Along with the numerous letters Captain V.C. Best sent to Hugh Keenleyside, Best also included various newspaper clippings and cards after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Best wanted to illustrate the dangerous anti-Japanese sentiment in BC and to highlight which politicians he considered at fault for cultivating hate rhetoric. However, not all the news clippings Best sent were strongly anti-Japanese. Best provided contrast by sending letters to the editor written by other BC residents who shared Best’s dislike of anti-Japanese rhetoric.

Captain V.C. Best’s views – propaganda and politicians

Text on card reads "Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt have both stated that the Japs are not civilized -- why not intern them?"
One of the propaganda cards that Best received in the mail in January 1942. Library and Archives Canada, RG25, vol. 3037, file 4166-40, letter from Captain V.C. Best to Hugh Keenleyside, 1 January, 1942.

In January 1942, Best anxiously sent large volumes of news clippings and propaganda cards to Keenleyside in the hopes of alerting him to the feelings of both Anglo- and Japanese-Canadian BC residents. In Patricia Roy’s book, The Triumph of Citizenship: The Japanese and Chinese in Canada, 1941-67, she argues that the province was at the brink of rioting against Japanese Canadians, and Best tended to agree.[1] However, instead of understanding the situation as a result of broad-based anti-Japanese sentiment, Best believed it was caused by politicians in general and Vancouver City Council Alderman Wilson in particular.

“The panic in B.C. over the Japanese is contemptible – but since that the wind was sown by politicians without let or hindrance, it is only to be expected that B.C. will, and is, reaping the whirlwind”[2]

Propaganda

Before focusing on Wilson as the source of anti-Japanese propaganda, in January 1942, Best first sent Keenleyside a set of propaganda cards that had been anonymously delivered to his house immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbour.[3] The cards advocated for the removal of Japanese Canadians from the BC coast. Because they were anonymous, the cards could have reflected anyone’s views. However, in subsequent letters, Best began to blame politicians for inciting this type of public agitation.

Politicians

A newspaper article with the title "Wilson Speaks: Asks Public to Tell Ottawa About Japs"
An example of Alderman Wilson’s anti-Japanese views in the media. Library and Archives Canada, RG25, vol. 3037, file 4166-40, letter from Captain V.C. Best to Hugh Keenleyside, 13 January, 1942.

On January 5th, 1942, Best wrote to Keenleyside calling for “the resignation of leaders of the political program of recent date [since it] would be no loss to B.C.”[4] The following week, Best sent Keenleyside a pair of letters focusing specifically on the potential for rioting and the organization of mass anti-Japanese meetings because of Alderman Wilson’s fear-mongering rhetoric.

“I would submit that there is a probability that a riot will ensue shortly…there is in my estimation very grave danger – and these mass meetings should be prevented”[5]

 

“You will see at once the remarkable similarity to the initial stages of the Hitler pogrom. The next stage will probably be riots. [Wilson] disclaims having made a suggestion that if the gov’t did not get rid of the Japanese, a riot would.”[6]

The news clippings in these letters bore titles such as “Ald. Wilson Seeks Council Support for Jap Removal” and “Wilson Speaks: Asks Public to Tell Ottawa About Japs” and their content matched the calls for internment and anti-Japanese prejudice in the propaganda cards Best has sent Keenleyside earlier.[7] While it is possible that Wilson was responding as a politician to public sentiment rather than inciting it, Best strongly concluded that Wilson was the driving force behind anti-Japanese agitation.

“I am afraid of Wilson in Vancouver lest he be the spark to ignite the magazine. He is out for mischief and he is a very dangerous man”[8]

“Alderman Wilson will hold mass meetings if the Japanese are not all [original underline] out of B.C….watch him!”[9]

Balancing out the hysteria

Among the news clippings Best sent to Keenleyside in early 1942, he also included several examples to “demonstrate the confusion of thought upon the Japanese problem in BC.”[10] These examples were of seemingly regular BC residents that shared Best’s highly critical view of local politicians.

Two newspaper articles from BC residents with the titles "Malicious, Slanderous" and "No Alarm Cause"
Letters to the editor expressing outrage over the anti-Japanese sentiment in BC. Library and Archives Canada, RG25, vol. 3037, file 4166-40, letter from Captain V.C. Best to Hugh Keenleyside, 13 January, 1942.

On January 4th, 1942, an unknown newspaper published a letter to the editor from Mayne Island resident, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Flick, that advocated for a more level-headed approach to any issues resulting from Canada’s declaration of war on Japan. Flick pointed out that there had been no reports of espionage or sabotage by Japanese Canadians.[11] Furthermore, even if there was a threat from those of Japanese-descent, Flick argued that the call for internment should apply to enemy aliens of all nationalities, including Germans, Austrians and even Vichy French. On the topic of politicians, Flick echoed Best’s dislike:

“Some of our politicians have endeavored to whip up animosity against all Japanese in order to secure a measure of permanency in our Legislative Assemblies or in our Federal Parliament…such men have time and again deviated from the truth concerning Canadian Japanese, such men will go on with untrue utterings so long as those ill-informed as to Canadian-Japanese will listen to them”[12]

As January 1942 progressed, Best increasingly sent news clippings that conveyed the equivocality of British Columbians on this topic. Some of these articles and letters to the editor still expressed suspicion towards Japanese Canadians, but advocated their enlistment in the military as proof of their loyalty to Canada.[13] Most clippings, however, were entirely critical of the “malicious and slanderous attacks against the Japanese population of B.C.”[14] Letter writers drew attention to similarities between anti-Japanese actions in BC with Hitler’s programs in Europe, writing that “most anti-Japanese protagonists adopt Hitler’s Jew-baiting tricks” and calling into question what Canada was fighting for against what was being practiced at home.[15]

Others still drew comparisons with the situation in the United States, writing against internment by arguing that “our good neighbors have not removed their 160,000 [Japanese Americans] from Hawaii. Instead Secretary of the Navy Knox praised them.”[16]

By including these voices of support for Japanese Canadians in the face of strong anti-Japanese rhetoric, Best showed Keenleyside that public opinion was divided. Wilson’s anti-Japanese rhetoric had failed to convince everyone: many residents expressed their dissent publicly.

Conclusion

While Best did not specify to Keenleyside his place within the ideological battles waging in BC, his strong dislike of Wilson’s overtly racist public position suggests that Best likely identified with Flick and others. Reading Best’s letters, it is unclear whether he was firmly pro-Japanese Canadian but this this set of news clippings demonstrates that Best was at least aware of multiple viewpoints on the issue and open to understanding, critically examining, and arguing against them depending how they fit within his internal world view. Rather than simply accepting Wilson’s fear mongering, Best critically engaged with media coverage of Japanese Canadians in BC.

References

[1] Patricia Roy, The Triumph of Citizenship: The Japanese and Chinese in Canada, 1941-67 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007), http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/lib/uvic/detail.action?docID=10203109, 54-55.

[2] Library and Archives Canada (LAC), RG25, vol. 3037, file 4166-40, letter from Captain V.C. Best to Hugh Keenleyside, 1 January, 1942.

[3] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, 1 January, 1942.

[4] LAC, RG25, vol. 3037, file 4166-40, letter from Captain V.C. Best to Hugh Keenleyside, 5 January, 1942.

[5] LAC, RG25, vol. 3037, file 4166-40, letter from Captain V.C. Best to Hugh Keenleyside, 12 January, 1942.

[6] LAC, RG25, vol. 3037, file 4166-40, letter from Captain V.C. Best to Hugh Keenleyside, 13 January, 1942.

[7] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, 13 January, 1942.

[8] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, 13 January, 1942.

[9] LAC, RG25, vol. 3037, file 4166-40, letter from Captain V.C. Best to Hugh Keenleyside, 20 January, 1942.

[10] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, 5 January, 1942.

[11] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, news clipping, “Fairness to B.C. Japanese,” 13 January, 1942.

[12] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, news clipping, “Fairness to B.C. Japanese,” 13 January, 1942.

[13] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, news clipping, “Time to Close Door,” 20 January, 1942.

[14] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, news clipping, “Malicious, Slanderous,” 20 January, 1942.

[15] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, news clipping, “No Alarm Cause,” 20 January, 1942.

[16] LAC, Best to Keenleyside, news clipping, “Canadian Selfishness,” 20 January, 1942. Japanese Americans in continental US were also interned starting in February 1942, but Japanese Americans in Hawaii remained free for the duration of the war. See Mona Oikawa, Cartographies of Violence: Japanese Canadian Women, Memory, and the Subjects of Internment (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 43-45 for suggestions as to why.

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