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We Knew It Was Wrong
I often wonder how many Americans are aware that a number of Seattle residents in 1942 knew that the internment of the Seattle Japanese community—whether citizens or not—was wrong [“The Stolen Years,” December 2005]. No people of Italian or German ancestry were subjected to the same treatment. At Christmas time in 1941 some of us tried through small gifts to express our sympathies to any of the soon-to-be departed Japanese we knew. But we had no way of adequately compensating them for the loss of homes and other property as well as for the undeserved humiliation they suffered as a result of their ethnic origin.
Nancy Ann Holtz, ’70, ’77
It Happened in America
The cover story, “The Stolen Years,’ in the December issue brought back vivid memories of the deportation of Japanese from Bainbridge Island in 1942. At that time my family was living in Manchester, a village across Puget Sound between Seattle and Bremerton.
Blackouts, air raid wardens, barrage balloons, gun emplacements, and rationing were all new experiences to a fifth grader. Everyone was expecting another Pearl Harbor. … Rumors were rampant that the Japanese farmers on Bainbridge Island plowed their fields with furrows pointing toward the naval shipyard in Bremerton. This was to direct Japanese bombers to the shipyard. The reason given for the deportation was “to protect them from harm.”
On a rainy, dreary Sunday morning, most of the town congregated at the ferry dock to see deportees put aboard a ferry. Army trucks drove onto the dock to await the arrival of the chartered ferry. Each truck was loaded with Japanese families and guarded by soldiers with rifles. The ferry docked and the deportees were herded aboard. Each had two suitcases or boxes containing all the belongings they were allowed to take to the internment camp. It was a very solemn occasion. It’s hard to believe that this happened in America.
Jim Mitchell, ’53
‘Relocating’ Japanese Americans
Your article on the Japanese Americans in the current Columns deserves some comment. You tell us that Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps and confined there during World War II. This is not true. They were prohibited from remaining in the West Coast area. If they could not or would not relocate elsewhere, they were sent to relocation camps, not internment camps. In Oregon and Washington the prohibited area involved was roughly everything west of Highway 97.
An example of how the relocation could be handled was the experience of a friend of mine, Masa Yano. He was a year behind me in the Baker City, Ore., schools. When the war broke out he was in school at UW. He elected to relocate himself. He did not find a ready job in Baker so he went to Ontario and began working on a large farm. This kept him out of the prohibited area. Being a bright and industrious fellow, he did quite well and eventually bought this same farm.
The Japanese aliens were treated somewhat differently and some were confined to internment camps. You do your readers a disservice when you do not differentiate between the internees and the Japanese Americans who merely had to relocate.
Carl T. Kostol, ’48
Baker City, Ore.
Editor’s Note: For a while after Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were free to leave the West Coast. However, after General De Witt’s proclamation in March, Japanese Americans whose permanent address was in the exclusion zone had no choice. Unless they had special permission, they had to relocate to “assembly centers.” There was no difference in the initial treatment of aliens and U.S. citizens of Japanese descent—all were interned in the same camps.
Living in Idaho and Washington most of my life, I knew something of the imprisonment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. Your well-researched article, “The Stolen Years,” brought clarity and another dimension to the subject. I recently learned that not all of the young men in the internment camps eagerly volunteered to serve in the war, however. Some protested the injustice of internment by not volunteering and resisting the draft, and were subsequently prosecuted and served prison terms. Most were later pardoned or exonerated, but the insult to grave injury had already reaped its toll. Frank Abe’s moving documentary “Conscience and the Constitution” is the story of these resisters; for more information, visit: http://www.pbs.org/itvs/conscience/the_film.
Catherine Clemens, ’96
Kudos on a well-written article about an often forgotten subject that remains a dark page in U.S. history and was devastating for the local Asian American community. I am reminded of the outstanding slide presentations on the Minidoka internment camp that later became a video and a book, This Was Minidoka, by former internees Jack and Dorothy Yamaguchi. … It amazes me that it took the government until 1976, more than 30 years after the war, to finally atone for its mistake and formally revoke Executive Order 9066. In the face of growing concerns of domestic terrorism, let us hope that the government never again makes the same mistake of stripping its citizens of their civil liberties.
Shawn Morse, ’91
Good Men, Bad Decisions
My parents—Warren Smith, ’43, and Jean Laughlin Smith, ’43—were students at the UW when the internments occurred. My mother had a particular friend, Lillian Kubota. She remembers that “the police came to the dorm ... dragged her out of her room …” and she never saw her again. Kubota was from Metaline Falls, Idaho, and as my mother, a lifelong Republican sneers, “However possibly could she have been a spy in Metaline?!”
For years, she and my father tried to get news of Kubota, but never could. My mother is very afraid that her friend died in the camps because of the conditions.
My parents decided to try by all means to instill a deep respect for other cultures and a total loathing of racism. … I grew up to go to the UW in the wonderful ’60s, fell for Jack Dull’s incredible introduction to Asian history and graduated in 1969 with a B.A. in Chinese language and literature. (Yes, I sat next to Ted Bundy in class; yes, he was a jerk.) In Chinese language classes I met my children’s father, a 1969 graduate too—Arlucius Q. Stephens III. He and his friends made us ill because they had studied Chinese at Yale while in the Air Force and had brilliant language skills. He also happened to have brown eyes and curly hair—very curly hair. My parent’s reaction to their daughter’s marriage to an African American in 1968 was typical. They were just ecstatic to have a son-in-law with a college degree.
When our daughter, Cinnamon, graduated from Williams College in 1991, I heard a brilliant man give a brilliant speech. He told us four simple tales, and one was of the Supreme Court decision to uphold the internments. To paraphrase, he said, “Good men make bad decisions … for what they think at the time are good reasons.” My parents had to endure the loss of their Japanese American friends, forever. What they decided to do was raise us without the concept of racism, and virtually no distinction based on religion or culture. It was priceless. You could say that those horrible times taught at least two young Americans early in their lives, that good people can be terribly abused by well-meaning, but terribly wrong, “patriotic” actions. Perhaps if either President Bush or Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had been at the UW in that time, tens of thousands of young Iraq citizens might still be alive.
Susan Smith Stephens, ’69
When Help Was Needed Most
Your detective work and writing is appreciated by one of the alumni from the war years. … I cannot resist pointing out that the UW YW-YMCA at Eagleson Hall was particularly supportive and influential in counseling Nisei students, arranging for them to go back East, getting them into colleges, finding jobs and places to live in faraway places. Floyd Schmoe and the American Friends Service Committee, as well as individuals such as Mary Farquharson (legislator and ACLU activist), Art Barnett (attorney), Ruth Haines and Woody Woodward (YWCA and YMCA executive secretaries respectively) and certain UW professors were devoted to the Nisei students when their help was needed most.
Lois Logan Horn, ’44
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