Throwback Thursdays – Carey McWilliams

Carey McWilliams

(1905-1980)

A Cloud of Suspicion

July 15, 1943

THE PRESENT AGITATION against the return of any evacuees is, in fact, being conducted with primary regard to nonmilitary considerations.  No attempt is made to disguise the fact that this agitation has for its real purpose the permanent exclusion of all Japanese from the west coast.  [Applause and cries of “Sure” and “Why not?”]  Its avowed purposes include such objectives as stripping the American-born Japanese of their American citizenship, establishing rigid economic barriers against them, and laying the foundation for their eventual deportation.  If this emerging pattern is permitted to take form now, it is likely to result in the indefinite postponement of the restoration of full citizenship even to those who have never been suspected of disloyalty.

Since this was not our intention in ordering mass evacuation, we should either promptly restore full citizenship rights or give an immediate guarantee of such restoration the moment the military emergency terminates.  We cannot ignore the fact that this current agitation is being largely predicated, now as in the past, upon dangerously irrelevant so-called racial considerations, unsupported by a shred of scientific evidence.

To make a race issue of this problem is to do precisely what Tojo is trying to do:  namely, to convince the colored peoples of the Far East that this is a race war.  How we handle the evacuee problem is, therefore, one measure to our intention to apply the four freedoms to all peoples regardless of color.  The peoples of India and China, as well as our own colored minorities, are watching the development of race feeling in the United States with the deepest concern.  There can be no doubt but that the manner in which the evacuee problem is being discussed on the west coast today has tended to heighten race tension in a dangerously irresponsible fashion.  Since race agitation seems to be cumulative in its intensity, scope, and consequences, any attempt to appease race bigotry can only result in stimulating further aggressions, not merely against the particular minority, but against all minorities.

As a Nation, we stand firmly committed to the great ideal that distinctions based upon race, color, or creed have no place in American life in peace or in war.  [Applause.]  If we permit the concept of citizenship to be broken down at one point for one group, we’re undermining the very structure of American citizenship.  We have never tolerated the notion that there could be different levels of citizenship with rights withheld from some citizens which were freely granted others.  Political subdivisions of the Nation, therefore, should not be encouraged in the arrogant assumption that they can set up their own canons of citizenship.  As I recall, there are forty-eight States in the Union.  Not forty-five and certainly not forty-seven.

Once investigated and released, no cloud of suspicion should follow the evacuees.  Unity is imperative in the war effort, but unity cannot be achieved if we listen to those who believe that loyalty is only skin deep. In the relocation centers today there are men who are veterans of the first World War.  Today, also, several thousand citizens of Japanese descent are serving with the armed forces of the Nation.  When on furlough, these soldiers are now permitted to visit the west coast on military passes.  They are to me, as I am sure they are to most American, living symbols of the greatness and strength of American democracy.  To suggest the race can be a test of loyalty is as insulting to these soldiers and to their families as it is to some sixteen million other American citizens whose skins happen to be red or black, yellow or brown.

Such a suggestion is utterly at variance with American ideals and is well calculated to jeopardize America’s magnificent opportunity for world leadership in an unprecedented crisis in hum affairs.  As President Roosevelt has reminded us, Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart.  Americanism is not, and never has been a matter of race of ancestry.

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