Diversity…and the Nisei
Are most people frightened to some extent about “diversity”? If someone looks different from ourselves…speaks a language we don’t understand or in some way doesn’t fit our own mold…yes, there is fear. The actual definition is “the inclusion of different types of people, such as people of different races or cultures.” During War Time…or in peacetime when people of different cultures and languages storm our borders (or threaten an invasion which may result in large camping tents and holding places), the lessons of history flash in our minds and brings us back to another day and time…Japanese internment camps.
There was mistrust throughout the U.S. of anyone Japanese or looked Japanese. Eventually, internment camps began to grow as Americans became unsure of whom they could trust. Fear was definitely in the air.
“After World War II was over, it took until 1988 for Congress to attempt to apologize for the action by awarding each surviving intern $20,000 when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act. While the American concentration camps never reached the levels of Nazi death camps as far as atrocities are concerned, they remain a dark mark on the nation’s record of respecting civil liberties and cultural differences.” (Wikipedia)
Let’s take a look at what diversity among people was able to do during those bleak years. Perhaps it can give us some hope for the loyalty of diverse peoples who may seek citizenship in the future.
You may never have heard of Kazuo Yamane or even the word, Nisei. However, the diversity that he represents in our society is of greatest importance.
( The word Nisei means a native-born citizen of the United States or Canada whose parents were Japanese immigrants.)
Had it not been for Kazuo Yamane and thousands of Japanese Americans nisei like him, from Hawaii, we would have had a difficult time winning World War II. An award-winning film, Proof of Loyalty, has been made about his struggle as an educated Japanese to overcome the divisions that also separate us and ultimately to use his own native language talents as a trusted interpreter for the American military during some of the worst days of the war.
Where did it all begin for Kazuo Yamane?
From the PROOF OF LOYALTY film:
“Kazuo Yamane and the Nisei Soldiers of Hawaii tells the story of a Japanese American who played a crucial strategic role in World War II. He and his fellow Nisei from Hawaii combatted prejudice and discrimination to loyally serve their country. Their extraordinary service, mostly untold, ultimately changed the course of U.S. history.
Kazuo Yamane’s father, Uichi, came to Hawaii in the late 19th century with nothing and built a successful family business. His eldest son, Kazuo, first educated in the discriminatory school system in Hawaii, eventually graduated from Waseda University, the Harvard of Japan, and returned to Hawaii just before the Pearl Harbor attack. Drafted just before the war he became part of what would be the War Department’s most successful social experiment, taking Nisei troops from Hawaii and forming the 100th Infantry Battalion, a unit made up of a group entirely related to a country we were at war with. Their success was spectacular, but Kazuo was plucked from their ranks for his exceptional knowledge of Japanese, which would lead him to the Pentagon, to a secret facility in northern Maryland, and finally to serving under Eisenhower in Europe. Most importantly, he would identify a secret document which would help to shorten the war in the Pacific.
The absolute loyalty of the Nisei to America in World War II, despite discrimination and incarceration, provides an insight for us today. These American citizens used whatever skills they had to protect their beloved country, even while many Americans suspected them of being the enemy. The War Department trusted them and through them gained both a military advantage by strength and sacrifice on the battlefield to important intelligence behind the lines. Diversity powers America, but also keeps us safe — one only has to look at the Nisei to provide ample proof.
The story of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii is a unique one, and as with any unique story, it is difficult to tell in a way that is both comprehensive and personal. But PROOF OF LOYALTY manages to do just that, using the inspiring story of World War II hero Kazuo Yamane as a window into the Japanese-American experience in Hawaii.
During World War II, the United States interned over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in camps. But of the over 150,000 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii, less than 2,000 were interned. In fact, a select group of a few hundred Japanese-American men in Hawaii were recruited to translate Japanese for the American Army. These troops, known as the 100th Infantry Battalion, were seen as an experiment that would prove whether any Japanese-Americans could truly be trusted to be loyal to the United States.
These men proved not only to be loyal, but also instrumental to winning the war.
Men like Kazuo Yamane are a reminder of what truly makes America great. Japanese-Americans had no obligation to love the United States during World War II. The discrimination they faced is a stain on American history, revealing the darkest, ugliest impulses of American society. Yet the brave Japanese-American soldiers we see in PROOF OF LOYALTY risked everything for their country and ended up saving countless lives through their translation work. They prove that America’s strength comes not from military might, but from diversity. This film may be about men from decades past, but it couldn’t be more relevant.
(quoted from the Asian American International Film Festival)
There is one very interesting point brought out in the film. The thousands of Nisei received military training while in Hawaii. They were ready to fight. One day a ship arrived. The men were told to meet the ship, remove their weapons, and board. They did. When they found out that they were headed to the U.S. mainland, they feared the worse. Perhaps they were going to be placed in the internment camps. However, that was not the plan. The men were to form their own units to fight with the other Americans. The 442 Regimental Combat Team, which was composed primarily of Japanese Americans, served with uncommon distinction. Many of these U.S. soldiers serving in the unit had families who were held in the internment camps in the United States while they fought abroad. They fought with bravery and many died…as the Americans they were.
PROOF OF LOYALTY short trailer video Turn up sound