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Title: Gordon Hirabayashi Interview II
Narrator: Gordon Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 25, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-hgordon-02-0010

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TI: Gordon, we, we just finished talking about the Summer Leadership Conference at Columbia University and what I want to do now is return you back to Seattle and ask you, I guess an open question. How did the Leadership Conference change your life, or what decisions did you make coming back to Seattle that were different, or that you made because of the Leadership Conference? In particular, I guess I'm asking about the conscientious objector status or classification.

GH: Well, you, you know the article you showed me that some of the pacifists are led by -- one group of 'em are led by an American of Japanese ancestry. Well that sort of thing happened, but it never bothered me. It never bothered me in the sense of racial discrimination -- they're pointing that out. I just --

TI: Even before we get there, let's, let's back up and, and for the viewer review that, or talk about when you came back in the fall, you applied for the 4-E or conscientious objector status.

GH: Yeah. I, I have two or three questions that were frequently raised of me by persons of Japanese ancestry. You know, when the uprooting order came, EO 9066 was being implemented and we were angry as heck. We were kicking cans, throwing rocks at telephone poles and so on. But it never occurred to us that we could say "no" quietly, right at the top on all this, instead of at each detailed application of it. How come it occurred to you? And I said, well, it never occurred to me in that sense, weighing. It just that, I -- when something occurred and I was confronted with it, I looked at it, and I chose to answer frontally, holistically rather than just on that part of it. As fully as I could, I faced it. And I think I faced this, maybe I could answer this little more clearly by telling what happened to me. I was teaching a summer course at University of Hawaii. And a Nisei came up to me at the end of, or at a break in the discussion. And she said, "You know, I was a young teenager at the time" -- and this is, this is twenty, twenty five years later, I'm teaching at summer break in Hawaii. And she had come back to school and was working towards a social work degree, 'cause all her kids went through school, so she's gonna go herself. But she said, "At the time of the war, I got, I was delayed, because that's the time I would've gone to school and this thing came on. I remember we were angry and we would kick the can, so on, cuss at the government, but it never occurred to us that we could say, well so far as we're, we're concerned we can't go unless you give me more than my ancestry as the reason for having to do this. Ancestry is not a crime." "But how did it occur to you?" Well, at the time we're facing these issues, I had to answer, "What's your position on this selective service system and the various alternatives." I said, "I'm opposed to conscription for this type of purpose. If you had one for citizenship, conscription for citizenship service, I would be more open to it. But of the options you have, I would take conscientious objection." That's instead of 1-A, 4-E. Now there is one that's 4-D or something of that nature if you're a minister or something, you could, you could get exemption on that ground, or 4-F for health reasons.

AI: Excuse me. How, how did you come to the decision to take the conscientious objector route? Did you -- is this part of the discussion you had after the Leadership Conference in talking with your friend, Howard?

GH: Well, I have, I have a background -- you know, training, training for anything has certain objectives for training. And I found out, not necessarily at that time, but I found out that I had quite a bit of parental influence in pacifistic orientation. Because the Japanese Christian leader Uchimura Kanzo that my father was sort of a disciple of, and my mother, through the English language teacher that they studied under, before coming abroad. They, this, this Uchimura Kanzo and his disciple, Iguchi Sensei, teacher Iguchi, they were strongly inclined towards the peace mess -- peace emphasis of Jesus' training where he said, "Turn the other cheek." You know, if somebody wants to hit you, well, turn the other cheek. Or forgive your enemies, you know sincerely, not as just a weapon, but sincerely. And that's the way Dad was living, and confronted issues instead of -- like I said, "Wouldn't you, if somebody beat you, wouldn't you feel like beating back?" And he said, well, he may, but in the long run, if he could contain himself, he would try to turn the other cheek. He said, "If I beat back, I'm the same as the other guy. I have nothing better to offer than what I'm criticizing of him." And so, I'm getting that kind of personal response to certain questions, and then here comes this important thing. And there is this discussion on the military solution to a peaceful way for life, or for social justice. You, if you're trying to get it by, with a gun, you have to have the gun to maintain it. And so you have to find some other way to develop that kind of thing. So --

AI: Excuse me. So these discussions you're referring to are the discussions you had within the YM conference?

GH: YM, and then I'm finding out that I'm getting some of this influence at home. I didn't realize. That's why I finding certain approaches easy for me, and familiar to me. I found that true. Why did I become a Quaker? Quakers don't do a lot of proselytizing, especially the type that doesn't have the ministers. There is a branch that have ministers, and they're very similar to other ministerial type Protestant churches. But, we're, we're open to a way of life sorta teaching. And so I was coming to certain kinds of belief. If I want certain kinds of product, I have to do things that produces that kind of product. And, and so that would lead me to ways of peace. I'm for peace, and I'm for jus -- social justice. I have to live by those principles that maintains it if you can get it. Or, live towards it in order to achieve it. If you force it, then you're no different than other people who are forcing it. So, I have that sorta thing. It's not easy to maintain. And it's easier sometime to blow your top, get a gun, and blast him off or something. You might succeed on that, but then you're vulnerable to somebody else doing it. Well, when -- so in terms of that, and then in terms of discussing these things, this is coming up. We had debates along with race relations with the fraternity row. We're having it, we're having it in our discussions at Columbia after listening to somebody speak. And then we ask certain one of those people to come over and talk to our little group more intimately so we can follow through with questions and discussion. And we have people discussing this. Not of 'em, not only just pacifist types, all of the guys. And we're discussing --

TI: And this is back in Seattle that your talking about --

GH: No, we're talking in New York.

TI: Still in New York. Okay.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.