Double Victory: A Mulitcultural History of America in World War IIby Ronald T. Takaki, Edward Lewis
" Until now, the story of America's role in World War II has been presented primarily through the lives of powerful policymakers and generals, or through the heroism of American soldiers of predominantly European ancestry. Award-winning historian Ronald Takaki's multicultural history offers a different perspective. In Double Victory, history is told through the… See more details below
" Until now, the story of America's role in World War II has been presented primarily through the lives of powerful policymakers and generals, or through the heroism of American soldiers of predominantly European ancestry. Award-winning historian Ronald Takaki's multicultural history offers a different perspective. In Double Victory, history is told through the lives of ordinary, ethnically diverse Americans -- a Tuskegee pilot wanting to fly and fight for freedom, a Navajo code talker using his native language to transmit battle messages, a Mexican-American woman riveting B-29 bombers in an airplane factory, a Japanese American feeling betrayed by his own government, and a Jewish-American soldier at Buchenwald pressing human ashes into his palm so that he would never forget what he had seen.
Takaki scrutinizes the contradictions of the "good war." The war for the "Four Freedoms" was fought by a Jim Crow army; jobs in the "arsenal of democracy" were not open to all regardless of race; bloody race riots in the cities denied "freedom from fear" to blacks and Mexicans; the fight against Nazism was accompanied by the failure of our government to rescue Jewish refugees; and the leader of the free world signed the executive order for the internment of Japanese Americans.
However, Takaki shows that minorities were not just victims but also actors in history, making choices and taking actions to insist that their nation live up to its founding principle of equality and to defend the world's unfinished, but best hope for, democracy. What emerges from Takaki's study is the affirming story of how minorities fought for a "double victory" against fascism abroad and prejudice at home."Author Bio: "My grandfather emigrated from Japan to work on the cane fields of Hawaii in 1886, and my mother was born on the Hawi Plantation. As a teenager growing up on Oahu, I was not academically inclined but was actually a surfer. During my senior year, I took a religion course taught by Dr. Shunji Nishi, a Japanese American with a Ph.D. I remember going home and asking my mother, who only had an eighth-grade education: "Mom, what's a Ph.D.?" She answered: "I don't know but he must be very smart." Dr. Nishi became a role model for me, and he arranged for me to attend the College of Wooster. There my fellow white students asked me questions like: "How long have you been in this county? Where did you learn to speak English?" They did not see me as a fellow American. I did not look white or European in ancestry. As a scholar, I have been seeking to write a more inclusive and hence more accurate history of Americans, Chicanos, Native Americans as well as certain European immigrant groups like the Irish and Jews. My scholarship seeks not to separate our diverse groups but to show how our experiences were different but they were not disparate. Multicultural history, as I write and present it, leads not to what Schlesinger calls the "disuniting of America" but rather to the re-uniting of America."
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By Ronald Takaki
Back Bay BooksCopyright © 2000 Ronald Takaki
All right reserved.
World war II has been a part of my memory for most of my life. On that Sunday morning of December 7, 1941 my family was living only ten miles from Pearl Harbor. Fragments of my childhood recollections remain vivid-the screams of the air raid sirens interrupting the pitter-patter lullaby of the nightly rains, the dark green window shades, the gas masks in our bedroom closets, the newsreels of the war flickering in black and white on huge theater screens, the streams of soldiers in the red-light district of Hotel Street, and my father's nearby photography studio, where young soldiers had their pictures taken before being shipped off to islands like Iwo Jima and Okinawa to fight and possibly die. Finally, over the radio came the news of the end of the war. Into the streets rushed the neighborhood kids-Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, and Hawaiian, all of us jumping joyously, shouting, "We won the war! We won the war!" Of course, I was too young then to ask what we had fought for and what we had won.
Looking backward as we enter a new millennium, we see World War II jutting out as the most significant event of the twentieth century. In this immense warring of nations, 100 million men bore arms and over 30 million civilians died. The Nazi-engineered Holocaust was the most massive program of "ethnic cleansing"-the extermination of 6 million Jews. The war ended with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima-an event that changed the world and may yet lead to the end of the world. Today, decades later, we still find ourselves witnessing wars of extreme ethnic nationalisms and hatreds. Borrowing William Faulkner's insightful phrase, the most terrible armed conflict of all history is "a past that is not even past."
Our memory of World War II continually contours the cultural landscape of our identity as Americans-who we are and what our nation stands for. But how do we remember this "past"? History is our remembering of what happened, directly through personal recollections and indirectly through scholarship. For the study of World War II, whose stories will we retell?
The history of the war has been told through the lives of our nation's military and political leaders, or through the battlefield actions and heroism of American soldiers of European ancestry, or through the experiences of a specific minority such as African Americans or Japanese Americans.
This narrative offers a different memory. While powerful policymakers like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman are studied, ordinary men and women from America's minority communities are given special focus. History is told from the bottom up, through the lives of everyday Americans-Joseph Kurihara as he angrily stared at the barbed-wire fence of an internment camp for Japanese Americans, Fred Smith as he joined the all-black Tuskegee squadron because he wanted to "fly and fight" for freedom, Mexican-American Alex Romandia as he enlisted with his Jewish friends in order to show that they were "more American than the Anglos," Snohomish Indian Harriet Shelton Williams as she worked on the assembly lines of Boeing Aircraft in Washington, and Jewish-American soldier Murray Shapiro as he wrote home from "somewhere in Germany" to say he was "knocking on Hitler's doorstep."
Indeed, these people of multicultural America are worthy of study as subjects with names, minds, wills, and voices-what Walt Whitman called the "varied carols" of America. In their autobiographies, oral histories, conversations, letters, poems, and songs, they share an eye-level view of what they experienced; in their own words, they tell us what they felt and thought. They give us a democratic history of World War II-a history of the people, for the people, and also by the people.
Moreover, in their firsthand accounts, the men and women in this study offer us a more complex understanding of what has come to be remembered as "the good war," a description Studs Terkel adopted for the title of his book on the subject. "It is a phrase," he wrote in an opening note, "that has been frequently voiced by men of this and my generation, to distinguish that war from other wars, declared and undeclared." Always alert for the contradictory and the oxymoronic, Terkel explained that he had added quotation marks around the phrase, "not as a matter of caprice or editorial comment," but simply because the adjective "good" mated to the noun "war" was "so incongruous."
But the "good war" also had a different "incongruity." The fervent defense of freedom was accompanied by a hypocritical disregard for our nation's declaration that "all men are created equal." The "Arsenal of Democracy" was not democratic: defense jobs were not open to all regardless of race. The war against Nazi Germany was fought with a jim crow army. During the fight against Hitler's ideology of Aryan supremacy, ethnic enmities exploded in race riots in cities like Los Angeles and Detroit. The President who led the fight for freedom also signed Executive Order 9066 for the evacuation and internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans without due process of law. Proudly displaying the Statue of Liberty, our nation of immigrants turned away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi terror. Founded on the "self-evident" truth of the "unalienable right" of every individual to "life," the U.S. government dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands of civilians, most of them women and children.
During the "good war," criticism of this "incongruity" came from intellectuals. Pearl Buck warned in American Unity and Asia that Japan was trumpeting the charge that there was "no basis for hope that colored people" in Asia could expect justice from "the people who rule in the United States, namely, the white people." Buck listed the injustices: "Every lynching, every race riot, gives joy to Japan. The discriminations of the American army and navy and air forces against colored soldiers and sailors, the exclusion of colored labor in our defense industries and trade unions, all our social discriminations, are of the greatest aid to our enemy in Asia, Japan." Similarly, in The Races of Mankind, Ruth Benedict argued that Hitler's anti-Semitism required Americans to challenge their own racism in order to "stand unashamed before the Nazis and condemn, without confusion, their doctrines of a Master Race."
From the grass roots came struggles to confront the "incongruity" between our professed principles and our practiced prejudices. Campaigns against segregation in the U.S. Army broadened into an attack on the color line in society. The threatened march on Washington helped open employment opportunities in the defense industries to African Americans and other minorities. Cultural boundaries were crossed in army barracks and battlefront foxholes as well as on the assembly lines and the cafeterias of defense plants. Demanding equality in "E1 Norte," Mexican Americans battled the negative stereotypes driving the violence of the "zoot-suit" riot. Enlisting in the army, Japanese Americans served bravely in order to protest their unconstitutional internment. Transmitting military messages in an unbreakable code of their tribal language, Navajos demonstrated the value of our society's cultural diversity. Jewish-American criticisms of the Roosevelt administration's failure to do more for victims of Nazi genocide carried a moral message: tardiness and silence in the face of such a horrendous crisis constituted complicity. Truman's announcement of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima provoked cries of moral dismay and outrage from citizens across the country.
Demanding inclusion in the democracy they were defending, the "vast, surging, hopeful" people of America's diverse communities left the tenements of the Lower East Side, the sharecropping farms of Mississippi, the ghettos of Harlem and South Side Chicago, the Chinatowns of California and New York, the barrios of the Southwest, the reservations of Arizona and New Mexico, and the sugar plantations of Hawaii. Roosevelt's war for the "Four Freedoms"-freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear-became for them what black intellectual leader W. E. B. DuBois called the "War for Racial Equality."
Unlike the workers of the world onboard Herman Melville's Pequod, these Americans of "varied" races and ethnicities were actors in history, determined to challenge their "Ahabs," their leaders and policymakers, and make decisions to chart the destiny of their lives, communities, and nation. They insisted that America live up to its ideals and founding principles. From "below deck," they went to war not only for victory over fascism abroad but also for victory over prejudice at home. In their struggle, they stirred a rising wind of diversity's discontent, unfurling a hopeful vision of America as a multicultural democracy.
Excerpted from Double Victory by Ronald Takaki Copyright © 2000 by Ronald Takaki . Excerpted by permission.
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