January 3, 2012


Government public opinion research and the Japanese-American internment (Amy Fried, DECEMBER 29, 2011, Pollways)

Soon after Pearl Harbor, acting under political pressure and without time to design and pre-test a survey, interviewers from the Agriculture Department's Program Surveys spoke to people in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and California's Imperial Valley. These "preliminary impressions" found a range of views toward Japanese-Americans, with more negative opinions in rural areas, among Filipinos and people who worked with them "or in competition with them." While distinguishing between particular individuals and the group, there was "a feeling that all should be watched, until we know which are disloyal, but a tendency to feel that most are loyal - if we could be sure which."

These findings, including political and economic considerations, were presented to high-level government officials and were part of the discussions underlying the deportations. In a late January 1942 meeting where the data were discussed, Secretary of Agriculture Wickard "emphasized the political aspects of the situation reflected in the attitude of the state officials, the abuse of the licensing power, and the acuteness of the problem in the rural areas especially as the planting season approached."

As various interviewers recognized, although some whites were concerned with national security, pre-existing prejudices and social and economic dynamics also influenced opinions. One young man who owned a 325-acre farm with his father, offered that he had no particular security concerns, but "was for moving them out because they all rent land and pay high rents and this causes he and other rents to have to make high payments for land that they rent."

Another respondent said that the potential evacuees will "Live in houses poorer than those occupied by Mexicans, work the whole family, and the American farmer cannot compete with them and maintain his standard of living, just as the American business man cannot maintain his standard of living and compete with Japanese business men." 

Posted by at January 3, 2012 3:41 PM

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