Post written by Sean Stanley, Intern at Go For Broke National Education Center
“These guys had an extra war to fight – not just fighting the enemy, but to fight this misunderstanding and prejudice at home. The Nisei, I think, were particularly well equipped to handle that crisis, and react to that crisis, and even though they got slapped in the face and their heads pushed down, they were able to rise up and endure and come out on top.”
The Nisei experience during World War II was complicated to say the least. At the outbreak of the war, many Japanese American families were forced from their homes and had to uproot their lives due to a perceived threat to the United States’ public safety. To say that this was a difficult time for Japanese American families and the Nisei would be an understatement. For one, Nisei children had parents who grew in Japan and still had relatives living there, keeping familial and cultural bonds to Japan very much alive. In some cases of the interviewed Nisei soldiers, they returned to Japan as children to study and attend school, often living in the country for several years. Other Nisei children grew up in America, never visiting Japan, and had relatively little connection with the Japanese culture other than through their parents or community. What was common to these interviewed Nisei soldiers was that they all identified themselves as Americans. Sadly, these Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and, despite their allegiance, were forced into internment camps all in the name of public safety.
As the war broke out, many Nisei honorably joined the military, wanting to serve their country and escape a prisoner’s life in the camps. Often times Nisei soldiers were conflicted morally, wanting to serve their country, but also angered and saddened by the human rights violations that their families were going through at the hands of the United States government. In addition to this, parts of the county were ripe with anti-Japanese sentiments and prejudices, including against Nisei G.I.s. Imagine taking on the honorable deed of military service, only to be criticized and insulted by a portion of the general public. A very tough situation it must have been indeed.
Nisei veteran, Ted Tsukiyama’s quote highlights the struggle that the Nisei soldiers faced. On one hand, Japanese American soldiers were serving on a hostile war front where survival and returning home was not guaranteed. On the other hand, those soldiers that served domestically or were returning home from battle, faced a home country where discrimination and prejudice against minorities – even upstanding, good citizens – was common. In my opinion, much of the Nisei’s resolve to carry on in the face of conflict came from their own parents teachings and advice. In many of these interviews, the interviewees often speak of hard-working parents who did not complain about their misfortune, but instead focused on bettering themselves. The Nisei often adopted the mantra of “shigata ga nai” (cannot be helped), focusing on the things they could control. While eventually feelings of hostility towards the Nisei dissipated, the treatment of the Japanese American community during the war leaves a black mark on our country’s history. Utmost respect is deserved for the Nisei soldiers who had the resolve and courage to get through this difficult period. These Nisei veterans are true American heroes.