coast," stated the 1982 report of the Commission on Wartime Internment and Relocation of Civilians (CWRIC).1 This anti-Japanese feeling overwhelmed reasonable thinking.

The media perpetuated and in many ways generated this hysteria and fear. Attention-grabbing headlines and the competition to sell papers compromised the media's role of providing objective information. Instead of presenting evidence and well-informed commentary, many news sources supported and, at times, led a public opinion campaign against Japanese Americans. Some journalists claimed there were no differences between U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry and the Japanese citizens who attacked Pearl Harbor. Retractions and corrections were rarely printed, so the public believed what they read.

Racist treatment of Japanese Americans in the media began long before Pearl Harbor. The wave of anti-Japanese reporting that arose after Pearl Harbor was based on a history of public fear over Asian immigration and settlement in the U.S. Many of the images and phrases depicted in World War II posters and newspaper editorials had been used for decades, often to justify racist policies against Asian immigrants.

A few lone voices in the media spoke out, urging the public not to punish their Japanese American friends and neighbors for the actions of Japan. The Bainbridge Island Review and its editor, Walt Woodward, published articles throughout the war denouncing the incarceration. The Northwest Enterprise, an African American newspaper in Seattle, also produced a series of editorials in support of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. These perspectives, however, were few and far between. Most mainstream newspapers continued to print articles that were not based on fact and reason.

This racial fear and hysteria, along with desire for economic gain, political opportunism, and a sincere concern for national safety, resulted in a complex mixture of motives that impelled the U.S. government to forcibly remove from the West Coast more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. Sixty-five years later, as the country finds itself again grappling with issues of civil liberties and national security, these lessons of the past have never been so relevant. Hopefully, this time, we are paying attention.

From the Archive
Over the last dozen years, Densho has collected hundreds of hours of video testimony and tens of thousands of historical images. From the Archive is a monthly feature that highlights primary sources from the Densho Digital Archive to illustrate themes in Japanese American history. We hope that it will give you a sense of the rich depth of materials in the Archive. To access the entire collection, simply register for a free user account.


1. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. (1982. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), page 67. [ link ]

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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