The letter to the editor in our June issue that said people upset over the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II should “get over it” sparked a robust response from our readers just as we expected. We at Columns believe a university (and its magazine) provides a forum for substantive conversations like these. Publishing letters with controversial perspectives doesn’t mean we are endorsing that point of view; rather, we are calling attention to a viewpoint we think is worthy of further discussion. As Clarence Moriwaki, ’78, a leader in Western Washington’s Japanese-American community, stated in a letter to us, “I’m pleased [the controversial] letter allows another learning opportunity to dispel the myths and historical revision attempting to justify President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066…” (You can find Clarence’s letter in its entirety in this online feature.)
Columns has a long history of covering the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Our “Stolen Years” series in 2006 not only garnered national awards but was one of the contributing partners in supporting the University’s decision to award honorary degrees in 2008 to those Japanese-American UW students whose college education was interrupted because they were sent to internment campus. And the article that inspired James Massick’s controversial letter in the first place was a full-page feature in our March issue on Teresa Tamura, an alum who published a book on the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho.
These kinds of conversations are never easy. But we are better for them because it gives us, the members of the UW community, a chance to delve deeper into topics and feelings that need further attention and consideration.
Below are a number of responses we have received. We welcome and encourage you to share your reflections and input. Together, we make the University community stronger. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. – Jon Marmor, Editor
I was both sad and pleased to read a letter from James W. Massick commenting on the excellent article Silence is a Coping Mechanism. I’m sad because Mr. Massick claimed that the article contained “numerous inaccurate assertions” about the unconstitutional exclusion of 120,000 Japanese-Americans in World War II, defending the forced mass removal of only people of Japanese ancestry as “not simply being racist,” but that it was a “military emergency,” and that with the “benefit of 20-20 hindsight from 70 years distance…(p)erhaps it could have been handled differently. It wasn’t. Get over it.”
I’m pleased because his letter allows another learning opportunity to dispel the myths and historical revisionism attempting to justify President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which set in motion the forced exclusion of 95 percent of Japanese and Japanese-Americans living in the United States and the Aleutian Islands.
A federal bipartisan commission spent three years exhaustively studying this sorry chapter in American history, and under the Reagan Administration in 1983, they released a report entitled “Personal Justice Denied,” with their unanimous finding concluding:
“The promulgation of Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity, and the decisions which followed from it—detention, ending detention and ending exclusion—were not driven by analysis of military conditions. The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance of Japanese Americans contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan. A grave injustice was done to American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.”
Along with official apologies from five U.S. presidents and modest redress to remaining survivors from Congress, time has also been an insulating solvent that has helped heal unfortunate feelings of pain and blame, anger and shame.
May we all be inspired from the hopeful maxim from a National Historic Site, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, the first community to be forcibly mass removed and placed in concentration camps: “Nidoto Nai Yoni – Let it not happen again.”
Clarence Moriwaki, B.A., Communications, ’78
Why I Won’t Get Over It
Mr. James W. Massick’s (’54) letter to the editor entitled, “Extreme Measures” addresses the forced incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. He claims to correct “inaccuracies” and “reveal the truth” about the violation of Japanese-American constitutional rights during World War II. His letter minimizes the forced evacuation of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans (referred to by the government as “aliens” and “non aliens). Approximately two-thirds were non aliens or American citizens. Fifty percent were children and about 100 orphans were taken from orphanages or adopted parents and sent to concentration camps because they represented a threat to America. He ignores the fact that the government intentionally withheld evidence in the Hirabayashi Supreme Court case that challenged the injustice. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which acknowledged the wrong doing. President Clinton’s 1993 letter of apology stated that the actions were rooted in “racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and lack of political leadership.”
In spite of these injustices, Mr. Massick urges the Japanese-Americans to “get over it.” Given the fact that there are at least two Americas (one with more justice than the other), it is understandable why Massick would take this view, which incidentally reflects the privileged America he lives in. To that end, I would invite him to imagine being a resident of the other America as a “non alien” and watch helplessly as his family and loved ones suffer humiliations and violations. He could then experience the heartbreak of being betrayed and caged behind barbed wire for three or more years with other innocents. A rape victim once shared the thought that the forced incarceration was like the rape of an entire community by someone they trusted (Uncle Sam). This partly explains why some Japanese-Americans were in denial, committed suicide, or tried to prove they were 110 percent American in response.
It is easy to regard the “get over it” remark as a dismissal that minimizes the importance of the event. But it also can be taken as a veiled plea for forgiveness. Not surprisingly, there are Japanese-Americans who would forgive the government. I, however, am not one of them. I have spent a lifetime trying to come to terms with the unforgivable and I have concluded there is no excuse good enough to pardon what the government did. As a result, I speak up so it does not happen again. Since the Japanese-Americans were the first to be taken, it is our legacy to be the first to protest similar injustices. As Mark Twain said, “History does not repeat itself but it rhymes.” Because of this legacy, ironically I will stand for you, Mr. Massick, and your family if by chance you and they are taken unjustly based on your “race, wartime hysteria, or lack of political leadership.”
Larry Matsuda, ’67, ’73, ’81
Former resident of: Minidoka (Concentration Camp), Block 26, Barrack 2
Former President, UW Alumni Association
I was outraged to see the large bold font on page six of the June Columns that read, “Perhaps it could have been handled differently. It wasn’t. Get over it.” This came from a misinformed letter writer trying to justify the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II because of the threat of the Japanese military. The letter stated, “Over the years, a popular myth has developed in which an entirely innocent Japanese-American population was tossed into concentration camps in a fit of racist paranoia.” This is not a myth. 110,000 Japanese-Americans, two-thirds U.S. citizens and half under the age of 18, were placed in concentration camps because of their Japanese ancestry and were not given trials. This action was taken even though no Japanese-American was convicted or found guilty of spying or sabotage during World War II.
Eighteen years ago, former UW Regent Scott Oki and I founded Densho to preserve the testimonies of Japanese-Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. We believe it is important that we don’t just “get over it.” Keeping this story alive helps us value our freedoms, especially during the dark times of war when freedoms and principles are so easily lost.
Tom Ikeda, ’79, ’83
Densho Founding Executive Director
By writing about the so-called necessity to incarcerate the Japanese, Mr. Massick served to remind us we need to keep talking about the constitutional violations of minority groups whether racial, religious, sexual orientation, or beliefs. We can’t fall prey to the “Chicken Little” syndrome that afflicted him and simply look at a human rights disaster and flippantly dismiss it. The same thinking that led to the imprisonment of west coast Japanese in 1941 still exists in 2014. Chicken Little lives on. Mr. Massick’s letter and your highlighting his dismissive quote implying agreement, serves as a need to be vigilant.
Harold Kawaguchi, ’61, ’65
Natural born U.S. citizen,’38
Tule Lake Internment Camp, ’42
As a longtime scholar of what is often called the Japanese-American internment, I was greatly disturbed by both the historical errors in James W. Massick’s letter and its belligerent tone. Massick portrays the U.S. government’s mass wartime confinement of Japanese Americans as a sensible reaction to a military emergency, and then concludes, “The war was a time of national emergency when our government did things that we, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight from 70 years distance, wish they had not done. Perhaps it could have been handled differently. It wasn’t. Get over it.”
Building on a consensus judgment by scholars (some of whom began publishing during the war itself), in the 1980s the CWRIC, an official historical commission, reported that President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 and the official confinement that resulted from it were not a response to military conditions, and instead reflected racism, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. The U.S. government ratified this judgment in 1988 by enacting an official apology and redress payment to Japanese-Americans.
It is tedious to go through Massick’s charges, when they have so often been refuted: There were no documented cases of disloyal activity by any West Coast Japanese-American, before or after Pearl Harbor. The handful of incidents where West Coast targets were shelled by Japanese submarines occurred after the decisions for exclusion had already been taken, and so could not have been a factor in them. (It is instructive to compare these with the large-scale sinking of ships by German submarines in the Atlantic, which did not lead to calls for roundup of German Americans). The West Coast Army officials and political leaders who led the call for mass removal of Japanese-Americans did not pay attention to the situation in the Philippines, which was irrelevant—any more than they did to Hawaii, where Japanese-Americans made sterling contributions to the defense effort. Indeed, the fact that in Hawaii, which had actually been attacked by Tokyo and would have been the center of any future invasion, Japanese Americans were not interned should tell us all we need to know about how much actual military considerations determined official policy.
Massick can’t have it both ways. If official actions were justifiable under the circumstances—and the body of evidence shows that they certainly were not—then there is no reason to wish the government had acted differently. If not, then he agrees that Japanese-Americans were unjustly stripped of their liberty without due process, lost their homes and property, and had their families divided. It takes some brass in that case for Massick to tell them to get over it, or us as Americans to forget it.
Professor of History
Universite du Quebec a Montreal
I was stunned to read the letter from James W. Massick regarding the March article “Silence is a Coping Mechanism,” and his dismissal of the World War II incarceration of some 120,000 people of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens. He is right about one thing: hindsight is 20-20. And I would hope, after he has had the benefit of that very hindsight, his regret for such comments will be as sharp as his tongue.
Kirby Larson, M.A., Speech Communication, ’79
I have been active in my student community during my UW experience and take pride in the diversity of this institution. I have done much to help encourage tolerance and sensitivity. That said, I am happy the UW and the Alumni Association are open to diverse opinions, and Mr. Massick is certainly entitled to his. But “Get over it”? Mr. Massick’s final line, strikes me as inflammatory, immature, insensitive, and not constructive to the position he posits.
Danielle Trierweiler, MLIS Candidate 2014
James Massick’s contrarian view on the internment of Japanese-Americans at the start of World War II prompts me to share my revision in thinking informed by Howard Blum’s recent book Dark Invasion. It recounts an extensive program of sabotage by German-Americans and German residents during World War I. Ships supplying Britain with needed supplies were sunk at sea by clever incendiary devices planted by German saboteurs operating on East Coast waterfronts. Storage depots were set afire, detonating tons of critical armaments. This now-forgotten terrorist campaign would certainly been in the minds of policy makers after Pearl Harbor. As tragic as the internment was for nearly all Japanese-Americans caught up in it, it may have been a prudent policy to protect the U.S.
D. Jack Elzinga, B.S., Chemical Engineering, ’60
Professor Emeritus, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
University of Florida