Authors: Richard Reeves
Tags: #History, #Military, #World War II, #United States, #20th Century, #State & Local, #West (AK; CA; CO; HI; ID; MT; NV; UT; WY)
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A final note: Scholars continue to debate the language used to tell the stories of Japanese American citizens and Japanese aliens during World War II. Among others, Japanese American writers Lane Ryo Hirabayashi and Robert Asahina told me that the most common complaints involve the use of the terms
In legal terminology,
applies only to government regulation of aliens, not citizens, and more than two-thirds of the American Japanese rounded up in 1942 were citizens of the United States. However, the word
was commonly used to describe the detention of both citizens and aliens during the war.
was commonly used in government offices during those years to describe the ten officially named relocation centers around the country. Among those who called them concentration camps was the president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Understanding that the meaning of the term
changed forever because of the death camps of Nazi-occupied Europe, I have used those words interchangeably, as Americans did in the early 1940s, along with the officially sanctioned terms
There can also be some confusion about the use of the word
. Obviously, it has more than one meaning when one is writing about World War II. It describes the citizens and soldiers of the Empire of Japan, the enemy. In the United States, it was also used to identify both American-born citizens and their alien parents and grandparents who were born in Japan and not allowed to apply for American citizenship because of their race. I have used the words
and the Japanese word
to identify both citizens and aliens living in the United States at the beginning of the war. The word
describes aliens, the first generation of people born in Japan who had immigrated to the United States. The word
describes the second generation, men and women born in the United States, citizens. Finally, the word
describes men and women born in the United States who were sent back to be educated in Japan before returning to America.
Los Angeles, California
On that terrible Sunday, December 7, 1941, eighteen-year-old Daniel Inouye heard of the Pearl Harbor attack on the radio, stepped outside his Honolulu house, and saw three planes as they flew over, gray planes with red circles on their wings. “I knew they were Japanese,” he remembered. Inouye later became a United States senator representing Hawaii, but at the time he had just been accepted as a premedical student at the University of Hawaii. “I felt that the world I had known, and had dreams about and planned for, had come to a shattering end.” Already trained in first aid, the teenager bicycled to the harbor to help medical personnel. More than twenty-four hundred sailors, soldiers, and civilians were killed in the attack. He helped doctors there for five days before returning home.
Soon after hearing of the attack, Saburo Kido ran to his office in San Francisco at the
New World Sun
, a Japanese-language newspaper. Kido was the president of the twenty-five-year-old Japanese American Citizens League, a strongly pro-American organization, and he was also an attorney and a columnist for the paper; when he arrived every phone was ringing, mostly calls from eastern newspapers looking for details and quotes. He handled as many as he could, then sent a telegram to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, stating, “In this solemn hour we pledge our fullest cooperation to you Mr. President, and to our country.… Now that Japan has instituted this attack upon our land, we are ready and prepared to extend every effort to repel this invasion together with our fellow Americans.”
The largest Japanese-language newspaper in the United States,
, which published many of its articles in English, said in an editorial in its next edition, “We have lived long enough in America to appreciate liberty and justice. We cannot tolerate the attempt of a few to dominate the world.… Japan started this war and it is now up to the United States to end the war by crushing the Japanese Empire and her ruthless, barbaric leaders. In order to live, we must be ready to die for our country.” The editorial went on to say, “Fellow Americans, give us a chance to do our share to make this world a better place to live in.”
Despite the patriotic words streaming from the community, soon after the attack hundreds of
, or American Japanese, were being arrested across the country. In Nebraska, Mike Masaoka, the field secretary of JACL, was speaking to fifty or so members of the small local Japanese community in the basement of the North Platte Episcopal Church when two men burst through the back doors shouting, “Where’s Masaoka?” They were Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. Outside the church, the FBI men put handcuffs on Masaoka and took him to the city jail.
When Kido learned that Masaoka, who lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, was in jail, he telephoned Senator Elbert Thomas of Utah, who then called around Washington to have Masaoka released and put on a train to San Francisco. On the train, a Cheyenne, Wyoming, police officer took one look at Masaoka and arrested him then and there. Senator Thomas intervened again, this time getting permission for two soldiers to travel with Masaoka to San Francisco.
Masaoka was among more than twelve hundred American Japanese community leaders identified from “Suspect Enemy Aliens” lists secretly compiled by the FBI with the help of the Census Bureau. Merchants, priests, teachers, newspapermen, and heads of various civic organizations were arrested without charges within forty-eight hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor. More than a thousand of them were from California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. Thirteen of them were women.
Less than twenty-four hours after the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked a joint session of Congress for a Declaration of War against Japan, stating, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” A few hours later, after Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover informed the White House that 620 Germans and 98 Italians were also taken into custody. The Germans arrested included leaders of such organizations as the uniformed and openly pro-Hitler German-American Bund, which had a membership of more than forty thousand in the Northeast and Midwest.
The Italian number might have been a bit larger, but the FBI decided not to incarcerate a San Francisco alien named Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, a fisherman from Sicily, who lived in the United States for forty years without applying for citizenship. The bureau, however, did stop him from going near Fisherman’s Wharf, where he and his wife owned a boat and a restaurant. In memos and phone calls, government officials worried about the publicity that would come if they put Joe DiMaggio’s parents in jail during the year that “Joltin’ Joe” of the New York Yankees had been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player after hitting in fifty-six straight games.
The same was true for the mayor of New York and the mayor of San Francisco: the parents of Fiorello La Guardia and Angelo Rossi were Italian aliens who had never applied for American citizenship. President Roosevelt had already told his attorney general, Francis Biddle, to take it easy on Italians and Italian Americans. “They’re just a bunch of opera singers.” Ironically, the FBI in New York did arrest one of the more famous opera singers, Ezio Pinza, an Italian citizen who was first basso of the Metropolitan Opera. Like the DiMaggios, he had lived in the United States for more than twenty years without seeking to become naturalized
Two FBI agents entered his home in Bronxville without warning. After searching the house for hours, one of the agents spotted a framed page of writing in Italian on the wall of his study.
“What is this?”
“It’s a letter written by Verdi.”
“Who?” asked the agent.
The other agent said, “In the name of the President of the United States, you are under arrest.”
That was front page news in the
New York Times
, under the headline, “Ezio Pinza Seized as Enemy Alien; FBI Takes Singer to Ellis Island.” The singer was one of the 126 Japanese, German, and Italian men held there. He suffered some kind of breakdown, barely speaking, until he was released three months later, thanks to a team of high-priced lawyers and the backing of New York mayor La Guardia. Pinza believed he was arrested because of an untruthful report from a Met rival saying he was a friend of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Like other imprisoned aliens, Pinza was never charged, but later wrote that interrogators accused him of secretly sending messages to Mussolini—a man he had never met—by changing the tempo of his voice during radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera.
There were, however, important differences in dealing with immigrants to the United States from Europe and immigrants from Asia. Europeans, including Pinza and the DiMaggios, could have become naturalized U.S. citizens. U.S. residents born in Japan could not become citizens and could not own land in the United States under the Immigration Act of 1924, a special provision of the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. The prohibitions on land ownership were popularized by distinguished Californians such as Dr. Edward Alsworth Ross, a famous professor of sociology at Stanford, who wrote of the Japanese as early as 1900:
1. They are unassimilable.
2. They work for low wages and thereby undermine the existing work standards of American workmen.
3. Their standards of living are much lower than American workmen.
4. They lack a proper political feeling for American democratic institutions.
The denial of citizenship to Japanese immigrants had begun with the case of Takao Ozawa, a graduate of Berkeley High School and a junior at the University of California, Berkeley, which reached the Supreme Court in November of 1922. The justices ruled that he was not a “free white person” and was therefore ineligible for citizenship. “The decision provoked wild resentment in Japan,” wrote Carey McWilliams in his 1944 book
. “In commenting upon the decision, the
said that ‘Americans are as spiteful as snakes and vipers—we do not hesitate to call that government a studied deceiver.’”
Those American laws were part of a buildup of tension between the United States and Imperial Japan and between Caucasian and American Japanese merchants and farmers living on the West Coast. Within hours of Pearl Harbor, the government moved against American Japanese. When Yoshiko Uchida, a Christian, came home from church that Sunday, she opened the door to her house in Berkeley and was shocked to see a white man sitting in the living room. He was an FBI agent and he had already searched the house, leaving it a mess. He wanted to know where her father, a prosperous San Francisco–based executive of Mitsui Export, a Japanese-owned shipping line, was “hiding.”
“I’ll be back,” the man said.
Her father, Dwight Takashi Uchida, returned an hour later, took one look at the house, and called the police, saying, “There’s been a burglary here!” The police arrived in minutes—with three men from the FBI. They took Uchida away, saying, “It’ll only be a short while.” One agent stayed to answer the family’s phone, saying they were not available. Friends who came to the door for Sunday visits were turned away.
It was not until five days later that a friend called and told the family that Uchida was being held in jail with about one hundred other men at the Presidio, army headquarters in San Francisco. They received a postcard from him the next day, asking for shirts and shaving gear.
He told his wife he was going to be taken to a federal prison in Missoula, Montana. Other prisons, used by the Justice Department to hold aliens, were also far from California, in Bismarck, North Dakota; Kooskia, Idaho; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Crystal City and Seagoville, Texas. In his next letter home from Missoula, Uchida told his wife that their bank accounts were frozen and she should go to the bank and try to get enough money on which to live, perhaps $100 a month. Then he added: “Don’t forget to lubricate the car. And be sure to prune the roses in January. Brush Laddie every day and give him a pat for me. Don’t forget to send a monthly check to Grandma and take my Christmas offering to church.”
To the north, in Washington State, Mitsuno Matsuda, the wife of a strawberry farmer on Vashon Island, in Puget Sound, twenty minutes from Seattle by ferry, received a call from Hisaye Yamamoto, her friend on Bainbridge, another island in the sound. “The FBI came to our house and searched everything. It was awful, just awful. They even ran their hands through our rice and sugar bowls, looking for guns and radios or anything with Japanese writing,” said Yamamoto. “Vashon must be next.”
That evening Mitsuno and Heisuke Matsuda and their two children, teenagers, Yoneichi and Mary, began to destroy anything that they thought might look too Japanese to a policeman or an FBI agent. “This is it,” Mary remembered her father saying as he walked to the dining room stove with his favorite phonograph record. “This one is ‘Sakura,’ Yoshiko-san’s voice is so clear.”
He broke the record in two and threw it into the fire. For an hour, the family burned their family photographs and books. Mary began throwing her dolls, in little kimonos, into the stove. The FBI came two weeks later. The two agents took away Yoneichi’s .22 caliber rifle and the family’s radio. They found one book.