the national interest

Erick Erickson Nostalgic for Anti-Asian Racism

Erick Erickson, Rick Perry
Erick Erickson’s parents never forgave China for being invaded by Japan. Photo: Tony Gutierrez/AP

Erick Erickson is the editor-in-chief of, a frequent cable-television commentator, and a figure positioned to the right of center within the Republican Party but comfortably within the conservative movement. Erickson has all sorts of interesting ideas about American politics, but his fond recollections of his childhood observance of Pearl Harbor Day have some interesting relevance to the current debate over terrorism:

Asia is an extremely large continent. It runs as far west as Israel, so if we take Erickson at his word, his family was boycotting hummus on Pearl Harbor Day to spite the Japanese. Now, when Americans say “Asia,” they often just mean East Asia, but that hardly rescues Erickson’s point. The most common kind of East Asian food in the United States is Chinese food. Japan invaded China beginning in 1931, and murdered or enslaved millions and millions of Chinese people. Japan also invaded just about every other East Asian country whose food is commonly served in the United States: Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, etc. Boycotting “Asian food” because of Japan is exactly like boycotting “European food” because of Germany.

Erickson is celebrating an inability to make racial distinctions between the Asian country that attacked the United States and the Asian countries that were also invaded. His kind of racially indiscriminate nationalism would never be applied to the European theater. Nobody would refuse to eat bagels or niçoise salad because we were attacked by Europeans.

One might chalk up anger at “Asians” to bygone generational ignorance. But the same debate lingers today. Conservatives routinely flay President Obama for targeting his rhetoric against ISIS too narrowly, and refusing to frame the conflict as a “civilizational” struggle between the West and Islam. There are practical reasons not to allow the U.S. to be identified as hostile to Islam as a whole, but also a more basic moral argument: just as most of Japan’s victims were Asians, the most common victims of ISIS are Muslims.