Alan Zendell March 18, 2021
Recently, we have seen a shocking rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. The media are tiptoeing around the possible cause of this dangerous trend, but it’s not difficult to identify why it’s happening.
The last time there any serious anti-Asian sentiment in this country was during World War II. The 1930s and 40s were a less sophisticated time. Literacy in America was far from universal, there was no television, Internet, or social media, and the Roosevelt administration engaged in deliberate racist propaganda against the Japanese as part of the war effort. Anti-Nazi propaganda focused on the German belief that they were Aryans waging war against “subordinate,” inferior races, and Nazis were seen as so evil, our government had no need to invent hate propaganda to stir up the population against them.
With the Japanese it was different. While Germans and Italian soldiers looked like us, Japanese soldiers were portrayed on posters and billboards by Uncle Sam as degenerate sub-humans. Vicious slurs against everyone of Japanese ancestry were the norm after Pearl Harbor. Given the scare tactics of the FDR administration, the confiscation of the property of Japanese Americans, (American citizens of Japanese descent,) and the removal of thousands to internment camps was achieved with relatively little controversy. In case we forgot, the embarrassment expressed, decades later, by many Americans over that kind of racism should have been seen as a warning of how susceptible our society is to bigotry and demagoguery.
When we occupied Japan after the war, and government propaganda, in typical Orwelllian style, told us the Japanese people were now our friends, the hate that had characterized American attitudes during the war largely dissipated. It never took hold again even during our two Asian wars in Korea and Vietnam. In those wars, South Koreans and South Vietnamese were good, while North Koreans and North Vietnamese were bad. They weren’t wars against Asians – we were told we were fighting against the expansion of Communism.
One example of the change in attitude was the acceptance of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees who had been displaced by the war, who received special dispensation from Congress to settle in the United States. There was so much antiwar sentiment in 1975 that initially there were protests over easing welfare and public assistance rules to allow these people to establish themselves. But the protests never became racist, because we quickly learned that the Vietnamese who came here worked hard, were honest, and quickly became one of the most successful, self-sustaining immigrant groups in our history.
Starting in the nineties, with the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the target of racist government propaganda was radical Islam. Our racially motivated anger was so intense we were drawn into conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, that are still going on almost twenty years after nine-eleven. Muslim Americans are still the victims of racial profiling which was brought to a head by Donald Trump. Supported by right-wing extremists, Trump understood Americans’ basic vulnerability to racist propaganda. He based his entire campaign for president in 2016 on enflaming various groups against each other. In addition to Muslims, we were told that Mexicans and African Americans were our enemies, helped along by Russian bots in our social media, whose only objective was creating dissention.
As Americans we must face the truth. Only a thin veneer of civilization and basic morality separates the average American from a member of a lynch mob when charismatic leaders manipulate us for their own purposes. If you’re wondering where all this recent anti-Asian sentiment came from it’s easily explained. First, keep in mind that the average American has difficulty distinguishing different ethnic Asians from each other, and during the previous administration, once Kim Jong Un and Trump exchanged love letters, the notion of “bad Asians” became synonymous with Chinese. Trump spent most of 2020 slinging anti-Chinese slurs, blaming them for the pandemic, his trade war, undermining America’s economy, stealing jobs – whatever met the current objectives of the far right. The anti-China rhetoric was nonstop for an entire year.
With Trump’s demonstrated ability to rile up disaffected people even to the level of an attack on the U. S. Capitol to steal an election, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Asian hate crimes are on the rise. Donald Trump began a divisive movement based on lies and the American predilection to hate anyone who is different when we fall on hard times. Face it – as ugly as it looks, that’s who we are.
You want to know why some degenerate shot and killed six Asian women in massage parlors? Just ask Donald Trump. He’s an expert on that sort of thing.