Sunday, September 07, 2014

Insult and Injury

Our actions against Americans of Japanese descent was foretold by numerous historic events and by the comments of Franklin Delano Roosevelt well before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As early as 1925 when he was Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt said that any mixing of the white and Japanese races would have catastrophic results and in 1936, citing the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 in which the much smaller Japan defeated Russia, told the Secretary of the Army that in the event of any act of aggression by the Japan to round up all Japanese Americans on the west coast and put them in camps. It was widely believed that American citizens of Japanese descent would rally to Japan’s side and that Japanese Americans could not be trusted.  There is little doubt that this conception stemmed from broad racial bigotry in the United States and more so at the highest reaches of its government. Roosevelt's Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, an ardent racist on a good day, believed that Japanese Americans were subversive terrorists because it was in their blood. Apparently German Americans were not afflicted.

Despite intelligence from the FBI and the Army that there was no identifiable threat from Japanese American’s Executive Order 9066, the Relocation Act of 1942, was instituted and by the fall of 1942 all 112,000 American Japanese from the west coast were safely imprisoned in camps throughout the American west and in Arkansas. Sixty two percent were American citizens.
A generation of Japanese Americans entered the camps as children or young adults. They, it turns out, were the lucky ones as they were able survive and even flourish in the camps. Many of the young men, as if to prove their loyalty either volunteered for service or submitted to the draft. They served with enormous valor as is well documented in the history of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team that served in Italy and became the most decorated unit in American history.
800 men and women from Heart Mountain served. Two of the twenty two Japanese American Medal of Honor winners, James Okubo and Joe Hayashi, were from Heart Mountain. To add insult to injury these American heroes were initially denied the Medal of Honor solely because of their race despite recommendations from their commanders and were relegated to the Distinguished Service Cross. They were finally given their due in 1990 when President Clinton hung the medals around their necks.

In total 26,000 prisoners voluntarily served but 500 resisted the draft. They were found guilty of draft evasion and were sent to federal prisons. These men, in the words of the late Senator Daniel Inouye, himself one of the Medal of Honor winners, "were the really brave ones."

Barney Fushimi Hajiro who refused to own a Japanese car lamented when he received his medal that, “Even after the war they still called me a Jap, you know?”