Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Gordon Hirabayashi Interview
Narrator: Gordon Hirabayashi
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Date: October 25, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-hgordon-06

<Begin Segment 1>

Q: Gordon, tell us a little bit about your family background, what your parents did.

GH: Well, from the time I can remember, they were farmers in the valley outside of Seattle, south of Seattle, truck farming, vegetable... the worst kind of farming you could have so far as the amount of attention that it takes year-round. Over here in Canada, I've run into wheat farmers who work long hours for, you know, certain summer months, then they're off in Bermuda during the winter, you know. But I never had anything like that. We worked during the winter, bedding the plants and so on in the greenhouses. We had to throw manure and fertilizer during the offseason, digging ditches for drainage, all sorts of things like that. So the winter was no break. That's the kind of early background that made my brothers and I friends of farmers but not farmers.

Q: Growing up on the farm, how "American" did you feel?

GH: Well, at that time, growing up on a farm, I never felt any special issue of "American" or "Japanese." We were made to feel different in the community, with certain restrictions. But in the farm there was a fairly healthy interchange in terms of community activities. You needed everybody's contribution during some kind of festival. And the Japanese contributed a lot, because they were most of the agricultural economy, and a few of the other enterprises. So they were welcome participants. We used to have something in Kent, which was a couple miles from our farm, called the Lettuce Festival, and they used to have what they claim was the world's largest lettuce salad, with pitchforks, you know, a great big bin. We would see the fellows with boots on fixing lettuce salad, which we ate later along with other things. So that was, we had opportunities of that type, of intermingling, which was part of our natural background. So while there were restrictions, and we knew we weren't equal, we learned to kind of bend with the blows on that aspect. And it wasn't a serious restriction except in terms of landownership, alien land law prevented that for our parents and their friends.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

Q: What was your religious background like?

GH: When my father and his young friends were preparing to come to U.S., they recalled that they had two major objectives. They felt that, to succeed in America, you had to first know English, and second, you had to be a Christian. So they went to a language instructor and started taking English lessons. And you know, the English that a Japanese person would be teaching, the pronunciation would be not understandable. But he learned some, but the main thing he learned was, this fellow happened to be a disciple of one of the leaders of a Japanese Christian movement, called mukyokai, or the non-church movement, Protestant. But refused to join up with any denomination, he felt that that was an American organizational claptrap that wasn't necessary, and so he said, "We just do the real thing, the Christian thing," and had his so-called "non-church movement." Well, this disciple who was teaching English spent a lot of time getting that point of view across, too, I guess, so that by the time they came to U.S., they were converted Christians, his brand. So when they... I think they were headed for California. Dad said California was the name that was given, and they landed in Seattle. The boat stopped in Seattle and then they were, soon as they were cleared by immigration, they were going to go to get on the train to head for California. But he had sent a letter to a contact he was given just so somebody could come and visit them. And he came over to visit in Seattle, and they found, this fellow said, "You know, you people ought to consider here. This is not a bad place." And they said, "Well, there's eight of us, is there a job for eight of us, we could work together?" So he says, "I'll look into that," and he came back a few days later and said, "Yeah, I've got a, I've got a job for eight of you." Four-man team on the railroad, one of those handcars for repairs, teams of four, up in the mountains, Cascade Mountains from Seattle. And so that was about a year of their job. Now, regarding the Christian part, these fellows met, it was a non-church, non-minister, non-pastor type meeting. So they'd get together and have their own sessions. From what they were telling me, I felt that the easiest way to understand their type of session was something like an Alcoholics Anonymous. They would come and share their experiences, the difficulties, how they overcame them, and how certain aspects of their beliefs helped and so on, and you know, the testimonial type.


Q: How did your religious background or the religion of your father plus the Quakers that you had known influence your thinking?

GH: Well, in a number of ways. I think, in principle, probably the most fundamental part that reflected itself in my beliefs was the sincerity. Both, both my father's group and the Quakers, there were no connection, official connection between them, and I don't think they knew of each others' existence 'til, you know, later. They had a very close relationship between the statements of their belief and their behavior, and that impressed me. I liked that, because you run across so often people who profess certain high standards on Sunday, then on Monday they follow some other principle. So it was refreshing to me to find, after my growing up with my parents' group, a group like the Quakers that represented very similar principles of behavior and belief.

Q: What was your relationship with Floyd Schmoe?

GH: Well, I knew him from the days as a student, and a group of students who were interested in peace and some alternative way of international relations than war. We had speakers come in to our group. This was an informal group, and we had a variety of people coming in, and among them were Quaker representatives and he was one of them. Later on, when, after Pearl Harbor when war started, Floyd Schmoe was teaching at the College of Forestry, and I think about ninety percent of the students were drafted into the army. So along with a number of other instructors they found other things. Many of the instructors went into the service themselves. Floyd, being a Quaker and interested in the service work, peace work, was instrumental in getting the American Friends Service Committee organized for the Northwest. And the first key challenge for their work was assisting where they could with the Japanese Americans.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

Q: How did you feel when you first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

GH: Well, disbelief. I... as a student I'm keeping up with front page, but you're not keeping up with the current events all that much. And when, on a Sunday morning, one of my... I had been attending a meeting, Quaker meeting, and as we came out, one of the fellows who lived right close, whose ears were glued on the radio, came down and said, "Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and it looks like there's gonna be war." And that was the first I heard. And then, of course, the newspapers, radios were literally screaming headlines about the, oh, the most serious words of dishonest attack and so on that you could find. And then report after report on acts of sabotage and espionage rumors that were coming out of Hawaii. So I thought, "Boy, this is an exaggeration," but I thought at least there'd be some. Subsequently, there were none. But that's, that's the screaming noise that came out, and the beginnings of various questions about what's gonna happen to our parents. Always, "What's gonna happen to the Isseis?" Because they were technically aliens, not eligible for naturalization, and then with war with Japan, they became "enemy aliens." So we felt that at least some kinds of restrictions will be imposed upon.

Q: How did your parents react to Pearl Harbor, and the rest of your family members?

GH: Well, with regret, of course, and hoping, hoping that things wouldn't get any worse. And wondering, everybody full of anxiety, now, do we, what do we do from here? Because from December and January on, should they continue preparing for next year's crop on the farm, or what else should they be doing and what's going to happen to them? Because things were pretty much up in the air. The prospect of their being confined somewhere was always there. And we tried to assure them that something may happen, since technically they're "enemy aliens," but don't worry, we're gonna be on hand to look after them and look after their homes and so on. Some of the more cynical Isseis said, "If anything happens to us, you'll be there with us. And we argued with them, "We're citizens. They can't do this to us." But they had the last laugh if they could have laughed.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

Q: The other non-Japanese in Seattle, what was their treatment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor?

GH: I think, on the whole, there was nothing that warranted any kind of wholesale move like mass uprooting. I think there were the usual prejudiced people, and you know, they hysteria that swept that area, I suppose it was all, all up and down the coast. But a real fear that the West Coast might be the next attack. Most of the people with any kind of military knowledge know that an attack of the kind that took place in Hawaii can only take place under certain kinds of circumstances, and another 25 miles away from home, it'd be very difficult. And there's no opportunity to have a landing. They didn't even land in Hawaii. Because that takes a logistic difficulty, details, that are just phenomenal. But hysteria ignored all those logics.

Q: Can you describe some of the hysteria or racial incidents that occurred?

GH: I never ran into any. By that I don't mean me personally, but I never knew of any personal incidents. I'm sure there were some insults and verbal abuses, but I didn't run into any. I know there were some, I read about some. But considering the kind of hysteria that swept the country, I think the incidences were relatively infrequent.

Q: Aside from your concern for the Issei, do you recall your emotional reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor?

GH: No, not really. I... sadness, almost a fatalistic acceptance, "Here we are in war again." But it's the first war I've ever been in, so not knowing what all to anticipate. And as a minority, likely to... and as it happened, likely to be grouped with the enemy group. A certain amount of anxieties on that aspect, but my primary concern was what was gonna happen to our parents. Because legally and technically they were "enemy aliens," quote.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

Q: Gordon, how did you feel, or what went through your mind, I guess, when you heard about the Executive Order 9066.

GH: The Executive Order 9066 was issued on February 19, 1942. But I was in the midst of school, and so I read about it later. And looked at it as one more restriction that was coming along. Nothing of the kind of reaction that I had later, as I realized what was implied with that. And subsequently to Executive Order 9066, Congress passed legislation with federal penalties.

Q: Well, can we go out a little further? When you did realize the implication of the order, then how did you feel?

GH: Well, I think, I think if I describe my response to curfew, and subsequently through the exclusion order, it probably gives the personal aspects to it. I don't recall entering in any debate or discussion, extended discussion about this with either Japanese students or the other American students. And when shortly after that the curfew orders were imposed, which included all "enemy aliens," German, Italian and Japanese aliens, plus other persons of Japanese ancestry, that's me. And it's interesting, I never was included as a citizen. That is, they didn't say "citizens of Japanese ancestry are also included," they always referred to me as a "non-alien." If you look at the definition of "alien" as being a "non-citizen," a "non-alien" is a kind of a double negative. And they used that euphemism throughout the war. I, like any other normal American, trained to obey laws that were issued by the government or in the name of the government, I complied with the curfew. And I lived in a small dormitory right next to the campus, University of Washington, YMCA dormitory. This was partly international students from the Philippines, from Canada and so on, along with the out-of-town American students, and I was one of about twelve, thirteen people who lived there. So it was a small, very closely-knit group. And when we went out to the library or to the coffee shop on the Avenue, everybody acted as my volunteer timekeeper and they'd say, "Hey, it's five minutes to eight, Gordon." And I'd gather up my stuff and dash home. Usually the others stayed on, if it's the library or coffee shop, whatever they were doing.


Q: You were mentioning you had been out with some of your friends and you realized you had to come home, and tell me how you felt when you had to come home early.

GH: Well, I guess it wasn't only happening that night, but the differences were really mounting. Because I happened to be the only Japanese at the time living in that dormitory, and so whatever I had to do as a result of the order, which identified me to be subject to the order simply on the grounds of my ancestry. Otherwise, I was the same as the others in the dormitory, and I'd have to dash home. Until that time, the, obeying the order and not getting late and so on was the primary concern. But finally, towards the end of the week, it dawned on me, why I should be dashing back and my friends not? And that if I'm an American, what am I doing this for? And so I said, "Well, if I'm an American, I'm gonna act like one," and I turned around and went back. The... that was the first deliberate open stance I took. Until then, I'd been going with it. You know, not liking it, but going along with it. And I think if I were living in the Japanese Students Club half a block away, they had during the day maybe 150 people congregating around there. But at night, there were about forty living there. I'm sure they, ten minutes or so to eight o'clock would all be coming home, bitching and so on, but coming home. And all of 'em were coming home, so nobody would be standing out like a sore thumb like I was. So I don't know if this feeling would have hit me in the way in which it hit me if I were living at the student club.

Q: Can you explain further how the executive order affected the Japanese American community at large, how they were all reacting to it?

GH: Well, I can only give you just kind of a fringe view because I wasn't down there. I was in the University District, which is away from there. But I know it was restricting, because stores had to close, they had to be in their homes by 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. And then movements from home, technically you had to have a permit if you travelled more than five miles.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

Q: Did you discuss the evacuation with your parents, with your family?


GH: The, my parents and I on visits that I had to the home would discuss the implications of the restrictions, curfew and the uprooting orders that were coming shortly after that. And my early visits with them, we would be decrying the unfairness of it, and the impracticality of it because war production, you know, food production and so on was a significant contribution that these people could be making and were making. And we're continuing to do productive work, even though they didn't know when they would be uprooted. And as it turned out, many of them were uprooted just about the time the harvesting work would start, which was, you know the orders were given by people in an office far away from farms and no concern to that aspect. Our discussions did not center on any kind of steps that I would be taking subsequently, because those things had not occurred to me then.

Q: You had discussed the impracticality of the evacuation, and no one thought it was a good idea, but why do you think the majority of Japanese Americans followed the evacuation orders anyway?

GH: Well, I find it a little bit inconvenient, but I don't use the word "evacuation" on this because "evacuation" is a humanitarian term for earthquake, fires, floods, other kinds of catastrophes, and usually the movement of the people is for their benefit, at their request and so on. This thing that happened to the Japanese was anything but that. So I think the word "evacuation," which the government used as a euphemism to cover this is a misnomer and we ought to stop using it. I used words like "forced removal," "uprooting" and so on. And in terms of your question about why, if they felt this was the wrong action, did the Japanese cooperate with it and go along with it? I think you have to know something about the Japanese society in general, and the way the Japanese, our parents, your grandparents' group, learned to cope in their survival in North America. It was, they came in as an alien group to a country where a lot of the people felt was a white man's country. They still think that. You ever review the story of Columbus? "Columbus discovered America," and details sometimes describe as Columbus and his men came ashore, kissed the earth and so on, "lightly-clad dark-skinned people hovered around with curiosity and later brought them food," and so on. That didn't change at all their conception that Columbus discovered America. 'Cause they weren't, they weren't humans that counted, and so they're ignored. And this, this viewpoint sort of psychologically continues, and I think that's part of the atmosphere that our parents had to confront, and some of us in our early years had to do the same. And you must remember that this protest era, in its outward form, really began in the '60s. So not only the Japanese, everybody was fairly placid about going along with directives. And when it came to minorities like the Japanese, their main intent was not confrontation or injustice, but how do you cope with it? They expected injustice and discrimination one way or another, and how do you cope with it and so on. And so when this order came, there's another thing that they had to cope with. And so objecting to it, you know, even though they felt it was totally unnecessary and totally wrong and it's a discrimination, it wasn't their first line thought to, "I'm going to confront this, battle it."

Q: When you went to the FBI office to surrender, what was it like, the feelings inside of you?

GH: No real feeling. It's like going to a registrar's office or social security office or something. I stayed after the University District had to move. We were the last district, so in effect, when the last of Seattle had to be moved, I stayed one day extra. That made me, according to their decree, illegally there.


Q: What was your family response to the stand you had taken and the fact that you had been arrested?

GH: Well, the discussion with the family was before I was arrested. When I told my mother over the phone what I was about to do, and my mother's reaction supported my dad, by my dad, was one that, you know, acknowledged the arguments I had. That wasn't their concern. They said, "We agree with you, and there's no question there. But we're headed for we don't know where, and if you do this, we don't know what's gonna happen to you or where you'd be sent. We may never see each other again." This was her, her concern was family. "And in this emergency, let's get together and you go with us." I said, "I'd like to do that." She used tears, everything she could, but I didn't, I just couldn't go with that. And I was fairly free not to, because I had fairly young, healthy parents, and I had a high school brother, just graduated, and another one that was second-year, that was Jim. And so I wasn't physically necessary there like some families. So in a variety of ways, I was relatively free to follow this strong feeling. And I said, "I'd like to be with you, but I can't." And as it turned out, which I could explain later, I wouldn't have been very good if I went with 'em. And I think in the long run, it was very evident to me that I did the best thing for my parents even, by sticking to my guns here, so to speak.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

Q: Gordon, what went through your mind as you wrote that statement? Why did you decide to write it?

GH: Well, with curfew, I'm there, but with the exclusion order, I have to either go underground and involve other people in terms of food and place to stay and so on, or I'd be somewhere where they'd pick me up anyway. So I decided remaining incognito was not the main thing, it was the protest stand. So I consulted my lawyer friend, Arthur Barnett, and he agreed to drive me over to the FBI office the morning after everybody was gone.

Q: You had already written the statement by that time and had thought out why you had done, or why you were going to dissent?

GH: Yeah. Well, I sort of knew what I was going to be, where I was going to go, so I prepared a statement for them and circulated a few copies to some of my close friends. One of those got to the FBI, so they already had the statement.

Q: How did the FBI get it?

GH: Well, they wouldn't tell me. They said, "We might use that source again, so we would rather not disclose it." So I never knew from them, although I heard from somebody else that I had dropped the statement getting off of a bus or something and somebody picked it up. And "Why I'm Refusing to Move Out," or something, the title of it. And they thought, "Gee, this should go to the FBI," so they got it.

Q: Why did you think that statement, to have it written with you was necessary?

GH: Well, they're going to ask me, what am I doing, and how come, and so on, so I just prepared the gist of my thoughts in one page. So that's the reason for that.

Q: Do you recall any of the wording right now?

GH: Yeah. I said that I had a certain philosophy as an American, that I felt it important for me to live according to that philosophy, some of the things that I learned in school. And if I weren't going to do that, then accept the second-class status, then I'd have to change my philosophy, my whole life outlook, and that was too complicated, so I decided I'd stick to my existing philosophy and belief, which was a common American belief. I wasn't thinking any different. And decided to follow it, even though that meant, obviously, arrest, and whatever would happen after that.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

Q: What was your most basic emotional response helping, seeing other people leave for the camps?

GH: Well, it was kind of a sad kind of an experience. Because the ones that I was helping primarily were those whose husband were picked up right after Pearl Harbor. They were community leaders, and so in the case of those people who still had young children, there was this wife with a bunch of little kids having to do all this packing and getting ready to move for, they didn't know where, with only what they could carry. And so it was a, really a tragic site. And the little that we could do to relieve that, we did what we could do in helping them pack and getting them to the pickup point where the buses were going to the Western Washington Fairgrounds, which was the first temporary concentration camp.

Q: You were with the, you saw your family leave for the camps also?

GH: No, I didn't. The valley where my parents were, were scheduled to leave about ten days after I was arrested. So, in fact, my friends who backed me up, went to the army and got a special permit so they could go and pick up my mother to come in for one visit before she left. So I actually got to see her in the corridor of the jail.

Q: Do you remember any of the exchange of words?

GH: [Laughs] Yes. I guess I was in about three or four days by that time, and I wasn't expecting her. And I was called out, and there she was with my friend. She had brought, like a Japanese mother would do, a box with rolls of sushi sliced, which was very nice, with the, compared to the jail food I had. But I ate just one or two while I was visiting with her, and then I asked the jailer if I could take these in, and he said, "Sure." So I didn't eat any more, 'cause there were three or four Japanese Americans in jail who were picked up right at the time of Pearl Harbor for, accused of sending scrap iron or something to Japan. They were import-export types. And so I saved it for them because they hadn't had sushi since the time of the evacuation.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

Q: What was your opinion of the court proceedings of your hearing?

GH: Very cut-and-dried. Not surprising because I didn't expect constitutional issues to come up until the Supreme Court. So our lawyers were putting in the foundations for the appeal. The district court was simply establishing the facts: "here is the order to move," which included all persons of Japanese ancestry. So they determined that I was of Japanese ancestry and that I had not moved, and therefore the judge had instructed the jury, "That's all you're supposed to do." If he's of Japanese ancestry and he hadn't moved, then you've got to come back with a guilty verdict. Forget all that argument about the Constitution that the defense was making." So they, according to the judge's instruction, they came back in ten minutes or so with a guilty verdict. So we expected that.

Q: Did you speak to the, speak in court of law?

GH: Yes. Yes, I was up on the stands. And basically, I was asked questions by my lawyer as to why I did it, and what were my reasons. And my response was that I was, I was trying to live like an American, and that I believed what the Constitution said, that being of Japanese ancestry should not constitute grounds for removal. If they suspected me of a threat to national defense, they should accuse me of that so I could defend myself on that ground, not on ancestry.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

Q: Do you, can you talk about as to whether, did you think other people did the same as you? Similar actions?

GH: No. I expected... I knew nothing about what was, how many people were going to be doing this sort of thing. I sort of thought that after the smoke cleared and from Seattle down to Los Angeles when we got the story, maybe there would be a hundred others with whom I could join in a kind of mass case. It was only after the northwest commander for the removal called me out of jail to his office and greeted me cordially, and I was wondering what all this was leading to and he started to tell me how successful this removal process was. 100 percent success in Southern California, 100 percent success in Northern California. And, "As soon as we finish this discussion, it'll be a 100 percent here." So that's when I got the first inkling that there were no other cases. And so I thought, "Gee, now what is he going to offer me that I could change my views and not be the, help him with his 100 percent?" It didn't turn out to be anything new. He just was going to give me another chance to reconsider and drop all the charges and so on. He said, "By this time, you have this and this and this, half a dozen or more charges against you. We're willing to drop all that, give you a limousine to the camp and forget everything." While I couldn't do that, I felt so sorry for him being the only one without 100 percent that I was racking my brains, how could I support him? Finally I said, "You know, I'm not resisting this physically. Why don't you get a couple of your guys to pick me up, take me down to the car, drive me over to the camp in Puyallup, open up the barbed wires and drop me off at the administration building and go out? I'd be there, you got your 100 percent." And it seemed like, for a split second, he thought about it, and then he said, "No, can't do that." "Why not?" And what he said floored me. He said, "That'd be illegal."


Q: You found out that you were the only one that had kind of taken this stance, so do you think others, other Japanese Americans may have perceived you as a troublemaker because of that stance?

GH: Well, I didn't think too much about that, because they're all gone to camp. And no one was left behind except hospital cases, so it was possible, and it was possible that this action would be considered "troublemaking," "boat rocking" and so on. And I had, I had therefore not consulted any of the community leaders, especially the Nisei leaders, because I knew their position. I disagreed with it. And there was one thing that I couldn't adequately answer with any assurance, and that is, the thing that I would be doing, would it cause further pressures against the community, people in camp already suffering? Would it get the army angry with reprisal actions? I don't know any of that, you see. And so I didn't try to approach them, and I never thought further about it, except that I kept getting letters from camp which relieved me of that kind of worry.

Q: What do you mean, you got letters?

GH: Well, friends of mine would be writing about camp situation and expressing appreciation that "at least somebody's putting up a battle right at the outset." You see, a lot of people objected to many aspects of the camp procedure, I mean, the uprooting procedure down the line. And a lot of people suffered reprisals on that. But all of that happened afterward, after they're in the process. And I suppose many of them, if they had another opportunity, might have taken a stand right at the beginning. But you know, as I discussed earlier, this is not the normal pattern of events, confrontation. And I wasn't doing it for confrontation, I just couldn't accept it, and this was the only response I could make.

Q: Can you talk about the JACL's policy and stand at the time?

GH: The JACL took the position that we are in an emergency, at war, and they took the government's word that this action of removing us and detaining us in concentration camps were vitally necessary for the war effort. It was militarily necessary. And so with that accepted as fact, they took their stand to participate to the best of their ability to help this country in a time of war, so they went along with this. I felt that they could have expressed their opposition to this kind of drastic action, women, children, ordinary workers. After all, community leaders were all picked up right after Pearl Harbor, or most of 'em, and others were under surveillance. That kind of drastic action didn't seem necessary. They could have taken a stand there and then cooperated physically to remove or to relieve some of the pressures of move. But they decided to go this way. I have only to accept their good intentions. I disagreed, but they were doing it this way. And as it turned out, forty years later, my position was vindicated, more or less. But at the time, nobody could say that.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

Q: Can you describe some your most vivid memories of prison life?

GH: My prison life was sort of a microcosm of life outside. There were people there. Life goes on. We had our going to sleep, getting up, and in-between activities just like outside. It's an artificial community, only men, and more restrictions than life outside, but not all that different. And so I followed basically the same principles in prison as I did outside. And when I was confronted with situations that I could not accept, I had to refuse it in prison, too. So I did make one conscientious effort in prison. I tried to distinguish between the acts that I... or the orders that I could not accept from those who were forced to issue those orders, and I tried to stay as friendly as possible with the officials, even if I refused the order. That wasn't always understood by them.

Q: You met your father in prison? Do remember words you exchanged with him?

GH: Yeah. Actually --

Q: Would your preface this?

GH: Actually, during the time I was waiting for my first trial, I had been in about five months. At the time, I was mayor of my tank by then. All the details of placing people on, in particular cells and other kinds of living arrangements and decisions behind the bars were in my hands. And the jailers would just throw people in and leave it up to my organization to take care of it. Now, shortly before the trial, one evening, the night jailer came up and said, "Hey, where do I put this guy?" The lights were already out, it must have been about 10:30. And so I was just pulling his leg, and I said, "Why don't you bring these guys in during the daytime when we got plenty of time and we can see what we're doing?" And he says, "Well, I got to bring 'em when they come." And then I looked in the shadows at this little fellow about half the size of this huge sergeant, and I said, "Hey, that's Dad!" And I happened to have an empty bunk in my cell, so I said, "Put him in here." So the jailer went out and opened my cell door and Dad came in. And he said -- he's very quiet, you know. All this time I'm kidding the jailer he's not saying a word, he's just standing in the shadows there. And he said, after he got in, that they drove up from Tule Lake, he was subpoenaed to be a witness for the government, he and Mother, and she was put in the city women's tank. Later I found that my backers, when they heard that my parents were being brought in as witnesses, they offered their homes. In fact, they proposed three of the most convenient homes for billeting them. And when the judge expressed concern about possible mob action or something, when they heard that a Japanese was in town, they said, well, they didn't think that'll happen, but, "Why don't you deputize us so it'll be official action?" He was afraid to do that, so eventually they tossed him into the jail tanks. But while that was objectionable and unfair in many ways, personally it was a good thing because I had a very nice, about a four or five day visit before the trial, and another four or five days afterwards before he was taken back.

Q: Remember any of the words you exchanged?

GH: Well, the... my exchanges with Dad were largely personal, picking up on each other's activities during our several months of absence, and the kinds of concerns that they had before they came, and so on. And so it was just like a briefing. It wasn't as though -- you know, he came from camp, he didn't come from freedom, and I'm in jail. So he comes in, and it's almost like somebody coming from a trip, and, "Oh, gee, I haven't seen you for five months," and catching up on a variety of details. We didn't discuss any issues of principles or anything like that, since there wasn't any dispute there.

Q: How did the camp experience affect your mother and father?

GH: Those people can take a lot of things under restriction. And so I think they just coped quite well.


Q: Gordon, can you talk about the letter?

GH: Yeah. I received a letter from my mother shortly after she was moved to Tule Lake. And she wrote about two ladies from one of the California cities who was billeted someplace a mile and a half away, who walked all the way looking her up. And what they wanted to say was that they had heard that someone was living here whose son was in jail fighting this thing. And they said that in this frustration of this kind of treatment, it was inspiring to them that someone was battling this, and they wanted to come to express appreciation to the mother for what her son is doing. And my mother said she just had such a lift from this visit. That from that moment on, I felt that nothing I could have done being with her could have matched that kind of a lift. And so I never worried about being absent in camp after that visit, you know, on the parental grounds.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

Q: Gordon, tell us what you think is the importance of the coram nobis cases now.

GH: Well, I always felt that the court cases, something was wrong with the court cases when it got to the Supreme Court and we were turned down. But finally, with Peter Irons' discovery, we were able to follow a path to challenge one portion of it through government suppression of information. So this is not a re-trial. Coram nobis is not a re-trial of the whole thing, but it allows us to discuss the implications of the suppression of key information in our case. And actually, that has given us an opportunity to request vacating of our charges against us. And we're asking for another thing. We'd like to have this registered in court or someplace officially so that the reasons for the government decision to vacate the charges if this comes to be, are recorded. Just vacating the charges is not sufficient, but we want to know, we want to have it on record why.


Q: Can you talk about how this whole process, your conviction, changed your feelings about the United States?

GH: Oh, it hasn't changed my feelings. I've always felt that basically, U.S. is on the right beam. Some of the representatives have not always measured up to what I think was the standard. So in due course, if not in my case, in other amendments and so on of the court cases, the rights of citizens would be restored. But I think it's, I feel gratified that we have had the opportunity, even after over forty years, to get a hearing on this and possibly a solution that will secure citizens' freedom, citizens' rights, for all people, not just us. I've served my sentence. I'm not gonna get much out of this personally, but I'd like to use this opportunity to make it a little more difficult for deviations in the future.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

Q: It appears you came from a strong Japanese cultural background. So did you have any problems, or could you tell us about any problems of an interracial marriage?

GH: Well, when I got married, it was no very frequent nor popular on either side, the question of intermarriage. And so, and then on top of that, it was during the war. And so, for example, my former wife got all the poison pen letters, anonymous, because she was the "traitor to the race." I didn't get anything. There was opposition, however, on both sides, I knew it. Even, even friends of mine hesitated. They were supportive, but they hesitated and questioned it, particularly by raising questions like, "Well, you people have thought it over, but what about your kids? They're going to be victims 'cause they haven't had the chance to be consulted before they entered the world." That kind of floored me. I wondered how to answer that question. Until somehow I hit a perspective, little broader perspective, and I realized that that question could be asked of any parent. And what could be asked of me would be this one additional dimension that would be added to the general question. So it's not the question, it's one further question that we have to think about in having children.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

Q: Why did you decide after all these years to reopen your case?

GH: Well, it was an opportunity that we'd been waiting for. I'd never given up that someday we may have a reversal, 'cause it felt so diabolically wrong. And the off-discussions I've had with constitutional law professors, they would all say that, "That's a black mark in our record." But I didn't know exactly how, or under what circumstances, a review could come. So when Peter Irons came over and told us that there is evidence of suppression of information from the courts, and that's grounds for a special kind of petition for rehearing, coram nobis, that's all I needed to hear. I was ready to go.

Q: When you learned about the suppression of evidence, how did this new information strike you? How did you feel about it?

GH: Well, I was glad that we had evidence for that, because I always felt that it was suppressed, the evidence of information by the government from the Supreme Court justices.

Q: What do you think this case, the cases now mean to Japanese Americans generally?

GH: I think it, I think the Japanese Americans, the implication of this case to Japanese Americans in general are supportive, would be the supportive aspect of having been victimized and finding legal grounds now to petition for redress or whatever. I think this is another dimension of the kinds of findings that the Commission found in declaring that military necessity was not a factor.

Q: The government was talking about possibly offering -- would you accept a pardon?

GH: The government has thrown out a feeler as to whether we would accept a pardon or not. I'm glad to say that the other two petitioners, along with myself, absolutely threw that out. "Pardon" means "you're guilty but we'll forgive you," and I see absolutely no reason for accepting that position.

Q: Could you say more about that?

GH: Well, if it's a pardon, we didn't need to even open a petition for a rehearing. We've gone through this thing in court cases, and I've served my sentence. It's not worth our having volunteer legal support from the young lawyers, raising money for all kinds of legal expenses and so on just to get that. I don't see any reason for accepting pardon on that ground. And secondly, the vital aspect of the wrongdoing by the government, your own government, in the process of justice in our courts would engage in a kind of a Watergate. I think that's, that's inexcusable, and I hope the government will recognize that, and not just to try to win this case by any device, but have some interest in the foundational establishment of justice in this country.


Q: Gordon, can you summarize why, why you decided to do what you did?

GH: In the coram nobis case, when the opportunity for filing a petition --

Q: I mean originally, I'm sorry.

GH: Oh, way back in World War II? Like everyone else, in 1942, we were, we were expecting something to happen to our parents because of the technicality of being "enemy aliens." But we, we expected that we would be on hand as citizens to look after their affairs and so on, and continue like the rest of America. But when the chips were down, it was, in terms of exclusion order, the alien, "enemy alien" German and Italian people were not included, but all persons of Japanese ancestry, including citizens were included, albeit called "non-aliens."

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

Q: What, the camps, the decision for the American government to do it, what do you, what was, what for you was the primary issue, aside from just morally, what was your reaction?

GH: To the what, to the camp?

Q: The decision to evacuate the Japanese in the camps.

GH: Well, it was... it, to me, something morally wrong, associated, is partly because it violates the Bill of Rights and the basic constitutional guarantees. And if they could get technical support for something like that at a time when on a general basis on the West Cost of the United States in 1942, it was not considered sufficiently urgent to invoke martial law, I just felt that there were so many inconsistencies that the order was simply one of racial hysteria. You know, we've had people from way back looking for opportunities to get rid of the Asians. So war in this sense was not the reason for this action, it was the excuse to carry out a long-intended program: "yellow peril," Anti-Asiatic Exclusion League, you know, all of these activities are known history. And wartime hysteria just gave them an opportunity. And unfortunately, government programs caved in on that.

Q: What's been your reaction to the recent support and interest in your case?

GH: Well, we live in a different era now, and I'm very encouraged that the media, for example, has been very supportive, both in terms of coverage and the kind of coverage. And support from various individuals has been encouraging.

Q: What kind of things have people been telling you in terms of, what kind of reactions have you been getting?

GH: Well, the reactions that I've been getting from supporters, "It's a long time in the pursuit of this justice, and I'm glad you're finally getting some results. We want, we want to clear up a bad mark in our constitutional record, and I'm glad your program is going to help do this," this sort of thing. It's not all one-sided, however. We get confusing reports by people who say, "What about those, what about our boys who suffered in the Death March at Bataan?" And, "Look what the Japanese government did to our prisoners of war. Compared to that, you guys were treated real well. What are you complaining about?" and so on. Confusing international prisoner of war program with what our own government did to its own citizens purely on the basis of ancestry. So I think this has been one of the more heartening aspects. Not only are we in a more enlightened era, but we're able to move ahead on some of the past errors.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

GH: You know, when the exclusion order deadlines were creeping up for Seattle, I had by that time decided that I could not go through with it. If I found curfew sufficiently objectionable that I could not as an American participate in that restriction, then how could I go through with exclusion order? That's even worse and much more involved, though the basic principles were the same. So I decided I couldn't go through with that either.

Mary Farquarson, state senator during that period, came to me and said that she heard a rumor that I was going to refuse the exclusion order. And I said, "Well, that's true. I can't go through with it." And she said, "Are you planning to carry on a test case?" I said, "No, I haven't, I haven't given it a thought, because at the present time, all I've done was to clarify my own feelings about this and made a personal stand, that's as far as I've gone. I'm not a law student, I don't have money, so I haven't given the test case idea any thought." Well, she said, "Some of my friends and I are very concerned about the erosion of citizens' rights, and we've been looking for some way by which we could check the hysteria that's going on. If you are not contemplating test case, would you allow us to do it? That would be an opportunity, a springboard on which we could fight for citizens' rights, and at the same time, protest the injustice that's happening to the Americans of Japanese ancestry." I asked her who the "we" were that she was talking about, and she mentioned the names of some professors, some businessmen in the University District, some of the church ministers, and some of the Quakers. And I happened to know each of them personally. She mentioned about eight people. And I said, "If these are the people that are involved, I have no question you could carry on whatever you wanted. Just keep me informed, and I'm with you." So that's, that was the formation of our defense, and I knew from that time it was going to be something more than just my personal stand. There was going to be a legal fight, and then also wherever there were forums, discussion symposiums, she said that her group will try to get on the program to represent this viewpoint. And so there was also a public educational campaign going on, right in the middle of the war, you know. This wasn't the most popular thing that citizens could be doing. And I think, and I'm very grateful that people like her rallied up in support of a lone wolf stand.

The Quakers that were involved included an attorney who was a close personal friend of mine, Arthur Barnett, and he was about thirty-five at the time, and considered himself maybe too young and too inexperienced to take the case himself, but he became the legal consultant on this committee. And he was the one that made the representations to courts, to the legal fraternity, trying to get support for, trying to get a lawyer to join our team. It wasn't easy.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.