Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Bill Hosokawa Interview
Narrator: Bill Hosokawa
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Daryl Maeda (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 13, 2001
Densho ID: denshovh-hbill-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: It's July 13, 2001. We're continuing again with Mr. Bill Hosokawa. And I'm going to read from your book, Out of the Frying Pan, where you're writing about Heart Mountain and your work on the Sentinel, the camp newspaper: "The Sentinel had a dual responsibility. It had to give voice to its readers' anger, supporting their demands for justice and providing articulate leadership. But it also had to be cautious about fueling the anger of citizens unjustly imprisoned. Achieving this middle ground was difficult and the balance often precarious, as we discovered shortly after publication began." And then you go on to discuss the issue of the fence around Heart Mountain camp. And perhaps you could comment on that...

BH: Yes.

AI: ...and the dilemma you faced as the editor of the Sentinel newspaper.

BH: Well, the fence was a very big issue. One of the main causes of resentment in the assembly centers was that they were all fenced in. And when they, these people first came to Heart Mountain, there was no fence surrounding the camp site. There was really no need for a fence. You could walk 20 miles through the sagebrush and not run into anything. And after the camp was pretty well settled, the army decided to put up a barbwire fence around the camp and put up watchtowers. Until then it was open. You could walk anywhere you wanted to. If you wanted to walk 20 miles through the sagebrush, you could get to town. But when the decision came to build the fence, there was a great deal of resentment in the camp. And I think the resentment was unanimous. And the camp administrators were very much aware of the feeling of the people in the camp. But this was a military order, and there was nothing much they could do about it.

As I recall, some of the camp leaders got -- organized a petition-signing campaign, as I recall. And they sent that on to the WRA. And of course, this was important news. It had to be covered. And we did cover it with a -- it was the top story with a headline all the way across the top of page one. But at the same time, we had the responsibility of not stirring up the anger of the people so that there might be an incident. And that would've been very, very dangerous. So the paper had a responsibility to report the news without being provocative about it. And I think we managed to do that by playing the story right down the middle, the top story on page one. But we reported it objectively, and that satisfied the readership.

AI: I wanted to ask a question about, you were concerned about stirring up the people...

BH: Yes.

AI: ...and that it could become dangerous. Could you give an example of being, perhaps reporting it less objectively. In your mind, what would've been a dangerous statement to make? What was it that you were working to avoid?

BH: Well, we -- the story, the news story was written very objectively. The WRA was putting up a fence. The people did not like it. They were going to send the, a petition to the WRA. And it would have been very easy to write the story so that it would stir public anger. And it might have incited demonstrations or a riot or whatever. And so we, we made it as objective a story as possible.

AI: So in other words, you really strove to describe the facts of the situation.

BH: Yes, absolutely.

AI: But did refrain from providing some opinion that might have been -- have an angry tone.

BH: Yes. That's very well put.

AI: Well, at that time, what made you so concerned that, that people could be provoked into such anger that they might actually riot or that there might, they might actually become violent?

BH: Well, there was a good deal of pent-up anger in the camp anyway. Here only a few months earlier, these people were free and living in their own homes, and suddenly they were in the middle of the Wyoming desert where the living conditions were very uncomfortable. And they had come to the camp, four or five days' train ride, no, no Pullmans, sleepers. They sat up, and there was no -- it was just finger food that they had on the way. And they were confused and unhappy and angry about the treatment they were getting. And the decision to build a fence was just the, the last straw.

AI: If there had been some sort of violent riot of some sort, what do you think might have been the consequence that -- what, what was it that you were trying to prevent there?

BH: Well, I was afraid that if there were violence, that the government would crack down even further. They had the guns, and they ran the place. We had no rights. And they could surely have cracked down. They did have violence about that time in Manzanar, and I think there was a young man, maybe two, who were killed. And I felt that any great resistance or violence on the part of the residents there would only result in crack -- in a crackdown that would make things harder for us.

AI: So in your mind, the administration of the camp was ready and able to become perhaps more, I'm not sure if "oppressive" is the word, but could institute some kind of punishment?

BH: Well, there was a military police detachment of something like 400 men who were just a few yards outside the camp. And they were armed, and it was their duty to climb into these watchtowers at night and focus their floodlights on us. And they, I'm sure they had their orders to, to shoot if necessary. And aside from that, I felt that the less cooperative we were, the more re -- oppressive the management would be. Now, most of the WRA people that I knew, and I knew a good many of them, knew they had a very difficult job. They were trying to make things as, as good as possible for us. They sympathized with our plight. They knew what kind of quarters we lived in. They knew what kind of food we were fed. And many of them sympathized with us. They were our jailers, but at the same time, they were very sympathetic jailers, most of them.

AI: So it sounds like individually, many of the administration staff were responsible, sympathetic to the situation, but they had a job and a role to do and --

BH: Yes, that's true. And many of them, there were some who were quite hostile and provocative, but they didn't last very long. The camp director was a man named Chris Rachford, R-a-c-h-f-o-r-d. And he was from the Forest Service, but he was a very sympathetic sort of fellow, and he -- I think the job got too big for him because he resigned after three or four months. And a fellow named Guy Robertson, R-o-b-e-r-t-s-o-n, took over. Now, Robertson was not nearly as, as sympathetic as Rachford was. He was much more a bureaucrat. But he would listen, and he would, I, he -- I knew he would do his best to, to help us. But at the same time, he was much more strict about abiding by the rules that had been set down in Washington.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.