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McNotes: American Muslim Patriots Among Us?

07.28.16 03:33 PM – Andy McDonald

In the final months of World War II, there was a heated public debate about how the Allied powers should deal with Japan.

Even as Japan was teetering on the brink of destruction, some lawmakers suggested we should fire bomb until all that remained of that country was a smoldering cinder.

Others advocated the use of poison gas to wipe out the “savage” Japanese population. At one point, President Roosevelt was even presented with a plan to force surviving Japanese to breed with the docile residents of a nearby Pacific nation, presumably to breed the “warlike” strain out of the Japanese and thus make the world safer. One columnist for the Atlanta Constitution even wondered if Japanese Americans bore the seed of supposed savagery and treachery, questioning if they would one day turn on the United States.

In retrospect, the fact that those ideas were even entertained is remarkable. Yet things said back then about the Japanese are being echoed today about Muslims.

They just aren’t like us, it was said. They’re fanatics, beyond reason, it was said. They are bloodthirsty murderers who behead Americans and send suicide bombers to their deaths. They inflict horrors in the name of a twisted religious doctrine in which the attacker finds favor in Heaven for killing. That was the thinking about the Japanese in wartime.

The United States learned an important truth from the Pacific War that’s worth recalling today. The Japanese people were never a savage race. But their country was in the thrall of a small but powerful sect of an ancient religion. Shinto was radicalized to become State Shinto.

State Shinto became the bastardization of an otherwise peaceful faith, a religion twisted by a cultish military clique to justify military aggression and the suppression of civil liberties in Japan. According to State Shinto, Emperor Hirohito was elevated to the status of a living god. Acts of perceived disrespect toward the emperor were state crimes.

Just as terrorism is a political weapon intended to strike fear in the hearts of people today, terror was an effective tool for militarists in pre-war Japan. Moderate leaders were assassinated for supporting negotiations with the West, newspapers that appealed for peace were vandalized. Intimidation, violence and murder succeeded in quashing public dissent.

Many rank and file Japanese actually liked Americans. They regretted the war with the United States. But they dared not voice opposition to state policy lest they risk jail or death. Americans didn’t hear much about their plight. The lack of dissent led the nation down the path to war and the horrors that followed.

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the conventional wisdom was “a Jap is a Jap,” which was to say there were no good Japanese. It was like a phrase sometimes heard about modern day Muslims. “Kill them all. Let Allah sort them out.”

That kind of shortsighted view initially led to the internment of several thousand American citizens of Japanese descent, and, for a time, it deprived the United States of one of its most potent weapons: America’s racial diversity.

Once cooler heads prevailed, the powers that be reasoned that “a Jap” wasn’t just “a Jap.” The Army discovered many Japanese Americans remained loyal to their country, despite the racism and injustice their government had inflicted upon them.

The American military thus developed a weapon that was so simple yet unfathomable to the Japanese Empire – a legion of Japanese speaking soldiers and intelligence officers who, according to one American general, hastened the end of the war and saved the lives of as many as a million American servicemen (not to mention an untold number of Japanese).

So once again we are facing an enemy that is perverting an ancient faith for political gain. And once again some in the West are having trouble making the distinction between those who practice the Muslim faith and those who are perpetrating violence in the name of radical sects of Islam.

Here’s to hoping America and the West has learned the lessons of their forefathers. Once the United States stopped viewing Japanese as a nefarious, monolithic threat, they turned America’s melting pot into a tremendous strategic advantage. Americans of Japanese descent helped win World War II, though that fact remained a secret for many years.

The U.S. Army extended a hand of trust to Japanese Americans by appealing to their sense of patriotism and their love of liberty, and in doing so, the United States gained a powerful ally in the fight against the enemies of freedom.

Can the same approach work in reaching out to Americans of Middle Eastern dissent in the fight for liberty, or will America simply digress into the thinking that a Muslim is a Muslim?

I suspect that some who practice Islam are already quietly serving our country for the cause of freedom, but as was the case with Japanese Americans, we won’t know about their work until long after they have helped keep America safe.

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