On the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, which launched the U.S. into World War II after years of isolationism, the memory of the event “still has an important and maybe even a renewed significance today,” says Risa Kitagawa, an assistant professor of political science and international affairs at Northeastern.
“Moments of crisis … are profoundly ripe for fear and moral outrage and anger to turn into fear mongering and paranoia,” she says. Kitagawa notes that after Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans—many of whom were U.S. citizens—were seen as an “internal enemy,” forced from their homes and interned in prison camps for the duration of the war. It wasn’t until 1988 that the U.S. formally apologized to the Japanese Americans who had been treated that way, including those who were drafted or volunteered to fight for the U.S. in Europe during World War II.
Fears of danger from outsiders have emerged at other times in U.S. history, too, including after 9/11, during the Trump administration’s efforts to create a so-called “Muslim ban,” and during an uptick in anti-Asian crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns about similar stereotyping arose as recently as last month, when the appearance of the omicron variant of the coronavirus prompted some countries, including the U.S., to ban travel from southern Africa.