by William Bigham

Daniel K. Inouye was only 17 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec 7, 1941. He was leisurely getting ready for breakfast with his family on a beautiful Hawaiian Sunday morning when he turned on the radio and heard hysterical cries of: “This is no test! Pearl Harbor is being bombed by the Japanese! I repeat: This is not a test!” Inouye and his family were stunned. They received a call from the secretary at the Honolulu Red Cross station, where Inouye worked as a first aid teacher.

“How soon can you be here, Dan?”

“I’m on my way.”

After a frantic exchange of goodbyes with his parents and siblings, Inouye left on his bicycle for the Red Cross station. Traveling through the streets of his poor ethnic neighborhood, Inouye passed several horror-stricken Japanese Americans who were dumbfounded and shocked that their ancestors’ country was bombing the American port. One older man stopped Inouye’s bike on the street, screaming at him.

“Who did it? Was it the Germans? It must have been the Germans!”
At that same moment radio broadcasters were relaying the news of the attacks all over the country, infuriating the American public and leaving Japanese-Americans everywhere with a feeling of betrayal. They had wanted only to be accepted as Americans, but at that moment all knew there would be difficult times ahead – not because they had aided in the attacks; not because they intended on being loyal to Japan (a country that most had not even set foot in) – but because they looked like the enemy; and with a history of government-sanctioned racism towards Asian Americans, they knew the American public would not forgive Japanese Americans for hostile actions of the Japanese, and they were morbidly frightened of what lay ahead.
It was with this feeling of betrayal and disgust that a young Daniel K. Inouye looked up at Japanese planes buzzing overhead and screamed into the sky, “You dirty Japs!”

Pre-WWII History of Japanese-Americans in the United States

Japan had historically been an isolationist country, and Japanese people were legally restricted from immigrating to foreign countries. This did not begin to change until 1853 when Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay, opening up trade relations between the United States and Japan, and ushering in a period of increased Japanese contact with western nations.