MARCH 2006: Home
The Stolen Years: Part Two Print
Written by Tom Griffin   
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The Stolen Years: Part Two
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Frank Miyamoto, '36, '38
Frank Miyamoto, '36, '38
“We have known these students as excellent scholars and young people who have contributed their leadership to our classroom work and constructive campus activities. As a group, their scholarship is well above the University average. As citizens of the University community, they have been loyal supporters of academic and defense activities,” wrote Sieg.

While the administration worked quietly, some student voices loudly decried the internment plans. “These people you condemn, gentlemen, are human beings—individual citizens who work and dream as you and I. They are not cattle. And they are not to be herded as cattle. They are humans. Citizens. They speak our tongue. They worship our way of life. They are us,” wrote one Daily editorialist.

Yet many of the Nisei students didn’t read the Daily editorials and few knew of O’Brien’s and Sieg’s plans. “It was so sudden, it was hard to believe,” says Sumioka.

All Japanese Americans were under suspicion of being enemy sympathizers. If they objected to the exclusion order, they could be labeled as “unpatriotic” in a time of war. Many students were worried about their parents, permanent residents who were classified as “enemy aliens.” Was the ultimate plan to send these enemy aliens back to the enemy? “We were all pretty puzzled. Will our parents be sent back to Japan?” Ruby Inouye Shu says.

Sometime in the middle of the month, Sieg sent O’Brien to a conference in San Francisco where he could meet with the military authorities. The hope was that somehow UW students would be exempt from the internment camps or at least be allowed to finish spring quarter.

Frank Miyamoto’s UW graduation portrait. Photo courtesy of Frank Miyamoto.

On his return to Seattle, O’Brien wrote a detailed memo that held little hope. “The Army official stated definitely that evacuation for Seattle will take place before the end of our spring quarter and that students in college would not be exempted from the orders,” he wrote.

One bright note, O’Brien added, was that officials favored relocating Nisei to other universities away from the West Coast. The government promised to cover the cost of transportation. But the reaction from the colleges was lukewarm, at best.

“The replies from almost all of these letters indicated that the institutions were, in general, a little hesitant about receiving students of the Japanese race,” Sieg wrote later that month.

Overt racism and political pressure were rampant. An Associated Press story in early April quoted O’Brien as saying that there were 14 inland colleges willing to take Japanese American transfers and listed them. The uproar over the news report immediately closed the doors at several institutions. The University of Idaho withdrew its offer. University of Montana President Ernest Melby told Sieg that while he wanted to help, his opinions were probably “of no consequence.”

A few institutions were more welcoming, particularly private religious colleges in the Midwest and East.

While Sieg, O’Brien, Quaker activist Floyd Schmoe and others tried to find a way out for UW students, the military tightened its restrictions. Initial plans to assemble Japanese Americans in temporary camps and then release them beyond the exclusion zone were quashed by politicians in the Rocky Mountain states. Large “relocation centers” would have to be built from scratch to house the 120,000 uprooted Japanese Americans. All of these camps would be scattered across the interior of the West in hot, arid places—except for two in Arkansas built in swamp land.

In the meantime, the military ordered that all West Coast Japanese Americans had to be home by 8 p.m. and could not leave until 6 a.m. For a week, Gordon Hirabayashi followed the rules. He would be studying with his friends. “They’d say, ‘Hey Gordon, five minutes to go,’ and I’d gather up and beat it home,” he recalled.

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