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BETRAYED TRUST: The Story of a Deported Issei and His American-born Family during World War II - Foreword Part 2

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As one who was a close friend of Michi Weglyn’s, I am quite sure that if alive today she would be championing the current publication of Betrayed Trust. “Proof” for this assertion can be found in something she wrote in June 1998, a year before her death, and which was read, in her absence, at the July 2, 1998, opening ceremony of the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. Her statement, later published, in 2000, as the preface to the second edition of the Tule Lake Committee’s publication Kinenhi, deserves to be experienced in its entirety, but only the most germane portions are here reproduced.

I cannot tell you how long I have agonized over the injustice sweepingly imposed on Tuleans—meaning the cruel stereotype of “disloyalty” cast on those…who were consigned to Tule Lake, after it had been turned into a maximum security “segregation center.”

I have also wondered again and again why the emphasis, to this day, is placed largely on the so-called “war relocation centers.” As though the dozen or more other camps and lock-ups were in some way more justified to restrain those with a pro-Axis tilt. Have we been effectively brainwashed by the Big Lie?

It is curious that rarely, if ever, do I run into anyone who volunteers the information that “I am from Tule Lake.” It has led me to wonder if my attempt to vindicate Tuleans in Years of Infamy may have been interpreted by former inmates as exposing too hurtful and abhorred a period in Nikkei history. I had experienced such a high writing about Tule Lake; I recall how it had my blood racing. I marveled at the courage of Tuleans who showed their solidarity by standing tall to counter the outrageous illegalities being perpetrated by their overlords, where entire blocks participated in such resistance.

I have tried through the years to have others share my pride in Tuleans who fought back, who refused to be silenced. But there are times when I have felt I was speaking into the wind.

Nowadays, I always suggest that people begin to read Years of Infamy starting with the section on Tule Lake—even though this is in the middle of the book. Then you will cut through to the central theme of arrogance of those entrusted with wartime power, the cynical maneuvering, the trashing of our Constitution—in short, all the “banality of evil” will be instantly illuminated. For those who know what happened at Tule Lake will have what is necessary to discern the truth in the larger story.

To appropriate and recast Raymond Okamura’s powerful 1976 assessment of Michi Nishiura Weglyn’s Years of Infamy that I alluded to above, Motomu Akashi’s historical memoir, Betrayed Trust, constitutes a major breakthrough for the telling of Tule Lake Segregation Center history from a Tule Lake segregant’s perspective. Moreover, almost certainly it will empower many more former segregants to speak out about their experiences at Tule Lake from a variety of different perspectives.

In the process, there will not only be a profusion of stories brought to light, but also a wealth of pertinent documentation unearthed, which together will lead to a harvest of new scholarship, akin to Tetsuden Kashima’s exciting new book, Judgment without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003). Studies of this sort promise to redress the current historiographical imbalance, remarked on by Michi Weglyn, of standard-issue WRA camp studies at the expense of works dealing with places like Tule Lake and other such lock-ups for allegedly “disloyals” or “troublemakers” of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

What makes Betrayed Trust an ideal catalyst for the historiographical development described above is that it is rooted in both history and memory and speaks to a broad audience of readers, and not merely professional scholars. This is precisely the type of book that will best serve the interest of a public dialogue, within and outside the Japanese American community, appropriate to fostering authentic public citizenship.

It is the story of a family and a community whose head, Sanae Akashi, happened to be an immigrant from Japan who was not only ineligible for citizenship but whose ostensible steadfast efforts to be a loyal, productive, and peace-loving American resident and tax-payer were foiled and frustrated by unwarranted government accusations and punitive actions.

It is the story of the social construction of an “un-American.” It resonates with the story that Professor Eileen Tamura of the University of Hawaii is now preparing for publication about an American-born citizen of Japanese ancestry and a World War I veteran, Joe Kurihara, who took the extreme step of renouncing his U.S. citizenship and repatriating to Japan from the Tule Lake Segregation Center.

As University of Southern California historian Lon Kurashige explains this situation in Japanese American Celebration and Conflict: A History of Ethnic Identity and Festival in Los Angeles, 1934-1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002): “Kurihara’s was the bitterness of a patriot scorned. He had decided to renounce his American citizenship the day after he learned about the internment. The government’s actions deeply hurt and offended him, and he was astounded that not even the ‘voices of the former World War [I] veterans’ were good enough to prove the group’s loyalty.” Put somewhat differently, Betrayed Trust is the sort of book that revolves around the question that since 1965, and particularly since September 11, 2001, has been asked with such insistence: “What is an American?”

Betrayed Trust is a consistently absorbing book to read. The writing is vibrant and engaging. The topics covered nicely complement the author’s writing style, for readers are treated to wonderful snapshots about Japanese American cultural and community life in rural California, in an “assembly center” (Tanforan, California), a “relocation center” (Topaz, Utah), and a segregation center (Tule Lake).

In connection with the latter, an illuminating insight into the makeup and workings of the Resegregation Group (including its junior branch) is provided through a combination of historical, autobiographical, and ethnographic writing. The sections of the book devoted to the internment camps and subcamps in which Sanae Akashi was interned between being pulled out of Tule Lake and deported to Japan are exceptionally well managed both in terms of description and analysis.

The manuscript is felicitously organized, which facilitates reader consumption and comprehension of its contents. The narrative is surprisingly, and mercifully, free of self-righteousness ideological carping. Finally, even the book’s title is especially well chosen, for it poetically and pointedly captures the notion of the U.S. government’s “betrayal” of Sanae Akashi (and thousands of other Japanese Americans) during World War II.

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Note: Motomu Akashi, the author of Betrayed Trust: The Story of a Deported Issei and His American-born Family during World War II, passed away on September 30, 2012. Read his obituary >>

*This article was originally published as the Foreword for
Betrayed Trust: The Story of a Deported Issei and His American-born Family during World War II by AuthorHouse Press in 2004.

© 2004 Arthur A. Hansen

betrayed trust camps michi nishiura weglyn Motomu Akashi tule lake World War II Years of Infamy