Related topics

Reparations Would Repay Debt But Won’t Heal All Wounds, Survivors Says With PM-Internment, Bjt

April 21, 1988

Undated (AP) _ Reparations to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II would pay a debt of honor, although it would not heal all wounds, said a man who unsuccessfully challenged the mass internment.

″Like someone who’s a victim of a serious accident and becomes a quadriplegic, no matter what’s voted in the way of acknowledgement of error, it’ll never be whole,″ Gordon Hirabayashi said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Edmonton, Canada.

Earlier Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill that calls for the government to apologize for the mass roundups and make each of the estimated 60,000 survivors eligible for a tax-free payment of $20,000. The House has passed a similar bill.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, about 120,000 Japanese- Americans were forced to give up their homes and businesses and put in internment camps.

In Seattle, Cherry Kinoshita rejoiced after the Senate vote. Forty-six years ago, she was uprooted from her home and sent to a camp in Idaho.

‴Pleased’ would be an understatement,″ she said. ″We’ve been working for over 10 years to see this happen. I think it’s great to see our nation admit an error, and take steps to remedy what was a great injustice.″

″I think the Japanese-Americans have reconciled to the fact that certain things have taken place and there are some scars,″ said Hirabayashi. ″At this stage, what they really wanted was an acknowledgement that a wrong was done and a vote for an honorable redress.″

Hirabayashi’s World War II conviction of resisting curfew and violating the military internment order was overturned by a federal appeals court in September.

The 9th Circuit, however, refused to rule on the constitutionality of the internment, which the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld during Hirabayashi’s original appeals in the 1940s.

Even though the government has not appealed the latest ruling, Hirabayashi said his lawyers had asked the Supreme Court to take up the case again so the high court’s previous decision can be removed from the records.

″The country doesn’t have too many opportunities to redress something,″ Hirabayashi said. ″When it does, I think we should take that opportunity and look to the future to keep the honor of our country inviolable.

″I think that result would be the finishing touch to what the Japanese- Ameri cans hope that their tragedy will contribute to.″

The issue took a long time to be resolved because of the shame the Japanese-Americans felt at being locked up and the federal government’s willingness to bury the matter, Hirabayashi said.

″In this case, the victims were so traumatized by this experience that they had not recovered enough to talk about until a decade or so ago,″ he said.

″There was nothing in the history books,″ he said. ″Now the situation is different. We have to take some kind of historical perspective on this. Forty years is not all that long.″

Sam Shoji, 62, of Seattle, a social worker for the Veterans Administration who was incarcerated for 13 months, said the money was ″only a token ... but at least it is there.″

″It was basically a concentration camp,″ said Shoji.

Ms. Kinoshita, who was 18 when she went with her family to the camp at Minidoka, Idaho, was one of many Japanese-Americans who worked to convince the government that internment defied the Constitution and was a racist act.

″We hope this will acknowledge that this was a tragic travesty of justice, and that with this legislation we can hope that it will never, ever recur again to another group,″ she said.

Rodney Kawakami, a Seattle attorney who has been active in seeking redress, said the money also was important because ″there are still significant numbers of Americans who believe the internment was justified because of what the government of Japan did at Pearl Harbor.″

He said the $20,000 was less than what individuals lost in being forced to move, but was significant enough to carry a message.

Rudy Tokiwa, a wounded veteran of the 422nd Regimental Combat Team, formed by Japanese-Americans in World War II, said the bill’s passage accomplished part of what he and his buddies fought for.

″But I wonder whether we will succeed in the rest? We went for freedom, the freedom to be treated the same, as Americans and there would be no such thing anymore as ‘He’s an Asian,’ or ‘He’s a German,’ or ‘He’s white,’ or ’He’s black,‴ Tokiwa said in San Francisco.

Update hourly