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“Looking like the enemy” by M. Gruenewald Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Dec 24th, 2019


In the book, Matsuda explains some of the problems that American Japanese encountered after the bombing of the Pearl Harbor in 1941. She observes that the incident intensified the hatred of the Japanese in the American society leading to one of the greatest effects of the Second World-the dropping of the atomic bombs.

She describes her life at the age of sixteen when she was living in Vashon Island, Washington with her entire family. Through her narration, it is clear that her life changed forever after the attack since the American society never trusted the Japanese, something that still affects many to date.

Even though the author was an American citizen by birth, the US government recommended a compulsory imprisonment against her and the whole family. The government had set up an internment camp to house all Japanese in society.

While in the camp, she was handed a jail term without proper trial meaning that her right of protection against the law was violated even though the constitution was clear about that (Horn, 2005). The internment camps were crowded whereby people were kept under inhuman conditions that forced many to struggle for their lives.

The move by the government was unfortunate since it was reactionary in nature and it only served to intimidate the Japanese in the country, but nothing was going to be achieved since the Japanese citizens were innocent.

Matsuda was scared and never knew what was going to happen to her and the family since many Japanese had been subjected to torture making it difficult to survive.

Many Japanese citizens pleaded with the government to allow them to return to their homes and farms to continue with the process of nation building, but as the author notes, these pleas were ignored.

Through the book, the author expresses disappointment and frustration since the government committed one of the greatest injustice against the Japanese, yet they were innocent. In fact, the writer questions the credibility of the American heritage since it never appreciated the contributions of other minority cultures.

Effects of the Bombing of the Pearl Harbor

As Matsuda explains, the lives of many Japanese were never the same after the incident since the government came up with reactionary measures aimed at frustrating the Japanese citizens globally.

Even though the Japanese government was solely responsible for planning and executing the attack, intimidation of its citizens was meant to change the Japan’s government stand owing to the fact that it was one of the most powerful at the time.

However, intimidating Americans citizens with Japanese origin was a violation of the individual rights as enshrined in the continuation.

The US has always claimed that it supports democracy, equally, cultural awareness, and inclusion, but policies designed after the attack on 7th 1941 proved otherwise since the Japanese citizens were discriminated against, excluded in policy making, and their democratic rights, such as the right to free assembly and the freedom of speech, were seriously affected.

In her book, Matsuda is of the view that the American insistence on democracy, equality, and inclusion is a mere rhetoric meant to promote its image abroad, but the reality was that the government promoted discrimination and subjugation of the minorities and the poor after the Pearl harbor attack.

Due to the government’s failure to provide information to members of the public, the Japanese were highly criticized for being responsible for the destruction of the American harbor and the killing of over two-thousand technicians and soldiers.

The president declared that it was upon the American people to judge the event and make their decisions on whether to coexist with the Japanese in the country. This was a careless statement since it gave people the chance of invading Japanese businesses and torching their houses.

The president noted that the security of the nation was in danger and the incident had shaped the public opinion, which led to instant reactions leading to the killing of several Japanese.

Therefore, the US government started the anti-Japanese war when it demanded the profiling of all citizens with Japanese passports. With time, the US military followed suit by dismissing all soldiers with Japanese decent.

The Japanese race had become an enemy of the American people and a number of American Japanese saw it wise to adopt the mainstream culture in order to prevent continued suffering. In 1942, the Galllup group conducted a study to establish the feelings of the Americans towards the Japanese.

The outcome of the study was shocking since many Americans believed the Japanese were deceitful, cunning, malicious, and aggressive, even though they were associated with hard work and astuteness.

The survey outcome reflected the various optimistic aspects of the American Japanese, but it was astonishing to note that the pessimistic remarks were overwhelming meaning what the Japanese had developed for several years had been destroyed by a single event.

Since the American Japanese were not trusted anymore, they were considered dangerous and they were likely to participate in damage and spying.

The understanding of Matsuda on her country, herself, and her family changed after the attack since she came to the realization that the Japanese race was an inferior one and the US as a country was never prepared to allow a minority race to interfere with its wellbeing.

The white race formulated a policy to weaken the Japanese in the sense that families were taken to the internment camps without considering the contributions they had made in the society.

She understood that her family existed at the mercy of the white race and it was powerless to an extent of being treated as a criminal group with an intention of masterminding a terrorist attack.

With time, she became aware of the influences of the dominant culture on the minor cultures since the Japanese people were urged to abandon their ways of lives and adopt the ones perceived to be stable.

When growing up, Matsuda realized that she had little chances of succeeding in the highly stratified society meaning that her fate was already determined. She understood at a tender age that she would grow up with limited opportunities in the labor market, something that influenced her academic discourse.

Currently, the Japanese families in the US are still faced with the problem of rejection given the fact they are forced to form self-help groups to help in attaining collective goals (Takeo, 2010).

After the attack, Matsuda realized that the government has never played its critical role of creating an enabling environment to facilitate individual fulfillment, but instead it only protected the interests of the few. In the incident, every American was affected in one way or the other, but it was wrong to victimize one race.

Forced Evacuation and Internment of US Citizens

Since the US government was scared of the presence of the Japanese citizens in the country, it established the internment camps whereby at least seventy thousand American-Japanese and about forty thousand Japanese immigrants were placed for further investigations.

Forced incarceration was meant to instill cooperation, but it ended up detaching the Japanese-Americans from the rich culture they had started adopting (Gruenewald, 2010). The move was aimed at scaring other Japanese across the borders, such as those living in Mexico and Canada.

In reality, this attempt was a violation of the individual rights and liberties since people were prevented from associating freely as provided for in the constitution.

The government’s action to evacuate the Japanese forcefully from their homes and dump them in the internment camps separated them from the mainstream culture. When it went on to drop bombs in their country, news reaching them were censored while the government determined what was to be released.

Towards independence, the American people were tired of the colonial injustices to an extent of drafting various proposals on how to end the problems of oppression and domination.

Americans owned nothing apart from their cheap labor, yet the colonial government was reluctant to incorporate them into the economic and political system. A revolution was inevitable and Americans decided to embrace equality, democracy, and liberalism as the major principles.

Upon the declaration of independence, people were promised equal opportunities irrespective of race and gender. Additionally, representation in government whereby democracy would be the only way of choosing leaders would be guaranteed and finally inclusion in policy formation would be mandatory.

Unfortunately, the actions of the American government after the Pearl Harbor attack suggested otherwise and it went against the principles of democracy, equality, and inclusion given the fact that the Japanese were victimized for something that they did not do.

The punishment on the Japanese race was a sign of discrimination and it proved that the government was never prepared to safeguard the interests of the minorities.


Gruenewald, M. M. (2010). Looking like the enemy: My story of imprisonment in Japanese-American internment camps. Troutdale: New Sage Press.

Horn, S. (2005). The Second Attack on Pearl Harbor: Operation K And Other Japanese Attempts to Bomb America in World War II. New York: Naval Institute Press.

Takeo, I. (2010). Demystifying Pearl Harbor: A New Perspective from Japan. New York: I-House Press, 2010.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "“Looking like the enemy” by M. Gruenewald." December 24, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/looking-like-the-enemy-by-m-gruenewald/.


IvyPanda. (2019) '“Looking like the enemy” by M. Gruenewald'. 24 December.

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