Pacific Northwest History

When speaking of external forces that encouraged or possibly forced changes in the economy of the Pacific Northwest, once again, the catalyst that World War II became in transforming the economic model of the region cannot be ignored, and is one of the biggest modern phenomena to bring about change.

For the United States, World War II began not far from the Western shores of the United States itself with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941; beyond this fact, however, it can be argued that it is worthwhile to consider the dynamics that led up to the attack, and its aftermath, to comprehend exactly why the Northwest underwent such a drastic change. First, the fact is that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in an effort to curb American advancement into Eastern Asia, which was viewed as interference in Japanese affairs (Levine).


Therefore, when the Japanese focused an attack on Hawaii, which was then an American territory. Once an attack on an American territory occurred, and it was shown that armed attacks against America had already been successful, the importance of protecting the American mainland came into play. Because of this, the first encroachment of “outsiders” into the Pacific Northwest came in the form of American military personnel, who fortified the coast and its waters with a greatly increased military presence as a defensive measure.

This defense was based on solid military intelligence that indicated that beyond the Japanese desire to defend territory, there was a very real possibility that the Japanese would attempt to control the waters of the Western Pacific Ocean, as many Japanese waterways had become polluted and corrupted by warships, taking away the fishing industry which had served to feed Japan’s growing population as well as its teetering economy in the face of war with a world superpower (Levine).

Moreover, Japan was interested in gaining control of the mining rights of the Pacific Northwest, as its iron ore deposits were all but exhausted due to increased demand of the production of implements of war. Of course, a new economy grew around these soldiers due to their need for housing, food, clothing, and entertainment. Many of the formerly rural people of the Pacific Northwest became urban dwellers, as cities sprouted up to accommodate the influx of industrial workers and military personnel from outside the area (Menzel).

The industrial infrastructure and economy of the Pacific Northwest was also converted due to the needs of World War II; because of the logistical importance of being able to use the Northwest as an observation area and an ideal point from which to launch aircraft and vessels for warfare in the Japanese territories, it made perfect sense for the already established shipbuilding and aircraft industries of the Northwest to expand to meet the needs of a nation at war, who needed ships and airplanes to fight an enemy thousands of miles away.

From this, corporations that still today dominate the Northwest, such as Boeing Aircraft, began their presence in what was formerly a remote region known more for natural resources than it was for any type of industrial prominence (Freeman & Martin). Something must also be said about the change in racial composition of the Pacific Northwest which began in the 1940s due to the afore mentioned impact that racial diversity had on the politics and everyday life in the Northwest, in large part due to the fear of Japanese immigrants brought about by the Pearl Harbor attack.

Because of the engagement with Japan in World War II, racial profiling of a sort began on a widespread basis, as anyone of Asian descent was naturally, albeit unfairly, tagged as some sort of Japanese spies, un-American, or sympathizers with the enemy.

This resulted in the construction of containment camps that imprisoned Asian-Americans by the thousands, removing them from the economy and workplace and bringing about more demand for rural people to migrate to the cities in order to fill the demand for labor. After World War II and the subsequent release of these individuals from confinement, many of them left the United States, never to return, (Kittredge) once again affecting the genetic makeup of the region, albeit ever so slight.

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