Sunday, July 2, 2017

“We Hold These Truths”: The Story of a Japanese American Quaker Who Resisted Injustice, with Some Lessons for Today

A number of Orange Grove Friends went to the Pasadena Playhouse to see “We Hold These Truths,” a powerful play about Gordon Hirabayashi, a Quaker who challenged the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Many of us were thrilled that the play began with Hirabayashi describing and celebrating George Fox and Quakerism. This play seems especially relevant today in light of Trump’s “Muslim ban,” that lumps together refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries as potential terrorists just as Civilian Exclusion Act of 1942 treated all Japanese Americans as if they were potential spies and traitors.
After Pearl Harbor, Americans on the West Coast became paranoid about their Japanese American neighbors. Presidential Executive Order 9066 forced 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast to  be relocated in places like Manzanar, Tule Lake and other sites in bleak locations.  Over 70,000 of them were American citizens. Many lost their homes and businesses, as well as their liberty. But very few resisted. Most went out of their way to prove their loyalty. Some joined the military, risking their lives for a country that had incarcerated them. Only a handful refused to comply with this unjust law.
The play portrays Hirabayashi as someone who cared more about principles than conforming to the standards of his culture. “The nail that sticks out gets hit by the hammer,” is what his Japanese father often told him. Conformity and loyalty were prized among Japanese American. What drew Hirabayashi to Quakers was the fact that they were willing to not go along with the crowd if it meant supporting injustice. After refusing to comply with Order 9066, Hirabayashi was arrested and jailed, much to the embarrassment and shame of his family. He received support from Quakers (but not the ACLU!) and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court in 1943, and lost. The government claimed they had evidence that the Japanese Americans posed a threat to national security, and therefore needed to be interned. The Supreme Court agreed.
In 1985 evidence surfaced showing that the government lied to the Supreme Court, and there was no national security threat from the Japanese Americans.  Hirabayashi again took the case to court and this time he won. The government settled the case at the district level, and decided to give reparations to Japanese Americans who'd been interned illegally. (The amount was far less than the damage caused: $20,000) This win for justice is a powerful story, one that we need to hear at this time when our liberties are at risk. However, we also need to be aware that the Supreme Court never reversed its original decision that the rights of citizens could be curtailed in warfare. So it could happen again.
Following the play, Phil Way along with others gave an after talk in which he discussed how his parents ran Quaker school in Temple City and helped the Japanese Americans in many ways during this dark period when Japanese Americans were being scapegoated. He remembered the pain he felt as a little child when he saw Japanese Americans being forced to live in horse stalls.
Phil has maintained a keen interest in the cause of Japanese Americans, and also of Muslim Americans who have been threatened with the same kind of xenophobia.  Phil and I are both members of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), which has taken a strong stand against Islamophobia. Several members of ICUJP, including myself, used to visit Abdul Jabar Hamdan, a Palestinian Muslim who was incarcerated on Terminal Island in San Pedro. Hamdan was jailed on trumped up charges dating back to when he was a student 30 years ago and failed to report that he became part-time for a semester when he was sick. Even though he had raised a family and never broke any laws, he was detained and threatened with deportation to Jordon, where it was likely he would be jailed and tortured. ICE hoped that this threat would lead him to incriminate other Muslims.
I can’t begin to describe how much joy it gave me to visit Hamdan in detention. He was a kind and deeply spiritual man with a wonderful family I came to know and appreciate. His daughter was in law school and aspired to be a Civil Rights attorney.  I also had the joy of worshipping with Hamdan when he was found innocent and released a couple of years later. I expect that my experience was similar to what Quakers felt when they visited Japanese held in detention during WW II.
Ironically, Terminal Island is where the first Japanese Americans were rounded up and taken to relocation camps sixty some years ago. There is a monument on Terminal Island commemorating the one thousand Japanese fisherman and their families who were taken from their homes and locked up. When I visited this detention center, I often thought of Hirabayashi and other Quakers who resisted this injustice.
Hirabayashi had close connections with Friends in Whittier that I knew personally and deeply admired. Helen O’Brien, who was clerk of Whitleaf Meeting in Whittier, was mentioned in the play. Her husband Bob taught Gordon when he was a student at the University of Washington in Seattle. Gordon joined University Meeting in Seattle, where Helen and Bob were members. These dedicated Quakers worked tirelessly to help Japanese Americans during WW II. They helped Japanese students in the camps to get scholarship to study in East Coast colleges. Along with other Quakers, they also organized the purchase of Japanese homes and businesses so they could be sold back at the same price to their owners after the war. This prevented many Japanese Americans from having to sell their property to unscrupulous buyers who took advantage of their misfortune and paid them as little as possible.
During the play Hirabayashi spoke a lot about Esther Schmoe, whom he married during the War. The story of how Gordon met and married Esther is told with humor and pathos during the play.
Floyd Schmoe with Hiroshima home
I interviewed Esther’s father Floyd Schmoe in 1999, just before he died. He was 104 years old, and still sharp as a tack. Floyd was a Quaker with a deep love for the Japanese people. During the interview he shared his remarkable story, which was published in Friends Bulletin.
During World War I, Floyd was a conscientious objector and became a stretcher bearer. During World War II he reached out to Japanese Americans. After the War, he went to Hiroshima, Japan, and helped rebuild houses that were destroyed by the atomic bomb. He built 21 homes from 1949 to 1953 in Hiroshima financed by funds from the US. He exchanged letters with Emperor Hirohito. He traveled all over the world promoting peace and built the Seattle Peace Park.. In 1988 Floyd received the Hiroshima Peace Prize and was made an honorary citizen of Japan. This is the remarkable Quaker family that Gordon married into!
At the end of the play, Phil reminded us that we need to reach out to our Muslim neighbors, just as Quakers reached out to Japanese Americans during and after WWII. The play also reminds us that we need to stand by our principles, just as Hirabayashi did. At the end of the play, he told us another saying of his father, “If the nail is bigger than the hammer, then the nail doesn’t have to worry.”
These articles about Gordon Hirabayashi appeared in The Western Quaker Reader (2000).

“Why Revive the Japanese-American Wartime Cases”                      
by Gordon Hirabayashi[1]

uring the war years I was never referred to as a citizen.  I was always considered a “non-alien.” I was an undergraduate student at the University of Washington at the time, training for an occupational career and practicing to be a first-class citizen. As a conscientious objector and member of University Meeting in Seattle, I was not an enthusiastic supporter of our entry into war, but neither was I bent on obstructing “national security” measures.  I could not support an unwarranted violation of our constitutional guarantees.  As a result, I refused to cooperate with the Western Defense Command order.  I needed to be given more relevant reasons for my removal than the fact of my ancestry.
With the supportive counsel of Friends/friends, and the legal advice of Arthur Barnett, a member of my meeting, I reported to the FBI the day following the removal of all Japanese.  Later, a Gordon Hirabayashi Defense Committee was formed, and the legal battle for citizens’ rights began.  Without this committee, composed of Friends and a few others like them, mine would have become an obscure wartime case gathering dust in the archives.
It was not easy to secure competent legal counsel; mine was not a popular case during the war. Arthur Barnett contacted many of his colleagues, but although some were willing, their firms would not consent to their participation. We finally found an able young lawyer from a prestigious firm, but when his name and that of his firm appeared in the press following my arraignment, the Teamsters threatened to withdraw their legal work from his firm if it persisted in defending “that Jap.”  Needless to say, we had to begin a new search.  Fortunately, we were able to secure a man with a relevant background: a Republican member of the American Legion who was keenly interested in defending the Constitution.
Our court battles were neither easy nor successful.  Some funds were raised locally, but mainly they were raised with assistance from Clarence Pickett and Homer Morris, using the American Friends Service Committee mailing list and through a sympathetic foundation known to them. We did not win in the district court when the presiding judge ruled that the prevailing law was the Western Defense Command Proclamation, which in effect suspended my constitutional guarantees in spite of the fact that martial law had not been invoked.
When our appeal eventually reached the Supreme Court, we thought we would have our day in court.  Not so.  We found that the Supreme Court had gone to war, too. Instead of demanding evidence for the suspension of constitutional guarantees to citizens regardless of race, religion, creed or national origin, the Supreme Court accepted the government’s position on the word of government officials and military officers….
Although we never relinquished the hope that some day in some way the records would be corrected, my case and that of two others, Fred Korematsu and Minoru Yasui, remained dormant for more than 40 years.  In 1980-81, using the Freedom of Information Act, Peter Irons, a legal historian, was investigating the conduct of lawyers on both sides of the Japanese-American constitutional cases.  He discovered in the musty, old files of the federal archives that the Western Defense Command had on its desk FBI, Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports denying danger of espionage or sabotage at the very moment it was stating in its brief that the removal action was “militarily necessary.”  Western Defense Command had knowingly withheld from the Supreme Court the FBI, ONI, and FCC reservations for a mass, forced uprooting.  (During the war the government continued to use the humanitarian euphemism, “evacuation.”)
Peter Irons contacted Dale Minami, a San Francisco lawyer, and through him, some other Asian-American lawyers on the West Coast to explore the possibility of appeals.  This group of lawyers then contacted Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui, and me and asked if we would consider becoming petitioners through a rarely used procedure called “writ of error coram nobis.”  Although the seven-year statute of limitations had long since expired, coram nobis allows opportunity to petition for a hearing on the grounds of government misconduct. Thus, three sets of legal teams, maintaining close liaison, were established to launch simultaneous petitions for coram nobis in the respective federal district courts of San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.  In January, 1983, a major press conference was held in San Francisco to launch the three cases, and a public education group, the Committee to Reverse the Wartime Japanese-American Cases, became busy and has remained active ever since….
Why revive Japanese-American wartime cases?  Certainly to erase the convictions recorded against me, but there is more.  As a test case, my case can help to remove the dark cloud hovering over 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were mistreated and who continue to wonder to this day about their citizenship.
When the unprecedented uprooting of U.S. citizens occurred and our people were confined to internment camps, enough safeguards and principles existed in our Constitution to have protected us.  Missing, however, was the will of the people, including the Supreme Court, to uphold constitutional guarantees.
During the war my hopes were constantly buoyed by the Friends/friends who visited me in jail, and by others who supported the G. H. Defense Committee.  These activities were definitely not popular then.  Today, citizen vigilance is expressed on many fronts, for example, Central America, remembrance of the Holocaust, the continuing problems in Southeast Asia, as well as social issues at home. My petition is another area in which such vigilance is demonstrated.
I am privileged to witness and be part of this demonstration for human rights supported by a strong citizens committee and by my legal team.  It serves us well to remember that our constitution and the increasing number of human rights laws are mere scraps of paper unless active citizen vigilance ensures they are upheld.

“Remembering Gordon Hirabayahi” by Floyd Schmoe

[Floyd Schmoe was teaching at the University of Washington when Hirabayashi and others were arrested. One of the founding members of University Friends Meeting, as well as the first executive secretary of the AFSC in Seattle, Floyd not only befriended Gordon, he ended up becoming his father-in-law. The following oral history, taken from  interviews conducted by Rose Lewis in 1974, [2] should be read for its human interest, not for its precise historical detail.]

ordon Hirabayashi and some of the other students at the University decided they should do something about [the new curfew law]. They were American citizens and had certain rights, and some of them felt that some protest should be made, so Gordon decided quite early to deliberately refuse the curfew. Later he refused the evacuation and turned himself in, that is, went to the FBI and told them he was not going to conform or abide by the curfew.  We were quite well acquainted with Gordon in that group, and we supported him, as we do COs now, with affidavits or letters or whatever is needed. They threatened him, of course, told him that if he was found on the streets he would be picked up. Actually he never was picked up by the FBI or the police….He turned himself in and said that he had violated and would not comply with either order, the curfew or the evacuation order.  He was held in the county jail first, and [my daughter] Esther and the rest of the kids visited him there.  Some of the Japanese who resisted the orders, were not COs.  They were objecting on other grounds. Gordon’s objection was that this was a civil rights issue; being a citizen, his civil rights were being violated….
It was an interesting thing about his prison experience.  Because of the evacuation, and the restrictions on the West Coast, his trial in federal district court was held in Spokane. He was held in the county jail in Spokane during the trial and after the trial and his conviction.  He was there for several weeks, and a county jail is much worse than a federal prison usually, as far as living conditions are concerned.  So he objected to that and said that since he had been sentenced for a federal crime, he insisted on being sent to a federal prison; he was tired of the county jail. The local sheriff, or US Marshal perhaps it was, said, “All the federal prisons are full.  There is no place to send you.” But after several protests, he said, “There is a federal prison work camp in the mountains of Arizona.  But,” he said, “I couldn’t send you down there because I don’t have anyone free to go with you”  Gordon said, “Why not let me go on my own?  I’ll give you my word that I’ll go.” The sheriff or marshal was pretty well acquainted with Gordon by then and said, “OK, I’ll trust you.”  He gave Gordon bus fare to Phoenix, Arizona; the camp was near there.
Gordon, perhaps also to defy the evacuation order, to try it out—or perhaps just to visit on the West Coast, I don’t know—came by way of Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, which was another violation.  He was inside the restricted zone; not only that, but he thought he’d need the bus money, so he hitchhiked.  But he got down there within the time limit that they gave him, and wasn’t picked up anywhere along the road.
He spent most of a year there in the work camp. He came back to Spokane and there were a lot of Japanese in Spokane and we had a sort of center over there. We’d rented a house, a hostel for people who had gone from the West Coast and hadn’t been able to find places to live over there, and Esther helped there.  Someone asked Esther to take a truck from Bainbridge Island to the camp over at Minidoka near Twin Falls, Idaho.  She went by way of Spokane and she picked up Gordon or Gordon picked her up, I don’t know which, and they went together from Spokane. When she came back she asked Ruth and me—”What would you think if Gordon and I got married?”  We said, “Well, what do you think?” She said, “Well, we’ve decided we will.”  We liked Gordon very much, we had no serious objection, so they were married….
Before Gordon was released from the prison camp in Arizona he was drafted and refused to cooperate with the draft board, so he was tried again and convicted and sent to McNeill Island for a year.  It was while he was there that Esther gave birth to twins, and this drew a lot of publicity.  They were about a month old before she took them down for a visit and the guards at McNeill Island wouldn’t even let him touch them—he had to see them through a wire barrier.  They had pictures in the paper and a good many of these stories were friendly.  It was mentioned in Time once, and in newspapers all over the country.  A Boston daily, I’ve forgotten which one, had a front-page picture when the twins were born—a picture of Esther and the two kids.  It was a two or three column picture on the front page of one of the sections, but the headline was rather insidious.  It says “Jap Sires Twins” or something like that, but the story wasn’t bad.  Esther was with us all the time he was in prison. The babies were six to eight months old when he got out of prison.

[1] Friends Journal August 1985: 4-6. According to this article, “Gordon Hirabayashi has taught in the United States, the Middle East, and Canada, and has been emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, since 1983. He was a co-recipient of the 1983 Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award, and he received a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from Haverford College in 1984.” Gordon became a member of UFM in November 28, 1941, and transferred to Edmonton in January 13, 1961.
[2]For biographical information, see p. 92. During the course of interviewing Floyd,  Rose accumulated over 274 pages of material that is currently stored in the Quaker archives in Whittier under the title Floyd and Ruth Schmoe: Idealism, Service and Commitment in Two Quaker Lives.

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