NEW YORK – The massacre in Norway in July 2011 and the recent attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, were the work of right-wing extremists who sought to remake the world in their neo-Nazi image. Likewise, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were the work of Islamist extremists who view other religions and cultures as a threat. But it would be simplistic to believe that our leaders do not add fuel to the fire of hatred, even if their chauvinism takes a more “civilized” form.
Just ask the Japanese, who were continually denounced in the 1980’s as wicked traders. Or consider how the unceasing refrain against outsourcing nowadays has demonized India.
This is not new. Japan’s heavy burden of atrocities during World War II effectively erased from America’s popular memory the Immigration Act of 1924 and other federal legislation aimed at excluding the Japanese and the Chinese from the United States, as well as racist state legislation, such as California’s 1913 Alien Land Act. With the war’s outbreak, Americans of Japanese origin were expropriated and herded into concentration camps. California Attorney General Earl Warren championed the measures – the same Earl Warren, who, a decade later, as Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, would oversee the rejection of the separate-but-equal doctrine at the heart of America’s segregation of its black citizens.
The anti-Japanese hysteria of the 1980’s fell on fertile ground. Many in the US feared that, just as the nineteenth century had been British and the twentieth century had been American, the twenty-first century would be Japanese. But, unlike the British or the Americans, the Japanese allegedly were gaining ground in nefarious ways, exporting aggressively to the US and unfairly excluding US exports from their domestic market.