Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Peter Irons Interview
Narrator: Peter Irons
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: November 11, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-ipeter-03-0010

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Q: How did you become interested in these three cases? And can we talk about your initial contact with the three men also?

PI: I started out, initially, to write a book about the cases, simply from a legal perspective. I wanted to look at how the lawyers on both sides, the government lawyers, the defense lawyers, developed their legal strategies and their arguments and how the courts handled the cases. But I also wanted to look at the actual defendants, get some idea of what kind of people they were, how they decided to make their challenges. So I interviewed them as part of the research for my book. And the research that I'd done uncovered the Justice Department records that showed the suppression of evidence in the cases, the destruction of evidence. And when I presented these records, showed them to the defendants during my interviews with them, they said, "Is there any way we can reopen these cases? Do you think we have a grounds for doing that?" And I said, "Well, obviously, you can't guarantee that the cases could be reopened or even reversed. But I think it's worth doing if you're willing to undertake it." And they all were eager to do that, they asked me if I would help represent them. I recruited a large group of Japanese American lawyers, most of them on the West Coast. Obviously, one person couldn't have handled all three of these cases, very complicated, a lot of evidence. So putting together the legal team really made it possible to bring the cases to completion.

Q: What was your contact with Korematsu while [inaudible]? What was his response when you had told him about what you had found?

PI: When I first approached Gordon and Min, they were eager to talk to me; they were very open about their cases, very interested in having them reopened. But Fred Korematsu, I had been told by a number of people, had a policy of not talking to anybody about his case. He had politely but firmly turned down invitations to be interviewed or to speak about his case. So I approached him by saying I was writing a book but also that I had documents that I thought he would be interested in seeing about his case that showed that the government had, in its own words, lied to the Supreme Court about his case. So Fred was very hesitant, very reluctant to talk to me, but when I finally did meet with him, he told me about his trial and how he'd gotten involved and then he looked at the documents I had brought with me, and he read them very carefully, slowly, obviously with a great deal of interest. And when he finished, he looked up at me and he said, "You know, they did me a great wrong." He said, "Would you be willing to represent me?" And I said, "I'd be glad to."

Q: Can you describe your feelings about Fred as a person? What kind of guy he's like.

PI: I think Fred is probably the most, in a sense, typical of the three. He's not a person who thrust himself into the spotlight. He didn't willingly undertake this, it was a personal decision he made by himself. Since his case was decided by the Supreme Court, he led a normal American life. President of the Lion's Club in his town, active in the Little League, holding his job as a draftsman. And I think that from the time that I first met Fred until his case was eventually decided, his conviction was vacated, he's come more and more to think of himself as a person who is a symbol of what happened to Japanese Americans, to accept that role, to expose himself to the public again, to undergo another court hearing. In a sense, I think he is now willing to express all the emotions that he felt for forty years but didn't want to expose to anybody.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.