Monday, December 08, 2003

Eliminationism, then and now

[Sign from a community near present-day Kirkland, Washington, taken circa 1944.]

Atrios and Pandagon have already been all over Adam Yoshida's "interesting" post that essentially calls for violent confrontations with antiwar liberals -- treating them as "fifth columnists" and bringing the full brunt of social approbation, both legal and extralegal, to bear upon them.

Obviously, these remarks are precisely part of the problem I've been discussing lately regarding the increase of violent eliminationist rhetoric aimed at liberals. Indeed, Yoshida is simply putting into plain speech what lurks behind a lot of other conservatives' rhetoric when casting dissent as treason (Atrios has even more on this).

What is even more remarkable to me about Yoshida's piece, in fact, is how closely it reminds me of the rhetoric that was common in the spring of 1942 -- when all the talk was about the "fifth column" that was surely in their midst, and how because "this is war," something had to be done about them.

The "fifth column" being, of course, Japanese Americans, as well as any white "Jap lovers" who might have the temerity to defend them.

Some samples:
This is a race war! The white man’s civilization has come into conflict with Japanese barbarism. ... Once a Jap always a Jap. You cannot change him. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. ... I say it is of vital importance that we get rid of every Japanese, whether in Hawaii or on the mainland ... I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii, now and putting them in concentration camps... Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now!

-- Rep. John Rankin, D-Mississippi, Dec. 8, 1941, on the House floor

... I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don’t mean a nice part of the interior, either. Herd 'em up, pack 'em off and give 'em the inside room of the badlands. Let 'em be pinched, hurt, hungry and dead up against it. ... Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.

-- Conservative columnist Henry McLemore, Jan. 30, 1942, column titled "This Is War! Stop Worrying About Hurting Jap Feelings"

A Jap is a Jap. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen; theoretically he is still a Japanese, and you can't change him. You can't change him by giving him a piece of paper.

-- Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, chief of the Western Command, in congressional testimony

The Japanese are among our worst enemies. They are cowardly and immoral. They are different from Americans in every conceivable way, and no Japanese who ever lived anywhere should have a right to claim American citizenship. A Jap is a Jap anywhere you find him, and his taking an oath of allegiance to this country would not help, even if he should be permitted to do so. They do not believe in God and have no respect for an oath. They have been plotting for years against the Americas and their democracies.

-- Sen. Tom Stewart, D-Tennessee, on the Senate floor

The bill that Stewart was sponsoring, in fact, would have stripped even the Nisei -- people of Japanese descent born on American soil -- of their citizenship. This bill was enthusiastically embraced on the West Coast, though it ultimately did not pass. One of its supporters was a letter writer to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Charlotte Drysdale, who opined (while extolling Americans' ability to adapt to the agricultural losses that loomed from closure of the Japanese American farms):
We had gardens long before the Japs were imported about the turn of the century, to work for a very low wage (a move for which we are still paying dearly) and we can still have them after we have no Japs.

Isn't that discounting American ability just a little too low?

And by Americans I mean not the children of the races ineligible to naturalization. The mere fact that a child is born in this country should not give him the rights and privileges of citizenship.

The fourteenth amendment, granting automatic citizenship to American born, was placed there for the protection of the Negro and at that time the great infiltration of Japs was not even thought of. In recent years there has been so much fear of hurting the feelings of these people that no one has had the courage to try to rectify the situation. Now it would seem that the time is ripe to put things right, for once and for all time.

Indeed, letters to the editor were all abuzz with similarly eliminationist talk. Probably the most exemplary of these was another P-I letter writer named W.W. Mason, who made the following observation in defense of the concept of rounding up Japanese Americans and incarcerating them:
If there be those who would say we can’t do this to citizens, let them remember that we took this country from the Indians, killed thousands of them, arbitrarily moved other thousands from their homes to far distant lands, and to this day have denied them the rights, duties and privileges of citizenship.

If we could do that to the Indians, we can do something about the Japs.

Let’s do it now!

There were, of course, voices of white dissent, but they were angrily dismissed as "Jap lovers" and scorned as disloyal. Even in supposedly civil settings, the threatening contempt was unadulterated.

Congressional hearings were held in the spring of 1942 to determine whether or not evacuation and incarceration of "enemy aliens" was the proper course. Chaired by Rep. John Tolan of California, two hearings -- one in California, one in Seattle -- were held in which the public was invited to express its views. In both hearings, the eliminationist rhetoric was rampant, and the conclusion the committee was to reach was transparently predetermined (indeed, Roosevelt has already signed Executive Order 9066, which enabled the internment process, two weeks before).

Nonetheless, there were a few who spoke out against the internment -- primarily local church officials. In Seattle, the Rev. Harold Jensen testified as a representative of the Seattle Council of Churches against the transparent discrimination against Japanese the evacuation represented. His testimony provoked the most revealing exchange of the hearing's two days.

"This (discrimination) is due partly to prejudice and partly to fear and hysteria augmented by unfortunate events in the Pacific," he said. "But I see no reason to question the loyalty of Japanese-American citizens more than any other second-generation citizens.

"In America we're famous for our humanity and internationality. I'm definitely opposed to mass evacuation unless it is a military necessity."

"You must realize we're at war with an enemy who does not share our views," retorted Rep. Laurence Arnold, -Illinois.

"Many people there do share them," Jensen said.

"But they're not running this show," snarled Congressman George Bender of Ohio.

"I believe that's true," was Jensen's only reply.

At the end of the hearings, Tolan expressed satisfaction that the issue had been explored fairly. "I might say, it won’t be long now," he surmised.

Two days later, DeWitt announced that all persons of Japanese descent, citizen and alien alike, was to be evacuated from the West Coast. Six months later, 110,000 Japanese Americans were behind barbed wire in concentration camps.

No comments: