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David Neiwert @DavidNeiwert
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1) As always, @KevinMKruse has done a superb job limning the historical resonances of Laura Ingraham’s recent remarks that because of immigration, the “America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”
As he says, these are remarks straight out of historical white supremacist ideology. Let’s go a little deeper.
2) He particularly notes that this upwelling of white supremacy ultimately resulted in the passage in 1924 of the National Origins Act, subsumed under the broader 1924 Immigration Act, whose second component was the complementary Asian Exclusion Act.…
3) It’s important to understand that this anti-Asian component was in fact the primary driver in this legislation, and hysteria over Asian immigration the predominant fuel in the propaganda campaigns that led to its passage – with, as we shall see, genuinely dire consequences.
4) They called it the "Yellow Peril." It was essentially a conspiracy theory which posited that the Japanese emperor intended to invade the Pacific Coast, and was sending these immigrants to American shores as shock troops to prepare the way for just such a military action.
5) These immigrants, it was believed, would lay the groundwork for acts of sabotage and espionage when the signal was given. As politician James Phelan put it in 1907, the Japanese immigrants represented an "enemy within our gates."
6) One book, “The Valor of Ignorance” by Homer Lea, laid out this plan in great detail. It included maps of western Washington, notably Greys Harbor County, as likely locations for the eventual military invasion. It was a bestseller.
7) Books such as these laid the groundwork for other bestsellers such as Grant’s “Passing of the Great Race” and Stoddard’s “The Rising Tide of Color,” which were, as @KevinMKruse has shown us, were pure expressions of white-supremacist bigotry and eugenics.
8) They were also, more pointedly, primarily preoccupied with the thread of Asian invasion. “There is no immediate danger of the world being swamped by black blood. But there is a very imminent danger that the white stocks may be swamped by Asiatic blood,” Stoddard wrote.
9) These works inspired political action, particularly along the Pacific Coast where most of these immigrants were arriving: in California, in Oregon, and in Washington state. It was primarily political figures from Washington who ultimately devised the 1924 immigration act.
10) In California, the mayor of San Francisco at the century’s turn, James D. Phelan, was the most significant political figure in this regard. He led civic campaigns against the Japanese on an ongoing basis and kept up the fight when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1924.
11) Phelan: “The Chinese and the Japanese are not bona fide citizens. They are not the stuff of which American citizens can be made. ... Personally we have nothing against the Japanese, but as they will not assimilate with us ..., let them keep at a respectful distance.”
12) Also Phelan: “They must be excluded because they are non-assimilable; they are a permanently foreign element; they do not bring up families; they do not support churches, schools, nor theatres; in time of trial they will not fight for Uncle Sam, but betray him to the enemy.”
13) [We saw how well that last prediction turned out, during World War II, thanks to the exploits of the all-Nikkei 442nd Battallion:]
14) Note the language here. The common conception was that Asian people were quite literally _aliens_, that is, an entirely separate species who might as well have come from another planet. The term “alien” thus came into popular use to describe Asian immigrants primarily.
15) In any event, Phelan had many cohorts up and down the coast. The most significant of these was a Seattle-based periodical publisher named Miller Freeman, who was a onetime legislator and ongoing power-behind-the-throne in Republican politics in the state.
16) Freeman was also president of the Anti-Japanese League of Washington, a group he had founded in 1909. On the pages of his periodicals he engaged in regular war- and fear-mongering against the Japanese government and Japanese immigration.
17) In 1919, he organized a campaign against Japanese immigration that used the spurious claim that veterans were losing jobs to these immigrants, and steps needed to be taken against them. It was primarily promoted on the pages of the now-defunct Seattle Star.
18) On the crusade’s second day, an editorial beneath the headline asked: “Is This To Remain White Man’s Land?
9) “The Japs are here. They are rapidly gaining control of the best farming land near Seattle. They are in control of the Seattle markets ... Multiplying five times as rapidly as the whites, the Japs must some day -- unless the problem is met now - absolutely control this coast."
20) The campaign attracted a congressional hearing in Seattle on the question, chaired by Republican Rep. Albert Johnson, a onetime newspaperman from Hoquiam (in Grays Harbor County), who was now chairman of the House Immigration and Naturalization Committee.
21) A parade of local civic leaders spoke. “This is the zero hour of Americanism,” declared the local leader of the American Legion, “and we should stand for 100 percent Americanism. The republic was founded for Americans, and not for Japanese, who are un-American.”
22) Johnson’s committee took no further action on the matter, but by the following summer -- an election year -- he wasn’t shy about using the issue both on the stump and in Congress.
23) He introduced a bill that year suspending all immigration for one year, with the intent of using the period to investigate the question of Japanese immigration. However, the bill was waylaid by competing legislation that set quotas on immigration for various ethnic groups.
24) While campaigning in Tacoma, Johnson called for “local agitation” to force the federal government to shut the door on all Asians, saying he planned to investigate “the growing menace of Japanese intrusion into the agricultural and commercial lines of business in the state.”
25) Freeman’s campaign fueled passage of several pieces of anti-immigrant legislation on the state level, primarily an “Alien Land Law,” prohibiting property ownership by “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” (Asian immigrants were forbidden from naturalization at the time.)
26) Freeman’s protégé Johnson, in 1924, introduced a bill that would limit immigration to a two percent quota for each nationality, but further prohibiting the admission of any “aliens ineligible for citizenship.”
27) The bill easily passed the House, but once in the Senate, the provisions were altered to allow for a Japanese quota as well, rather than prohibit them altogether. As @KevinMKruse has noted, President Calvin Coolidge was hesitant to insult the Japanese thus.
28) However, Republican Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts then stood up in the Senate and denounced a letter from the Japanese ambassador -- which had warned of “grave consequences” for relations between the two nations -- as a “veiled threat” against the United States.
29) Lodge led a stampede of Senate support for the House version of the bill. Signed shortly afterward by Coolidge, complete Japanese exclusion was now the law.
30) The next day mass protests exploded across Japan, and the talk thereafter among the Japanese turned to the view of an inevitable war. The American ambassador in Tokyo and the Japanese ambassador in Washington both resigned.
31) There were anti-American boycotts and demonstrations -- one set off by a suicide on the steps of the U.S. embassy -- throughout Japan, as well as mass prayer meetings. The ill feelings did not subside for more than a generation.
32) As The Encyclopedia of Japanese-American History puts it: “Reaction to the law in Japan was bitter and angry, while reaction in the United States was mixed, varying by region. …
33) “Since the passing of the bill meant the rejection of even a token quota amounting to no more than a couple of hundred persons, Japan viewed the legislation as a serious affront.
34) “Militarists in Japan could and would use the exclusion act as evidence of America’s feelings about Japan and as ammunition in arguing for a more aggressive military build-up.”
35) Pearl S. Buck, who lived in Japan at the time, observed that the bill’s passage also tolled the death knell for what was then a nascent pro-democracy movement among moderates, and assured the ascendancy of the militarists.
36) These military authoritarians who would control the nation for the next 20 years gained complete political mastery, and one of the cornerstones of their rule was a bellicose anti-Americanism that would finally reach fruition in late 1941.
37) Of course, it was precisely the persistence of the public’s belief in the “Yellow Peril” conspiracy theory that ultimately led in 1942 to the evacuation of Japanese Americans from the Pacific Coast and their mass incarceration in “relocation centers” for the duration of WWII.
38) After Pearl Harbor, there was a wave of mass hysteria on the West Coast as people expected Homer Lea’s predictions of an invasion by Japan to now come true. The paranoia reached ludicrous heights.
39) When the military authorities announced their rationale for evacuating everyone of Japanese descent from the coast, it was based on the belief they would commit sabotage and aid in any invasion. The public readily agreed, having been conditioned by 40 years of “Yellow Peril.”
40) Indeed, Lt. Col. John DeWitt’s explained: “The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”…
41) Within a matter of months, some 110,000 people, including 70,000 American citizens, had been rounded up into concentration camps located in the interior West. It remains one of the blackest marks on American history.
42) Obviously, anti-Asian bigotry in the United States has softened considerably in the ensuing years. Indeed, the claims then that they could never be real Americans looks obscenely absurd in retrospect.
43) Yet this particular episode from history carries a clear warning about the poisonous effects of thoughtless bigotry and small-mindedness. It also underscores how, indeed, America has changed, perhaps irrevocably – though not in the way Ingraham sees.
44) Obviously, such bigotry was alive and well at the turn of the 20th century, and it is now alive and well again, manifested by people like Ingraham and her millions of like-minded conservatives. So yeah, that part of America is still intact. She has nothing to worry about.
45) What the rest of us need to contemplate is how America has changed for the worse by not only permitting white nationalists and proto-fascists to spread and promote their toxic hatred of anyone who isn’t white, but giving them a spot on cable TV.
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