Pearl Harbor Day

Today a reporter contacted me wondering how Japanese Americans feel about Pearl Harbor Day. Here’s what I wrote:

When the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans like the rest of America were shocked and shaken. We were terrified, angry, and wanted to defend OUR United States. Many young Japanese American men went almost immediately, to sign up for military service only to be turned away, classified as ineligible to serve. Japanese American men who were already in the service were no longer allowed to carry weapons and they were reassigned to non-active duty assignments.

My parents, both American citizens, had been contributing to the Red Cross, volunteered for the Civilian Defense, and took pride in their right to vote at every election. So our patriotic loyalty, like every other American, was immediately intensified and we were outraged. But it wasn’t long, maybe even a few days, before children at school, employers, neighbors suddenly saw our Japanese faces as the face of the enemy – deriding our children in the classroom, told not to come to work, sneered at or even spit at by people who didn’t even know us. The news of the attack seemed to unleash smoldering resentment, and there were acts of violence against Japanese farmers and innocent people on the streets. Even this was, to some extent, “understandable”, but soon the newspapers were headlining the “yellow peril” in our own backyard, government officials began heralding the need to make America safe by removing the “Japs” off the West Coast. Disbelief and growing despair pervaded our community as people turned their backs on us. We stood by helplessly as our fathers and ministers and teachers were swiftly picked up by FBI agents for no apparent reason other than they were community leaders.

Many people I have interviewed describe an unforgettable, sinking feeling as they began to realize that America couldn’t/wouldn’t distinguish the “terrorists”, who attacked our beloved country, from the Americans who had lived as hardworking, contributing members of the community for decades. And then of course, within 10 weeks from the bombing, President Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066, eventually incarcerating 120,000 people, for reasons of national security, based on their race and ethnicity to desolate inland regions in ten concentration camps for the duration of the war. This is where I was born. My parents were held for over four years without any due process of law. Even orphans who had one quarter Japanese blood were removed from orphanages and incarcerated in the Manzanar concentration camp orphanage.

Pearl Harbor Day is not an easy day for most of us old enough to remember or have lived through the experience. The double betrayal of the bombing by an aggressor nation resulting in the deaths of our fellow Americans, and then the incarceration of men, women and children, based on race hatred and wartime hysteria is not without emotion. But time has, until recently, helped to weather the intensity of feelings in our community. However, there is no doubt that current political rhetoric raising the so-called “precedent” of the incarceration of the Japanese Americans in 1942 as justification for a Muslim registry, frighteningly echoes our own past experience.

This December 7th, we are mobilizing our resources, speaking out, and offering our support to others who are vulnerable, once again, to race hatred and hysteria. Many of us have resolved to work diligently, actively and loudly to do what we can to make sure that such violation of civil and human rights, never happen again.