VOLUME 28 NO. 10 | FEBRUARY 28 - MARCH 6, 2009


Japanese internment: the ones who spoke up

Last updated 2-26-09 at 3:09 p.m.
“In Defense of Our Neighbors” is a nonfiction compliation of news clippings and stories about Japanese internment during WWII. It serves both as a cautionary tale and a reminder of history.

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

On March 30, 1942, people of Japanese ancestry on Washington’s Bainbridge Island gathered at the Eagledale ferry dock. Soldiers flanked them. The ferry took them to trains, which took them to internment camps.

Some would not see their homes for three years. Many would not have homes to come back to. These types of stories were universal across the United States for most Japanese Americans and those of Japanese ancestry.

At first, the U.S. reaction to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor was called “exclusion.” As Mary Woodward’s book “In Defense of Our Neighbors” makes clear, most Americans supported what later generations called “internment.”

A few stood up to the majority. Woodward’s book tells the story of her parents, Walt and Milly Woodward, who are co-publishers of the “Bainbridge Review” newspaper.

The Woodwards defended the rights of Japanese Americans. They also warned against “a blind, wild, hysterical hatred of all persons who can trace ancestry to Japan.” Through their account, the larger, deeper story of the interned is revealed.

The story emerges from the book’s fine design as well as its prose. The 152 pages contain many pictures from public and private archives. Legal documents, newspaper columns, letters, and telegrams are also included. Through these mediums, the interchange between the Woodwards and their transported neighbors, in California or Idaho, is brought to life.

Two pictures are often utilized to make certain points. For example, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer camera caught a long shot of the families walking to the dock. The next time we see the photo, it’s mounted on a wall. In the photo, Kay Sakai Nakao, now a middle-aged woman, points to her own image from decades before.

Through this simple gesture, Nakao reminds us that each “excluded” person in the picture was an individual with distinct emotions about leaving Bainbridge.

At other times, one photo tells a story. A soldier holds 8-year-old Setsuko Kino, as they wait for the ferry. Setsuko does not cry. She looks straight at the man who is holding her.

The soldier looks back with a warm but awkward smile. He isn’t enjoying himself any more than those being excluded. The book’s subsections sometimes disrupt the main story. Some crucial documents cannot be read without a magnifying glass. These small flaws distract the readers from an otherwise well-produced and important work.
However, the book makes good on David Guterson’s promise in his introduction: “facts illuminated, facts in layers, and facts colored by intimate recollection.”

This saga of resistance and community should be read by everyone. The Asian American community cannot afford to forget these stories. As the book reminds us, similar nationwide legislation was passed against Chinese immigrants in 1882.

We should not forget about the harassment and attacks that the Americans of Middle Eastern descent experienced after 9/11.

We must be wary, in Walt Woodward’s words, of “blind, wild, hysterical hatred of all persons” that deludes people into thinking that certain races are somehow “different” or “wrong.”

We must engage our minds and hearts, not our hatreds. That remains as true today as it did when Woodward wrote on these matters in December 1941. (end)

“In Defense of Our Neighbors:  The Walt and Milly Woodward Story,” by Mary Woodward. Forward by David Guterson. Published by Fenwick
Publishing, Bainbridge Island. $24.95.

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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