"Race for Empire" Book Review

Race for Empire explains how total warfare shifted ideas, perceptions, and beliefs surrounding racism within Japan and the United States. Fujitani argues that total warfare forced both Japan and the United states to disavow racism and include despised populations within their national communities[1] Both Japan and the United States debated whether it was necessary to include marginalized groups like Japanese Americans, Taiwanese, and Koreans into their military to achieve their goals of total warfare. After acknowledging shortages in populations, Japanese Americans, Taiwanese, and Korean people were conscripted into both the United States and Japanese militaries in an attempt to gain decisive victories on the battlefield. Population shortages, racism, internment camps, and colonialism intensified debates over the role that those minority groups played in their respective countries. Necessity and fear of failure were large factors in the transition between vulgar to polite racism in both Japan and the United States. Fujitani concludes his overall argument by stating that the “disavowal of racism served the aspirations of the Japanese and the US total war regimes in two complementary and mutually constitutive projects- namely, to achieve global or at least regional hegemony and to unify internally diverse populations”.[2]

Race for Empire, is organized both chronologically and thematically. The book begins by explaining the transition between “vulgar” and “polite racism” within Japan and the United States, explaining the transition occurred due to factors other than morality. He then breaks down his arguments and explanations of the two nations separately. First, explaining interrogations of Japanese Americans in an attempt to assess their ‘loyalty’ as well as the resistance that Japanese Americans had towards ideas of voluntary enlistment, the War Department, and the War Relocation Authority. Finally, Fujitani explains the national mobilization of Koreans in Japan through the disavowing of racism, the providing of education, and allowing for the upward economic, social, and military mobility to some Koreans.[3] The book displays both chronological and thematic telling through separate themes of racism, mobility, and the disavowal of racism beginning during World War II and lasting until the postwar period.

The first chapter examines the transition from “vulgar” to “polite racism” and the problem of population. Vulgar racism was fueled in Japan by the idea that the Japanese were superior to Korean and Taiwanese people. The Japanese presented the Korean people as “uncivilized and their land as one of filth” and that “Korea’s major products for export were shit, tobacco, lice, courtesans, tigers, pigs and flies.” [4]The transition from “vulgar” to “polite racism” occurred when the Japanese realized that both Taiwanese and Korean people were needed to assist in the total war effort. This shift from did not come without resistance from many. A large portion of Japanese officers still refused to “treat Koreans as equal with a rise in anxieties about racial contamination.” [5] The mobilization of Korean and Taiwanese people created an environment that allowed both groups to elect representatives, to receive monetary aid for their participation in the war effort, and facilitated the outward illusion of complete inclusion in Japanese society.

Chapters two and three focus on the transition between the two forms of racism amongst American forces. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor created hysteria, leading to Japanese Americans being forcefully removed from the general population and forced into internment camps. Japanese Americans were placed into internment camps because “these individuals are of Japanese ancestry, tending to place them in a most questionable light as to their loyalty to the United States.” [6 ]The shift from “vulgar” to “polite racism” occurred because of the “total war logic of manpower utility,” the idea that the US military would become stronger by including the Japanese Americans into their armed forces.[7]After this decision, the US armed forces began to denounce racism as well as internment. Another concept that would facilitate this shift would be the “postwar aspirations for hegemony over Japan and Asia” and to deny that the war against Japan was fueled by race.[8]In order to discredit claims of racism, the United States began to allow Japanese Americans to “voluntarily” join their forces, as their participation was often fueled by coercion and force.

Chapters four and five explain the process of Japanese Americans “voluntarily” joining the US military. Japanese Americans were forced to take questionnaires, background checks, and interrogations when assessing their loyalty, ability to participate in the US military, and in evaluating their citizenship status.[9] ‘Failing’ one of these examinations often resulted in being expelled from the nation in order to cleanse the general population, forced into labor, and being made to enlist in the US military.[10] Japanese Americans largely resisted these assessments as well as their participation in the armed forces. This distaste is present within the Japanese American distinction between conditional and unconditional loyalty.[11] The conditional loyalists would prove their loyalty by joining the US military only if they received the rights and freedoms they deserved, while unconditional loyalists voluntarily joined the US armed forces without questioning their past and current treatment.[12] Though popular media has and continues to make it appear as though Japanese Americans “loved their country so much that they were able to look beyond the discrimination they experienced” and joined the United States military, but this war far from true.[13] A large portion of Japanese Americans were extremely apprehensive in trusting and realigning with the United States after their internment.

The final chapters of Race for Empire focus on the reasons and motivations of Koreans who volunteered to participate with the Japanese military and the societal implications of it. Historians have often argued that “Koreans who volunteered for the Japanese army did so not as a show of patriotism for Japan, but either because authorities pressured them to do so or because the army offered a means of livelihood.”[14] Fujitani argues that the reasons Koreans joined the Japanese were far more complex. A large portion of Korean’s who volunteered had an above average standard of living, disproving that economic factors was a driving factor for all persons who joined the Japanese military.[15] Like Japanese Americans, Koreans had their loyalty and character tested throughout the process of volunteering for Japanese forces. Polite racism was present throughout the stages of interviewing.[16]The process of turning Koreans into “usable Japanese subjects” was a difficult task that contained interrogation, questions of character, brute force and “polite racism.” According to the Japanese, Koreans were able to choose to become Japanese, further confirming the transition to polite or underlying racism within Japanese forces. Fujitani argues that the often perceived in public view as a strong desire to volunteer to fight for a nation that is racist towards you didn’t openly tend to exist in either Japan and the United States. Japan and the US were comparable in their use of polite racism to coerce Koreans and Japanese Americans to aid their war machines.

Fujitani successfully incorporates sources from both Japanese and American archives in Race for Empire. He tells a comprehensive history, including perspectives from people within internment camps, Koreans who experienced discrimination, law makers from Japan and the United States, and military personnel. The “Field Reports: Loyalty Investigations of American Citizens of Japanese Ancestry in War Relocation Centers” is comprised of manuscripts from Japanese American loyalty interviews. This source is extremely important in confirming Fujitani’s argument of Japanese Americans debating the level of loyalty that they possessed towards a nation that had imprisoned them. Fujitani also heavily refers to government documents like the War Relocation Authority Quarterly and Semiannual Reports and Watashi no sensō hanzai: Chōsenjin kyōsei renkō to demonstrate how deeply ingrained racism was at one point within the Japanese and United States government and militaries. Race for Empire also includes interrogation reports from within the Japanese military like “Interrogation Report No. 187” and “Interrogation Report No. 739” that demonstrate the ways that Japan attempted to eliminate racial tensions between the Koreans and the Japanese. Fujitani also uses newspapers, scholarly journals, books, legislation, and speeches to further his arguments. The Japanese American and Korean interview notes were arguably the most important in determining the overall success of Fujitani’s argument. The recounts of racist sentiments towards both minority groups in addition to the push for an elimination of racism as represented in the interviews gives strong support for Fujitani’s argument about a simultaneously and similar transition from “vulgar” to “polite” racism.

The Race for Empire is extremely successful in substantiating its claims in support for its argument that both Japan and the United States simultaneously shifted their public image on racism in order to fuel the war-machine and harness the labor of these minority groups. Fujitani enters the discussion by formulating a new history about the overjoyed Japanese Americans joining the United States military and in linking the Japanese and US military and race tactics that hadn’t been seen before. It uses sources like the interview notes from Koreans and Japanese Americans to display the changing sentiments that both populations experienced as they occurred. The overall success of this book is cemented in the level of examination and use of primary source documents. The book’s argument is effective in that it dismisses misconceptions surrounding Japanese desire to participate in the war effort. If there had to be a weakness in the book, I would say that it is in the favoring of telling the story of Japanese Americans. I understand that it would have been more difficult to access the other sources, but it would have been interesting to see more detail in regards to Korean and Taiwanese perspectives. Prior to this peace, there was a failure in scholarship to explain the transition between vulgar and polite racism in Japan and the United States. It also links the goals and means of carrying out those goals between the two nations that was not done previously. Fujitani accurately explains how both the Japanese and Americans prioritized their desire for total warfare and global hegemony over their desire to establish a society of racial inclusion for Japanese Americans and Koreans. Fujitina creates a new perspective on race within World War II. People often think of Germany as a nation of intense racism during that period.

Fujitani was successful in complicating many current discourses surrounding race and imperialism within World War II. Takashi Fujitani states that historians like Fanon have stated that military leaders were not “haunted by bad conscience” for their racism and brutality. Instead, the author effectively argues that these men were troubled by the misuse of enemy propaganda and how if used correctly, could turn a minority population against their oppressors.[17] Race for Empire confirms that Japan and the United States did have an overseer over their actions, this allowed for propaganda to overwhelm the public world. Both Japan and the United States fought to ensure that their nation was not viewed on a global scale as racist or prejudiced. Each nation felt as though they would enter the world stage more powerfully if they were not viewed as racist. Fujitani also attempts to disprove the John Dower, the author of War without Mercy. Within Dower’s book, he hyper focuses on the intense racism that Japan and the United States forced upon Koreans and Japanese Americans. Though Fujitani does not argue against the racism and sometimes brutal tactics that these nations represented, he does note that Dower omits the instances of moral high ground for both the Japanese and the United States. Second, Dower presents Japanese racism as “an outgrowth of a peculiarly Japanese understanding of otherness.”[18]Fujitani argues against this claim, stating that Dower makes a mistake in assuming a culture and identity for Japan before the nation really existed. Third, Dower overlooks the importance of propaganda. Takashi Fujitani argues that the successful use of propaganda helped to foster an environment of racism, rather than strictly using biological racism. Fujitani discounts both Dower and Fanon by stating that Japan and the United States had far more complex reasoning for the actions that they took in World War II. Rather than just racism, or the lack thereof, both Japan and the United States took measures that they deemed necessary in order to further their goals of global hegemony.

[1]Fujitani, Takashi.Race for Empire. London: University of California Press, 2011, 7.

[2]Takashi, Race for Empire, 11.

[3]Takashi, Race for Empire, 293.

[4]Takashi, Race for Empire, 58.

[5]Takashi, Race for Empire, 49.

[6]Takashi, Race for Empire, 89.

[7]Takashi, Race for Empire, 81.

[8]Takashi, Race for Empire, 119.

[9]Takashi, Race for Empire, 128.

[10]Takashi, Race for Empire, 143.

[11]Takashi, Race for Empire, 166.

[12]Takashi, Race for Empire, 166.

[13]Takashi, Race for Empire, 211.

[14]Takashi, Race for Empire, 245.

[15]Takashi, Race for Empire, 252.

[16]Takashi, Race for Empire, 269.

[17]Takashi, Race for Empire, 13.

[18]Takashi, Race for Empire, 15.


© 2017 by Janus. Proudly created with Wix.com