After reading Dear Miss Breed I was interested in the general public’s opinion of Japanese Americans treatment during the war, especially getting their rights taken away even though all except the first generation (called Issei) were U.S. citizens. Right after Pearl Harbor the book talked about how most Americans to put it nicely didn’t like Japanese-Americans but toward the end, that opinion seemed to die down a bit as they returned to their homes. This tied a bit into what I’ve been doing in class with American values as your rights as an American are obviously an important part of American values. Google actually worked well and I found some good websites with statistics on public opinion with Japanese internment camps. This surprised me, I thought this would be a hard subject to research and it would not have much data. I had a general understanding of what the data would look like but I still thought it was interesting especially with all the propaganda skewing peoples opinion during the war.
To start off, in Dear Miss Breed there were the pictures of propaganda but I thought the quotes really showed some people’s opinions quite well. Minoru Tamaki found a letter under his door saying “‘This is a warning. Get out. We don’t want you in our beautiful country. Go where your ancestors came from. Once a Jap, always one. Get out.’” this clearly showed hate for Japanese Americans solely based on their race and WWII (Oppenheim 34). Also the Department of Justice, president, and First Lady all were receiving hate mail saying things like “Move them back in the desert and feed them rice.” and also “We want to see them all sent back to Japan and leave America for Americans” showing more hate for Japanese Americans, but I was interested in seeing if this was just a vocal minority or not so I went to google to find out (Oppenheim 37).
In a poll in December 1942 reported by Gallup Vault by Art Swift Americans were asked if the Japanese should be allowed to go back to the west coast after the war is over. A surprising “48% said no” they shouldn’t, and only “35% of Americans said they should be allowed to go back” (16% had no opinion) (Swift). This is pretty bad but this had a follow up question of “What should be done with them?” and you can see where this is going, “half believed they should be sent back to Japan, and 13% said put them out of this country, only 10% said to leave them where they are-under control”, the majority of Americans had some sad views on what should be done with Japanese Americans at the time. (Swift). Clearly this was not just a vocal minority but a popular opinion during WWII. Thankfully through reading more I found out that “Toward the end of the war, after the Supreme Court ruled in late 1944 that the incarceration of loyal Japanese-Americans was illegal, detainees began returning to the coast.” so the supreme court deemed this illegal so those in internment camps could go back to their homes (Swift).
Public opinion of Japanese Americans was bad, but also the General in Command of the coast John DeWitt said that “‘A Jap’s a Jap. They are a dangerous element, whether loyal or not.’” and that was what quickly led to Japanese being put into the internment camps without any reason for doing so besides their race (Frail). I originally started reading this book for American values but learned a lot about the racial injustice of Japanese Americans during WWII and general hatred for them just because of Pearl Harbor. Even though all this the letters to Miss Breed are quite happy and optimistic considering the conditions of the internment camps. Dear Miss Breed was a great read giving a good amount of background info to help you understand the letters you were reading way more than just reading them on your own and I’d recommend reading this book as it had me hooked.
—Edited to fix some in-text citations—
Frail, T.A. “The Injustice of Japanese-American Internment Camps Resonates Strongly to This Day.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Jan. 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/injustice-japanese-americans-internment-camps-resonates-strongly-180961422/.
Swift, Art. “Gallup Vault: WWII-Era Support for Japanese Internment.” Gallup.com, 31 Aug. 2016, news.gallup.com/vault/195257/gallup-vault-wwii-era-support-japanese-internment.aspx.
Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed. Scholastic, 2006
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