- Facing the Rising Sun: African Americans, Japan, and the Rise of Afro-Asian Solidarity by Gerald Horne
During World War II, Malcolm Little, who would eventually become the charismatic minister and spokesman for the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, dissembled his true feelings toward war so successfully that he was banned from service. He found clever ways to avoid the draft. Malcolm Little played a "pro-Tokyo Negro" and acted crazy. He spread the word that he "was frantic to join … the Japanese Army," and hoped that his words would reach army intelligence soldiers in Harlem (1). He whispered into the ear of the army psychiatrist in the induction center, "I want to get sent down South. Organize them nigger soldiers, you dig? Steal us some guns, and kill up crackers!" (1). His dissembling performance got Malcolm Little exactly what he wanted: a military classification of 4-F, not acceptable for military service, on his registration card.
Gerald Horne offers this anecdote from Malcolm X's posthumous autobiography as an entry point for readers of Facing the Rising Sun, an absorbing study of Afro-Asian solidarity. Horne's prodigious archival research is ingeniously framed by questions that challenge some of the assumptions made about African American civil rights struggles in the twentieth century. Why did thousands of African Americans refuse to comply with the Selective Service Act and face imprisonment? Why did a fight against the Jim Crow South (at least potentially) accommodate pro-Japanese sentiment? Why did pro-Tokyo rhetoric raise suspicions among wartime state authorities? Last, but not least, Horne asks why scholars should study pro-Japanese views among African Americans, which were "translated into meaningful action only intermittently" (15).
Based on exhaustive archival research, Horne crafts a compelling argument that Japan's (abortive) challenge to white supremacy—and, albeit misguided, those African Americans who were supportive of it—contributed to the retreat, if not demise, of Jim Crow. Horne's story does [End Page 839] not reproduce the familiar arguments that the edifice of Jim Crow began to crumble under the combined pressures of the Cold War and the civil rights movement. Instead, Horne pushes his chronology back to the Pearl Harbor attack or even earlier, contending that "the seeds for this epochal trend were watered vigorously during the Pacific War, when so many Negroes expressed solidarity with Japan at a time when it was engaged in a death match with the United States" (18). The book's principal subjects are black nationalist groups that adopted a pro-Tokyo position: Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, as well as other lesser-known groups, such as the Allah Temple of Islam (the precursor of the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad), the Pacific Movement of the Eastern World, the Peace Movement of Ethiopia, the Ethiopia Pacific Movement, and the Moorish Science Temple. These groups lived under wartime police-state surveillance and suspicion.
Horne's book is most usefully read in conjunction with his previous scholarly masterwork Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (2004). Like Race War, Facing the Rising Sun is a powerfully argued book; perhaps, it is even too powerful. In his Introduction, Horne includes a caveat against identifying the author with the book's protagonists. He cautions: "Readers should be aware that if I had been alive during the Pacific War, I would probably have clashed ideologically and otherwise with the leading African American characters in this book" (19). Indeed, one of the book's notable achievements is its commitment to "a more complicated reassessment of U.S. history" (22). Horne puts "the global correlation of forces" at the center of his analysis (17) and successfully argues that "because slavery and Jim Crow—and the malignant attitudes both embodied—were so deeply entrenched in U.S. society, it required external forces, global currents, to alter profoundly this tragic state of affairs" (11).
Horne's eight chapters trace the roots and routes of how Afro-Asian solidarity...