Today marks the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour, which left nearly 2,500 Americans dead and more than 1,000 wounded. Today, the country will once again engage in our annual tradition of solemnly remembering those who lost their lives in the surprise attack, and the many more servicemen killed when we entered World War II.
We cannot remember Pearl Harbour without remembering its aftermath, and this year in particular it is imperative that we contextualize the attack and what followed in light of contemporary events. The bombing of Pearl Harbour was not only a horrific attack that killed both American military personnel and civilians, but it sparked an immediate and aggressive racial fear and intolerance for America’s Japanese community. Japanese American families, some who could claim generations of living as citizens on American soil, suddenly found themselves treated with suspicion and hatred, suspected to be foreign spies for no other reason than their shared skin colour with America’s declared enemies. Politicians who had already staked their careers on a platform of anti-Asian and anti-immigrant policies decades earlier declared vindication. The US Government issued official propaganda posters that likened Japanese people to terrifying yellow-skinned monsters. Historians document that American soldiers viewed Japanese enemy combatants as “animals”.
The rising crescendo of American xenophobia and anti-Japanese bigotry culminated in the forcible incarceration of thousands of innocent Japanese American citizens and Japanese nationals. Those incarcerees lived under military gunpoint behind barbed wire fences for years before they were finally released, and given little more than a bus ticket in exchange for their freedom.
And eventually, the dehumanization of Japanese Americans reached such a deafening pitch that when the American government dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki vaporizing over 200,000 civilians, we celebrated.