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'Trade War' with Japan

April 19, 1985

I find the hysterical tone of letters in The Times (April 7) regarding the U.S.-Japanese trade deficit very disturbing. A few excitable Americans seem ready to fight another Pacific war, whether it be real or imaginary. Dredged up key words like "Pearl Harbor," "sneak attack," and "stab in the back" cannot fail to stir the patriotism of our country--and revive past hatreds and prejudice.

The letter writers are not entirely responsible for their actions. They are merely echoing the anti-Japanese rhetoric of their representatives in Washington. Congressmen love to espouse protectionism and trade retaliation; it gives them some quick and cheap popularity points without offending a significant ethnic voting group of their constituents.

One major problem of this new mobilization of nationalistic fervor against a suspected U.S. foe is that it requires immediate, and often irrational outlets. Some frustrated American may decide to express his patriotism with hostile actions toward fellow Americans--of Asian descent. Bigotry may become fashionable again.

How long will it be before we return to a World War II mentality of prejudice and discrimination? Will shop owners again put "No Japs Allowed" signs in their windows? Will we again incarcerate any U.S. citizen of Japanese descent in desolate relocation camps (Perhaps this time for fear of sabotaging a GM plant instead of an airfield)?

Of course, the preceding questions are facetious--but not too facetious.

In the Vincent Chin murder case a few years ago, a disgruntled, unemployed Detroit auto worker beat a Chinese-American to death because he thought he was Japanese.

During the Iranian hostage crisis, a Maryland high school faculty successfully petitioned to keep the graduating class' valedictorian from giving her commencement speech because she was of Iranian descent. At that same time, Los Angeles' Sikhs were being accosted daily by ignorant citizens who mistook them for Iranians.

The '70s Arab oil embargo inspired reputable American companies to put demeaning caricatures of fat oil sheiks in their advertisements. In fact, rises in activities and membership of fringe hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan can be directly correlated to similar economic crises and bouts of unemployment.

The gist of Ronald J. Hall's jingoistic letter was that the United States should not make the same political errors it did with Japan in World War II. Let me counter by saying let's not make the same mistakes of bigotry directed against some of our own citizens during that period. Let's not give in to hate.


Monterey Park

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