Gerald Yamada, JAVA President
In celebration of National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I want to share with you the lessons that all Americans can learn from the legacy forged by Japanese American soldiers who served during World War II. These lessons were the subject of my presentation last month to the Coalition of Veterans Organizations in the Chicago area.
I started with the prewar prejudice and resentment in America against persons of Japanese ancestry. Built on prewar overt discrimination, government officials used war hysteria to further their prejudice and political ambitions to disrupt the lives of 120,000 innocent persons of Japanese ancestry. I credited how Japanese Americans who served in World War II proved their loyalty and restored the freedoms and dignity of the Japanese American community. I summarized the reasons why the governmental actions to forcibly remove 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to military-styled prison camps were illegal and unjust.
I explained how Japanese Americans reacted when they were asked to serve in the military as the way to show their loyalty to America. Thirty-three thousand (33,000) Japanese American men and women decided to serve. They kept their faith in America and its opportunities.
Japanese American soldiers served beyond expectations, defeating America’s enemies and against prejudice at home. Their valor and sacrifices made them America’s heroes, and a grateful Nation has bestowed many tributes in their honor. Their service created a legacy for future generations.
In concluding my presentation, I pointed out that there are four lessons that all Americans can embrace from the legacy that was forged by the World War II Japanese American soldiers. It is not just a Japanese American story. It is an American story.
First, the Japanese American soldiers’ willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to show their loyalty promotes patriotism, freedom, and equality as American values.
Second, their legacy urges all Americans to keep faith in America and its values, as did the Japanese American soldiers during World War II, to overcome the hate and prejudice that divided Americans.
Third, the Japanese American soldiers’ willingness to serve to overcome the public distrust of their ethnicity condemns racial profiling. Actions by governmental officials to promote fear, hatred, and prejudice based solely on ethnicity are not acceptable.
Fourth, their legacy symbolizes the best of American democracy – America committed a wrong, admitted its mistakes, took responsibility, made amends, and affirmed its commitment to equal justice for all.
As we begin May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, let us renew our commitment to JAVA’s mission to embrace the Japanese American soldiers’ legacy from World War II by promoting these lessons that are important for all Americans to follow.