Know Your Enemy: Japanese Americans, US Racism, and the Internal Enemy of World War II

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 9:10 AM
Continental C (Hilton Chicago)
Karen J. Leong, Arizona State University
In this paper, I explore how the United States identified multiple internal enemies during World War II, from the actions of wasting food and other resources and standing on the sidelines in the face of wartime labor shortages, to embodying the enemy based on Japanese, German and Italian ancestry. The attempt to identify and remove all persons of Japanese ancestry from the western states was the largest campaign by the United States during World War II to identify and contain potential internal enemies. Because Japanese Americans were presumed to represent an external enemy’s interests within the United States, they arguably represented the internal enemy to US national interests during World War II. Closer analysis of historical documentation and representation of the involuntary removal of Japanese Americans, however, complicates this straightforward analysis. Archival research about the construction of Japanese American prison camps on the Gila River Indian Reservation in 1942, for example, reveals the ways in which some Americans perceived American Indians as antithetical to US values and thus just as much a threat to the nation as Japanese Americans. The attempts to physically and ideologically separate Japanese American prisoners from the different Indians living in the Colorado River Indian Community and Gila River Indian Community reveal the fear that groups marginalized in the United States might form an internal, united front against the United States. Later efforts by the U.S. government’s War Relocation Authority to address internal prejudices and racism against Japanese Americans when the WRA sought to relocate Japanese American families and individuals in industrializing urban centers in the Midwest also demonstrate the contradictory actions of the state in managing the internal divisions within the national community at war.
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