Black Yanks in the Pacific

Black Yanks in the Pacific: Race in the Making of American Military Empire after World War II

Michael Cullen Green
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 224
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    Black Yanks in the Pacific
    Book Description:

    By the end of World War II, many black citizens viewed service in the segregated American armed forces with distaste if not disgust. Meanwhile, domestic racism and Jim Crow, ongoing Asian struggles against European colonialism, and prewar calls for Afro-Asian solidarity had generated considerable black ambivalence toward American military expansion in the Pacific, in particular the impending occupation of Japan. However, over the following decade black military service enabled tens of thousands of African Americans to interact daily with Asian peoples-encounters on a scale impossible prior to 1945. It also encouraged African Americans to share many of the same racialized attitudes toward Asian peoples held by their white counterparts and to identify with their government's foreign policy objectives in Asia.

    In Black Yanks in the Pacific, Michael Cullen Green tells the story of African American engagement with military service in occupied Japan, war-torn South Korea, and an emerging empire of bases anchored in those two nations. After World War II, African Americans largely embraced the socioeconomic opportunities afforded by service overseas-despite the maintenance of military segregation into the early 1950s-while strained Afro-Asian social relations in Japan and South Korea encouraged a sense of insurmountable difference from Asian peoples. By the time the Supreme Court declared de jure segregation unconstitutional in its landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, African American investment in overseas military expansion was largely secured. Although they were still subject to discrimination at home, many African Americans had come to distrust East Asian peoples and to accept the legitimacy of an expanding military empire abroad.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6221-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Everyday Racial Politics in a Military Empire
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the late 1940s, Lemo Houston, a native of Alabama stationed in American-occupied Japan, began a sexual relationship with a woman named Setsuko Takechi. Such dalliances were common among his fellow black servicemen. However, unlike most of his peers, Houston then began a lengthy courtship. Takechi’s family was appalled. Her father, distraught in part over his daughter’s ongoing relationship with an African American, committed suicide. Takechi’s remaining family disowned her. Nonetheless, Houston decided to seek rare military permission to marry his partner, who because of her race was otherwise ineligible for immigration and citizenship. Their homecoming, following months of paperwork...

  5. Chapter 1 Reconversion Blues and the Appeal of (Re)Enlistment
    (pp. 9-29)

    At the end of World War II the American military seemed an enemy of most black citizens. Amzie Moore, raised in the Mississippi Delta, had been drafted in 1942. After serving stateside and overseas, Moore claimed he “really didn’t know what segregation was like” before entering the army.¹ The status of African American personnel worsened in the war’s immediate aftermath: opportunities for training and advancement declined, and black servicemen encountered growing racial violence, especially in the South. By decade’s end little had changed. The armed forces, and the army in particular, remained predominantly segregated and discriminatory. Notwithstanding President Harry Truman’s...

  6. Chapter 2 The American Dream in a Prostrate Japan
    (pp. 30-59)

    Shortly after the start of war in Korea, a black columnist posed a question: “Have you ever seriously considered what might happen here in America if we should enter an all-out war and lose it?” In response to his query, the author contemplated American practices in East Asia. “I have just had a look at Japan,” he cautioned, “and if [it] can be used as a yardstick . . . here are some of the things we might expect.” There followed an extensive catalog of socioeconomic ills. Loss of purchasing power “would be only the beginning. . . . If...

  7. Chapter 3 The Public Politics of Intimate Affairs
    (pp. 60-86)

    One month after the surrender of Japan, an influential black newspaper published an informal poll on Afro-Asian intimacy. It asked five black residents of Baltimore, “When our forces occupy Japan, do you think our soldiers should fraternize with Japanese women?” Only one answered negatively, arguing on pragmatic grounds that “under ordinary circumstances such fraternization might be wholesome for all concerned, but business and pleasure do not mix, and this occupation is definitely business. Our men are under military orders.” The remaining four, evenly divided between women and men, offered variations on a theme that African American soldiers were entitled to...

  8. Chapter 4 A Brown Baby Crisis
    (pp. 87-108)

    A few weeks after the landing of American occupationaires, a white intelligence officer attended an impromptu Japanese social gathering in Tokyo. Following several rounds of sake, the off-duty officer felt the increasing gaiety posed an opportune moment to ask a “delicate question”: How did the Japanese feel about interracial fraternization? His relatively prosperous Japanese host assumed the role of spokesperson and, according to a letter the officer wrote to a colleague stationed in China, “did not hesitate to denounce it emphatically.” Due to language barriers, racial differences, and lingering wartime hatreds, his host argued, American soldiers were uninterested in pursuing...

  9. Chapter 5 The Race of Combat in Korea
    (pp. 109-135)

    “Today France is using the black Senegalese to conquer Viet-Nam, and Britain has used troops of every race and hue to hold the remains of her empire,” charged W. E. B. Du Bois in 1952. “Perhaps worst of all today is the use of American Negro troops in Korea.” The effect on African Americans—“almost forced to be the dumb tools of business corporations” coveting Asia and “in a sense compelled to murder colored folk who suffer from the same race prejudice”—would inevitably exacerbate black–white enmity at home. Most lamentably, the war was “bound to leave a legacy...

  10. Epilogue: Military Desegregation in a Militarized World
    (pp. 136-148)

    The Korean War entrenched America’s national security state. This culmination was most apparent in the maintenance of an enormous global military apparatus. The number of citizens under arms provides one metric for grasping the extent of American militarization. During the war the army more than doubled in size to 3.5 million men and women, supported by an annual military budget that jumped from $15 billion in 1950 to some $50 billion by 1953. Despite an inevitable decline in personnel following the armistice, the army in the late 1950s remained 50 percent larger than its prewar incarnation. The total for all...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 149-190)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 191-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-208)