Japanese Americans in King County react to declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 6/14/1999
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 1350
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On December 8, 1941, shortly after the United States declares war against Japan, James Sakamoto (1903-1955), editor of Seattle's Japanese-American Courier, issues a statement concerning the unfolding events. He had begun composing his statement about the loyalty of Japanese Americans to America the previous week in response to ominous signs that Japan was becoming aggressive in the Pacific Ocean.

We Cannot Fail America

Sakamoto states:

"No matter what develops involving the United States in the present tragic world situation, we Americans of Japanese ancestry must be prepared and remember that there are certain fundamental truths from which we cannot depart. One of them is that we were born in these United States as American citizens. Now that we have become involved in the Far Eastern conflict that is going to test our worth and mettle as citizens, we cannot fail America.

There is a remote possibility of our becoming the victim of public passion and hysteria. If this should occur, we will stand firm in our resolution that even if America may "disown" us -- we will never "disown" America.

One inspiring example of the contribution of Americans of Japanese ancestry to the national defense effort is that more than 3,000 American soldiers of Japanese ancestry are now serving in the military training camps. The percentage in proportion to population is greater than any other racial group, such as Italian Americans, French Americans, etc.

It is easy for us at this time to shout our patriotism and declare our loyalty. But we must do much more than mere lip service. Our biggest job, and the hardest, will be to go ahead, doing our work as diligently and as efficiently as we can, to contribute to America's defense. This is a time for calm thinking and quick action, in behalf of America" (The Seattle Star).

Harassment Begins

Fear and suspicion of Japanese Americans had already begun. On the evening of December 7, 1941, Seattle Police "rounded up 51 Japanese aliens considered dangerous by the Federal Bureau of Investigation" and placed them in custody (The Seattle Star). Some of these Seattleites were reportedly members of the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce.

On December 8, 1941, Seattle Mayor William "Earl" Millikin (1890-1970) issued the following warning to Japanese Americans:

"Seattle must have tolerance toward American-born Japanese, most of whom are loyal. But I also want to warn the Japanese that they must not congregate or make any utterance that could be used as grounds for reprisals" (The Seattle Star).

Seattle Police Chief Herbert Kimsey announced that patrols would be placed around the "Japanese quarter" and stated that anti-Japanese riots would be "crushed with force" (The Seattle Star),

Rear Admiral C. S. Freeman, commander of the 13th Naval District, made the following request:

"The immediate problem for the civilian population is to be on guard for possible sabotage. The navy will appreciate any information regarding suspicious actions on the part of individuals who may seek to do harm locally. I realize that the very great majority of our people, including Japanese residents, are loyal to our country and it therefore is important to avoid unjust or unfounded suspicion. However, all information submitted will be investigated by the proper federal authorities" (The Seattle Star).

The Rear Admiral requested that suspicious activity be submitted to District headquarters in the Exchange building (821 2nd Ave.) in downtown Seattle.

Fear was present in the Japanese American community. There were rumors that some Seattle Japanese youths had been beaten up. One Japanese American said, "I was going to take the children downtown to do some Christmas shopping, but I'm afraid it may not be safe" (The Seattle Star).


"'We Are Loyal to U.S.' Pledge of American-Born Japanese Voiced by Blind Seattle Publisher," The Seattle Star December 8, 1941, p. 4; "Seattle Assumes Wartime Pace; 51 Japs Held," Ibid., December 8, 1941, p. 6.

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