Seventy five years after Imperial Japanese Army forces invaded the US-held territory of Guam on December 8, 1941 — leading to the rape, abuse, and killing of many of the island’s residents during the four years of its occupation by Japan — the US federal government is poised to provide reparations to Guam’s World War II survivors. Last week, Congress quietly included a measure to provide reparations to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which establishes military spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
The spending bill was passed by the House in May with bipartisan support, with the vast majority of Republicans and 40 Democrats voting in favour. It was introduced by Senator John McCain and passed the Senate with 92 votes last Thursday. The Act is now headed to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.
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.
Last year, I blogged about “Good Luck Soup“, a film and transmedia project seeking crowd-sourced funding. I’m delighted to hear today from project founder Matthew Hashiguchi that after raising over $15,000 from the community, “Good Luck Soup” is now live at GoodLuckSoup.com.
The project’s name comes from “a traditional Japanese soup containing a variety of mochi, vegetables, and seafood that is served with friends and family every Oshogatsu, or New Years Day, to ensure a year of prosperity and good fortune”. “Good Luck Soup” seeks to create a digital version of good luck soup by collecting and documenting the Japanese American and Japanese Canadian experience before, during, and after World War II for future preservation and inspiration.
That stuff is not actually the stuff I wanted to write about today. Today, I wanted to write about today’s Day of Remembrance: 73 years ago today, Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Executive Order 9066 authorized the eventual round-up and forcible incarceration of Japanese Americans — based solely on their racial similarity to citizens of a country with whom we were at war — in the nation’s largest coordinated concentration camp effort (learn more about the JACL’s 2010 resolution and campaign to target the words we use to refer to this period in our history).
Japanese Americans — American citizens by birthright — were imprisoned under grueling and inhumane conditions in repurposed racing tracks and stadiums, and later in the middle of the desert. These Japanese Americans and their foreign-born parents (who were denied the right to naturalize as Americans based also on their race) were treated with suspicion of disloyalty. Their possessions were stolen. Children grew up under gunpoint.