Attitude Questionnaire

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The Education Administration and Japanese-American Student Attitudes

By Daphne Liu

         During World War II, the vast majority of the student-aged Japanese Americans were the Nisei, or the second generation. Although they were citizens by birth, the Nisei experienced the distrust and discrimination faced by all individuals of Japanese ancestry that ultimately led to incarceration. Despite this, the administration within the concentration camps strove to instill the ideals of American democracy in Japanese American students through the camp school system. In the Poston III camp, the education administration conducted a study to gain a greater understanding of the attitudes of students towards a variety of democratic principles and to evaluate how education could be used to encourage assimilation to American ideals. Although the Japanese American students’ attitudes and loyalties were doubted during World War II, the government still expected them to pursue acceptance through assimilation and to adhere to idealistic democratic principles in the face of racial discrimination.

The existence of an attitude study reflects the general feeling during World War II that people of Japanese ancestry were potentially dangerous and of questionable loyalty. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were classified as “enemy aliens” and forced to relocate to concentration camps. However, the distrust did not end once the Japanese Americans were isolated in camps. Although they were incarcerated by the U.S. government, the younger Japanese Americans attended schools in the camps where “they began the day by saluting the flag of the United States, and then singing ‘My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.’”[1] The students directly felt the discrepancies between being citizens of a country based on ideals of equality and freedom and yet being seen as “enemies” and confined to concentration camps by their government. The mindsets of the student-aged Japanese Americans were evaluated in a study conducted in 1943 at the Poston III schools.[2] An “attitude questionnaire” was given to students in grades 7 through 12 covering a variety of subjects, including patriotism, war, and race relations.[3] The study was designed to examine the attitudes of the students in Poston III towards certain aspects of American culture, how these attitudes changed with time, and what these attitudes were based on.[4] Earlier that year, all Japanese Americans 17 years of age or older were required to answer a “loyalty questionnaire” issued by the U.S. War Department and the War Relocation Authority, and the answers to these questions were used to label individuals as “loyal” or “disloyal” to the United States.[5] Similar to the loyalty questionnaire, the attitude study reflects the prevailing sentiment at the time that people of Japanese ancestry, regardless of their citizenship, were not to be trusted and thus had to prove their loyalty to the United States.

The attitude study was also motivated by the administration’s desire to promote assimilation and adherence to American democratic principles through the camp school system. One of the goals of the attitude study was to check for “possible attitude changes resulting from various educational procedures.”[6] An explanation of the implications of the study highlighted the responsibility of educational institutions for “developing in young people attitudes which will insure the permanence of a democratic way of life.”[7] These attitudes included tolerance for other races and the rejection of race-based segregation, as shown through questions about the Chinese, Italians, and Jews. Notably, some questions alluded to the race-based events of World War II, asking students to agree or disagree with statements such as “The Jews caused most of the world’s troubles” and “The Jews have been mistreated more than they deserve.”[8] Dillon S. Myer, the director of the War Relocation Authority, believed the camps would actually help the students by “teaching them American principles of governance” and thus “mold the Nisei into disciplined patriotic subjects.”[9] These viewpoints were shared by many of the students, who held an assimilationist ideology and were determined to prove their loyalty to the United States. Prior to World War II, the Nisei were often stereotyped as being “overly Americanized,” in part due to the encouragement they received in American public schools to become assimilated.[10] This encouragement continued within the camp school system. Parts of the attitude questionnaire focused on the assimilability of those of Japanese ancestry, asking students if they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “Japanese have made bad American citizens.” The questionnaire also included statements about Japanese Americans’ connections to Japan, such as: “Children of Japanese ancestry should learn to speak and read Japanese so that they can know the problems of their people better.”[11] Even before the war, the Nisei had to find ways to reconcile their American identities, which were reinforced through schools and popular culture, and their Japanese identities, which stemmed from their parents and their ethnic communities. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tension between their dual identities was enhanced by the increased hostility towards everything Japanese, leading the education administration to continue to encourage the Nisei to focus on the American side of their identities.

Although the administration behind the attitude study strove to promote democratic principles among the students, they were also aware of the contradictions between the nation’s ideals of democracy and the prevalence of both legal and social discrimination based on race and the necessity of addressing those discrepancies. The attitude questionnaire tackled some of the discriminatory policies faced by the Japanese in America. Students were asked if they agreed or disagreed with racially exclusive housing and neighborhoods, interracial marriages, and exclusion based on race in social settings.[12] Notably, the study acknowledged the necessity of creating a “durable national unity” both during and after the war in order to advance American democracy, and thus the importance of learning “how to eliminate the tensions and strains resulting from the present treatment of many minority groups.”[13] At the same time, the administration had little trouble reconciling teaching American democratic principles to students who were incarcerated by the American government. While some students likely thought incarceration was a violation of civil rights and in contradiction with the ideal of American democracy, the majority of the Japanese Americans did not publicly express these sentiments and instead endeavored to show their unwavering loyalty to the United States.[14]

The camp administration continued to encourage the student-aged Japanese Americans to hold an assimilationist attitude during World War II and to uphold the principles of American democracy despite facing racially charged hostility and mistrust. During incarceration, the students’ loyalties were questioned through studies such as the attitude study at Poston III schools, which also emphasized the need for educational institutions to promote democratic ideals and to carry out those ideals when dealing with minority groups like the Japanese Americans. Although they may have felt the U.S. government had infringed upon their rights as citizens, the majority of the students still believed the best strategy for greater social and legal acceptance of Japanese Americans was to become increasingly assimilated into mainstream American society, echoing the sentiments expressed in the attitude study.

[1] Ronald Takaki, Strangers From A Different Shore, (New York: Back Bay Books, 1998), 396.

[2] “Letter from Chester A. Potts to Laura Thompson,” Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

[3] “Letter from Chester A. Potts.”

[4] “Chapter I of Attitude Study,” Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, 1.

[5] “Reading: The Question of Loyalty,”,

[6] “Letter from Chester A Potts.”

[7] “Chapter I of Attitude Study,” 3-4.

[8] “Attitude Questionnaire,” Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, 3.

[9] Scott Kurashige. “Model minority,” Densho Encyclopedia

[10] Gary Y. Okihiro, “NISEI,” Encyclopedia of Japanese American Internment, (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2013),

[11] “Attitude Questionnaire,” 3.

[12] “Attitude Questionnaire,” 2.

[13] “Chapter I of Attitude Study,” 3.

[14] “Reading: The Question of Loyalty,”,

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