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Title: Paul Bannai Interview II
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 29, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-02-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: Excuse me. Just to clarify, this was the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and it had been established as a result of...

PB: Legislation.

AI: ...federal legislation...

PB: Right.

AI: 1980, specifically to gather information about the internment...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and to determine whether some injustice had been done.

PB: Sure.

AI: So at this point the government had not admitted anything. They were just, Congress was just establishing this to find out, to investigate.

PB: Right.

AI: And when the chairperson called you, she was looking for an executive director of this office. And so at this, this is the point where you...

PB: Yeah.

AI: ...then met up with the staff that...

PB: Right.

AI: ...she already had.

PB: That was, I think, about March or April...

AI: And now, this was...

PB: ...of 1980.

AI: '80. And what did you find when you met the staff?

PB: Well, see, the commission was to get under way and start doing the work in January, but she had gotten the staff together. There was no administrator. So when I went back there and I met the staff, I immediately knew that, not myself, but somebody that knew Japanese American, the history of it -- when I talked to them, these people didn't know anything about the evacuation. They didn't know about camps. Most of them, I talked to them about Japanese name. They didn't know a Japanese name from a Hungarian name. And I said, "I will take the job," because it was required that at least I knew a little bit about all of this. But I would not commit myself to 100 percent all the time. But I says, "I can at least get it started." And that's why I said, "I will stay." I didn't come back. I brought my clothes there, and I says, "I'll worry about going back and getting my personal belongings." But I saw the need.

Now, later on I got thinking about why, three or four months they hadn't hired anybody. Well, I went back over the files and found out that due to letters and information that Miss Bernstein was getting relative to who should head this commission, there was one thing that was told to her, and I saw this, is there was many, many active people that could've headed it, but they were strong connections. I won't go into names at all, with various organizations, the NCRR, the JACL. I was a very long-time member of the JACL, but I was not active to the extent that I was running for president and all that. And they didn't want anybody to head that commission with that kind of a background. And so I fit into the category, and so I was hired. So I started working that day, and Monday I was under way. First thing I realized is I've got to hire staff that would understand. So I got people that I found out about in the area...

AI: Who was that? Who did you hire?

PB: Well, there was a Kobayashi, who was working for Library of Congress, and he had left and retired. I got him. There was quite a few other people in the area, and I also hired people from West Coast to come out, Niseis that understood names and what the issue was. And as a result, the staff could do a lot better work. Now, the other Caucasians that we had on the staff that were long-time members of the federal civil service system, they were very good in other areas, so we kept all of them on. But when I took over as executive director, I wanted to be sure that we did the job that Congress gave the commission to do a good job. Now, first thing I did because we were directed to do this, is to set up cities where we would have hearings. And I contacted various people in the area of each city that we had to get the witnesses and to, the testimony that would go into the hearing. So if you read the book and know what happened, we tried to get people so they would tell their story of their losses. We felt that if they would explain... also another thing we wanted to do is, since we had the power of subpoena, that we ought to subpoena all those people that made the decision on the evacuation, "These are the people that we're going to take out and put into camp." So there was a lot of military people, FBI, army, navy, things of this nature. We also felt, in my estimation that if I could get the people from the various trades such as the farming, the floral industry, wherever the Japanese were strong, because there was a feeling -- and it was proven again -- that there was an economic reason for getting the Japanese out. This was their chance, because they said, "We're at war with 'em. They don't, they're citizens, they're non-citizens. If we put them into camp, we eliminate competition from them." So these are the things that I thought about when I started setting up the staff. And as I say, the staff worked very hard. We had very good hearings. And it worked out.


AI: Thank you, Mr. Bannai. We were just talking about your work at the Commission for Wartime Relocation...

PB: Right.

AI: ...and Internment of Citizens. And you had explained how you had hired on some additional staff, including some Nisei. And I understand Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig was another of the staff that you hired.

PB: She was a very valuable addition because of her research work that she had done on a lot of this. In fact, all the Nisei people we had on there were valuable from the standpoint that they knew a little bit about what happened. When you're very naive and didn't know that we were evacuated and don't know the problems of Japanese Americans, it's pretty hard to serve on the commission that deals with that. So I have to say that the people that we had that are Japanese Americans were probably the greatest contributors of a very fair report. And that was very important. Now, as I say, also because we had the right and we were able to question people that made the decision to evacuate us and put us into camp, that had a lot to do with it. Because if it didn't come out that there was a reason for us being in camp, that also would not be very good. So the commission work, and all that area, I think led to the report and was very valuable, was instrumental in our apology from the president, which represented the U.S. government, and the reparations which we received. So other than that, I think that the job of the commission was done. It was created by Congress and we carried out the work that Congress wanted.

AI: Now, you mentioned the hearings that you and your staff set up.

PB: Right.

AI: Did you attend most of those hearings?

PB: Yes, I did. I couldn't go to all of them. And as you probably know that besides those that were Japanese Americans that were put into relocation or concentration camp, whichever you want to call it, there was in that same bill a searching out of those that were evacuated from the island chain up in Kiska, and all that, and they were in camp in Anchorage in Alaska. And so that, too, we had to have a hearing on up in Anchorage in Alaska. So I think that although I couldn't make all the hearings, I made sure that we had adequate access, time, and the place that people could give their views, and would also bring documentation if necessary to show that there was a loss. It wasn't a loss only of their own feelings but monetary, physical, monetary losses more than anything else. I think that all the hearings were successful wherever they were held. Naturally most of the ones that were held on the West Coast where people, gone back to and back near where their losses were sustained were very important. And the commission members who listened were sympathetic, and they were very fair-minded and listened. And as a result of that, I think we got a good report, which led to the reparations.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.