A|More|Perfect|Union
Intro

John Chancellor: Introduction
Two centuries ago, the framers of the Constitution wrestled with the fundamental problem of government: how to balance the rights of individual citizens and minority groups against the need for order and defense of the society itself.

This is the story of a group of Americans who suffered a great wrong. The American Civil Liberties Union called it 'the worst single wholesale violation of the civil rights of American citizens in our history.'

The story began shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when this country was mobilizing for a long war, and the future looked bleak, and when some Americans wondered if the United States might lose. The country made a big and tragic error in 1942, but we learned from our mistakes, so we won't make them in the future.

The aim of the Constitution was not to create a 'perfect union' — none of the framers believed mortal beings were capable of a 'perfect union.' They wanted instead to form a 'more perfect union.'

The important thing is, we're still trying to accomplish that.

(John Chancellor Video, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)




Issei: The First Generation

Mutsu H.: Getting Married
DG: Did your father do part of this ceremony?

MH: No, bishop did. It's Dr. Fox. And it's wedding funny was after platform and now, "She is your wife. Will you please kiss her?" And then he said, "Oh, no Japanese doesn't." And then Dr. Fox said, "No, you have to. This is America. America people kiss wife." "No."

BF: And this was going on during the ceremony?

MH: Yes, in the ceremony-arguing. And finally Doctor. said, "Well, then never complain later." He said, "Yeah, I know." And then okay. We didn't kiss. [Laughs]

(Mutsu H. Interview, Copyright 1997 Densho Project)




U.S. Mainland

Mary Tsukamoto: Nisei in Florin
And so my husband's father was 75 years old. He had come to Florin when he was 25, and so he had been in Florin more than 50 years, and had raised and planted every grape, and all the persimmon trees and walnut trees in our yard and everything. So we worried about the elderly Isseis, about what would happen to Grandpa, who was no longer young.

(Mary Tsukamoto Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)




Crisis: Pearl Harbor

Akiko K.: No Longer an Equal American
Well, I'd just come home from church. And then we kept hearing, "Pearl Harbor was bombed, Pearl Harbor was bombed." I had no idea where Pearl Harbor was. My geography was not that sophisticated. I had no idea, and my father said, "Uh-oh, there's going to be trouble." And I said, "Well, how come?" He said, "Well, Japan just bombed Pearl Harbor." And, he says, "We're at war with Japan." But, I thought, "Why should it bother me?" You know, "I'm an American." And then he said, "You know, we are aliens." My parents... "We don't have the citizenship, so they're gonna' do something, we'll probably get taken away." But at that time, my parents had no feeling that we would be removed because-so they were saying my brother would have to take on the responsibility to keep the family together, because they may be removed or put into camp or whatever. And, then when I went back to school that following morning, you know, December 8th, one of the teachers said, "You people bombed Pearl Harbor." And I'm going, "My people?" All of a sudden my Japaneseness became very aware to me. I no longer felt I'm an equal American, that I felt kind of threatened and nervous about it.

(Akiko K. Interview, Copyright 1997 Densho Project)




Constitution and Executive Order

Mary Tsukamoto: Learning of E.O.
We were shocked to realize that the President had signed this. We just kept saying, "But... we live out in the valley, not on the West Coast, not near, a... a airport or a naval base." Surely, you know, they wouldn't think that we needed to move too because we were busy raising strawberries, and harvesting crops that would really help our nation. We couldn't believe that they would need all of us to quit our work to produce our fruit, food for victory... and then be put away.

(Mary Tsukamoto Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Morgan Yamanaka: No Possibility of Resistance
There was no question of refusing or resisting that order. And I think one has to appreciate what our parents, the immigrant parents taught us: "Always respect order coming from the people above you. Respect your teachers, respect the government, respect the law. Be obedient, be reserved, be a good Japanese according to good Japanese traditions. We as parents are telling you to do what your teachers say you do." What do our teachers say? "Be aggressive. Say your peace. If you disagree, say you disagree." They were often in conflict here.

(Morgan Yamanaka Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)




Process

Sue Embrey: Registering After the Notice
These men in jeeps, they went around posting the notices up, and in our area everyone was supposed to report to the Union Church. So my oldest brother went down and he signed in all of us. And my Mother felt that we should all go together because she didn't know what would happen if we were separated. So he got a family number for all of us, I think I still remember it... 2614.

(Sue Embrey Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Rae T.: FBI Search
RT: I didn't realize the enormity until much later, but I soon found out what it meant for all of us because they came for my dad that night, early in the morning of December 8th. And...

AI: What happened?

RT: They picked him up. Well, I was sleeping in a bedroom on the main floor, which was fairly close to my folks' room; in other words, not quite adjacent. But I was awakened by this commotion. ... Oh, my, my mother. I told you she's very outspoken. And she is the one that I heard. I did not hear my father say anything, but my mother went on a rampage. I mean, she didn't care if they were FBI men or not, and she was proclaiming to them that she was "an American citizen," and she "had the rights of an American citizen, and how dare they come breaking into my house." [Laughs] And oh yes, I heard her. And I wasn't sure what was going on. I really didn't know that they were going to take my dad. I just thought that it was a little — it must be a very wild event for my mother, for sure, because she was really carrying on, but that didn't matter to them.

(Rae T. Interview, Copyright 1998 Densho Project)




Moving Out:

Mary Tsukamoto: Getting Ready
We just figured they were sending us up in the mountains somewhere... you know, to be... And so I started to gather rice, small sacks of rice and... and collected the packages of dehydrated soup and jello and things that were light, so that they wouldn't be such a heavy baggage for us to carry because they said you could only take what you carry. And we knew we had to take blankets and sheets and bedding and things as well as some of our clothes. And we had no idea whether we were going to a hot place or a cold place, so our family was quite concerned about how to get ready.

(Mary Tsukamoto Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Morgan Yamanaka: One Week to Leave
We had one week to get ready. And what we could carry would include: bedding eating utensils and clothing. Questions arose: Where are we going? we don't know, we're not gonna tell you. How long are we going? We don't know , we' won't tell you. There was a rumor that we were being sent to Manzana, and no, that didn't prove true, we were sent to Santa Nita racetrack.

(Morgan Yamanaka Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Sue Embrey: We are American Citizens
I had a neighbor who said something to me toward the last few days before we left Los Angeles. He says, "You know, we're American Citizens, and we really could fight this thing." And, you know, I was just 18. It's hard for me to believe that other people who may have been older than I hadn't thought of it, there were lawyers in our community. I just had the feeling that this was something the whole community was going to go through because, even though there were alternatives, maybe this was the best way to... to tell the government that, you know, we're loyal, and we'll do whatever we need to do in order to help in the war effort. And... because there was so much suspicion cast on the Japanese population regardless of whether they were citizens or not, that maybe this was the only way out.

(Sue Embrey Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)




First Stop: Assembly Centers

Mary Tsukamoto: Treated Like Animals
And I never will forget, the train stopped and we got off and they put us on a big truck. It looked like one of those cattle cars. Anyway, we stood up because there were no chairs for us to sit on this pickup and crowded into this truck. They drove us to the Fresno Assembly Center. And then we got off there and they told us to get in and there was the barbed wire gate, and the MPs around there and uh... We had to go in through that gate and after we got in there we knew that the gate was shut. And so, we saw all these people behind the fence, looking out, hanging onto the wire, and looking out because they were anxious to know who was coming in. But I will never forget the shocking feeling that human beings were behind this fence like animals [crying]. And we were going to also lose our freedom and walk inside of that gate and find ourselves... cooped up there. And the police, the MPs with their guns and some of them had bayonets. I don't know what they were going to do with it, if they thought we were gong to run away I guess. But anyway, when the gates were shut, we knew that we had lost something that was very precious; that we were no longer free.

(Mary Tsukamoto Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)




Permanent Camps:

Morgan Yamanaka: Arriving at Camps
We were sent... to Topaz, from uh, Santa Anita; we were again not told exactly where we were going. All I remember was going through desert country that was Barstow — god-forsaken country, never been back there. Somehow wound up in this middle of nowhere... absolutely. And that's all I remember. This stark, naked... I had never been out of San Francisco, and to be dropped in the middle of Utah desert was — in retrospect, it was a traumatic experience. To think of it at that point, it was shocking at best. Sand, dust, nothing except these tar-paper buildings. Middle of nowhere.

(Morgan Yamanaka Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Mutsu H.: A Human Being
Amache camp guarded by very young soldiers. One time soldier stop me and, "Hey you." "You want to talk to me?" He said, "Yeah. Are you a human being?" I said, "Yes. Don't you think so?" "Yeah. You look like a human being, but when I came from South Carolina, they said that the Jap is not a human being. They are like a gorilla so if you want to, kill them. That's what I learned when I came. And then I looked from top every day and you people look like a human being, and you people all wearing beautiful clothes."

(Mutsu H. Interview, Copyright 1997 Densho Project)

Masao W.: Rejection is Very Hard
You grow up thinking you're a citizen, and you want to be a part of this society you're in, and then the, let's say the weight of the rejection, is something that was pretty unexpected. But when reality sets in, like the "Camp Harmony" and these little shacks in Minidoka, then the real negative things start coming to your head, you know. "What the hell is this?" And I think it bothered a lot of us tremendously. You try to be a good citizen, you try to do what you're supposed to be doing, and the rejection is very hard, difficult.

(Masao W. Interview, Copyright 1998 Densho Project)




Conditions

Nancy K. Araki: A Child's Perspective
We were in Amache for about six to eight months, I.. I'm not quite sure, but then we left camp and went to Provo, Utah and spent probably about another six to eight months. I started kindergarten there and that was very traumatic. It was really difficult, both because I just felt really alone and just having the experience of not knowing where I am, and who I was in relationship to everything else, and there was just some hostility, um within the township. For example, you know, I couldn't get an ice cream cone... and that was, you know, for an adult, that seems, probably doesn't mean too much, but for a little kid, it meant a lot.

(Nancy Araki Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Frank Y.: Sand and Food
It was very, very dusty. The dust was powdery fine and if I recall, it was about 3 or 4 inches deep. So every time you take a step there was just a puff of smoke, I mean of dust, and if you had even the slightest breeze... wow, you're in like a fog. And when you go to the mess hall to eat, of course when you chew the food, you can feel the grit of the sand. And it's amazing, even that, you get used to it. I gradually got used to the mixture of sand and food. [Laughs] It was terrible.

(Frank Y. Interview, Copyright 1997 Densho Project)




Work:

Sue Embrey: Working for the War Effort
Then the end of May, they set up a camouflage net factory, which the U.S. Army wanted to put in Manzanar and have people who really wanted to help in the war effort uh, make camouflage nets. So, they said we would get paid for that. So, a lot of us went down, and I helped make camouflage nets for the Army for maybe a month or so. And then it created a lot of friction in the camp itself because only American citizens could, could work there. And a lot of the resident-aliens, you know, our parents group, who wanted to help, couldn't do it. And then there was also a lot of agitation about 'why were you doing this when you were put in a camp...' and 'you shouldn't be helping in the war effort' and so, I think they closed it down later.

(Sue Embrey Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)




Loyalty

Morgan Yamanaka: A No-No Response
Number one, If I had been in San Francisco, chances of me saying 'No-No'... inconceivable, being an athlete, and a fairly good student, dean's list, and academic standing Aloha high School, university bound... I would have been the first one to volunteer. You put me... and I become dissatisfied, because of the treatment... OK, you isolate a certain group, as I said earlier, it becomes a question of 'we' against 'they.'

(Morgan Yamanaka Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Mary Tsukamoto: Respect for Government and Elders
You know, we were so naive, and I guess, you know, we should have known what Americanism really meant. But we were young, and inexperienced, and uh, I hadn't trained to be a lawyer or anything like that, like Minoru Yasui. So we had no thought about defying the government. And of course the Japanese people respect the elderly, and those who are important, the President of the United States, we wouldn't, you know, even if he's wrong, we wouldn't say anything. And we would respect those people, and so, that's the way we felt about our government. We wouldn't do anything do defy the government... Different from our day, you know, where the society has changed. But in those days, no one — not just the Japanese people, but the rest of America — didn't protest or defy. There weren't any marches and things like that in those days. Very few protested, you know, and we were at war, and we should have been united and cooperating and helping our government. We were wrapping bandages and taking Red Cross first-aid classes and all, even after the war, because we felt this was the thing an American should do. And so, never did it occur to me, that we would defy the government and refuse to go. That thought never came, though we wished we could, you know, we never did say it, even.

(Mary Tsukamoto Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Mutsu H.: Nisei Means American Citizen
I asked that, "What your father think about the war?", and then he said, "He's a Japanese. I'm a Nisei. And when I was small and then, "I owe allegiance to the flag of United States of America." I was memorizing. When he came and said, he listened, "Can you understand what that mean?" And I said, "I'm memorizing," and he said, "Think. Really think. And then if you are a Nisei, that means American citizen. If you memorize this one, you have to obey. Learn what it mean. So don't forget, America is your country." That's what he said. So he, after the camp — father was in camp, mother was in camp — and he was a volunteer to the war.

(Mutsu H. Interview, Copyright 1997 Densho Project)




Expatriation and Repatriation

Frank K.: What Would You Do in Japan?
And my mother told me the story of how she pleaded with him to sign "yes". She said, "You know, what would you do in Japan?" She knew, at that time, if you didn't sign yes and you couldn't prove you were a citizen that they were going to send you off (to) someplace else and maybe exchange you for Caucasian people that were trapped in Japan. She said, she was saying to him, "What would you do in Japan? You can't write Japanese, you can't read Japanese," you know, "What would you do there?" And she, she ended up saying, "I'd rather hang myself than go to Japan." And my dad was so angry with all this frustration that he said, "Go ahead!"

(Frank K. Interview, Copyright 1998 Densho Project)




The Draft

Frank K.: Irony of the Draft
...we were unjustly put into this concentration camp — I didn't say concentration — to this camp, and if you will restore our lifestyle like before this evacuation. Yes, I would be more than willing to serve in the armed services. If not, I will not.

(Frank Y. Interview, Copyright 1997 Densho Project)




Soldier's Life

Chet Tanaka: Your Helmet is Your Security
In training, it's heavy, and you didn't want to wear it too much, but once you got into action, gee, you would put helmet all over your body if you had enough helmet... [laughs] It's a security blanket, really gave you a sense of security.

(Chet Tanaka Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Chet Tanaka: How Can You Love a Gun?
So in spite of the relative slowness, we grew to love this gun — how can you love a gun — but for that type of work, this was indispensable... it became part of you. At 9.3 pounds when you're training, it's too heavy. In combat, it's light as a feather. A great weapon. You wore it like you wear your shoes, or your helmet, or your backpack. You just... without it, you just felt, uh, undressed.

(Chet Tanaka Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Chet Tanaka: 'B' is for Breakfast
you'd start eating the axle grease, or whatever's in here... this is a supper menu... 'S' [points to box] they had a 'B' for breakfast, and I guess an 'L' for lunch. But during combat or whatever, you didn't notice what letters are on here, you didn't much care, you just grabbed a bunch of boxes and stuffed them in your shirt, and you start taking off... But they were the staple for front line fighting.

(Chet Tanaka Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)




Military Intelligence

Francis F.: Importance of Kibeis
I don't know how much you know about the MIS, but in most of their practical applications, the real linguists in MIS were guys educated in Japan. They were Kibei. And it was kind of ironic, because jeez, you know DeWitt went on for a half a page justifying the evacuation of Japanese... One of the things that he pointed out was that, really these, that these Nisei were, couldn't be trusted because they had all this knowledge of Japanese and Japanese culture. And Kibeis were the worst of all because they were educated in Japan. And it's kind of ironic to me, that they took us and threw us into camp for that very reason, and the recruiters came in, really, and were recruiting us for that very same expertise... And really, especially the Kibei. If it weren't for the Kibei, I don't think they would have had a successful MIS. And cripes, I mean... boy, DeWitt had nothing but bad to say about them guys.

(Francis F. Interview, Copyright 1997 Densho Project)




Ironies of Service

Masao W.: Be a Part of Society
Well, initially, I was wondering, "What the hell is this?" I think those of us who did react to it positively, I think we did the right thing. And to this day-well, regardless of what people think — I think we did the right thing in volunteering after being kicked in the butt... Because, gee, if you were going to live here, you've got to be a part of society, you've got to do what is expected of you. And I had no problem volunteering. I don't know which was worse: being locked up in camp or going off to war.

(Masao W. Interview, Copyright 1998 Densho Project)




Post-War

Nancy K. Araki: Remembering the Camps
You know in the Japanese community, what happened is that afterwards, even among my age as we were going through grade school or junior high or high school even, whenever you meet someone, you say, "Oh, what camp were you in?" People five years younger than myself, you know, that's not a question. Or maybe it is, in the sense, "Where were you born?" and it could have well been in a camp. But for us, growing up, in grade school even "What camp were you in?" or "He was in Tule Lake. That's why he got put back..." or comments like that. And so, in some ways, it was very active, you know in our minds and in the discussions though never took place to pursue it, other that to maybe clarify: "Mom, you know, when I got this scar, my brother did this, this, this, was that in Topaz, or was that in Amache?" Or some kind of reference like that.

(Nancy Araki Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)




Court Cases

Sue Embrey: To Correct Democracy
For myself, I think I was really disillusioned about democracy, and what the Constitution stood for. Because all my life, and all through school, I was in it for 12 years, that's all I was learning, and all of a sudden, it really didn't mean anything when it came to my own personal freedom, and my civil liberties. I guess when I left, and went to the mid-west, and began to meet a lot of people, who couldn't believe that I had been treated that way, and that all of us, you know, had been treated that way, that it occurred to me that the government really wasn't doing something that the entire population supported them. It was just a governmental order, which many people didn't know about. And that if they knew about it they might have objected to it. And I think gradually, I began to realize that there are lots of things that we needed to do to correct democracy, to correct, you know our own personal lives, and that I needed to do something, you know, about it if I felt strongly enough about different things.

(Sue Embrey Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Gordon Hirabayashi: Violation of Exclusion Order
I was charged with uh, violation of uh, exclusion order. And then, subsequently I was given a count two, uh, curfew violation by my own admission. They said: 'If you feel this way, what'd you do about the curfew?' I said: 'Well, uh what were you doing the last coupla' nights, were you out after eight?' And he says 'Yeah.' And I said: 'Well, so was I.' And he said: 'Oh, then you violated the curfew.' And he put me down. So those were the charges against me. The uh, instruction (I'm condensing this) but the instruction of the judge to the jury uh, as they were to leave was: 'You can forget all that Constitutional discussion by the defense. The Western Defense Command order is: That all persons of Japanese ancestry both alien and non-alien must abide by these orders. You are to determine first of all whether he is of Japanese ancestry. If he is, did he abide by these orders?' And, all of those questions were admitted by me.




Apologies and Redress

Frank Y.: Is $20,000 a Remedy?
That money that was sent to us, does that remedy everything that was done? Can you imagine the Jews in Germany, saying, "Oh, they're going to give us $20,000 so now that's all right," What the Germans did to them. No. It's wrong. It should never be done again. And it's the same with the evacuation of Japanese; it should never be done again. ... It could be any other people.

(Frank Y. Interview, Copyright 1997 Densho Project)

Rae T.: Hopes for Redress
I was a little cynical. I thought, "Oh, this will never happen, $20,000, ha, ha, ha." Well, my mother, oh, she was so sure; "When I get my $20,000..." I mean, she was sure that it was gonna happen; and the rest of us, "Well, if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't." But she was the one who looked forward to it most, and then she died the year that redress was finally passed. And it's just a really sad thing for me that she never, she never got to see that because she would have really enjoyed it, the fact that there was some justice after all. Because here is this woman who was yelling about constitutional rights in 1941, and she waited all these years, but she knew it was coming. ... But, anyway, she passed away before it could finally be given to her.

(Rae T. Interview, Copyright 1998 Densho Project)




Repairing the Constitution

Gordon Hirabayashi: Constant Vigilance
I would also say that if you believe in something, if you think the Constitution is a good one, and if you think the Constitution protects you, you better make sure that the Constitution is actively operating... and uh, in other words "constant vigilance". Otherwise, it's a scrap of paper. We had the Constitution to protect us in 1942. It didn't because the will of the people weren't behind it.

(Gordon Hirabayashi Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Mary Tsukamoto: Will of the People
America is a land with wonderful possibilities and a beautiful ideal, and the United States Constitution makes great promises for us and Liberty is a very meaningful thing. As we celebrated Ms Liberty's 100th birthday, we realized, what it could mean to our people. But we have to be sincere, and make it ring true. And so, in order to do that, we need to protect this fragile democracy. It depends on human feelings, and the quality of leadership and courage of the leaders are the ones that will determine which way it will go. But the people need to insist that; insist on having courageous leaders, people with integrity, people who are honest and will uphold the Constitution to the letter.

(Mary Tsukamoto Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)




Japanese Americans Today

Sparky Matsunaga: We Were Born on American Soil
We were born on American soil, consequently, under the Constitution, we were Americans by birth. Of course we couldn't vote for the President, uh, because we were not a state. We had no representation in the Congress of the United States, so after the war, uh we thought we should be recognized, fully, uh and... full recognition would mean... making Hawaii a state of the Union.

(Sparky Matsunaga Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Daniel Inyoue: The Price Was Very Heavy
It was a time when some of us had to take extraordinary steps when our Constitution did not require it, to prove to our neighbors that we were worthy of being called Americans. The price was very heavy. There was much blood that had to be shed. But looking back, I can say with pride that I was part of it.

(Daniel Inouye Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)

Morgan Yamanaka: Could it Happen Again?
Today, I don't think this would ever happen to ethnic Japanese... at this point on. In the 1940s we had no power in Washington. Today, we have Senators, we have Congress people, we have mayors of cities of the United States, we have governors of ethnic Japanese. This would never happen with the ethnic Japanese community in the United States... but it might happen with another group, with no power. And therefore, I feel the ethnic Japanese community has a responsibility to keep on pushing this knowledge. It won't happen to ethnic Japanese, I'm pretty sure of that, but I don't want it to happen to any other group of people.

(Morgan Yamanaka Interview, Copyright 2001 Smithsonian Institution)