World War II Treatment of Japanese and German Americans

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Last updated: April 4, 2019

Looking back at American history, World War II is an event that not only had global implications, but domestic ones as well.  As the United States became increasingly involved in World War II, Japanese, German, and (to a lesser extent) Italian Americans came under suspicion. Many people in national and local governments and in society saw these individuals as a threat to national security.

In response to this perceived threat and perhaps due to an underlying discriminatory intent, the federal government created legislation that primarily impacted Japanese Americans.  This research will discuss aspects of the treatment of these different groups in an effort to better understand the far reaching impact of a world war.Comparison/Contrast of Japanese and German American Treatment in the US During WWIIThe United States, as a part of its origins, has always been what is best termed as a ‘melting pot’ of peoples from all nationalities, ethnic groups and the like.  Because of this, when the US declared war against both Japan and Germany, representing American involvement in World War II, there were many people who hailed from both of these nations who were now American citizens.  However, in the midst of threats against the American homeland, both real and perceived, both of these groups faced varying degrees of treatment by the US government.

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Japanese Americans, by the time of World War II, were already prominent parts of the US economy and social fabric, bringing their culture with them from their native land, working, paying taxes and raising children like any other average citizens.  Of course, they likewise were either drafted into military service or volunteered during the war.  Despite this, due to unfounded fears about the loyalty of these people, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the mass incarceration of over 110,000 Japanese Americans in 1942, the vast majority of whom were legal American citizens, and over half were children (Okihiro, 1996).  Additionally, the private property and assets of these individuals was confiscated- hardly the American dream in action.For German-Americans during there was also suspicion of their true loyalties, which in fact had been simmering since the days of World War I, several decades earlier.  Like the Japanese-Americans, German-Americans too were incarcerated in some cases and property seized.  However, in stark contrast to the Japanese situation, although German-Americans were probably more numerous in the US than were Japanese-Americans, only approximately 10,000 German-Americans were held in custody in the US.

  Additionally, many German-Americans were given the opportunity of leaving the US without repercussion or intrusion into their backgrounds (Winkler, 2000).  While this also represents a complete disregard for Constitutional rights, the question remains as to why the difference in treatment?The simple answer could lie in the classic prejudice of race.  Japanese people are racially different than Germans, which could have made Americans of other races apprehensive of people who looked different than they.  There is also the distinct possibility that the war simply gave an excuse to outwardly express a deep seated prejudice that lie just under the surface of the American conscience in the past (Okihiro, 1996).In conclusion, whatever the reasons for the differences in the treatment of these two groups, let it be understood that even if only one person from each group received such treatment, the violation of the American tradition and law was a shameful situation that should not have been tolerated.Works CitedOkihiro, G.

Y. (1996). Whispered Silences Japanese Americans and World War II. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Winkler, A. M.

(2000). Home Front U.S.A: America during World War II (2nd ed.). Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson.


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