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“The Senate’s Declaration of War”: Japan Responds to Japanese Exclusion

In 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act (also known as the Immigration Act of 1924), which restricted immigration from many European nations and denied even a token quota to most Asians. The law barred all immigrants who were ineligible for citizenship, and all south and east Asians (including Indians, Japanese, and Chinese) had been deemed ineligible on racial grounds by a 1922 Supreme Court decision. Japan reacted particularly strongly to what it regarded as the insulting treatment of the Japanese under the new law. The Japanese organized consumer boycotts against American goods and demonstrated against American cultural practices like dancing. This Japan Times & Mail editorial, entitled “The Senate’s Declaration of War,” denounced the 1924 immigration law and speculated on the reasons for the decision. The paper suggested that the Senate “deliberately” sought to “insult” the Japanese.

There is no denying that the adoption by the American Senate of the exclusion amendment to the Immigration Bill has given a shock to the whole Japanese race such as has never before been felt and which will undoubtedly be remembered for a long time to come. The wonder is, rather, that the shock has not found expression in a louder outburst of indignation than is the case. The knowledge that Senators Johnson, Shortridge and company do not necessarily represent the entire American nation in offering an unnecessary affront, is largely responsible for the spirit of forbearance which seems to be generally ruling the mind of the nation for the present. The country is aware, also, that the Immigration Bill as a whole has yet to be passed by the Senate, to be put through a joint conference of the two Houses and then to receive the signature of President Coolidge before it becomes law, and it is unquestionably thought unwise to destroy, by ill-measured utterances, the only possible chances that might prove favorable to the Japanese in the meantime.

Nevertheless the fact remains that the Senate has passed, with an overwhelming majority, an amendment which they know is a most humiliating one to the Japanese race, and the event cuts the Japanese minds deep, a wound that will hurt and rankle for generations and generations.

How came it to pass that the Senate should have chosen to act in so extraordinary a manner? The exclusion Senators themselves would have it believed that their ire was roused by Ambassador Hanihara’s “grave consequences” threat. They contend that the “veiled menace” was an insult that no Power so great as the United States could bear, and its injured dignity could be vindicated only by a retaliation in kind, as by insulting Japan by way of return. Yet it is inconceivable that they did not know that in view of the distortion of facts and misrepresentation of figures, so freely resorted to by the exclusionists, the Ambassador could pen his note of protest in no other tone, and that read in a rational spirit there was nothing in it to constitute an international offense.

The whole thing cannot but lend itself to theory that the Senators were looking for some excuse to get angry, and insinuations and falsifications were so engineered as to entrap Ambassador Hanihara into committing himself with words such as could be turned into a most effective weapon by them.

Even if this is going too far behind the show, it may not be gainsaid that the Senate has been most unfortunate in the choice of time for taking its action. While professing to be jubilant over the increased prospects of permanency of peace in consequence of the Washington Conference, all Japanese have ever since felt in the secret recesses of their heart that their country has been considerably weakened in its naval strength. To add to this there came that great devastating earthquake of last year, with its far reaching effect in all directions, seen especially in the ever-increasing balance of the country’s trade on the wrong side. It has been said openly more than once in different quarters abroad that Japan is as good as crushed to a naval and economic helplessness, from which there will be no recovering for a generation or two. Mark, then, it is at such a time that the Senate of the United States has said practically this: “We deliberately offer you this insult, knowing that you can do no more than make a wry face.”

No Japanese takes any stock in the excuse that Ambassador Hanihara’s “uncalled for words” provoked the Senators to resentment to teach Japan manners. All the leading American newspapers themselves, with the exception of course of those of Hearst interests, state that there was no occasion whatever for the Senators to get offended. The impression is not unnatural, therefore, on the Japanese side, that the American Senators took advantage of the adverse plight of Japan in developing and carrying into effect their scheme of making Japan and the Japanese victims of their political maneuvering.

This is extremely unfortunate. For a friendly turn in the hour of need will be remembered permanently, but an unfriendly act that takes advantage of one’s helpless condition makes nothing of all the past and darkens the long future.

We are most deeply aggrieved that the American Senate has made itself an object of distrust and suspicion in the Japanese mind through an act which is characterized as unnecessary and ill-judged by the American organs of public opinion themselves.

Source: "The Senate’s Declaration of War," Japan Times and Mail, April 19, 1924, 4.

See Also:Not All Caucasians Are White: The Supreme Court Rejects Citizenship for Asian Indians
Who Was Shut Out?: Immigration Quotas, 1925-1927
An "Un-American Bill": A Congressman Denounces Immigration Quotas
"Shut the Door": A Senator Speaks for Immigration Restriction