Monday, February 27, 2012

Friends and Enemies

Well, it's official now. The President has signed an Executive Order authorizing the removal of all people of Japanese descent from Military Area Number One, which encompasses the Pacific Coast. It hasn't been decided yet exactly how or when it's going to happen, but everyone seems to have an opinion. There's testimony before the Tolan Committee in Congress, reported every day in the paper. Some leaders from the Pacific states are demanding all Japanese be removed immediately. Others say that's excessive, and worry that we'll lose the benefit of all the agricultural work the Japanese do.

Even my own circle of friends is divided. Susan feels it's wrong to treat all the American Japanese the same. Her opinion is colored by the experience of her son Jimmy. He's crippled by polio but able to go to school, where he's an honor student. "I don't know what his life will be like when he's grown," Susan told me once, "but to me every 'A' he brings home on his report card is a slap in the faces of the people who told me I should put him in an institution. You just can't judge everyone by appearances." Susan feels strongly that the local Japanese should be dealt with individually, with the FBI determining who should stay or leave.

Then there's Betty. Of all my friends she was the most upset by Pearl Harbor and the subsequent destruction of Seattle's provincial tranquility. She's always fervently hoped for a quiet domestic life, and that's all in jeopardy now that her husband Joe's on his way to Alaska to build the new military highway. She confided in me once that she often has nightmares that something bad will happen to Joe. That seems unlikely to me, and I've hidden my annoyance at her concerns as best I can, but honestly my Bob is in a lot more danger since he's actually off to the front in the South Pacific. But I try to remind myself that Betty can't help how she feels, and those feelings have made her rabidly anti-Japanese. She blames the local Japanese for everything from sugar and tire rationing ("I'm sure they've got warehouses full of stuff hidden away in those warrens in Japantown") to power outages ("Sabotage! Obviously!"). Betty would gladly take personal charge of loading every Japanese man, woman and child in Washington State into ships headed back to Tokyo if she could.

Jane is enigmatic as always. She's the only one of us who's actually known a Japanese person well - her family employed Mr. Murakami as a gardener for many years. Ever since he quit his job and returned to his family in Japantown immediately after Pear Harbor, Jane's had little to say on the subject. I suspect she is opposed to the evacuation but for some reason doesn't want to draw attention to her opinions.

For my own part I don't see things as clearly as either Betty or Susan. Every issue of the paper is filled with gut-wrenching descriptions of atrocities committed by the Japanese in the Pacific. I'm half thrilled and half terrified that Bob has gone there to take them on and help try to stop their unbelievable wickedness. But Seattle's Japanese community has been here for decades, and from everything I can see they seem peaceful and hard-working. Night after night I read news accounts of allegations that Japanese all up and down the coast are spying for their brethren across the Pacific, but I've noticed that none of these articles seem to include a lot of concrete evidence. But who knows for sure? I do know that my heart is uneasy about the evacuation, particularly the wholesale nature of it. It seems hasty and uncharitable, and not something I am proud of.

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