- Gordon Hirabayashi and Joseph Kurihara:Wartime Resisters of Conscience
Gordon Hirabayashi and Joseph Kurihara were two complex individuals who stood against prejudice and wartime hysteria in defense of their personal beliefs in the Constitution and their rights as American citizens. Each paid a heavy price for his form of resistance. Despite the costs, each found his own way to stay true to his conscience and protest the wartime injustices that so many Japanese Americans suffered during World War II. Even though their stories are unique, their experiences cut across different aspects of Japanese American history that are typically treated separately. Combined, their personal stories should help scholars and students alike expand the timeline and the geography of what we traditionally see as World War II Japanese American history.
Eileen Tamura provides the first in-depth look at Joseph Kurihara, his life, his resistance, and the context for his wartime decisions. One of Tamura's achievements is the fact that she corrects many errors about Kurihara that are scattered throughout the literature on Japanese American history. When historians have written about Kurihara in the past, he is usually discussed in the context of the “Manzanar riot.” Of course this is not the beginning, nor is it the end of Kurihara's personal story. Tamura fills in the blank pages for us and the result is a rich account of this man's courage, his conscience, and what seem to be his lifelong feelings of guilt and remorse over what happened at Manzanar.
Joseph Kurihara was born in Hawai'i, on the island of Kaua'i, and lived there for twenty years before moving to San Francisco, where he attended St. Ignatius High School. Attending Catholic school and converting to Catholicism [End Page 320] was just one aspect of Kurihara's life that set him apart from most other Nisei. When the U.S. entered WWI, Kurihara volunteered to serve in the military rather than waiting for the draft, and he served as the only soldier of Japanese descent in his artillery unit of 1,100. After the war, Kurihara attended Southwestern University and later worked as a navigator for a Portuguese tuna clipper. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declared war in 1941, Kurihara was not prepared to lose his rights and for his government to deny him due process. He was, according to Manzanar's Director Ned Campbell, understandably frustrated that, as a U.S.–born citizen and World War I veteran, he was given no opportunity to be treated as the loyal, honorably discharged citizen-veteran that he was. He was not just bitter; he spoke up and organized other Nisei and Nisei-Kibei to protest their wartime confinement and lack of rights.
Kurihara's place in what one might call the various collective memories of Japanese American history is controversial. Tamura asks: was he a hero or a villain? Even though Tamura recognizes those who remember Kurihara as a hero, others—particularly the Yoneda family—insist that he was an “embittered manipulator” who bore responsibility for the “bloody Manzanar riot.” Tamura does an excellent job of helping the reader see Kurihara as far more complicated than simply a hero or villain. She reveals that Kurihara confessed his role in organizing the group that beat up Fred Tayama for sending reports of Kurihara's and other dissidents’ activities to the FBI. But Kurihara was devastated when the beating of Fred Tayama led to the arrest of Harry Ueno, to the demonstrations organized to force the administration to release Ueno, and to soldiers’ firing into the crowd, killing two and injuring ten others. He felt that his actions had led to the unnecessary deaths of these two young innocent men. According to Tamura...