Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pearl Harbor and Donald Trump



     I finished my morning work a little early Thursday, and thought I would spend the 15 minutes before lunch curled up with A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, by Robert E. Bartholomew and Peter Hassall. Prometheus Books published it in October and a Canadian friend was kind enough to send to me, thinking I would like it, which I do. 
    I had barely begun reading when I came upon this paragraph, in a section about rumor. The authors are discussing assimilation,  which they define as "the tendency for people to shape the emerging rumor in such a way that it is sharpened as a reflection of social and cultural stereotypes." 
     The paragraph is a bit long, but bear with me, because I want to see if it sparks in your mind the same thought it sparked in mine:        
     A classic example of assimilation took place in the hours and days following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, as rumors questioning the loyalty of Japanese-Americans spread quickly across the Hawaiian Islands. Such fears, while unfounded, had long been the subject of concern on the Islands, as 160,000 Hawaiians had Japanese ancestry. [Sociologist Tamotsu] Shibuttani recounts some of the rumors, which included claims that a ring from a local high school (McKinley High) "was found on the body of a Japanese flier shot down over Honolulu; the water supply had been poisoned by the local Japanese; Japanese plantation workers had cut arrows pointing to Pearl Harbor in the cane field of Oahu; the local Japanese had been notified of the attack by an advertisement in a Honolulu newspaper on December 6; ... automobiles driven by local Japanese blocked the roads from Honolulu to Pearl Harbor; Japanese residents waved their kimonos at the pilots and signaled to them [and[ some local men were dressed in Japanese Army uniforms during the attack." Despite failing to be verified, these stories continued to persist long after the attack, especially in the mainland press. When a rumor persisted that the Pacific fleet had been destroyed in the attack, and continued to circulate across the US mainland for several months, President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt the need to give a national radio address to dispel the claims and restore public confidence. 
     Did you read that and think: "Donald Trump"? I sure did. 
     Propagating the rumor that Muslims in Garden City, New Jersey, celebrated the Sept. 11 attacks, breathing new life into the calumny, sticking to the ugly lie even after it was shown there is no hint of evidence behind it. 
    FDR took pains to correct the false story about the Pacific fleet, knowing that such rumors stoke fears and undercut morale. Trump does the opposite, because his presidential run is a candidacy based on fear. It doesn't matter to him that alienating American Muslims is exactly what ISIS wants, that it hurts our security rather than helps it.  Trump perpetrates the falsehood because he needs such stories to justify his plan to bar Muslims and harass mosques, to justify his entire candidacy. Only terrified supporters could have brought him this far. Fear is the fuel Trump runs on.
     Of all the wild and damaging statements Trump has made, I think disseminating the fabrication about Garden State Muslims is the most obscene, anti-American and immoral, not just because it is a patently-false racist slur, one he clings to even after its falsity is established. But also because it undercuts our political environment's already tenuous grasp on fact. Trump establishes himself as as man who does not care what the reality is, and his success inspires imitation and warps democracy. His strategy is the bedrock of fascism. Forget facts. You are what we say you are. 
    The Pearl Harbor rumor is important to remember because it shows the perverse genius of hatred, its creativity in manufacturing libels to pin on victims and justify their oppression. It's so varied: the class ring. The kimonos. The arrows cut in sugar cane fields. We've seen similar wild imaginings repeated a dozen different ways around Sept. 11. 
     I've been called upon, from time to time, to justify my support of Muslims, and I have a solid response: This is America. In America, we don't judge people by their religions, nor condemn them for the real acts—never mind the imagined ones—of their co-religionists. Period.
     There's one more rationale. Occasionally someone will point out that Muslims in other countries and even in the United States, often have dim views on Israel, or Jews, and I don't deny that. I reply that I am not treating them according to their standards of morality, but according to mine. Pointing out what they do or think in Saudi Arabia has no bearing on what we think or do. Of course descending to the level of others is always tempting. Their behavior is seen as a kind of permission. This is nothing new. There have always been a species of false patriots, like Donald Trump, ready to try to protect America's greatness by abandoning the practices that make us great.  Not realizing that it is in the face of danger that we must cling even tighter to the things in which we believe.  I would be more concerned if I weren't also convinced, in my heart, that Trump will fail, eventually. He has to. His kind always does. If they didn't fail, we'd have never made it to this day. 





18 comments:

  1. All true, and the reason ISIS wants Muslims living in Western countries to feel alienated, is because it creates a more fertile ground for recruitment efforts. In addition to the political realm, our own actions can re-enforce the mistrust. For example, stopping conversation and staring when a middle eastern person is nearby, not getting on the same elevator, or telling a flight attendant you're suspicious of middle easterners on your flight. It's outrageous to see the airline removing the passengers from the plane for no good reason. Worst of all is the TV interview of passengers saying they don't mind the delay of several hours, it's better to be safe then sorry. The type of lies and rumors Trump spreads is a very ugly part of our past. Historically, a precursor to race riots or pogroms, was the spreading of unfounded lies. It can be difficult to form a mob directing violence against a minority of basically good people, the lies eased the formation of hateful mobs. A good book covering this topic is "The Deadly Ethnic Riot" by Donald L. Horowitz. A question yet to be answered, and we may never know, is who was the author of "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Trump is leaving a poor personal legacy for future historians to analyze.

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    1. Or Maybe it's just the TRUTH... the truth that YOU an many like you do not want talked about because it opens up a whole Other DISCUSSION about how far down we have become in this country. the words "hate" have never come out of Donald Trump's mouth..and by saying exactly what he said it woke up those who until that point were just "offended"?? It is time for everyone, especially AMERICAN MUSLIMS to stand up for THIS country and the beliefs of OUR nation. People are either IN or they are OUT when it comes to protecting OUR people and by OUR PEOPLE and I mean ALL of those who are here to BE AMERICANS.

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    2. Have you spoken out against members of your religious and/or ethnic group committing evil/criminal acts? Why is it incumbent only on Muslims to do so?

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  2. Only one quibble: it's not just fear, it's also bigotry. The strong anti-Muslim antipathy of many, including some I know well, was not brought into being when The Donald showed up, but he has let his bigoted freak flag fly, and that gives license to so many others. This is why so many of his supporters say "Trump says what everyone else is thinking..." They have always believed this, but now they fell like they can say it in the open. Fear helps, no doubt, but the bigotry is always there.

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  3. An interesting thing about the Japanese-Americans in Hawaii: They weren't interned. Despite all the rumors, despite the fact that Hawaii is much closer than California to Japan, despite that it had actually been attacked, they were spared the outrageous ordeal of being rounded up behind barbed wire.

    Why? Because Japanese-Americans, and others of Asian descent, were far more numerous proportionally in Hawaii than in California. They could say "Screw that noise" and have the local political muscle to back it up. Funny how bigotry-based "security concerns" evaporate when there isn't a political base of bigots to play up to.

    Bitter Scribe

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    1. That doesn't seem to be true. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honouliuli_Internment_Camp

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    2. Bitter Scribe is correct. The number of Japanese held were less then 1% of the Japanese population of Hawaii. They were primarily Japanese citizens who were screened and selected based on their actual ties to Japan. The same criteria was used in The United States and its territories to imprison German and Italian Citizens.

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    3. Bitter Scribe is indeed correct. Beyond being a small, politically impotent minority, west coast Japanese tended to be the object of racial prejudice (the "Yellow Peril")and also envied because of their success in bringing new techniques that turned arid soil into prosperous farm land. Many had to sell their property at a loss when they were sent to the camps.

      Trump actually cited the Japanese internment on a morning talk show, saying what he was proposing was no different than what FDR did. What he omitted to note was that Jimmy Carter, during his administration, established a commission to review the matter and, based on its findings, Congress passed a 1988 act apologizing to Japanese Americans for the gross violation of their Constitutional rights. Ronald Reagan signed it over opposition from some in his party. The change of heart was possibly influenced by the fact that some 25,000 Japanese Americans served in the military during WW II, and the all-Nisei 442ns Regimental Combat Team was the most highly decorated unit for its length of service in the history of the U.S. Army.

      On a personal level, I recall my big sister bringing two Japanese girls she had met at the University of Wisconsin home with her for Christmas vacation. Their parents were still in one of the camps, and, in liberal Madison, they were often subjected to public insults. One had lost her student job in a school cafeteria because people complained about being served by a "Jap."

      Tom Evans

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    4. And the Chinese weren't too crazy about the Japanese either.

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    5. And for good reason. Although they didn't have much political influence either. An interesting thing is that FDR had a guy look into the Japanese American community before Pearl Harbor, and he reported they were mostly loyal. Less inclined to support Imperial Japan that some Germans and Italians were to bang the drum for their respective homelands.

      TE

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  4. Trump's new slogan should be:

    Make America Hate Again!

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    1. Spoken like a true LIBERAL... if someone has a different point of view you name it HATE or define it as hate. Wake up. No one in this country INCLUDING Donald Trump is hating anyone...unless they are here to murder Americans. And SOME of us want to know who they are!

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    2. So wanting to bar every person who is a Muslim--including American citizens--from entering the U.S. strikes you as a good, fair, non-hating plan?

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  5. I don't understand how anyone can justify acts of bigotry by comparing them to long past acts, long since condemned. I don't understand why the Republican Party won't reject a candidate who openly singles out specific demographics for illegal discrimination. But, they continue to try to depress the vote in other demographics, so their bleating about how Trump is violating conservatism with his statements doesn't ring true.

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  6. This is very well put. Excellent writing!

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  7. With the fanatical attachment to the
    Emperor, it's understandable why the Japanese were not trusted.

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