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Thursday, October 18, 2007

"American Inquisition": A Portrait of a "Disloyal" American

In yesterday's post on my new book "American Inquisition:  The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II," I described the mechanics of the Japanese American Joint Board's "deliberations" (and I use that word loosely) on the loyalty of American citizens of Japanese ancestry.  The system was designed to convert the most outward and stereotyped markers of "American" and "Japanese" cultural, religious, linguistic, and business identity into a loyalty finding.

Before talking a bit about what happened after the Joint Board fell apart, which I'll do later today, I thought it might be useful to make this abstract system a bit more real by illustrating its impact on a real person's life. 

Consider the case of Harry Iba. 

He was born to Japanese immigrant parents in Los Angeles in 1915.  His family was Buddhist.  He did not hold dual citizenship -- just American -- and he never traveled to Japan as a child.  His one trip to Japan was at age 22 in 1937, when he went on a sightseeing trip there with a number of boys in a judo club.

Unlike many Japanese Americans, Harry Iba never attended a Japanese language after-school program, and described his spoken Japanese as only "fair."  He graduated from high school in Los Angeles in 1934 and went to work in the family nursery business.  By 1943, he was incarcerated at the Amache Relocation Center in eastern Colorado with his parents.  One older brother was in the U.S. Army and another was in medical school in Boston.

Harry Iba subscribed to the Los Angeles Times, the Examiner, Reader's Digest, Time, Life, Sunset, and Popular Mechanics.  He liked to play football, ping-pong, and outdoor sports.  He collected camellia plants.

On the loyalty questionnaire he filled out at Amache, he answered "yes" to the two key questions:  he was willing to "forswear allegiance to the Emperor of Japan" and to "serve in the U.S. armed forces on combat duty wherever ordered."

A number of white Americans, including his lawyer and a former landlord, wrote glowing letters of reference about his loyalty.

He reported on his loyalty questionnaire that he had no accounts in foreign banks, but a search of bank records revealed that his parents had set up three accounts -- one in his name, one jointly in his and his mother's names, and one as a trust account with his mother as trustee -- in amounts totaling about $3500.

At its meeting on August 19, 1943, over the dissent of the representative from the civilian War Relocation Authority, the Japanese American Joint Board made an adverse finding on Harry Iba's loyalty and recommended his indefinite detention.

Posted by Eric Muller on October 18, 2007 at 09:16 AM in Books | Permalink

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