16 December 2007

Tessaku Seikatsu: Postwar Delusions

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 202, 204-205:
A memorial service for the war dead was sponsored by the Buddhist federation and held at the theater on the night of September 14 [1945]. Rev. Joei Oi began the evening by saying that the service would honor the war dead of both sides, which was commendable. However, in his sermon, Rev. Enryo Shigefuji of Fresno expressed opinions that clearly showed he did not understand the current situation. I was surprised at his ignorance. First he attacked the United States for its unlawful and unjust use of atomic weapons. This was admirable. Then he reported, "Japan was so incensed at the inhumanity of this act that it wiped out the entire American expeditionary force in the Far East in three days and forced the United States to surrender." Rev. Shigefuji was said to be a highly learned priest, so I wondered what had happened. Outside after the meeting, Mr. Komai, Rafu Shimpo president, and I were so dumbfounded that all we could do was exchange stunned looks. We were so amazed by his remarks that we were practically speechless.

Two days later, I heard a sermon by Rev. Shuntaro Ikezawa of the Christian church in the east classroom. The weather was very bad—rain, hail, even thunder. There were only a few priests and about a dozen people present. As I expected, Rev. Ikezawa had grasped what was happening. In his sermon, "Truth and Love," he talked about the atomic bomb: "What was wrong was not the invention of atomic energy, but the thinking that led to its use in war. If we use our inventions for good, all human beings benefit. His Highness the Prime Minister said to General MacArthur, 'You must forget Pearl Harbor and we must forget the atomic bomb.' These were wise words." The Reverend then prayed for the birth of a new Japan. I felt what he had to say was well worth listening to. Over the next few days the internees could not stop talking about Rev. Shigefuji's sermon while Rev. Ikezawa's was never mentioned. Rev. Shigefuji was praised for expressing his opinions without fear and was regarded as a hero....

Even those who should have known better were misinformed or deluded themselves. Around this time I met an uneducated but admirable young man... One morning in early October, the two of us were taking a walk. I asked if he wished to return to Japan. He answered that, because he was poor, he could not go back and wanted instead to remain in the United States, where many jobs would be available in restaurants. He continued: "Actually, one of my friends advised me to return to Japan with him. I said I would if I had the kind of money he had. He said looks were deceiving; in fact he was penniless and that was why he was returning to Japan. Since Japan had won the war, internees could expect reparations from the United States. Internees who went back now could receive as much as fifty thou- sand dollars. If they returned later, the money might no longer be available. My friend repeated that I should go back with him. I did not know what to say. There are so many such fellows who think Japan has won the war." And so many of them were greedily waiting to return to Japan.

On October 1 all residents of the sixty-sixth barracks boycotted the Santa Fe Times and suspended their subscriptions.

After Spain withdrew its offer to represent Japanese interests, Switzerland took over the responsibility. The Swiss representatives visited the camp with State Department officials on September 27. Mr. Fischer was among them. They met with General Manager Koba and other camp officers. A report of what had transpired, written in question-and-answer form, was mimeographed both in English and Japanese and circulated to all barracks on October 2. U.S.-Japan relations, the surrender of Japan, and the changed conditions in Japan were outlined in detail. I quietly noted the internees' responses to the report. Many said that talks between representatives of a small country like Switzerland and State Department officials could only be propaganda. They showed no further interest in the matter. The prevailing attitude toward the report was indifference.

On October 2, the camp population was 2,027, of which 106 were in the hospital and 3 were in the temporary holding cell. Those of us in the "traitors group" estimated that the number of internees who had any real understanding of the war and its aftermath was less than a hundred. Even Nisei who visited their parents in the camp around this time advised them not to worry, because Japan was winning the war. The purpose may have been to bolster the spirits of the internees, but it also seemed to provide fuel for the diehards who refused to accept Japan's defeat. In the end this sort of thing did more harm than good.

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