“Brotherhood Week” as a Vehicle for False American Unity

Similar to my blog post last week, I’ve decided to focus back in on John Okada’s No-No Boy and a particular archival document that relates directly to the text itself and the main characters presented by Okada. Like mentioned before, the main protagonist in the story, Ichiro, has just recently returned to Seattle from being held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese during WWII, after being forced into fighting on the side of the United States while his family suffered in an internment camp. Ichiro, much like many other Japanese-American men during this time, were physically forced into participating in the war against their own country, mainly for two reasons: 1) to help America win the war through increased manpower and 2) for xenophobic fears surrounding the Japanese people residing in the US at the time. Fighting in the war served as an outlet for these xenophobic feelings that allowed a constant monitoring of these men, and an assurance of their allegiance to the US, and not Japan.

In order to unite these men, and all men who were fighting for the US during WWII, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an announcement that called for a “Brotherhood Week”, extending from February 19th-February 28th,, 1943. This Brotherhood Week, pictured above, called on these men to fight as one united front to maintain the freedoms that are made possible because of the longstanding fight the US has put up against the enemy.

FDR starts off by stating that “we are fighting for the right of men to live together as members of one family rather than as masters and slaves”, which seems contradictory from the start. Not only are people, like Ichiro in Okada’s novel, excluded from this resounding “we” (which happens to be repeated three times throughout the announcement), but they are essentially positioned as the slaves forced to work – or in this case, fight – for the masters who lead this country. In the novel, Ichiro would contest the fact that he is a part of this “family” of the United States for a variety of reasons, such as that his family is being held in an interment camp while he is forced against his will to fight in a war – seemingly contradictory meanings to the word “family”, as FDR denotes.

This statement goes on to call upon “the spirit of brotherhood” that these men are fighting for, and ends with a seemingly empty promise to “extend brotherhood earth-wide which gives hope to all the world”. Again, the spirit of brotherhood that FDR talks about is contradicted directly by the troubles that Ichiro faces throughout the novel, the biggest being identity and belonging. Ichiro feels as though he doesn’t belong as an American because of the terms of living he and his family are given by the government, but he also doesn’t feel as though he belongs as a Japanese man because he fought against them (again, unwillingly) and he no longer physically resides there. Because of that, the way FDR ends his announcement with a call to action for brotherhood earth-wide crumbles underneath itself, for there isn’t even a true brotherhood visible within the United States, as Ichiro would argue.

 

4 thoughts on ““Brotherhood Week” as a Vehicle for False American Unity”

  1. I appreciate your analysis here and I think you’ve summarized your ideas really well in the title of this post. What does it mean for people of color and in this case, Japanese Americans in particular, to fit (or better said, not fit) into a narrative of “American unity”? FDR also explicitly makes the comparison to “live together as members of one family rather than as masters and slaves” most obviously invoking the enslavement of African people in the United States / slavery as one of the main foundations upon which this country is built. What does it mean for this statement to be applicable and certainly relevant to the experiences of Japanese Americans even if their specific history is not being referenced? And to follow up on that question, what does it mean in the context of the internment of people of Japanese ancestry?

  2. Overall, I really liked your blog post and I think you make some really compelling arguments too about Ichiro and the novel. I read this novel too and I think one larger theme that I think you should mention is Ichiro’s dynamic and relationship with his mother. Ichiro’s mother still loves Japan and seems to love it more than living in America. The reason why Ichiro said “NO-NO” to his allegiance with the United States was based off of his mother’s opinion about America. Ultimately, I think you should mention that there is a separation between the two generations of Japanese Americans that were either born and raised in the United States and Japanese Americans that came over from Japan.

  3. This is a really interesting new direction for your thesis! I know in class the other day we discussed “othering” and how nationalism and how it exists during wartime can contribute to an American identity that values whiteness, the nuclear family, and traditional gender roles. In terms of the nuclear American family, I have actually read through Stephanie Coontz’s “The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America’s Changing Families” which tracks economic, social, and political shifts within America and how these shifts have affected family structures. It might be worth taking a look at!

  4. I think you bring up some really great points here, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the novel with FDR’s speech. With my mindset, I cannot help but think about the difference in platforms and how these texts are often viewed– Okada with little notoriety among the wider public compared to the vast group who has an image of FDR. After reading your post, it is interesting because you seem to be reframing FDR in a similar-but-opposite way to Okada’s narrative, which breaks down the experience of Japanese Americans in World War II. I also think this analysis is especially relevant today when prominent figures speak to some “universal” whole that seems to be very specific, while generalizing an “other.”

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