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Chapter 10 • The Good War 199
Introduction to Documents 3 and 4
The racist ideology of the Nazi and Japanese regimes brought into sharp focus the racism
that plagued American society. Throughout the war, African American journalists and
soldiers criticized the existence of segregated armed forces and Jim Crow facilities in southern
training camps. Although Executive Order #8802 outlawed discrimination in defense
contracting and government service because of “race, creed, color, or national origin,” the
1941 order was often ignored or evaded. The following editorials point out the irony of a
segregated, racially divided nation claiming to fight for freedom and toleration. Both
appeared in The Crisis, the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People. Founded in 1909 on the one hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s
birth, the NAACP was America’s oldest civil rights organization. The first editorial appeared
just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and discussed the problem of discrimination
in the military. The second editorial, published a year later and addressed as an open letter to
President Roosevelt, made much broader demands for equality at home based on America’s
THE ARMY MUST ACT
If the government expects any support from Negro public opinion in the future it must insist
that the War Department take positive action to bring to trial all the persons responsible for the
incident at Fort Bragg, N.C., on August 6 in which a Negro private and a white military
policeman were killed in a fight on a bus.
In a sense, this Fort Bragg incident is the acid test of the Army and Negroes. The first
test came last spring in the lynching of Private Felix Hall who was found hanging from a tree
within the borders of Fort Benning, Ga. In that matter-one of intense interest to all Negro
Americans-the Army so far has announced merely that it is conducting an investigation.
But at Fort Bragg, the situation is different. The killings were the direct result of the Army
policy of segregating and humiliating Negro soldiers and then placing military police duty over
them largely in the hands of ignorant, prejudiced, white southern soldiers ….
Information gathered by white and Negro newspaper reporters at Fort Bragg shows that
Negro soldiers, including one commissioned officer and several non-commissioned officers,
were rounded up, humiliated, cursed, beaten, and threatened with cocked pistols and shotguns
by white military police. The soldiers they arrested and beat up were not involved in any
way in the shooting, were not on the bus in question, were not even in the vicinity of the
shooting, and knew nothing whatever about it.
The whole incident resembles exactly the aftermath of an alleged crime by a Negro in any
southern community. A reign of terror is instituted in which any colored person, man, woman, or
child, is subject to raiding and punishment by any white person.
At Fort Bragg all Army discipline was thrown to the winds. In a minute the Negro
soldiers became “just Negroes” subject to the whims of any white man: It will be useless for
the Army to try to dodge responsibility for this affair. The white military police would not
have beaten up scores of Negro soldiers, would not have interfered with Negro civilians in
towns away from Army posts, and would not have staged a “lynching roundup” after the Fort
Bragg double killing if their commanding officers had not approved such action.
AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT- AN EDITORIAL
200 Chapter 10 • The Good War
The chief villain in this piece is the officer in charge of military police. The next is the
commander of the colored troops at Ft. Bragg, and the next is the commandant of the whole
post. The poor white boys who do the beating and shooting are merely instruments of a
policy maintained by these men and the War Department.
We shall see what we shall see. Negro Americans might as well discover at the beginning
whether they are to fight and die for democracy for the Lithuanians, the Greeks,
and the Brazilians, or whether they had better fight and die for a little democracy for
Dear Mr. President:
Early in 1943, a year and a month after Pearl Harbor, you will stand before the Congress and give
your message on the State of the Nation. On this occasion, Mr. President, we venture to inject our
observations upon the feelings of one-tenth of the population of our nation, a tenth which has been
loyal to America since that day on Boston Common when a black man was the first to die before the
guns of the Redcoats in the war for Independence.
We venture this injection not because we feel our reactions are of paramount importance,
but because you, yourself, and, indeed all the great statesmen of the United Nations cause, have
said that without unity, without marching along together and fighting shoulder to shoulder, we
will lose this war and fall victim to the dictators.
We believe, therefore, that any practice which threatens that unity, which alienates a tenth
of our people at a time when our life as a nation may depend upon mustering ten tenths, is worthy
of your attention as we proceed upon the second year of war.
What You Have Done
We are not unaware of what you have done thus far on this problem. In the fall of 1940 you
promised that Negroes would be placed in every major branch of the Army, that they would be
trained as commissioned officers on a non-segregated basis. You even broke with Army tradition
and announced that Negroes would be trained as combat aviators. You appointed a Negro as
civilian aide to the Secretary of War and elevated a Negro colonel, a veteran of Regular Army
service, to the rank of brigadier general, the first such rank ever held by a Negro in an American
army. Our women were accepted in the WAACS.
On the production front you issued Executive Order 8802, directing the abolishing of
discrimination in employment in war industries and government agencies. You set up
the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practice to examine into violations of
In your speeches, and particularly in the one of January 6, 1942, you decried racial
discrimination “in any of its ugly forms” and called upon our people to unite against the Axis.
Your administrative officers have taken Negroes into government offices to aid in the further
integration of Negro citizens into the war effort and into the life of the country. Your good
wife has gone the length and breadth of this land, and over the seas, never neglecting our segment
of the population in her travels and comments.
Chapter 10 • The Good War 201
For these actions you and she have suffered vile and un-American condemnation and
calumny from some quarters which see not the whole nation and its welfare, not the human
family and its multi-colored members, but only their narrow section through their prejudiced
eyes and little selves. We are grateful for these things, Mr. President, and for the broad measures
which have operated, in some degree, to extend to every American, regardless of race, creed, or
color, that equality of opportunity to which Americans are entitled.
However, despite your exhortations to unity, and your acts clearly indicating unity as a national
policy, the thirteen millions of Negro American citizens have not been made an integral part of
the nation’s war effort; they are not geared as they should be-or as they passionately desire to
be-to an all-out drive for victory.
Their fighting men are, as you promised, in every major branch of the army. Many of them
are serving on battlefronts far from our shores. But in their own army they find themselves set
apart from their fellow fighters for freedom, in their army theatres, canteens, living quarters and
transportation. The manifold methods by which this separation is emphasized have sapped
morale sadly and embittered our men-some almost to the point of mutiny.
There are Negro officers, as you promised, but the line officers are confined to the lowest
ranks, and promotions are slow in coming. In the 93rd division at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., that
complete small army of which Negroes are so proud, we understand there is only one Negro
captain in the line. We know that we did not have many veteran officers at the start, but we have
watched newly-trained white officers rise steadily above our men-in our own division.
Off the military reservations our fighting men have been treated so viciously by their own
fellow Americans that many of them have wondered whether the enemy is really across the seas,
or here at home. Notorious in this studied cruelty to Negro soldiers has been Alexandria, La.
We are proud, too, of our few fighting pursuit pilots in the Army Air Forces, but none of
our lads is a bomber pilot, a bombardier, a navigator, an aerial gunner.
The Navy remains adamant against commissions for our men and has excluded us from the
V-I program. It also bars our women from the WAVES.
On the production front the pressure of sheer necessity has forced the employment of our
people in most places, but in too many communities your Executive Order 8802 is being defied
and sabotaged by management and labor alike. In too many instances menial tasks and unskilled
labor are all that we may secure. In some few instances we are still rigidly excluded from any
type of employment.
On what we may call the civilian front we are still lynched. Six persons-two of them boys
in their teens-fell victim to mobs during 1942. Millions of us are still disfranchised by one
method or another. Six million white Americans and four million of us are barred from the ballot
box by the poll tax alone. We still suffer humiliations and discriminations in public places, in
travel and in housing.
We, who are willing and anxious to fight for the Four Freedoms, are not free.
Our Nation Is Hurt
Less than a month ago Governor Frank Dixon of Alabama defied the Federal government, the
whole war effort, to include the Negro in the fight against oppression, bigotry, and hatred. In this
philosophy, Mr. President, we are supposed to fight and die for the freedom of the remotest
comers of the world, for every other people, but to be content to remain in, or return to, a “place”
in Governor Dixon’s world.
202 Chapter 10 • The Good War
We are concerned not alone because of what these things have done to our part of the
population, but because of what they are doing to our war effort. We do not live in this world
alone. Alabama cannot draw a ring around itself and stand or fall by its vision, its philosophy.
There are billions of eyes upon America. Victory itself, and any success we may have in the
post-war world may well depend upon the justice we demonstrate now in our treatment of the
largest black citizen-minority in a democracy anywhere on earth.
It is needless to protest once again our loyalty to our country. That has been proved generation
after generation. But we are loyal to the ideals of this nation, not to the practices which
meet us on every hand. Our boys, to the last one, are not fighting-and are not offering to
die-to perpetuate those practices ….
They and we would be heartened and strengthened anew if you, Mr. President, would
speak out, notifying the foes of liberty everywhere exactly what America expects to buy with the
blood and billions she is expending.
Introduction to Documents 5 and 6
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt authorized the war department to ship almost
112,000 West Coast Japanese, most of them American citizens, to “relocation” centers. The
order was based upon the notion that persons of Japanese ancestry presented a clear and
present threat to American security, that loyalty to Japan might lead some of them to sabotage
the American war effort. Although the order was later upheld in Korematsu v.
United States (1944), not all of Supreme Court justices concurred with the majority opinion.
In fact, Justice Frank Murphy in his dissenting opinion charged that the order “goes over
‘the brink of constitutional power’ and falls into the ugly abyss of racism.” Document 5
presents the majority opinion in Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), the first case that tested
the constitutionality of the order. In this case, an American citizen of Japanese ancestry
refused to register for evacuation. More, he deliberately violated a curfew that ordered
people of Japanese ancestry to stay within their homes after 8:00 p.m. every night. The
legal question, then, centered on the President’s Executive Order #9066 and Congress’s
ratification of that order mandating the internment camps. How did the court rule and
why? The next document gives us the voice of an American citizen incarcerated in one of
the camps. How would Ted Nakashima argue with the Supreme Court? Why does he
spend so much time describing his family? What does he mean that being called a “Jap”
hurt most of all? How were the experiences of African Americans and Japanese Americans
similar during the war? Different?
HIRABAYASm V. UNITED STATES
Opinion of the Court
… The war power of the national government is “the power to wage war successfully.” … It
extends to every matter and activity so related to war as substantially to affect its conduct and
progress. The power is not restricted to the winning of victories in the field and the repulse of
enemy forces. It embraces every phase of the national defense, including the protection of war
Chapter 10 • The Good War 203
materials and the members of the armed forces from injury and from the dangers which attend
the rise, prosecution and progress of war…. Since the Constitution commits to the Executive
and to Congress the exercise of the war power in all the vicissitudes and conditions of warfare,
it has necessarily given them wide scope for the exercise of judgment and discretion in determining
the nature and extent of the threatened injury or danger and in the selection of the
means for resisting it. … Where, as they did here, the conditions call for the exercise of judgment
and discretion and for the choice of means by those branches of the Government on
which the Constitution has placed the responsibility of war-making, it is not for any court to sit
in review of the wisdom of their action or substitute its judgment for theirs.
The actions taken must be appraised in the light of the conditions with which the President
and Congress were confronted in the early months of 1942, many of which, since disclosed, were
then peculiarly within the knowledge of the military authorities. On December 7, 1941, the
Japanese air forces had attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor without warning,
at the very hour when Japanese diplomatic representatives were conducting negotiations with
our State Department ostensibly for the peaceful settlement of differences between the two countries.
Simultaneously or nearly so, the Japanese attacked Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines,
and Wake and Midway Islands. On the following day their army invaded Thailand. Shortly afterwards
they sank two British battleships. On December 13th, Guam was taken. On December
24th and 25th they captured Wake Island and occupied Hong Kong. On January 2, 1942, Manila
fell, and on February 10th Singapore, Britain’s great naval base in the East, was taken. On
February 27th the battle of the Java Sea resulted in a disastrous naval defeat to the United
Nations. By the 9th of March Japanese forces had established control over the Netherlands East
Indies; Rangoon and Burma were occupied; Bataan and Corregidor were under attack.
Although the results of the attack on Pearl Harbor were not fully disclosed until much later,
it was known that the damage was extensive, and that the Japanese by their successes had gained
a naval superiority over our forces in the Pacific which might enable them to seize Pearl Harbor,
our largest naval base and the last stronghold of defense lying between Japan and the west coast.
That reasonably prudent men charged with the responsibility of our national defense had ample
ground for concluding that they must face the danger of invasion, take measures against it, and in
making the choice of measures consider our internal situation, cannot be doubted.
The challenged orders were defense measures for the avowed purpose of safeguarding the
military area in question, at a time of threatened air raids and invasion by the Japanese forces,
from the danger of sabotage and espionage. As the curfew was made applicable to citizens residing
in the area only if they were of Japanese ancestry, our inquiry must be whether in the light of
all the facts and circumstances there was any substantial basis for the conclusion, in which
Congress and the military commander united, that the curfew as applied was a protective measure
necessary to meet the threat of sabotage and espionage which would substantially affect the war
effort and which might reasonably be expected to aid a threatened enemy invasion. The alternative
which appellant insists must be accepted is for the military authorities to impose the curfew on all
citizens within the military area, or on none. In a case of threatened danger requiring prompt
action, it is a choice between inflicting obviously needless hardship on the many, or sitting passive
and unresisting in the presence of the threat. We think that constitutional government, in time of
war, is not so powerless and does not compel so hard a choice if those charged with the responsibility
of our national defense have reasonable ground for believing that the threat is real. …
In the critical days of March 1942, the danger to our war production by sabotage and
espionage in this area seems obvious …. At a time of threatened Japanese attack upon this
country, the nature of our inhabitants’ attachments to the Japanese enemy was consequently
a matter of grave concern. Of the 126,000 persons of Japanese descent in the United States,
citizens and non-citizens, approximately 112,000 resided in California, Oregon and Washington at
the time of the adoption of the military regulations. Of these approximately two-thirds are citizens
because [they were] born in the United States. Not only did the great majority of such persons
reside within the Pacific Coast states but they were concentrated in or near three of the large cities,
Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, all in Military Area No.1.
There is support for the view that social, economic and political conditions which have
prevailed since the close of the last century, when the Japanese began to come to this country in
substantial numbers, have intensified their solidarity and have in large measure prevented their
assimilation as an integral part of the white population. In addition, large numbers of children of
Japanese parentage are sent to Japanese language schools outside the regular hours of public
schools in the locality. Some of these schools are generally believed to be sources of Japanese
nationalistic propaganda, cultivating allegiance to Japan. Considerable numbers, estimated to
be approximately 10,000, of American-born children of Japanese parentage have been sent to
Japan for all or a part of their education.
Congress and the Executive, including the military commander, could have attributed
special significance, in its bearing on the loyalties of persons of Japanese descent, to the maintenance
by Japan of its system of dual citizenship. Children born in the United States of Japanese
alien parents, and especially those children born before December 1, 1924, are under many
circumstances deemed, by Japanese law, to be citizens of Japan. No official census of those
whom Japan regards as having thus retained Japanese citizenship is available, but there is ground
for the belief that the number is large ….
As a result of all these conditions affecting the life of the Japanese, both aliens and citizens,
in the Pacific Coast areas, there has been relatively little social intercourse between them
and the white population. The restrictions, both practical and legal, affecting the privileges and
opportunities afforded to persons of Japanese extraction residing in the United States, have been
sources of irritation and may well have tended to increase their isolation, and in many instances
their attachments to Japan and its institutions.
Viewing these data in all their aspects, Congress and the Executive could reasonably have
concluded that these conditions have encouraged the continued attachment of members of this
group to Japan and Japanese institutions. These are only some of the many considerations which
those charged with the responsibility for the national defense could take into account in determining
the nature and extent of the danger of espionage and sabotage, in the event of invasion or air
raid attack. The extent of that danger could be definitely known only after the event and after it was
too late to meet it. Whatever views we may entertain regarding the loyalty to this country of the
citizens of Japanese ancestry, we cannot reject as unfounded the judgment of the military authorities
and of Congress that there were disloyal members of that population, whose number and
strength could not be precisely and quickly ascertained. We cannot say that the war-making branches
of the Government did not have ground for believing that in a critical hour such persons could not
readily be isolated and separately dealt with, and constituted a menace to the national defense and
safety, which demanded that prompt and adequate measures be taken to guard against it.
Appellant does not deny that, given the danger, a curfew was an appropriate measure
against sabotage. It is an obvious protection against the perpetration of sabotage most readily
committed during the hours of darkness. If it was an appropriate exercise of the war power its
validity is not impaired because it has restricted the citizen’s liberty. Like every military
control of the population of a dangerous zone in war time, it necessarily involves some infringement
of individual liberty, just as does the police establishment of fire lines during a fire, or
,204 Chapter 10 • The Good War
Chapter 10 • The Good War 205
the confinement of people to their houses during an air raid alarm-neither of which could be
thought to be an infringement of constitutional right. Like them, the validity of the restraints
of the curfew order depends on all the conditions which obtain at the time the curfew is imposed
and which support the order imposing it.
But appellant insists that the exercise of the power is inappropriate and unconstitutional
because it discriminates against citizens of Japanese ancestry, in violation of the Fifth
Amendment. The Fifth Amendment contains no equal protection clause and it restrains only
such discriminatory legislation by Congress as amounts to a denial of due process ….
Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature
odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality. For that
reason, legislative classification or discrimination based on race alone has often been held to be
a denial of equal protection …. We may assume that these considerations would be controlling
here were it not for the fact that the danger of espionage and sabotage, in time of war and of
threatened invasion, calls upon the military authorities to scrutinize every relevant fact bearing
on the loyalty of populations in the danger areas. Because racial discriminations are in most
circumstances irrelevant and therefore prohibited, it by no means follows that, in dealing with the
perils of war, Congress and the Executive are wholly precluded from taking into account those
facts and circumstances which are relevant to measures for our national defense and for the
successful prosecution of the war, and which may in fact place citizens of one ancestry in a
different category from others. “We must never forget, that it is a constitution we are expounding,”
“a constitution intended to endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the
various crises of human affairs.” The adoption by Government, in the crisis of war and of threatened
invasion, of measures for the public safety, based upon the recognition of facts and circumstances
which indicate that a group of one national extraction may menace that safety more than
others, is not wholly beyond the limits of the Constitution and is not to be condemned merely
because in other and in most circumstances racial distinctions are irrelevant.
Here the aim of Congress and the Executive was the protection against sabotage of war
materials and utilities in areas thought to be in danger of Japanase invasion and air attack. We have
stated in detail facts and circumstances with respect to the American citizens of Japanese ancestry
residing on the Pacific Coast which support the judgment of the war-waging branches of the
Government that some restrictive measure was urgent. We cannot say that these facts and circumstances,
considered in the particular war setting, could afford no ground for differentiating citizens
of Japanese ancestry from other groups in the United States. The fact alone that attack on our shores
was threatened by Japan rather than another enemy power set these citizens apart from others who
have no particular associations with Japan ….
CONCENTRATION CAMP: U.S. STYLE
by Ted Nakashima
Unfortunately in this land of liberty, I was born of Japanese parents; born in Seattle of a mother
and father who have been in this country since 1901. Fine parents, who brought up their children
in the best American way of life. My mother served with the Volunteer Red Cross Service in the
last war-my father, an editor, has spoken and written Americanism for forty years.
206 Chapter 10 • The Good War
Our family is almost typical of the other unfortunates here at the camp. The oldest son. _
licensed architect, was educated at the University of Washington, has a master’s degree from ;
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a scholarship graduate of the American School –
Fine Arts in Fontainebleau, France. He is now in camp in Oregon with his wife and threemonths-old
child. He had just completed designing a much needed defense housing project
The second son is an M.D. He served his internship in a New York hospital, is married aoc
has two fine sons. The folks banked on him, because he was the smartest of us three boys. The
army took him a month after he opened his office. He is now a lieutenant in the Medical Corps.
somewhere in the South.
I am the third son, the dumbest of the lot, but still smart enough to hold down a job as –
architectural draftsman. I have just finished building a new home and had lived in it three weeks.
My desk was just cleared of work done for the Army Engineers, another stack of 391 defense
houses was waiting (a rush job), when the order came to pack up and leave for this resettleme .
center called “Camp Harmony.”
Mary, the only girl in the family, and her year-old son, “Butch,” are with our parentsinterned
in the stables of the Livestock Exposition Buildings in Portland.
Now that you can picture our thoroughly American background, let me describe our
The resettlement center is actually a penitentiary-armed guards in towers with spotlights
and deadly tommy guns, fifteen feet of barbed-wire fences, everyone confined to quarters at
nine, lights out at ten o’clock. The guards are ordered to shoot anyone who approaches within
twenty feet of the fences. No one is allowed to take the two-block-long hike to the latrines after
nine, under any circumstances.
The apartments, as the army calls them, are two-block-long stables, with windows on one
side. Floors are shiplaps on two-by-fours laid directly on the mud, which is everywhere. The
stalls are about eighteen by twenty-one feet; some contain families of six or seven persons.
Partitions are seven feet high, leaving a four-foot opening above. The rooms aren’t too bad,
almost fit to live in for a short while.
The food and sanitation problems are the worst. We have had absolutely no fresh meat,
vegetables or butter since we came here. Mealtime queues extend for blocks; standing in a rainswept
line, feet in the mud, waiting for the scant portions of canned wieners and boiled potatoes,
hash for breakfast or canned wieners and beans for dinner. Milk only for the kids. Coffee or tea
dosed with saltpeter and stale bread are the adults’ staples. Dirty, unwiped dishes, greasy silver,
a starchy diet, no butter, no milk, bawling kids, mud, wet mud that stinks when it dries, no
vegetables-a sad thing for the people who raised them in such abundance. Memories of a crisp
head of lettuce with our special olive oil, vinegar, garlic and cheese dressing.
Today one of the surface sewage-disposal pipes broke and the sewage flowed down
the streets. Kids play in the water. Shower baths without hot water. Stinking mud and slops
Can this be the same America we left a few weeks ago?
As I write, I can remember our little bathroom-light coral walls. My wife painting them,
and the spilled paint in her hair. The open towel shelving and the pretty shower curtains which
we put up the day before we left. How sanitary and clean we left it for the airlines pilot and his
young wife who are now enjoying the fruits of our labor.
It all seems so futile, struggling, trying to live our old lives under this useless, regimented
life. The senselessness of all the inactive manpower. Electricians, plumbers, draftsmen,
Chapter 10 • The Good War 207
mechanics, carpenters, painters, farmers-every trade-men who are able and willing to do
all they can to lick the Axis. Thousands of men and women in these camps, energetic, quick,
alert, eager for hard, constructive work, waiting for the army to do something for us, an army
that won’t give us butter.
I can’t take it! I have 391 defense houses to be drawn. I left a fine American home
which we built with our own hands. I left a life, highballs with our American friends on
week-ends, a carpenter, laundry-truck driver, architect, airlines pilot-good friends, friends
who would swear by us. I don’t have enough of that Japanese heritage “ga-man”-a code of
silent suffering and ability to stand pain.
Oddly enough I still have a bit of faith in army promises of good treatment and
Mrs. Roosevelt’s pledge of a future worthy of good American citizens. I’m banking another $67
of income tax on the future. Sometimes I want to spend the money I have set aside for income
tax on a bit of butter or ice cream or something good that I might have smuggled through
the gates, but I can’t do it when I think that every dollar I can put into “the fight to lick the Japs,”
the sooner I will be home again. I must forget my stomach.
What really hurts most is the constant reference to us evacues as “Japs,” “Japs” are the
guys we are fighting. We’re on this side and we want to help.
Why won’t America let us?
Introduction to Document 7
During the Great Depression, 400,000 Mexicans and American citizens of Mexican
descent were deported. These people, it was said, took jobs away from white Americans,
and the government began a massive-and illegal-campaign of “repatriation.” But with
a war-induced labor shortage, new immigrants were again allowed into California under
the Bracero Program of 1942, which caused very uneasy labor relations.
By 1943, reports of alleged gang violence reached their peak in the local press. The
stereotyped image of Mexican youths–each sporting long hair, a zoot suit, and a blade in
his pocket-filled the newspapers. Headlines referred to “Zoot-Suited Gangsters,”
“Hoodlums,” “Boy Gang Rioters,” “Mexican Goon Squads,” and “Pachuco Killers.”
Edward Duran Ayers, a spokesman for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, declared that
Mexicans were descendants of blood-thirsty Aztecs, and he added, “[Tlhe Caucasian,
especially the Anglo-Saxon, when engaged in fighting, particularly among youths, resorts
to fisticuffs, and may at times kick each other, which is considered unsportive, but
this Mexican element considers all that to be a sign of weakness, and all he knows and
feels is a desire to use a knife or some lethal weapon.” Ayers went on to say that the tendency
toward violence was a biological trait of Mexicans, blacks, and Native Americans.
Ayers’ words did not fit well with the wartime ideal of a Grand Alliance that included
Mexico and other Latin American nations standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the United
States. But by the spring of 1943, some of the strains of war were beginning to show. The
news from Europe and Asia was not good. On the home front, rumors of Japanese spy rings
subverting the American war effort grabbed newspaper headlines, even though almost all
Japanese Americans had been forced into internment camps a year earlier. Coal miners went
out on strike in May 1943 amid accusations of treason and disloyalty. Reports also circulated
the news that juvenile delinquency was rampant, while the Federal Bureau of Investigation
reported a growing problem with draft dodging.
210 Chapter 10 • The Good War
Crowds were dispersed almost as soon as they gathered and few youths in zoot suits were
seen as groups of soldiers moved through the district with the watchful eyes of men looking for
The Battle Between Marines and “Pachucos,” La Opinion, June 9, 1943
… The Coordinator of Latin-American Youths … informed us … that during a meeting in
which the situation created by the riots between the “pachucos” and the marines was discussed,
a decision was reached to send the following telegram to Mr. Elmer Davis, Head of the Office
of War Information in Washington; to Mr. Alan Cranston, Head of the Division of Foreign
Languages, of the same office, and to President Roosevelt at the White House.
Here is the message:
Since last Thursday evening various groups of marines and soldiers have attacked
Mexican zoot suiters throughout the city of Los Angeles. Although the youth did
nothing to provoke the attack or for that matter to resist the attack, many were
severely wounded, including women and children. Supposedly the attack has been
motivated by past conflicts between the two groups and has been amplified by the
press claiming that Mexican youths have been disrespectful toward the servicemen,
a claim without any foundation.
Despite precautions taken on the part of the military police and local
authorities to control the situation, the servicemen continue to walk the streets of Los
Angeles armed with clubs and appear to be tacitly supported by many city and local
officials in charge of keeping the peace; their attacks have now expanded to include
blacks. This situation, which is prompting racial antagonism between the Mexican,
Anglo-Saxon and Black communities will undoubtedly have grave international
repercussions which will inevitably damage the war effort and thwart the gains made
by the Good Neighbor policy. We urge immediate intervention by the Office of
War Information so that it moderates the local press which has openly approved of
these mutinies and which is treating this situation in a manner that is decidedly
inflammatory. . . .
Approximately fifty people, including the members of the Council, attended the meeting in
which the decision to send this telegram was reached ….
(La Opinion was a Spanish-language newspaper
published in Los Angeles)
Riot, Excelsior, June 10, 1943
Washington, June 9, (AP)-Rafael de la Colina, Council Minister of the Mexican Embassy in
Washington, was noticeably indignant during an interview dealing with the recent assaults
on Mexican American youths by military personnel in Los Angeles. He declared that many
innocent Mexican passersby had been beaten.
After receiving news from the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles, the Minister added that it
was entirely possible that the Mexican government would present a formal protest to the government
of the United States and that the Embassy awaited orders from the Mexican government …
Carey McWilliams, president of the National Lawyers Association in Los Angeles,
dispatched a petition to Attorney General Francis H. Biddle calling for an investigation of the
events surrounding the recent race conflicts.
Chapter 10 • The Good War 211
“These conflicts are not isolated incidents,” said McWilliams. “Evidence indicates that the
violence which has occurred during this last weekend is the logical response to the policies and
methods used by the local police department against the Mexican community over the last 18 months.”
(Excelsior was published in Mexico City,
translated from Spanish.)
Not a Race Issue, Mayor Says, New York Times, June 10, 1943
Los Angeles, June 9-There is no question of racial discrimination involved in the zoot-suit
trouble here, Mayor Bowron told State Department officials in a telephonic conversation.
Following his conversation the Mayor issued a statement in which he said:
I have had a long-distance telephone conversation with the State Department in
Washington relative to the local situation. I was advised that the Mexican Embassy had
called the matter to the attention of the State Department upon the basis of a report
received from the Mexican Consul in Los Angeles.
I informed the State Department that assurances could be given to the Mexican Embassy
that the occurrences in this city are not in any manner directed at Mexican citizens or even
against persons of Mexican descent. There is no question of racial discrimination involved.
We have here, unfortunately, a bad situation as the result of the formation and activities of
youthful gangs, the members of which, probably to the extent of 98 percent or more, were born right
here in Los Angeles. They are Los Angeles youth, and the problem is purely a local one.
We are going to see that members of the armed forces are not attacked. At the same time,
we expect cooperation from officers of the Army and Navy to the extent that soldiers and sailors
do not pile into Los Angeles for the purpose of excitement and adventure and what they might
consider a little fun by beating up young men whose appearance they do not like.
We propose to handle the situation in such a way that there will be no reason for protests
on the part of the Mexican Government.
At the same time, I want to assure the people of Los Angeles that there will be no sidestepping
and the situation will be vigorously handled. There are too many citizens in this
community, some of them good-intentioned and a few whose intentions I question, who
raise a hue and cry of racial discrimination or prejudice against a minority group every time
the Los Angeles police make arrests of members of gangs or groups working in unison. They
all look alike to us, regardless of color and length of their coats.
The police are going to do the job and I propose to back up the police.
Memo from Commandant, Eleventh Navy District, to All Units Under His Command,
June 10, 1943
… The Commandant is seriously concerned over the recent disorders which have occurred in Los
Angeles and its vicinity and which have assumed such serious proportion as to be broadcast on the
radio and published in newspapers throughout the U.S. The Navy is a disciplined organization composed
of loyal and intelligent men and partaking in any activities that are of the nature of mob violence
is a direct reflection on the Navy itself and on the individual who wears the uniform.
Irrespective of what may have been the original cause of these disorders the enforcement of the law
rests in the hands of the civilian police and is not a matter which should be undertaken by any unauthorized
groups of Navy personnel. The Commandant believes that the men now engaging in these
demonstrations are actuated mainly by a desire for excitement and feels that they have not seriously
1. The recent incidents connected with the so-called “Zoot Suit” riots involved mob action,
and incipient rioting, by many soldiers and other service men.
2. Prompt action to check such action has been taken, and charges are being preferred against
those arrested for inciting or actually participating in these riots.
3. It is obvious that many soldiers are not aware of the serious nature of riot charges.
Convictions in a recent serious riot have resulted in sentence to death or long confinement.
4. It is desired that the attention of all Military personnel be called immediately to the critical
dangers of any form of rioting and that incidents which may start as thoughtless group action
in comparatively trivial offenses or boisterous conduct are liable to develop into mob
riots of the most serious character ….
5. Military personnel of all ranks must understand that no form of mob violence or rioting
will be tolerated, and that offenses of this nature will result in immediate and drastic disciplinary
212 Chapter 10 • The Good War
considered the consequence which may follow from ill considered action. The Commandant
suggests that commanding officers bring the substance of the above to the attention of the men
of their commands in a personal and unofficial manner having full confidence that an appeal to the
individual based on common sense and reasonableness will invoke prompt response ….
Letter from San Diego City Councilman Charles C. Dail to Rear Admiral David W. Bagley,
U.S. Navy, June 10, 1943
The critical situation brought to a head in the Los Angeles area as a result of a lawlessness
of certain “zoot suit” wearing gangs is the forerunner of a more serious and widespread condition,
and unless exceptional, precautionary methods are undertaken, serious damage to the war effort in
civilian-military relations will develop.
The initiative action being taken by soldiers, sailors and marines for the time directed
against so-called “zoot suit” wearers is not that alone. It … has been aimed at civilians in
general. There have been numerous instances in San Diego where members of the military
forces have insulted and vilified civilians on public streets; and to cite one instance recently: a
Consolidated Aircraft Company official, after objecting to the epithets of a marine, pertaining
to his civilian status, was attacked and seriously injured and will be unable to return to his
duties for some time, as a result of the injuries sustained. Most civilians just “grin and bear it”
rather than precipitate an altercation which would be certain if they resisted.
Every civilian, no matter what type of clothes he is wearing should be safe on the streets,
and it is certainly the belief of the writer that the superior officers of service men should
vigorously discourage any adverse attitude they may have to civilians, cautioning the personnel
that every civilian is not a “draft dodger” and a “slacker,” and that a great majority of such
civilians in this industrial area are engaged in the building of vital war materials ….
Please let me assure you that this letter is prompted solely by a strong patriotic desire to
help check a situation which certainly is not conducive to cooperative effort on the part of
civilian and military forces.
Memo from Maxwell Murray, Major General, U.S. Army Command, to Headquarters,
Southern California Sector, Western Defense Command, Pasadena, California, June 11, 1943