Using History as a Guide for the Future

Post written by Chris Brusatte, Exhibit Manager at Go For Broke National Education Center


Blog_10_photo

“Study your past, because he who does not know the past may be in for a difficult future.”

– Senator Daniel Inouye

Can history truly be relevant today?  Can things that happened seventy years ago teach us anything?  Or is the study of history simply boring at worst and entertaining storytelling at best?  Sure, stories from the past can be fascinating, enthralling, and emotional, but is history only like your favorite sitcom – entertainment with no impact to the world today?

The late Senator Daniel Inouye didn’t think so.  The quote above comes from our oral history interview of the war-hero-turned-statesman, preserved in our Hanashi archives.  For Senator Inouye, history teaches lessons for today.  The stories and accounts of the past must be used to avoid repeating mistakes in the present.  Since hindsight is 20-20, the modern generation can look back honestly on the triumphs and the mistakes of past generations, and work diligently to repeat the former and avoid the latter.  History gives us the “playbook,” so to speak, of which actions to follow and which to prevent.

That is why our Hanashi oral history archives is so invaluable.  We have preserved for posterity the stories – and advice – of almost 1,200 men and women who lived through the harsh times of World War II.  They witnessed hardships and triumphs; rejection and acceptance; hatred and love.  Their lessons can help guide us as we embark upon our own voyages, in an equally complex world.  All that it takes is sitting down, plugging in some headphones, and listening to their sage advice.

To listen to and view our oral histories, please visit:

http://www.goforbroke.org/oral_histories/oral_histories_video.php

Advertisements

The Past Shaping Our Future

Post written by Gavin Do, Associate Archivist at Go For Broke National Education Center


One of the consistent themes that our beloved Nisei veterans always made sure to emphasize during their oral history interviews was not allowing the past – specifically their past, riddled with injustice– to repeat itself.  The theme of the past being repeated finds itself manifested in many phrases, adages, and clichés, for good reason. This time, I wanted to change it up and share a specific quote that I came across while reading a poignant, touching essay written by a veteran of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, Tadashi Tojo.

To provide some context, I want to note that Mr. Tojo wrote the essay about a singular incident during his experience as a member of the 522nd: coming across a satellite slave labor camp of the Dachau concentration camp in 1945. At that time, the 522nd had been detached from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was aiding in the Allies’ final push into southern Germany. During this campaign, Nisei soldiers from the 522nd stumbled upon the subcamp and found it abandoned by the German Army. The numerous accounts from the 522nd veterans all describe a horrific scene that demonstrated the most sickening depths that human beings could stoop to in order to torture and inflict suffering on others, simply for existing and living in a manner their oppressors did not deem fit.  Many members of the 522nd also noted the irony in which a group of oppressed American soldiers of Japanese ancestry would help liberate a group of oppressed European Jews.

Aside from the passages describing his memories of the experience, there were two quotes that Mr. Tojo included which stuck out to me. After questioning how atrocities such as the Holocaust could have occurred, Mr. Tojo seemed to ask a simple question that everyone inherently wonders in times of adversity: “To me, when and where this inhumanity will end remains the paramount question.” Mr. Tojo also made sure to include what he considered words of wisdom from the noted playwright Eugene O’Neill: “There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again – now.”

These two quotes, considered simultaneously, paint an admittedly bleak picture of the world and humanity. The world, and our human existence, being cycles of inhumane acts is a bit of a pessimistic exaggeration. Instead, I like to think Mr. Tojo wrote these words more so as a reminder, a warning, and a call to action. Instead of observing this cycle of inhumanity as mere witnesses, Nisei veterans like Mr. Tadashi Tojo remind us to stand strong and simply do what is right and just. As we live in what can be an incredibly divisive world today, it can be difficult to exhibit the same courage and follow that lead. In order to break the cycle of injustice and inhumanity, however, it takes exceptional courage and conviction to follow through and act with purpose to show our fellow person compassion.

Luckily, we have the Nisei soldiers, their stories, and their collective legacy to help serve as a reminder to act courageously in our daily lives, similar to the manner in which they did, and continue to do. In addition to our oral history interviews, Go For Broke National Education Center will unveil an exhibit, Defining Courage, in late May. This interactive exhibit will demonstrate that the courage displayed by the Nisei veterans is still meaningful and applicable to our contemporary society. This exhibit is proof that the words and actions of the Nisei veterans did not fall upon deaf ears.

Lastly, I would like to circle back to Mr. Tojo and highlight his insightfulness and wisdom once more. In his oral history interview, Mr. Tojo takes the time to discuss his essay and he later segues to sharing additional thoughts brought on by discussing the quote from Eugene O’Neill. Mr. Tojo expressed his belief that in this world, individuals must take the care to show their fellow human beings compassion. He explains that his war experiences and the horrors that he had witnessed only made him certain of one thing: simply put, he does not know the solution to mending the fractured relationships that exist in the world. He does think, however, that finding inner peace, showing compassion to one’s fellow person, and acting considerately towards others are all positive, significant steps towards making the world a better place. Having the courage to follow this advice may seem difficult, but making a positive impact is rarely easy.

The Nisei veterans have the reputation of being brave and humble patriots who tenaciously defended their country without a second thought to the hardship and sacrifice that lay ahead of them. Let us not forget, however, how wise these men are. Listening to the words from veterans such as Mr. Tadashi Tojo serves as a reminder that the legacy of the Nisei soldier is a rich, deep, and powerful story that demonstrates courage in all facets of life. That story of courage can help mold our present into a more united, compassionate future by reminding us of our past triumphs, along with our past mistakes.

Expressions of Courage

Post written by Chris Brusatte, Exhibit Manager at Go For Broke National Education Center


A friend of mine was told that the President of the United States was coming to visit his military base.  He had served in the Army for over a year, and on this Easter holiday he would get the chance to see his Commander in Chief.  He and his fellow soldiers bedecked themselves in their dress uniforms, and were told to march.  They expected to be led to where the President was arriving.

Instead, they marched and marched until they were led into a warehouse with only a single door.  Held at gunpoint, they were placed under armed guard until the President had left the base.  They were told to remain completely silent and needed an armed escort to use the restroom.  Only later were they allowed to return to their barracks.  Still in their dress uniforms, most stared blankly without talking.  The humiliation and the outrage were palpable.

The year was 1943.  These American soldiers, treated so unjustly while serving their country so selflessly, were all of Japanese ancestry.  They were treated so disdainfully because the United States was at war with Japan, and racism and hatred were directed at anyone with Japanese blood.  My friend was about 23 years old that fateful Easter Sunday.  He was as American as the next guy, a young man from a farm community in Oregon.  The humiliation that he felt was one of the last straws for him.  He was sick of being treated like the enemy.  He was an American soldier for heaven’s sakes!

My friend’s parents were meanwhile imprisoned, like the 120,000 other Americans of Japanese descent, in an incarceration camp run by our government.  They were imprisoned simply because of their Japanese ancestry.  My friend wanted to use his furlough to visit his parents in the camp, but the Army wouldn’t let him.  Why?  Because the camp was in California, a zone “restricted” to all Japanese Americans who were not behind the barbed wire of the camp.  This occurred shortly before the fateful visit of the President, and it was yet another injustice which angered my friend.  An American soldier, he could not even visit his parents as they were being jailed by his own government.

In March 1944, my friend was sent to Fort McClellan in Alabama.  He was ordered to begin combat training to be deployed overseas.  Since September of the previous year, Japanese Americans had been fighting and dying in horrific battles on Italian soil.  My friend had had enough.  He felt that his battle was right here, at home.  He had to fight the unjust treatment that he and his family were facing in America.  Only then might he consider fighting, killing, and possibly dying in the battles against foreign enemies overseas.  He made a fateful determination that would shape the rest of his life: he would refuse to undergo combat training, in protest of the unjust and unconstitutional treatment that he and all Japanese Americans were facing.

He knew that he would face harsh punishment, and he did.  He was court martialed and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.  He was dishonorably discharged from the Army and lost his benefits.  He was even threatened with facing a firing squad.  He eventually served about two years in prison before being released early.  Throughout it all, he remained steadfast in his belief that he had done the right thing, and he never regretted standing up for his constitutional rights.

To me, my friend is a hero.  He faced prejudice with courage, even putting his own life on the line for it.  He knew that his actions would lead to new obstacles: prison, eviction from the Army, and a lifelong stigma that many still hold against him.  Because he didn’t face bullets overseas, many of his contemporaries derided him as a “coward.”  Many probably still do today.  But my friend doesn’t mind.  He knows that his actions prove his courage.  He knows that he could have been executed for his choices.  He knows that he fought the same American fight as Martin Luther King Jr. and the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, but fifteen years before.  He risked his life to make America stand for what it claims to stand for: a land of equality and justice for all of its peoples.  Because of his courage, more Americans are free today.

Unfortunately, not enough people know about my friend or his brave actions.  That is why our Archives is so important.  With each additional story that we tell – through oral histories, photographs, and documents – the actions of individuals like my friend become preserved for posterity.  Without the hard work of our Archives staff, many of these stories would be lost to future generations.  So please, make sure to always preserve the history of your own ancestors, and with passion and energy share the legacy of courageous individuals like my friend who risked so much for a better America.  Thank you.