Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Homer Yasui Interview II
Narrator: Homer Yasui
Interviewer: Margaret Barton Ross
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: October 10, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-yhomer-02-0015

<Begin Segment 15>

HY: So when Pearl Harbor happened to the population of ours, I mean it was like 9/11, this bombing the World Trade Center. I mean it was a shock and an insult and a horror to the whole nation. So of course, the reaction was very severe. So you know, and there's all kinds of rumors flying about that time. Some of the most vicious rumors and they were totally unfounded was that the Japs had spies in there, like the Jap sugarcane farmers and the guys were raising pineapples. They cut arrows in the sugarcane fields, pointed at Hickam Field. And then somebody pointed out, hey, somebody on an airplane two, three thousand feet up is going to look for a sugarcane, I mean, arrows cut in sugarcane fields when they can't find something as big as Pearl Harbor. That's ridiculous, and it is ridiculous. But those are the kind of rife and crazy, unbelievable rumors that are being spread, and some of the people who spread that were highly, highly responsible people. For example, the Secretary of the War was William Knox. Secretary of, not war, Secretary of the Navy was William Knox. He goes over there and he investigates, spends a day or two, whatever, interviewing General Short and Admiral Kimmel and so on, and he comes back and makes the report to the nation that one of the most effective episodes, pieces of espionage with the possible exception of Norway was in Pearl Harbor at Hawaii. The Japanese had successfully infiltrated and performed this activity, totally untrue, not documented, but here is the Secretary of the Navy saying that. That's just like Rumsfeld telling us something today. We're not going to believe this guy? That's the Secretary of the Navy. Another person who said that, this was a little bit later on, but everybody heard of the famous Earl Warren. He was the governor general of California at that time when Pearl Harbor happened, later became elected governor of California, later became an internationally famous Supreme Court justice of the United States. This man said that the very fact that there's no act of espionage or sabotage committed -- this is in February of '42 -- there's no evidence of espionage or sabotage is committed, is convincing, and disturbing proof that it is going to happen, and this he targeted the Japanese. Something totally unprovable in his opinion is going to happen. People are going to listen to Earl Warren. He's attorney general of the California. People listened to Walter Lippmann. My god, here's a world famous, at least nationally famous columnist, very, very influential, and he's telling the Japs have no right to protest their violation of their civil rights on the battlefield, and the Western Defense Command is technically a battlefield, so let them take their complaints elsewhere, inland and complain about it. Walter Lippmann, Secretary Knox, governor, no, Attorney General Warren. So no wonder the people, 160 million people says, "God, our President says the same, our governor says the same. All the high powered people, the people who should know, the Secretary of the Navy, says these things. We got to believe them."

So today it's like patriotism. Today you got to believe the patriotism, but I say not so. You don't got to believe them. It's very wise for you to think about what they're saying because there were other evidences that these things really weren't happening, but hysteria was so rampant in those days like it kind of is today, and say, if you're not for me, you're against me. You know, that kind of baloney, it was, I mean, multiplied by ten during the war. So consequently, here we get a racist commander of the Western Defense Command in the form of Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, and he says, "A Jap is a Jap no matter how many generations have been in this United States, still, their racial bloods are undiluted, and a viper is a viper wherever it is hatched and so on." So he says, "We got to get them out. I don't want them in my territory." Western Defense Command initially was California, all of California, all of, the western half of Oregon, western half of Washington, all of Alaska. Later, it was expanded to include Arizona, southern part of Arizona and Utah and Idaho and I think Montana, so it was huge. This is the guy, he is absolute like a military dictator. So he in collusion with I think Allen Gullion who was a provost marshal general at that time, they maybe, not the terms, correct terms, not collusion, but they decided with the help of an attorney named Karl Bendetson, that the Japanese had to get out of here. And the way they got around the civil rights objection because you can't move American citizens with impunity for lots of reasons. What they did, they made an end run, and they had the President declare, submit an executive order, and that's how they got around the constitutional safeguards. So the Executive Order 9066 was issued by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. And what it said essentially is that anybody could be removed from a militarily restricted area, and they can be prevented from coming back. They can be prevented from leaving, or they could be excluded completely. It did not say Japanese, Japanese Americans, it said anybody, and that anybody was up, left to the discretion of the War Department who delegated -- this is Stimson -- delegated his responsibility to General DeWitt. And DeWitt saw fit to that that he didn't want any alien, German alien, Italian alien, Japanese, and anybody of Japanese ancestry in the Western Defense Command as defined by those three states, and so he issued this order. And that's how that came about because of the end run. And whether you believe that President Roosevelt was doing every for the good of his country or whether he had a little bit of racism involved in him or not, the fact is that it was everything flowed from Executive Order 9066, and that was the direct responsibility of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. So if he hadn't issued that, there probably would not have been an evacuation, so I have to hold him responsible whether he did that out of, with compassion for the Japanese American who might suffer, I don't know, but he did it, so he has to bear the responsibility for having done it. So that's how the evacuation came about because of this order.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.