U.S. reaction to Pearl Harbor and Ebola: Similarities?

October 23, 2014 10:48 pm Published by 2 Comments

Young evacuee_Wikipedia_Library of Congress_3Oct14

More than one reviewer of my historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, has remarked about how sad the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II was. Of the photographs I have seen, none encapsulates that sadness more than the one above (courtesy of the Library of Congress), showing a young Japanese-American girl sitting on her suitcase, purse in hand, waiting to be taken from her home and sent to an internment camp. One reason I wrote How Much? was to shine a light on this historical injustice. For those of you who have forgotten, the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941, created an anti-Japanese hysteria in our country. This furor led President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the forced removal into internment camps of all West Coast Japanese. Two out of three were U.S. citizens.

And so, you ask, what does this have to do with the current Ebola outbreak in Africa? I find some striking parallels.

In both cases, a disturbing and scary event initiated paranoia, far exceeding reality. In 1941 it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Today it is Ebola.

Second, Pearl Harbor led to anti-Japanese sentiment, fueled primarily by politicians convinced that every Japanese American was a spy in waiting. Today, social media and misinformation unreasonably exacerbate the fears of Ebola—and, sadly, according to the news, of Liberians and other African immigrants. Japanese Americans from World War II could identify with the latter. All of this despite the fact that there has been just one U.S. Ebola death.

Third, post-Pearl Harbor politicians recommended a drastic solution, just as today’s politicians are doing. In 1942, that solution was the removal and internment of Japanese Americans. What is the drastic solution that politicians are suggesting now? That all flights to and from affected African countries be halted. Such action is not supported by the CDC, which argues that such restrictions would prove counterproductive, resulting in less control of entry into our country. More directly, it would prevent healthcare workers (not to mention supplies) from traveling easily to and from the affected areas. As I understand it, the consensus of experts is that containing the disease where it originated is the solution to stopping contamination worldwide. Further, stopping commercial flights to poor countries (think Liberia and Sierra Leone) would worsen economies that are marginal at best (Guinea is somewhat better off). According to Wikipedia, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Our country’s moral compass is being tested. Over the years, we can be proud that most of the time we’ve acted honorably and can be proud of our accomplishments, both in peacetime and in war. However, there are instances when our country has acted selfishly and irrationally. The unjustified internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans following December 7, 1941, was one of those times. Some seventy years later, I hope that saner minds will prevail over Ebola, and that factual inaccuracies whipped up by politicians and media frenzy won’t overshadow realities—and most of all our innate humanity.

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This post was written by paulmarktag


  • Antonette Goroch says:

    Having recently finished your novel, I was just thinking the same thing! I couldn’t agree with you more. In addition I would submit that the default mechanism for dealing with crises in our country today is one of fueling a culture of fear, – offering up a scapegoat and implying that if we just get rid of “those ” people, we’ll be just fine. … 9/11:terrorists and anyone who looks Middle Eastern. Local ills: anyone who looks Mexican or Black or Indian or any kind of immigrant. Well, you get the picture.

    Apologies for the rant!