By MELISSA REESE
Salisbury University students learned about Japanese history in the United States as professor Michael McCarty examined what life was like for Japanese-Americans in the 20th century and how historical issues of domestic and foreign policy are relevant to political discourse about issues such as the travel ban Thursday night.
Professor McCarty discussed the history of Japanese relations with Americans in his lecture, “Before the Travel Ban: Immigration, Identity and Japanese-Americans in the 20th Century.”
McCarty, who is an assistant professor of history, focuses his work on East Asian history. He is interested in finding the historical context for contemporary issues.
McCarty said Americans were most sympathetic to the Japanese when they changed themselves to fit Western expectations and ideals. He said they conformed to wear top hats and suits to appear more Westernized.
“One could say there was a mixture of approving and patronizing of the Japanese,” McCarty said.
McCarty said Americans patronized them with their approval when they conformed to the American style of dress, but also admired Japan’s imperialistic goals and how they helped other countries to modernize.
McCarty said the Japanese considered themselves even more “white” than Americans because of their technological and industrial prowess.
“Becoming an empire was an expectation of being a world power,” McCarty said. “Japan was following in the footsteps of the West.”
McCarty said there was a blurry line between imperialism and colonialism, and that Japan was straddling this line with “peaceful expansionism.”
Some Americans thought the Japanese could not assimilate and did not deserve citizenship. McCarty said they used race as an indicator of where their loyalties lie.
“The Japanese are seen as not assimilating properly into the United States,” McCarty said. “The idea that Japanese cannot assimilate has a racial component.”
This idea was hypocritical to McCarty because European-Americans are all descended from immigrants but still believed they had ownership over the land because of their whiteness.
McCarty showed political cartoons that the Japanese and the Americans had drawn of each other when animosity was running high between them during World War II.
Some American cartoon artists depicted the Japanese as animals. They were bestialized into a race of creatures the cartoonists believed needed to be extinguished.
The Japanese also made propaganda with political cartoons. Cartoonists depicted the Japanese punching President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the face.
McCarty shocked the audience with a political cartoon by the beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss that was a racist depiction of the Japanese. All of the Japanese people in the cartoon looked the same and were drawn with large ears and buckteeth.
McCarty said Seuss was progressive for his time and drew cartoons of blacks and whites working together and anti-Nazism cartoons, but he had a blind spot when it came to the Japanese.
“My daughters love Dr. Seuss,” McCarty said. “I hate that this is true.”
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, many Americans harbored animosity toward the Japanese. McCarty said the American government claimed they put the Japanese in internment camps for their own protection because many people harbored ill will toward them.
McCarty said the American government thought itself generous because the internment camps provided them with food and board games for leisure.
In recent years, Dorothea Lange’s photographs of the Japanese being forced out of their homes and having their businesses shut down were unearthed and told a different story.
Biology major Abigail Wilson said she enjoyed listening to McCarty speak about Japanese-American history. She appreciated how knowledgeable McCarty was on this subject, and he inspired her to learn more about Japanese-American history.
“I found this seminar to be very informative, and the speaker was so passionate about what he was talking about that it gave me a newfound passion relating to the subject,” Wilson said. “Some of the facts about the Supreme Court cases were very startling, and it made me angry at the falsehoods that were recently uncovered regarding Japanese-Americans.”
History and anthropology major Sara Deming said she found interesting the discussion surrounding Japan’s invasion of Manchuria , which led the country to withdraw from the League of Nations. She also found it interesting how the United States made an enemy out of Japan.
“I really enjoyed learning the basis of the League of Nations and how that has affected the entire relationship that we’ve had with Japan, leading up to World War II and throughout the entire war,” Deming said. “I found it interesting that America’s racism in general was, like, we caused our own enemy.”
Deming said she was shown some of the propaganda that professor McCarty showed in his lecture in her World War II class.
“It’s shocking that we were able to portray our enemies in such a negative light and use that as a weapon,” Deming said.
Deming had not seen the Dr. Seuss cartoon portraying the Japanese before this discussion, though, and she thought it was shocking. She said Dr. Seuss was a hero to her in her childhood, so it was very disturbing for her to see his racism.
“I grew up with Dr. Seuss—he’s like one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish—he’s the greatest, and then, before he was Dr. Seuss, it’s ‘oh, crap, you’re making political cartoons that are not necessarily nice,’” Deming said. “It was shocking.”
Deming thinks it is nonsensical how the American government claimed they were protecting the Japanese by placing them in the internment camps during World War II. She believes it was entirely about racism.
“I could totally see how Americans during that time would rationalize it that way because we’re fighting this race war,” Deming said.
Deming said this lecture reaffirmed the importance of learning about history for her.
“We need to learn from our past to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes,” Deming said. “There are definitely things we can change now that we didn’t do in the past.”
Featured image of professor Micheal McCarty by Melissa Reese.