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Howard Zinn: The Fundamental Elements of the American System

Linked by Paul Ciano on March 26, 2017

After the Pearl Harbor attack, anti- Japanese hysteria spread in the government. One Congressman said: “I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps. … Damn them! Let’s get rid of them!”

Franklin D. Roosevelt did not share this frenzy, but he calmly signed Executive Order 9066, in February 1942, giving the army the power, without warrants or indictments or hearings, to arrest every Japanese-American on the West Coast - 110,000 men, women, and children - to take them from their homes, transport them to camps far into the interior, and keep them there under prison conditions. Three-fourths of these were Nisei-children born in the United States of Japanese parents and therefore American citizens. The other fourth - the Issei, born in Japan - were barred by law from becoming citizens. In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the forced evacuation on the grounds of military necessity. The Japanese remained in those camps for over three years.

Not until after the war did the story of the Japanese-Americans begin to be known to the general public. The month the war ended in Asia, September 1945, an article appeared in Harper’s Magazine by Yale Law Professor Eugene V. Rostow, calling the Japanese evacuation “our worst wartime mistake.” Was it a “mistake” - or was it an action to be expected from a nation with a long history of racism and which was fighting a war, not to end racism, but to retain the fundamental elements of the American system?

It was a war waged by a government whose chief beneficiary - despite volumes of reforms - was a wealthy elite. The alliance between big business and the government went back to the very first proposals of Alexander Hamilton to Congress after the Revolutionary War. By World War II that partnership had developed and intensified. During the Depression, Roosevelt had once denounced the “economic royalists,” but he always had the support of certain important business leaders. During the war, as Bruce Catton saw it from his post in the War Production Board: “The economic royalists, denounced and derided…had a part to play now.”

Catton (The War Lords of Washington) described the process of industrial mobilization to carry on the war, and how in this process wealth became more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer large corporations. In 1940, the United States had begun sending large amounts of war supplies to England and France. By 1941, three-fourths of the value of military contracts were handled by fifty- six large corporations. A Senate report, “Economic Concentration and World War II,” noted that the government contracted for scientific research in industry during the war, and although two thousand corporations were involved, of $1 billion spent, $400 million went to ten large corporations.

Paul Ciano

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