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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-02-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

GH: And then we get back, we're doing this in Seattle, too. But, because of that -- soon, right after we registered and turned our selective service form in, in due course we got back 1-A. So we appealed 1-A with a statement defending our reasons. And then they scheduled a hearing for us to appear before their board. And then if -- and what could follow is after our discussion they could, they could question us further, they could ask for witnesses to speak for us. Well, in both Howard and my case, we were asked to come and we, we presented our stuff, and then we answered their questions, and then in due course we got 4-E, both of us. And so that, that's the classification for conscientious objectors, who at a certain point may be eligible, they're eligible, they may be called to civilian public service camps.

TI: But this was an example of you going through the process of you having a certain point of view that was probably counter to what the government wanted you to do. But you went through this process, challenged it and got the CO classification.

GH: Yeah, I got it. If I didn't get it, I would've reapplied. Protested my thing further, maybe to another appeals level or something. But I would've fought it. I fought for it further. And then in the end, some people who never did get it by their board -- some boards were very narrow -- in the University District they tend to be more liberals 'cause they're hearing more argue-, they're used to hearing more alternative positions. So, but those people who, who can't get what they feel they believe in and stand for, they'll stand for it and then take the alternative. Refuse their response and then take a jail sentence.

TI: What kind of reaction were you getting from your family and friends as you were going through this process?

GH: Yeah. My family, of course, are sympathetic to my arguments. They're saying, well in a time of war -- by the time I'm discussing this it's time of war -- and also coming up is my objection to the government's uprooting program based on -- for those who are to be uprooted defined only in terms of ancestry. That's the only reason --

TI: But even before we, but even before we get there, just the, the issue of being a conscientious objector...

GH: Yeah.

TI: ...was unusual for someone from the Japanese American community to do that. And I was curious what reaction --

GH: Well, it certainly, it certainly un-, was unusual in the sense that there weren't very many. Hardly any other, there must have been a few, but hardly any other. So it was very unusual. But my position was -- I give the government this -- was sufficiently regarded as sincere, misled maybe, but sincere, so that I wasn't accused of being avoiding, or just trying to get out of things, or I had some sinister motive like disloyalty. They just felt that I was -- but, but, since, since this is a legal position, it was easier for me to argue that.

TI: Right, with, with --

GH: Because I could, I could ask for something that's given as an option.

TI: But to the, to the average person who wasn't as familiar with the legal issues, and just responses from say, some of the Nisei at the Japanese Students Club, or the people at the Y. What, what kind of reaction were you getting from them?

GH: Well, on the whole, they, by this, by this time they're, they're seeing me as one of the established conscientious objectors, so the sincerity of my position was not questioned. Whether they would take that position or not was the question they would face when looking at it for themselves. But, when they're regarding my position, they'd say, "Well, I don't agree with it, but I, I think he's sincere." Let's see now... well, now in terms of the question you asked, that's, that's the way that it arose to me. My parents, even to the, not going -- not coming home and move, moving with them -- my mother and father both said they understood and they admired me for taking a stand like that, "As clearly as you're doing it, at a time when it's, so many unknowns are in the picture and you, you hesitate because of that, but we admire you for that. But if a government can do this kind of drastic action they could do anything to keep us from ever getting together again," that's the mother, you know --

AI: Excuse me. So you're saying that a little bit later your mother --

GH: Yeah.

AI: -- brings up the fact that if a, if the government can put this exclusion order out and take everyone away, then there could be other drastic measures.

GH: Yeah. They'll have no trouble keeping us apart. We'll never get together. And, and she, she therefore wanted to have the family together. And she said, "I understand, but think about this, and we want to keep our family together." And --

TI: And Gordon, she's referring to really going to Puyallup?

GH: Yeah.

TI: Or not Puyallup, but Pine-, Pinedale together --

GH: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

TI: -- as a family, and this is a little bit later.

GH: And, and I carried with me a guilt feeling, 'cause I couldn't, I couldn't bend myself to accommodate her wishes. And for that I didn't realize it, but I found out about two months later when they moved from Pinedale to the permanent camp, Tule Lake. When they were unpacking, a door knocked and she went to open it. And they were unpacking, in their beautiful suite, you know -- [laughs] -- and two ladies, kinda dusty, it was a hot day, they said, they identified themselves, they were from -- I don't know what that fishing village was called in Los Angeles Harbor.

TI: Terminal Island.

GH: Terminal Island. "We're from Terminal Island in Los Angles Harbor. And we're one of the first to be moved, and so we, we were one of the first to come to Tule Lake. Some of the others went to Manzanar, but we came up to Tule Lake and so we're, we're at the other end of camp. We had to walk about a mile and a half so we're kind of dusty here now. But we heard that the family of the one that, whose boy is in Seattle fighting the case for us was arriving, so we wanted to be here to say welcome, and to say thank-you for your son." And she's describing this in a Japanese letter tablet which is about half of a typewriter page, and, and she's saying -- after she described it, she said, "You know, I got a big lift out of that visit." And suddenly, that's when I found out I was carrying a weight. A big load left my shoulders I didn't know I was carrying. 'Cause I knew there was no way I could be standing right next to her and give her that kind of lift. So I was absolved in, in a sense. And, but I didn't realize that. I was feeling that I upset her. I couldn't do what she asked with tears and everything. And I guess what she was saying was, "In spite of the tears, I had this big lift because you weren't here." She wasn't putting it that way, but that's what it amounted to, so I was cleared.

And, but, in Hawaii, when I was listening to this Nisei person, she said, "You know, when I was young I was real angry, but it never even occurred to us we could've said no, to the whole thing. But it didn't occur to us." And we, we -- and some people were objecting at various stages against, against their own people who were in charge of administration for different levels of responsibility. It would've been much clearer to say, "No," to the government right at the top. But it's -- I had, I had opportunity to face this. So it's not that I had some brilliant insight, I just had a little more experience, and that -- if I didn't have that summer experience at the time when I was ready to absorb all this and being there when these things were happening -- I probably wouldn't have shaped up in the same way. I might've taken the same final stand, but not with the same amount of openness that I, I was able to do as a result of facing this. And raising all those questions, and having it answered by those people --

TI: That, that's good.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.