*** World War II race rasism Allies America United States World War II race rasism Allies America United States

World War II: Race--The United States

America race war World War II
Figure 1.--In modern woke America was constantly here cthat America was a racist country during World War II. By modern standards it was. But of course, that is not how hponest historians make assessments. By the standards of the day, it was the most tolerant and open country in the world. More African-Ameicans could vote in America than in all of Africa. Asians benegited from legal rulings that granted them equal judstice. Jews had unruivaled religuius freedom abd economc opportunty. European-Americans bnegitted ftom hreater civil liberties than in any other county. Hispanic-Amerricans benegfitted from the rule of law denied thoughhout Latin America. And all of these diverse peoplesd beneftted a first class public eduction system and the highest wages in the world. It is true that racial minorities, especially Africam americans, did not benefit equally, but no where in the world were they receiving better wages. This portrat was taken by Dorothea Lange, an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration. The photogrph was taken about 1940, probably in Califrnia. Even withoujt the flag, ot iseasily odenyfible. This level of diversity did not exist any where else in the world. Fair historical assessments are not made with modern standards, but with other comntemporary countries.

America entered the War as a still largely racist country. These racist ideas, unlike Germany and Japan, did not significantly affect its foreign policy. In fact, America found itself fighting a war against racism, although this was not entirely evident to most Americans including political leaders until after the War. NAZI anti-Semitism was well known, but not what the NAZIs were planning for the Slavs in the East. The South was still strictly segregated with black Americans denied civil rights and prevented from voting. America fought the War with a segregated military. (Ironically there were Jews in the German military.) The anti-Japanese prejudice of the time was often intense and sharply reflected in American war propaganda that is today very disturbing. There are lots of blatantly racist images of slanted, waker eyes Japanese with over-sized glasses. Of course this was exacerbated by Pearl Harbor. Anti-German propaganda was not racist, of course, because so many Americans looked like Germans. Anti-Japanese racism was reflected in the disgraceful internment of Pacific-coast Japanese-Americans simply on grounds of their ethnicity. The internees included American citizens and not only Japanese nationals resident in America, as was the case for Italians and Germans. One interesting aspect is that with all this anti-Japanese feeling, is that racist attitudes toward Asian Americans declined sharply after the War. And this process continued even when the Korean War turned into a war with China. All kinds of restrictions on Asians as to citizenship, employment, university admission also disappeared. It is a phenomenon I do not fully understand, but have been meaning to address. The War in many ways also set in motion the Civil Rights movement that ended racial segregation in the South. The virulence of racism and the social consequences exposed during the War was surely a factor in the American decision to attack domestic racism after the War.



The first racial issue that America confronted with the outbreak of World War II was anti-Semitism. This was a largely 20th century phenomenon n America. Until the late-19th century, the American Jewish population was negligible and highly assimilated. Russian policies toward Jews drove large numbers to join the European emigration flow to America. Jews from the beginning were seen as a religious minority, in sharp contrast to World War II NAZI policy which viewed Jews in racial terms. As a result, the kind of institutional discrimination faced by Afro-Americans were generally not favored by Jews. The very string constitutional protection of religious freedom made this impossible. Jews did face extra-legal discrimination affecting employment, public accommodations, and university admission. And as Jewish immigration increased, anti-Semitism became a factor in American life. This was often most pronounced among immigrant, often Catholic, communities bring their European prejudices with them to America. The Jewish population first reached 1 million in 1910 and by the time of World War II was nearly 5 million or about 4 percent of the population. This was the second largest Jewish population center in the world, following only the Soviet Union which had over 5 million Jews. The Jewish population in America was highly concentrated, about half of American Jews lived in New York City. This made New York City the most populous Jewish community by far, more than twice as large as its nearest rival, Warsaw, Poland. The first issue to be confronted was immigration. German Jews fleeing NAZI oppression faced the restrictive immigration quotas enacted in the 1920s. (There were no Jewish quota, but there were national quotas.) There were calls for increasing quotas, but high unemployment rates and anti-Semitism made this impossible. Here President Roosevelt faced a quandary. He relied on southern Democrats to support his policies of increasing defense spending and supporting Britain, yet these same Congressmen were adamantly opposed to increasing immigration. As the Isolationist Movement grew in strength to oppose President Roosevelt's interventionist policies, anti-Semitism became a factor. The American First Committee and its most vocal spokesman, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, accused Jews of trying to drag America into the European war.

African American

America from the arrival of the first Africans at Jamestown (1619) developed as a racist society. Even after the Revolution when slavery was gradually abolished in the northern states, most Americans held racist views. Racism was even prevalent among many abolitionists. The view that Blacks were inferior was widespread among White Americans before and after the Civil War. After the Emancipation of Blacks most White Americans continued to view Blacks as inferior in a wide range of human endeavors. A new doctrine became increasingly popular in America and other countries--Eugenics. Eugenics provided what was though to be scientific grounding for racist doctrines. Eugenics did not specifically target Blacks. Generally speaking, however, a dominant racial group usually asigns superior attributes to its own group. That was precisely what happened in America. Laws were passed in many states that used eugenics theories to sterilize substantial numbers of mostly Black and poor Americans. Eugenics was later adopted by the NAZI as a pseudo-scientific justification for anti-Semitism. Afro-Americans at the time of World War II was America's largest non-European minority. Over 10 percent of Americans were Afro-Americans. Unlike discrimination against Jews, discrimination against Afro-Americas was institutionalized and enshrined by law, although largely on a regional basis. The promise of Civil War emancipation had not been fully achieved because of southern Black Codes. The Jim Crow segregation system even found support in Supreme Court rulings. The NAZIs even found legal precedents for anti-Jewish legislation in the American Jim Crow system. All of the southern states had segregated schools and public facilities. At the time of World War II, Afro-Americans had begun legal challenges to the system, but this would not bear fruit until after the War. The United States thus fought the war against Axis racism with a segregate South and military. Even so some segregated units like the Tuskegee Airmen became celebrated units. Such experiments were strongly supported by Mrs. Roosevelt. Despite the history of discrimination, most Afro-Americans supported the American war effort. Much of this history with the advent of the Civil Rights Movement is now well covered in the historical record. What is mot well covered is the substantial progress made by Afro-Americans as they shifted from a rural Southern to an urban Northern population. This is not to say that America had solved its racial problems and the inequalities in American societies, it is to say that the first half of the 20th century was a period of enormous advance for Afro-Americans that is rarely acknowledged by World War II histories.


The American South was still strictly segregated with black Americans denied civil rights and prevented from voting. The Supreme Court countenanced segregation in the Plessy vs. Fergusson decision (1898) and a system of racial apartheid enforced by law and the lynch rope ruled the American South until well after World War II (1939-45). The United States has changes so much since the 1960s, that young people today have no concept of the dimensions and complexity of the segregation system. There was no one segregation system because the segregation laws were state laws. Thus there were several different systems with differences which existed in each state. The system was not confined to the South. The mid-western state of Kansas, for example, had segregated schools. The system was, however, most entrenched in the 11 Southern states of the old Confederacy. This was not a system enforced by genteel discrimination and social attitudes. It was enforced by laws. the courts, and the police. And to ensure that blacks did not attempt to assert their rights, there was a pervasive system of extra-legal terror conducted by the Klu Klux Klan, which in many cases, was a part of the local police structure. While there were differences from state to state, the primary purpose in each state was marginalize a group of Americans on the basis of race. The system as sanction by the Supreme Court in Plessy was based on the principle of "separate, but equal". But as administered in every Southern states was to ensure black people were given inferior services and denied basic civil rights. Many NAZI actions against the Jews before the Holocaust began were based on the Segregation laws in the South.

Segregated Military

America fought the War with a segregated military. (Ironically there were a few Jews in the German military as well as the armies of NAZI allies.) Despite the clear record of blacks in the American military, especially during the Civil War as well as the Buffalo soldiers and Spanish American War, it was widely believed that blacks would not make effective soldiers are capable of handling complex machinery. There was also unease, although rarely expressed, of arming blacks. Civil Rights groups aided by Mrs. Roosevelt pushed for desegregation of the military. This did not occur, but they did succeed in winning approval for experimental black units. The best known unit is the celebrated Tuskegee Airmen. Another less well known unit was the 761st Tank Battalion, the first black armored unit to see combat. The unit trained in the racial cauldron of the Deep South--Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Like the Tuskegee Airmen. Such experiments were supported by Mrs. Roosevelt. The 761st was at first seen as tokens, but assigned to Patton's 3rd Army, they won his respect during fighting in France. Their inauguration in combat was preceded by Patton personally addressing them. He stood on a half-track and told them, "'Men you are the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren't good. I don't care what color you are so long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sons of bitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you.' He continued, his voice higher in pitch than Harrison expected. [Despite his super-macho image, Patton had a squeaky voice.] 'Most of all your race is looking forward to you. Don't let them down, and damn you, don't let me down.'" [DiNicolo]

Afro-Americans and the War

Afro-Americans like most Americans strongbly supported the war effort. There is, however, a larger story to be told. The story of Afro-Americans in Americas wars, in part because of Lost Cause historians, was largely edited out of American history until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Today this has largely been remedied and topics like the Tuskegee Airmen and other all-black units now receive the attention they deserve. And topics like the northern riots, the segregated South, and the segregated military are now discussed. This is as it should be, but the whole story is not being told because liberal academics only want to pursue one side of the story--black victimization. This of course needs to be addressed, but that does not mean that historical trends that do not fit into the liberal agenda should be excluded. What is rarely mentioned is the Great Migration and the impact it was having on Afro-Americans. A combination of Southern Repression and Northern opportunities began driving Afro-Americans from the rural South to the urban North. This began in the early-20th century and was accelerated by World War I. Thus by the time of World War II, AfricanAmericans were well on their way to becoming an urban population. In the North they were able found both academic and employment opportunities unavailable in the South at the time. and this process was accelerated during world war II by Federal efforts to prevent discrimination in war industries. Almost never mentioned in the story of Black Americans during World war II is that this period was one of the most important eras since Emancipation. One of the reason that it was such an important period of advancement was that Black family was still intact. And the modern horrific statistics associated with black Americans (academic failure, criminality, drug usage, unwed mothers, etc.) were not the case among Afro-Americans until the Liberal Project in America undermining the Black family was in full swing (1970s).


The racist aspects of the Pacific War were complicated by the fact that the Japanese were an Axis country and the Chinese Nationalists were an Allied country. Before the Pacific war, great sympathy developed for the Chinese, largely due to missionary work there. Thus attitudes toward the Japanese shifted sharply when they invaded China. And the Japanese attacked the United States because the Americans were supporting China. Given that few Americans could distinguish Chinese from Japanese individuals and there was both a Chinese and Japanese communities in the United States, the war could thus bot be an anti-Asian war on the part of the Americans. The War was an anti-Western war on the part of the Japanese. The Japanese although invading and attempting to colonizing China attempted to portray themselves as an anti-colonial force. The United States went toe-to toe with the Japanese, but except for air operations did not for the most part fight along with the Chinese.Until after World War II, the Chinese and Japanese were the only two Asian nationalities of any importance in America. While there were two Asian nationalities involved, the murderous aspects of the war are well known. Some 15-20 million Asian civilians were killed. This might suggest a racist war. Almost all of the killing was done by Japan and the principal target was Asian civilians as a result of Japan's invasion of China. The Japanese also killed Chinese in the other territories invaded, especially Singapore. It is notable that the violence directed at Japan was for the purpose of ending there aggression in Asia, especially China and to stop killing Asians, mostly civilians, in enormous numbers. This is not the western concept of a racist war which would be white westerners killing Asians. But it Asian terms, the Japanese were killing Chinese who they saw as racially inferior. Asians are a capable of racism as Westerners and as part of the Axis, a far more murderous bent.

Native Americans: The Wind Talkers

Quite a number of Japanese soldiers spoke English. Many had been educated in American high schools and universities. This meant that they could listen into to front-line communications. The Japanese unlike the Americans never broke American codes, but front-line communications like walk-talki were no encoded. At the front there was no time to encode and decode messages. They were in many cases urgent messages demanding immediate action like requests for reinforcement or supplies, artillery support, casualties, and other urgent messages. Almost no Americans spoke Japanese. This was a serious problem as American soldiers began fighting the Japanese, first in the Philippines and then on Guadalcanal. Philip Johnston, a civilian engineer and World War I veteran came up with a solution to the problem of securing tactical front line communications (February 1942). It was not a new idea. The United States had used obscure Native American languages on the western Front during World war I. Johnston promoted the idea of repeating the use of Native American languages again in World War II. Johnston was familiar with Navajo. He was the son of Protestant missionaries to the Navajo. He had grown up in and near the Navajo reservation. And he was one of a very small number of non-Navajos Americans who could speak this unwritten, extremely difficult language. The Navajo were not the only Native Americans involved in this effort, but they are the best known. They were first committed on Saipan during the Marianas campaign (June 1944) and would play an important role during the subsequent Pacific campaign (Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa). The Japanese never figured it out and the operation remained secret for years after the War (1968).

Charges of Waging a Racist War

We note modern charges that America waged a racist war. This is part of the modern Hollywood/Left-wing effort to denigrate America and the very positive role America has played in building a more just and prosperous modern world. The latest Hollywood star to join the bash America band wagon is Tom Hanks (March 2010). This is rather surprising given his sensitive depictions of American servicemen. Hanks is now suggesting that that America waged a racist war. He claims that this played a role in the "kill them all" Pacific Island campaigns. And he asks plaintively, "Does that sound familiar?" His point seems to be that the struggle against Islamic Fascism is race based. Here we just want to discuss World War II. Hanks comments are quite simply 1) dishonest and 2) poorly informed. They are dishonest because Hanks knows very well that the Pacific Island campaigns were fights to the death because the Japanese refused to surrender. It was part of the Bushido Code. Hanks knows that and using the fight to the death argument is dishonest. Now we do argue that America was not a racist society in the 1940s. We discuss aspects of this above. And racist concepts did appear in American war propaganda. But racism was not a motivating force in either entering or waging the War. Here Hanks living in the Hollywood bash America bubble has not bothered to read history. Hanks does not mention that Racism was a motivating force for each of the Axis countries. Hanks must know of German NAZI racism. He is apparently not aware of, or does not want to mention, Japanese racism and how it led to tens of millions of deaths in China and Southeast Asia. Japanese racism was manifest not only in their propaganda, but in their treatment of the people in occupied countries. Here the treatment of POWs and civilian internees is only part of the story. He is apparently unaware of what motivated the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor--it was American support of China. It is obviously an incoherent argument to suggest that America waged a racist war when it was American support for the Chinese people that brought America into the War. And of course it was not America who started the War, but the Japanese when they attacked Pearl Harbor. Nor does Hanks and the other America bashers mention that while America was in the process of granting independence to the Philippines, Japan was intent on creating a colonial empire encompassing East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. And of course Hanks does not explain how the racist war waged by America ended with one of the most enlightened military occupations in history.

American Occupation of Japan

American troops landed in Japan immediately after the Imperial Government surrendered on September 3. The American occupation which was completely unlike the Japanese occupation of the countries that it had conquered. Most Japanese were stunted by the final year of the War and the massive destruction. There was also widespread hunger because the American destruction of the Japanese merchant fleet as well as the domestic transportation system made it impossible to import and distribute food. Many Japanese had been led to expect a brutal American occupation. There were no Bataan death marches, slave labor, or mass slaughters like the Rape of Nanking. The United States oversaw an occupation with fundamentally changed the nature of Japanese society, rooting out Japanese militarism and fomenting the development of democratic political regimes and social structures. Militarists were removed from power. The Japanese had to turn in all weapons, including Samurai swords, that were often revered family treasures. The swords were not serious military weapons, but they had immense symbolic value to Japanese militarists. The sword was so valued that in the Japanese warrior tradition it had become known as the "soul of the Samurai. Women were enfranchised and labor unions allowed to organize. Among the major accomplishments of the American occupation was a new democratic Constitution.

Post War Changes

One interesting aspect of World War II is the speed with which racial attitudes changed in America after the War. The most obvious is the speed with which institutional barriers fell, beginning with President Truman's decision to integrate the military (1948). This was followed by a series of court rulings culminating in Brown vs. Topeka ending racial segregation (1954). This was made possible by all the liberal jurists appointed to the federal judiciary by President Roosevelt during the New Deal. And despite what one might think, given the savagery of the Pacific war and he interment of Japanese Americans. Unwritten racial barriers to Japanese Americans literally disappeared over night. All the anti-Japanese feeling which festered during the War toward Asian Americans declined sharply after the War. Difficulties Japanese Americans had in employment and university entry rapidly evaporated. And this process continued even when the Korean War turned into a war with China. All kinds of restrictions on Asians as to citizenship, employment, university admission also disappeared. It is a phenomenon we do not fully understand, but have been meaning to address.

Civil Rights Movement

The War in many ways also set in motion the Civil Rights movement that ended racial segregation in the South. The virulence of racism and the social consequences exposed during the War was surely a factor in the American decision to attack domestic racism after the War. The American Civil Rights Movement is one of the most momentous epics in the history of the American Republic. I date it from the Brown vs. Topeka Supreme Court desegregation decision (1954) to the passage of the Voting Rights Act (1965), but of course the struggle began long before that and continues today. The hope of real freedom for the emancipated slaves after the Civil War was quashed by racist state governments after the withdrawal of Federal troops in the 1870s. The gains achieved by blacks were gradually eroded by racist Jim Crow legislation and extra legal terror fomented by the Klu Klux Klan. Lynchings and mob violence throughout the South cowed blacks into submission and prevented them from voting. The economic deprivation and terror caused a small numbers of blacks to migrate north and after World War I (1914-18) this migration increased significantly. The Supreme Court countenanced segregation in the Plessy vs. Fergusson decision (1898) and a system of racial apartheid enforced by law and the lynch rope ruled the American South until after World War II (1939-45). President Truman prepared the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement when he desegregation the military (1948) and took other steps which led to the landmark Supreme Court Brown decision. Brown Although the Brown decision did not immediately desegregate Southern schools, it did help foster a decade of nonviolent protests and marches, often carried out by teenagers and youths. These ranged from the 1955-1956 Montgomery bus boycott to the student-led sit-ins and Freedom Rides of the 1960s. These protests were finalized by a massive March on Washington (1963). The Civil Rights Act (1964) which provided a range of legal protections including access to public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act (1965) was the capstone of the movement, guaranteeing access to the voting booth and in the process fundamentally changing America.


DiNicolo, Gina M. The Black Panthers: A Story of Race, War, and Courage (2014), 352p.

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Created: 8:15 PM 11/15/2006
Sopell checked: 12:03 AM 7/20/2022
Last updated: 12:04 AM 7/20/2022