Prejudice and Patriotism

Cross posted by Findalis from Monkey in the Middle

Sixty-seven years ago today elements of the Japanese military attacked US forces at Pearl Harbor. While Americans should never forget that day of infamy, we should also be ashamed of what followed after.

When the US entered World War 2 there were about 112,000 people of Japanese decent living in Hawaii and the West Coast. Many of them entered the United States before the Immigration Act of 1924 which limited the number of immigrants from various nations with a quota system and excluded many immigrants from Asian and African nations. Yet the Japanese community flourished even with the discrimination and prejudice that was prevalent in the nation at the time.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor the US had a problem. Although we are a free nation, we felt that each member of this community was a Japanese spy. That the loyalty of the whole community was in question.

Since Dec. 7th, gangs of thugs were roaming through the Japanese communities looting, raping, and killing those they saw as an enemy. And we had a solution for this problem. We would place the whole Japanese-American community into interment camps for their own protection.

While the Supreme Court in Hirabayashi v. U.S. YASUI U.S. wrote:

“…because persons of Japanese ancestry have been faced with many restrictions while residing in the United States, they may have become more isolated from the rest of the population and more attached to Japan and Japanese institutions.

“The Executive Order permitted establishment of military areas for the purpose of protecting national defense resources from sabotage and espionage. The Act of Congress ratified the Executive Order. Both were an exercise of constitutional power to wage war. Once the Executive and Congress have the power, they also have the freedom to use their own judgment in determining what the threat is and how it can be resisted. A court should not decide whether the Executive and/or Congress did the right thing nor should a court substitute its own judgment for that of the Executive or Congress.

“Measures adopted by the Government may point out that a group of one nationality is more dangerous to the country’s safety than any other group. This is not entirely beyond the limits of the Constitution and should not be condemned just because racial differences are usually irrelevant.”

Thus paving the way for all those of Japanese decent to be interred. Many went willingly, following the orders of their government into these camps. Camps that were underfunded, under equipped, and under staffed. Many would die from these conditions.

But the spirit of America did not die with these people. Instead it flourished.

Funny how a people forced into horrible conditions by their own government could still hold great love for that nation that imprisoned them.

They formed their own government (governing themselves with approval from the military commanders), they organized schools, medical clinics, scouting troops, civic organizations. They held drives for blood, for metal, for rubber, bought War Bonds and grew Victory Gardens.

And some served.

Starting in Hawaii and then propelling to the mainland, young men of Japanese decent (known as Nisei) enlisted in the US Army. Those who had a very clear understanding of Japan and the Japanese language were sent to Washington D.C. to work in Military Intelligence. The rest form the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team. And what a history they have!

The 442, known affectionately as Buddhaheads,was a self-sufficient fighting force, and fought with uncommon distinction in Italy, southern France, and Germany. The unit became the most highly decorated military unit in the history of the United States Armed Forces, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients, earning the nickname “The Purple Heart Battalion.” Their motto: Go For Broke! showed the courage and determination of these men.

While other interred groups rallied against the US, with none of them enlisting in such numbers. The Nisei volunteered in great numbers. And died in great numbers too.

This Regiment has the distinction of being the most highly decorated unit ever in American history. It would be hard for any unit to match their distinctive record of:

  • 8 Major Campaigns in Europe
  • 7 Presidential Unit Citations
  • 9,486 Purple Hearts
  • 21 Congressional Medals of Honor
  • 52 Distinguished Service Crosses
  • 1 Distinguished Service Medal
  • 560 Silver Stars, 28 with Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of second
  • 22 Legion of Merit Medals
  • 4,000 Bronze Stars, 1,200 with Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of second
  • 15 Soldier’s Medals
  • 12 French Croix de Guerre with two Palms representing second awards
  • 2 Italian Crosses for Military Merit
  • 2 Italian Medals for Military Valor
The 442nd in training: building then attacking across a pontoon bridge at Camp Shelby
A 442nd RCT squad leader checks for German units in France in November 1944.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, hiking up a muddy French road in the Chambois Sector, France, in late 1944.

It was through the actions of these men that the Japanese-American community was released from interment in December of 1944.

What drove these men? It was an undying love for this nation. A love that interment, prejudice and hatred could not destroy. A love for the knowledge that in the United States, all are equal. Just sometimes it takes longer for the government to recognize that fact.

Go For Broke Memorial in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California

On this Pearl Harbor Day I remember the men who died in Hawaii, but I will also remember the patriots who served even when their own nation despised, hated and feared them enough to put them in camps. The men of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442 Regimental Combat Team. Americans regardless of what their nation thought of them at the time!