Academic journal article Journalism History

The Federal Government's Decisions in Suppressing the Japanese-Language Press, 1941-42

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Federal Government's Decisions in Suppressing the Japanese-Language Press, 1941-42

Article excerpt

This study analysed the federal government's decisions regarding the suppression of the Japanese "enemy language" press in the United States in the early months of World War II. While military officials wanted total suppression, civilian officials insisted on preserving and utilizing the Japanese press to support the nation's war policies, and the inter-departmental Committee on War Information (CWI) derided in favor of the civilian officials' goals. These officials then considered implementing a foreign-language press control law, but they eventually withdrew the idea. Thus, the Japanese-language press was exempted from total suppression or any other specially tailored legal regulations. However, it was still subject to a lesser degree of control throughout the war by the Army, and the papers, except in Utah, Colorado, and the internment camps, stopped publishing by mid-May 1942.

Warfare and journalism are closely interrelated, often exhibiting a kind of love-hate relationship. War brings about numerous newsworthy events and breaking news energizes journalism, but a war endangers press freedom. In literature, it is this detrimental effect of war that has caught the attention of mass communication and journalism scholars. In 1952, for example, Fred Siebert theorized: "The area of freedom contracts and the enforcement of restraints increases as the stresses on the stability of the government and of the structure of society increase." Then, in 1999, Jeffery A. Smith pointed out, "often in war ... freedom of expression contracts while uncritical acceptance of government decisions expands."1

Restraints on the press by a wartime government can take many forms, both formal and informal. Among them are financing, laws, regulations, court decisions, licenses, levies, dissemination and withholding of information, and direct contact with publishers and editors. Social and economic pressures in wartime also can further the government's power to control the press.2

However, the fact that press freedom is prone to be jeopardized especially in a war relates in many ways with contemporary thoughts about the First Amendment. Vincent Blasi claimed in 1985 that courts should adopt a "pathological perspective" in interpreting First Amendment freedoms, meaning that freedom of expression should be strengthened even further in abnormal periods. "The First Amendment, in other words, should be targeted for the worst of times," he said. Chief Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist asserted in 1998 that "if freedom of speech is to be meaningful, strong criticism of government policy must be permitted even in wartime." And in 2004, Geoffrey R. Stone wrote, "[i]f free speech is essential to self-governance in ordinary times, it is even more crucial [in extraordinary times]." Betty Houchin Winfield stated it differently in 1992, noting that wartime provides the "most severe test" for press freedom.3

World War II was a prominent example of a period when press freedom faced such a severe test. Scholars have examined how the United States government attempted to narrow the boundaries of press freedom. One group of researchers analyzed military censorship on the battlefields. Others shed light on press controls at home, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt's press management and public relations techniques, the Office of Censorship and its elicitation of voluntary censorship from journalists, and governmental interference with the African-American, radical anti-war, and other unpopular minority media.4

Nevertheless, little has been written about how the federal government exerted control over the Japanese-language press operated by Japanese Americans, who were subject to mass exclusion and confinement due to Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry were living in the mainland United States, mosdy on the West Coast. …

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