World War II Impact on Racial Issues in the United States

It could be stated with certainty that large military conflicts have a vast impact on nearly every sphere of the social, political, and economic life of countries involved in the conflict. This statement is especially true in the context of World War II, as it was the global confrontation of several significant political powers with numerous consequences. The primary focus of this essay is to dwell upon the discussion of how World War II impacted the development of racial issues in the United States on the example of African Americans. It is argued that World War II was a turning point on issues of race in America because the experience of the African Americans in the wartime exemplified various challenges and opportunities related to the racial problem.

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As it is stated by O’Neil, the black population group represented challenges that America could not meet. He argues that “prejudice was responsible for each of these failures to live up to egalitarianism that had always been central to the democratic credo” (225). Paradoxically enough, the United States had an immense variety of minorities, compared only to the Soviet Union, and yet in “no other area was American democracy so underdeveloped” as it was with racial relations (O’Neil 225). Primarily, it is stated by the author that the African Americans were the largest minority in the country, however, they were discriminated against and segregated during the war as it was before it.

Nevertheless, two aspects influenced the government to change the situation at least to some extent: manpower shortages and Roosevelt’s desire to hold the votes of the African Americans. The President understood that military discrimination became a large political issue in the election year of 1940, and thus he promised that the blacks will form 10 percent of the total number of soldiers and commanders in the Army. However, by 1942, African Americans were still underrepresented in the military since they served in segregated units, and also they were mostly confined to service rather than combat units. Therefore, racially integrated units were created in 1942. It is possible to observe that they represented the whole spectrum of racial problems and prejudices that existed in America at large. For example, blacks could not be ranked higher than white in the units. Also, the majority of white officers were from the South, and thus they had offensive racial attitudes towards African Americans.

It is also evident that white officers rarely had the desire to be in charge of racially integrated units. There were two possible variants. If a white officer was hard on his black troops, a charge on discrimination could be filed, but if a white officer stood up for his men and treated them normally, he could be scorned by his peers. On a larger scale, it was believed in the society, especially in the South, that assigning a white commander to a black unit is some kind of punishment. It is also appropriate to mention that in addition to discrimination and segregation, black soldiers were often victims of racially-based violence. There were numerous situations in which African American soldiers were killed for questioning local racial codes. Thus, in general, the morale of black troops was considerably low during World War II.

Even though such racial issues as prejudice, discrimination, segregation, and bias-motivated violence, it is also possible to state that World War II had a vast impact in terms of creating several important opportunities for African Americans in the long term. One of the most critical factors for change, which is mentioned by O’Neil, is that numerous black veterans did not return to the South after demobilization. Instead, they decided to move to different regions as they understood that in Southern states they do not have considerable opportunities for advancement in terms of social life.

Arguably, one of the most significant events that influenced positive change in the situation with racial problems in America was the March on Washington movement. A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, “the only black union of any consequence” at the moment, was outraged by the results of the survey held in 1940 by the U.S. Employment Office. According to this survey, half of the employers responded that they would not hire black people. On July 1, 1941, four days before the scheduled march, on which an estimated number of 50 000 African Americans expected to show up, President Roosevelt met with Randolph and other leaders of the movement. It resulted in the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), which would promote the idea of equality of job admission conditions for minorities. It resulted in 7.5% of all jobs in war industries held by the blacks.

Numerous employers were still racially biased toward African Americans. Prejudice and discrimination also continued to be the case in various states, resulting in bias-motivated violence (lynchings in Southern states is the most evident example). Nevertheless, it is possible to state that the wartime had a great impact on the positive change in issues of race in the United States. For example, African Americans became a more significant political power, as they held a total of 281 out of 531 votes in seventeen Nothern states. Also, as of the end of World War II, there were 230 newspapers issued by the blacks, which had an audience of almost 2 million people. These newspapers provided a new perspective, reporting about events of interest for the African Americans. Even though racial issues did not instantly wash out after the end of World War II, it could be stated that the situation began to change positively.

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Another example of how African Americans’ experience reflected opportunities during wartime is the gradual increase in the presence of blacks in politics, which was considerably white-centered in the United States at the time. Ada Clayton Powell, Jr. was elected to Congress in 1944, and thus he became the first African American who represented an inner-city district. It is also possible to mention that after the tragedy in Little Rock – the murder of Sergeant Foster – 8 black officers were hired by the police. From the historical perspective, these examples appear to be not so significant in comparison with the achievements of African American social movements in the future. However, it could be stated that the mentioned aspects represent a turning point on the issue of race to a considerable degree.

The Internment of Japanese-Americans: A Distinctive Experience

As the previous question response focused on racial issues related to the African American minority during World War II, it is appropriate to focus on the discussion of another problem in this area of concern. The internment of Japanese-Americans that occurred during wartime was a highly unique phenomenon due to various reasons. This essay aims to prove that the experience of Japanese-Americans in World War II was significantly distinctive compared to the status of other ethnic and racial minorities in the United States.

First of all, Japan was one of America’s most important rivals during the wartime. O’Neill argues that at the moment of the war’s outbreak, Japan was considered even more dangerous to the United States than Germany, due to various political reasons. Arguably, the tragedy in Pearl Harbor was one of the significant factors that caused the majority of the U.S. population to perceive Americans of Japanese origin as a threat. Within two first years of the war, a total number of 3 079 Japanese-American, that were under the surveillance of the FBI and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), were arrested as they were suspected to perform espionage. Nevertheless, in public opinion, it was not enough to stabilize the situation.

As the majority of the Japanese-American population was located in California, President Roosevelt was under a massive political and social pressure from Californians and their congressmen, who insisted that Americans of Japanese origin should be interned. Journalists such as Westbrook Pegler and Walter Lippmann also contributed to shaping public opinion. For example, Lippmann, who was one of the most influential political columnists in America, on February 12, 1942, argued that “the absence of sabotage proved Japanese-Americans were only waiting until they could strike with the greatest effect” (O’Neill 232). From a logical perspective, this argument would justify locking the whole population of the United States in jail. However, at the time when Lippmann wrote his column, the American population was preoccupied with the war hysteria. Additionally, atrocities caused by the Japanese army in China deepened the prejudice toward Japanese-Americans, who were unresponsible for the actions of their country of origin.

Even though such a vast public prejudice against Japanese-Americans, the government did not want to take the responsibility for the decision about the internment. However, on March 18, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9102, which established the War Relocation Authority that shared the responsibility for internees with the War Department. As of the beginning of the summer of 1942, an estimated number of 112 000 Japanese-American men, women, and children were held for an average of 900 days in permanent camps. In general, the conditions were considerably harsh for internees, and the climate was significantly more severe than Japanese-Americans were used too, both in winter and summer. Primarily, there were ten major camps: California, Arizona, and Arkansas states had two camps in each state, while Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado contained one camp each.

It is essential to comment on the conditions that existed in concentration camps. The ones located in Arizona were situated in the desert. There was very little shade from the sun and the place was whipped by dust and sand. In the first days of upon arriving seven people, who experienced heart stroke, died. Japanese-Americans felt as they were put in such conditions on purpose, considering concentration complexes as death camps. As people had to live in barracks, there was no shelter from the heat. Also, the barracks were overrun with insects, and there were very few means of maintaining personal hygiene.

The other problem experienced by Japanese-American internees, who were located in Arkansas, was racial prejudice. Arkansas, as it was a typical Southern state at the time, has manifested various forms of racial discrimination. Various aspects could be mentioned: internees were not allowed to leave their camps, they were insulted verbally and physically, and the state medical society refused to offer healthcare services for Japanese-Americans. They also were not allowed to enter schools and colleges with whites. In general, it is possible to mention that the policy of internment and imprisoning Japanese-Americans was upheld by the Supreme Court because it was convinced by false claims from the government about the inability to screen each Japanese-American individually, even though such screenings were performed before the Pearl Harbor tragedy.

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Before dwelling upon the conclusion about the unique experience of Japanese-Americans during wartime, it is essential to mention the book by Daniels which focuses on the investigation of this topic. His book represents profound research, in which he exemplifies that before World War II, Americans of Japanese ancestry were loyal citizens of the United States (Daniels 25). However, during wartime, Japanese-Americans were interned. They were marginalized, and it is even possible to say that they were dehumanized merely on the grounds of their ethnicity (Daniels 55). The author mentions that sanitary conditions were immensely bad, and other aspects such as nutrition and housing conditions were at a very low level (Daniels 66). In general, it should be observed that the book by Daniels reinforces and deepens the assumptions about Japanese-Americans in World War II made by O’Neill.

As the situation with Japanese-American internees during wartime was observed, it is critical to identify why this experience is distinctive compared to the problems of other racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. First of all, Japanese-Americans were subject to a specific variety of prejudice, which was induced primarily not by their race, but instead, the bias motivation resulted from the fact that Japan was America’s primary rival. Particularly, the tragedy in Pearl Harbor influenced public opinion the most. The majority of American people, both in the government as well as in total population, perceived Japanese-Americans as an internal threat to America. Secondly, no other racial or ethnic minority in America was never put in concentration camps, which is a highly dehumanizing practice. This decision, which was implemented collectively by several important political figures of the wartime, was later largely regretted by the majority of people who voted for the implementation of this practice.

In general, the situation with Japanese-American internees during World War II represents a unique and distinctive experience in American history. It will be continuously mentioned as one of the most severe violations of human rights in the United States, which was induced by the paranoia and hysteria of the wartime. The moral cost of these events to the American nation could hardly be underestimated. In conclusion, it is possible to state that the situation with Japanese-Americans should be an example of how prejudice can lead to tragic consequences.

Work Cited

Daniels, Roger. Prisoners without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II. Hill and Wang, 1993.

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StudyCorgi. "World War II Impact on Racial Issues in the United States." January 3, 2021.


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