Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: Bill Hosokawa Interview
Narrator: Bill Hosokawa
Interviewer: Frank Abe
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Date: August 4, 1994
Densho ID: denshovh-hbill-02

[Ed. note: Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

BH: Well, hardly. I helped him write his book. That's what he did.

FA: Well from, from writing his book and being his friend, why was Mike Masaoka and the JACL the best people to lead Japanese America at the time of the war?

BH: Who else was there? There was no one else. JACL has been accused of seizing power. There was no power to seize. The Issei community had fought the JACL over the years, suddenly there was no Issei leadership. The entire Japanese American community was without leadership. And I don't think the JACL really wanted all that responsibility, but they saw a vacuum that somehow had to be filled. And the federal officials gravitated toward JACL because they saw no one else.

FA: But Jimmy Sakamoto, Ken Matsumoto, were all very proud of the fact that they helped give the names of Issei leaders to the FBI, in effect informing on the Issei leadership.

BH: I don't know about Matsumoto. I think Jimmy was the kind of fellow who, when asked about so-and-so would say, "Yes, I know the man, and this is what I think of him." He was very direct. There were, there were very difficult questions. You might say, "Do you know Mr. Yamada?" And Jimmy or someone else might say, "Yes indeed, I know Mr. Yamada. I think he's a good man, he's good to his family, he's good to the community. And he's been in this country a long time, and he would not hurt the United States." And then the question might be: "But what if the Japanese landed this espionage team here? Would Mr. Yamada -- and they came to Mr. Yamada's home. Would he pick up the phone and call the FBI? Or might he give his people shelter overnight and say, 'Get out, you're going to cause me trouble'?" Those were variations of what might be considered loyal or disloyal.

FA: Do you think it was a mistake even to give that kind of information to the FBI?

BH: I'm sorry, I didn't get the question.

FA: Was it still a mistake to give that kind of information to the FBI?

BH: I don't know. This is a hypothetical situation. I don't know that it was ever asked.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1994, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FA: Mike Masaoka and the JACL urged cooperation with evacuation.

BH: Uh-huh.

FA: Why did they, why did they do that? Why did the JACL do that?

BH: What choice did you have? When you're faced with a young guy with a gun pointed at you, and he's got a very nervous trigger finger, and they say, "This is what you guys are going to do," you don't say, "Now wait a minute, I'm going to stand on my constitutional rights." That's a very difficult situation, and Masaoka and the others were aware of the constitutional implications. As I said at the luncheon today, there are times to hold, hold your cards and there are times when you have to fold your cards. I think Masaoka felt that he had to fold his cards at that time.

FA: Were you ever faced with a soldier with a gun, an itchy finger? Was Mike ever faced with a gun -- a soldier with a gun? I mean...

BH: Well, that's a metaphor. I did face people with guns, yes. There were guys with guns that escorted me into the assembly center at Puyallup. But who was it? Bendetsen, in his speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, said, "We had two plans: one was the plan we executed. The other plan was to get these people out of here on twenty-four hours' notice."

FA: That's what Mike always said, but Bendetsen's speech only says that we were prepared to begin evacuation of the West Coast within twenty-four --


FA: Mike always talked about the army's contingency plan, quoting Bendetsen's speech about moving people out. But Bendetsen's speech only says, "We will begin the evacuation within twenty-four, forty-eight hours." Not accomplishing it.

BH: Uh-huh. Well, I haven't read Bendetsen's speech, so I can't comment. But it was very obvious to us in Seattle how ill-prepared the army was, and how intent they were on carrying out their mission. Let me give you an example. I sat in on a meeting between the army people and the Seattle police, and they were talking about the evacuation. And the Seattle police said, "In this particular area of the city, we have, let's say, 1,500 Japanese." And they would make up one unit for the evacuation, and they had map on the wall. And looked at the map, and it was a map of the Western Avenue area, where about a thousand Japanese came in during the day to work in the produce, wholesale markets. At four o'clock in the evening, everybody went home. There was nobody there, but the police didn't know that. And it was a revelation as to, about how well -- how ill-informed they were, and the kind of information they were feeding the army.

FA: We checked, and again, Mike talked about the army contingency plan. But we checked, and the army only had forty-nine tanks at the time. And general George C. Marshall said they had 174,000 men in the army at the time. To evacuate 120,000 Japanese Americans? I mean, it wasn't, it was not possible for the army to evacuate us all in twenty-four hours. And yet that's the argument --

BH: How did we know? How did we know? They said, "We're gonna move you out," who were we to say, "You only got forty-nine tanks, try it."

FA: You didn't know. Couldn't have known.

BH: Couldn't have.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1994, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FA: Mike and the JACL, Mike argued against test cases. And he argued so strongly against test cases. Why did he do that?

BH: Well, I think that was brought out today by Cressy. What Mike felt was that a test case would drag on over long period of time, the evacuation would have been long over before you got any kind of hearing. In a case like this it might take years for any kind of disposition through the, through the judicial system. I never talked to Mike about this particular thing but I think that he felt that the time to come, to fight would come later.

FA: But even, even Mr. Yasui, Min Yasui argued that, and said that, "Tyranny, we cannot accept tyranny without resisting." Why did Mike challenge that so strongly?

BH: I don't know.

FA: Why did Min Yasui turn so suddenly from his position that tyranny without resisting is wrong, to suddenly telling the Heart Mountain resisters that they better cooperate or the army would get people with 2 x 4s in prison?

BH: I don't know that he said that, but I do know that he did go to the jail in Cheyenne and tried to persuade the young men who were incarcerated there, tried to persuade them to, "Obey the law, obey the law of the land, obey the selective service law, and fight your case later." He was of the opinion that the men who resisted the draft had a strong moral case but no legal case.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1994, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FA: In a book, you talk about Mike's position that good publicity is more important than good law.

BH: Do I say that in so many words?

FA: I think Mike says that. Or at least, if not in the autobiography, then at least in all of Mike's statements, that good publicity is more important than good law. And the 442 was a, was a publicity measure.

BH: I'm not aware that he ever said, "Good publicity is better than good law."

FA: Well, if he didn't say it, then, as a principle, it certainly was his guiding principle. And that certainly was his strategy. Why was that a good strategy?

BH: Well, let's say it worked, did it not? When you look around today and see where the Japanese Americans are in this society today, and it's interesting to contemplate where we would be today if 115,000 of us in 19', early 1942 said, "Screw you, government, we're going to stand by our rights and shoot us down if you will." That would have been a very difficult time. And you have to have gone through the experience of that time to realize, to understand the hostility that we faced overnight. Suddenly we were the enemy. There were cases where a Issei fellow had a grocery store twenty years in the same corner, people had been coming in, they say, "Hey, we've done business with Joe Yamada here for twenty years. He's a nice guy, we think he's okay, but who knows? He might have been spying for the emperor here for twenty years. Blood is thicker than water. You can't trust these slant-eyed Japs." And that was the tenor of the times. In Seattle, there were about twenty young Nisei girls, eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old, working as secretaries in grade school offices, offices of the principal. They were fired because the president of the city PTA said, "These are the girls who will be answering the phone when the warning comes that the Japanese are going to bomb Seattle. Do you think that they will spread the alarm? No. There's a good chance that they will conceal that information. And for the safety of children, we've got to get rid of these girls."

FA: No question there's a lot of hysteria, a lot of prejudice. The JACL and yourself just keep going to back to, it was either/or. We had to cooperate willingly and cheerfully, or there would be bloodshed. What about cooperation under protest?

BH: I think that would have been a good thing. I don't think that there was a lot of cheerful cooperation. There might have been a lot of putting on a cheerful front. Now, there were pictures of young kids waving goodbye to their friends as they ride out on the train to the concentration camps. What are they supposed to do? Cry? You put on a face. There was not a lot of cheerfulness. There was anger and frustration and bitterness and despair, a tremendous amount of that. But there was the feeling that, "By God, if this is what we are called on to do, we will do it."

FA: But again, there was cooperation.

BH: Yes, there was cooperation.

FA: Why not cooperation under protest? The test cases, the resisters were a form of protest. Why did the JACL say --

BH: I don't know. I did not make JACL policy.

FA: Okay. But Mike Masaoka -- I can't give you an exact quote -- but he did talk about willful and cheerful cooperation.

BH: Yes, I think he did in the Tolan Committee hearings.

FA: Was that the right thing to do?

BH: In retrospect, I think it would have been better if he had said, "We feel this is unjust, but as our sacrifice to the national war effort, we will accept this as our sacrifice."

FA: That was his strategy at the time?

BH: No, I'm saying that I think it would have been better if he said that, rather than to have said, "We will march cheerfully into the, out of our homes," or whatever it was that he said.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1994, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FA: At the luncheon today, you talked about people who have revised history. Do you feel that what we're doing here is trying to revise history, or be unfair about the past?

BH: Well, to the extent that, as Cressy pointed out today, to blame everybody in JACL and the organization for something that happened fifty years ago under great duress, and to continue to make that an issue, I think is a form of historical revision. I know that, I admit, I gladly admit that there were mistakes made, but I think that there were mistakes made by the federal government, by the army, by the general American public, by Congress, by everybody, and to point to the JACL and say, "You guys are the bad guys, you guys are the stupid dolts that sold us down the river," and continue that drumbeat for fifty years, I don't see the wisdom of that. I'm fully in accord with the way the round table wound up today: "Let's start the healing." Well, the healing process started six years ago in Seattle when the resolution was passed. Well, it's still an issue six years later. Where is the healing? I think they made a good effort today to start the process again. But I don't blame guys for the position they took, I think it took a lot of courage, a lot of guts, and I think that they endangered the positions of a lot of other guys. I had relatives in the military, and I supported the positions they had taken, and I would have disagreed with what they were doing, not because of the principles involved, but because it endangered a lot of other people. But to make that a raging issue a half a century later is not productive.

FA: When you say "endangering other people," are you talking about the guys in the military?

BH: And the people in the camps.

FA: Can you elaborate on that? I don't understand that.

BH: Sure. Sure. Supposing that -- let's not suppose. But late in 19', sometime in 1943, the army sent out this silly questionnaire that the WRA adopted. And the army said, "We're inviting these people to join the military, to join the army." And if everybody in the camps, 100,000 of us had said, "Hell no, we won't go," as they did during the Vietnamese war, what would be chances of ever getting out of the camps during the conflict? A good many of us were moving out of the camps and getting back into the American lifestream, the mainstream of American life. That program would have been shut off immediately. It would have been very, very difficult to get people back to the West Coast during the continuance of the, during the conflict, and the movement back had started before the end of the Pacific war. The WRA was making efforts to get the people back to the Pacific, back to the Pacific coast a full year and a half before the, before the West Coast was really open. And you can imagine what a difficult time it would have been to pursue that program if the people in the camps were rioting and demonstrating as they did in Tule Lake, as they did in Manzanar. You should, perhaps you've read the newspapers of that time: "Riots in the Camps," "Anti-American Riots in the Camps," "Revolt," and that sort of thing. And the press was extremely hostile at that period, there was very little effort on the part of the press to ascertain the facts. There was no in-depth reporting. The Dies Committee, the Costello Committee, guys like that in Washington were feeding the fires, and just looking for an opportunity to nail us to the wall.

FA: But those are violent protests.

BH: Yes.

FA: Isn't a protest by sixty-three boys at Heart Mountain, a peaceful protest through legal means, challenging legal issues a different --

BH: No, we're talking about two different things. This is the first time you brought up the sixty-three people from Heart Mountain. We're talking about, generally speaking, why didn't we resist the draft, and I talked to about 100,000 people in the camps resisted the draft.

FA: The JACL has always argued that, how could we have protested? If we had protested, there would have been bloodshed. But the sixty-three boys in Heart Mountain lodged a peaceful protest through legal means in the courts. And still, in 1944, the JACL urged the prosecution, urged, argued against their parole. Why?

BH: I don't know. I was not making JACL policy.

FA: Well, as a, as a journalist who's observed that.

BH: Actually, all the information I was getting about all this was coming about three weeks late to me in Des Moines, Iowa, from the Heart Mountain Sentinel, which was being sent to me and the Pacific Citizen. I should protest, register one protest, the Lim Report and the, the paper written by this woman at the Oregon, University of Oregon, she makes it sound like I was the editor of paper at that time. I was not. I had nothing to do with the paper. I left the camp early in October of 1943. Most of activity took part, took place after I had left. I went through the files of the Heart Mountain Sentinel, and I discovered that we had run long letters by Paul Nakadate, who was part of the group, and I think Frank Emi was also given space in the paper under my editorship to make his point. I felt that they had something to say and I felt that it was important that they have a chance to say it. And I resent the implication that somehow I was involved with the Heart Mountain Sentinel's editorial position in this particular case.

FA: You did not.

BH: I did not.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1994, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FA: What did you think of the growing resistance in Heart Mountain before you left?

BH: Well, there was not a hell of a lot of it. As I say, we published material from Frank, Paul Nakadate and Frank Emi, I think, and some others. Very long pieces. And I felt that this was going to lead to trouble.

FA: What do you mean? You felt this would be trouble.

BH: Lead to trouble.

FA: Right.

BH: Yes.

FA: Why did you think that?

BH: Because you don't do much bitching in a concentration camp.

FA: Why not?

BH: You jeopardize the positions of other people. Isn't that a, isn't that a... what's the word? Well, it's an inconsistency. If you're docile, if you're quiet, everything is going all right, the vast majority of the people are going to be treated okay. In Tule Lake, in Manzanar, when there was violence, the people who really suffered were the innocent bystanders. The people in Tule Lake went through some very difficult times. They had, they wanted nothing to do with the demonstrators, they just wanted to be left alone. And I think this was true in Manzanar. The vast majority of the people wanted to be left alone. And anybody who was stirring up things made it difficult for them. And that is what I meant when I felt that there might be problems.

FA: You shared Mike's belief that we should "work for the greatest good for the greatest number."

BH: Well, in any society, I think it's important to consider the welfare of the greatest number, yes.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1994, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FA: Finally, you were the historian for Japanese America, or the unofficial historian, by default perhaps, but you were the one published author in Japanese America. The resisters mentioned to me, why didn't you write about them in Nisei and JACL: Quest for Justice, and East to America, why no mention of the principled resistance of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee?

BH: I think this is a question that Jimmie Omura, that stuck in Jimmie Omura's throat for long, long time. The truth, the facts about the situation in Nisei is that I was under pressure, I did not have the information I needed for the full research I needed for that particular episode. It was not an effort to suppress that information at all. I just didn't mention it.

FA: You mean under pressure politically not to mention it?

BH: No, no.

FA: I didn't think so. You mean time pressure.

BH: Nobody told me what to write in that book. The JACL committee did not tell me what to write. They did not see manuscript until it was completed and sent to the publisher.

FA: Then what did you mean by "pressure"?

BH: Time pressure. Deadline pressure.

FA: East to America? JACL: Quest for Justice?

BH: Well, the JACL: Quest for Justice was primarily a story of the organization and the various presidents and the administration of the various presidents. It was not supposed to be an in-depth examination of the organization as such. As for East to America, that was Bob Wilson's book and I just helped polish it up for him.

FA: Do you think now, well, do you think the story of the Heart Mountain -- the protest and resistance of the Fair Play Committee is an important story?

BH: Yes, I think it is. And they've been getting an enormous amount of publicity in the Rafu Shimpo and elsewhere.

FA: Do you resent that?

BH: Do I resent it? No, I haven't, I never read it because I never see the Rafu Shimpo. But I've heard of it.

FA: Good. Thanks for your time, Bill. Pleasure talking to you.

BH: All right.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1994, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.