Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Roger Daniels Interview
Narrator: Roger Daniels
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: November 18, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-droger-02-0003

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Q: Could you tell us, or describe for us what the atmosphere was like after Pearl Harbor, widespread rumors or beliefs that were being held about Japanese Americans and how the Japanese American community reacted to the situation and those beliefs?

RD: Well, that's a very complicated question. Let me try to sort it out into different parts. There was certainly tremendous shock throughout the country, I think all Americans, including Japanese Americans, were just terribly startled by this. It was one thing to fear, as many Japanese Americans had feared as tensions grew in the '30s, it was one thing to fear that there was going to be a war with Japan, but that it came so suddenly and without warning and on a Sunday, as some people were listening to football games or coming home from church, depending on where you were, that was it. Then when the enormity of the disaster began to come out and it did not come out right away, all sorts of stories were believed. If they could do this, well, they could do anything. There were panicky attitudes among public officials who should have known better, civilian and military. All sorts of excuses began to be made, Secretary Knox, the Secretary of the Navy, alleged that it was fifth column work that made the disaster so serious. Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts also made the same charge in a commission that he headed. There was no real evidence for this, and the army, navy, and intelligence services after the war all agreed that fifth-column work, spy work, by Japanese Americans had nothing to do with it.

Rumors then began to abound, rumors that it's hard to trace the origin. But people began to believe that when the bodies of the few Japanese pilots were found, that they had on class rings from various American universities. In Los Angeles, it was always UCLA or USC class rings. In the Bay Area, it was Stanford or Berkeley class rings. In Seattle, it was University of Washington class rings. Even such a distinguished American as Edward R. Murrow, who comes back to Seattle in early 1942 from London, says in a speech in Seattle, "If Seattle is ever bombed, we can look up and see that some of the pilots will be wearing W sweaters," that being what graduates of the University of Washington would wear. Other stories were that somehow Japanese had cut arrows into the sugar cane fields above Pearl Harbor so that the planes could find their way. This sounds terribly naive, because of course most of us have now flown into Honolulu and we realize that that green lagoon, pardon me, that blue lagoon surrounded by green mountains is one of the great natural targets in the world, and that you don't need arrows in the sugarcane to find those gray battleships down there. I mean, this was one of the easiest targets that a bomber pilot could want, yet they tended to believe that. Other kinds of things were believed in the United States, that somehow Japanese farms and tomato plants pointed to the Boeing plant in Seattle. One could go on and on and on. All of this fed back and was reinforced by the anti-Asian stereotypes, including the yellow peril of the prewar era, and it was reinforced by the shock, the fact that we were losing. And if it had just been Pearl Harbor, if it had just been that one loss, that was one thing, but Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Wake Island. The Japanese were really cleaning up. They were winning everything in sight and there were one or two things could be argued. Either we were being badly beaten by people who were superior in the short term in armament and in planning, which was in fact the case, or there was some kind of terrible plot. And we preferred to believe that just as in a later period, we preferred to believe that we, quote, unquote, "lost China" because of a few diplomats rather than, you know, a revolution that involved millions of people and been going back to 1911.

Q: Then how did the bombing of Pearl Harbor then affect the Japanese American community? With all of this going on around them...

RD: Well, they were, you know, there's whole range of people here we're talking about in the United States, at least, we're talking about a community of a 125,000 people. So there were a wide range of reactions, but their basic first reaction was the American reaction. They were stunned, but doubly they were particularly horrified because for about a third of them, Japan was their native country. The others knew that their parents came from Japan. In addition, there was great fear as to what was going to happen to them. And some college students, for instance, had speculated before the war and small publications of Japanese American students who published at University of California, Berkeley. What would happen to us if war came? Well, we'd be in trouble. Some of us might be shot, we might be placed in concentration camps, but I think that most did not really -- although they knew their position would be perilous -- did not really feel that this would happen.

Then after Pearl Harbor, there's a whole succession of events. Aliens, some Japanese American community leaders, mostly older persons and these are aliens, are rounded up and interned. Then various kinds... then there are a whole series of restrictions. Then on the 19th of February, Franklin Roosevelt promulgates Executive Order 9066, which, while it doesn't mention Japanese by names, everyone, the newspapers, most Japanese Americans, realized that was aimed at them. But it still wasn't clear what would happen. Then DeWitt begins issuing proclamations: You can leave this area of California to go to that area. Then at a later date, they were frozen, not to leave. Then there's a curfew from dusk to dawn. Then comes Proclamation No. 1 which evacuates and sends first to Puyallup and then to Manzanar the people from Bainbridge Island. Then everybody starts getting rounded up in 107 regions and off to god knows where. And by the time they go to the assembly centers, Santa Anita, Tanforan, Puyallup, they don't know --Portland -- they don't know where they're going next. The relocation centers hadn't even been built, some of the sites hadn't been selected, so there they are cooped up, and there is a progressive demoralization and nervousness and a great deal of confusion.

Q: Were there any racial incidents or attacks, violence being taken against Japanese Americans during that post-Pearl Harbor period?

RD: Yes, there was violence. Some of it, one, the most spectacular event, was probably misdirected. There is still an unsolved homicide on the books of the Tacoma Police Department. Because on Monday morning, December 8, they found the body of an Asian who had been decapitated and he was Chinese. Now it may be that this was a different kind of murder, but the assumption was that this was somebody's notion of revenge for Pearl Harbor with a slightly wrong target. There was a great deal of harassment; shots were fired at people. People were beaten, were insulted, rocks were thrown through windows, there was all things considered, I guess, less real violence of this kind than one could suggest, pardon me, than one could suspect. And there's no clear evidence that any Japanese American was actually killed in these sorts of, in this kind of violence, either then or earlier. Although there were a lot of assaults as opposed to the anti-Chinese movement which had hundreds of corpses. We don't know that any Japanese Americans were actually killed, and I guess we should be gratified that that was the case, but there was a great deal of ostracism, of hostility, of physical violence, of threats, of a kind of terrorism.

And there were Japanese Americans who were very pleased sort of to be taken into protective custody. Similarly, at the end of the war, when they closed down the camps, there were some people who were so demoralized by what their own country had done to them, that they actually had to be evicted from concentration camps. Didn't want to leave. They didn't know what the world out there was like anymore. And I think that more than anything, that says more than anything else, now, that's a minority phenomenon. But there were people who behaved in this way.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.