Review by Bill Doughty
Juxtaposed: the glory earned by Hawaii’s famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team in WWII and the humiliation endured by some of Hawaii’s Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese Ancestry incarcerated during the war.
Along with other people of Japanese ancestry in the mainland and in Central and South America, immigrants and their families in Hawaii were literally caught up in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor of Dec. 7, 1941 and placed in internment camps in Hawaii and on the U.S. mainland.
The story of these prisoners is told by Patsy Sumie Saiki in Ganbare! An Example of Japanese Spirit, copyright 1982. “Ganbare,” a word used frequently in everyday conversation in Japanese, means “don’t give up,” “keep going,” “persevere,” “keep trying.”
Saiki interviewed dozens of Japanese American internees and several former military internment camp leaders, giving her book the feel of an oral history.
She shows examples of the unintended consequences of war and how quickly some people are ready to shed moral or ethical values in the name of assumed greater security. Saiki reveals how immigrants’ fishing boats were strafed and how even U.S. planes were shot down in friendly fire incidents in the foggy aftermath of the attack. She introduces us to the families torn apart when an Imperial Japanese military pilot was shot down and stranded on the island of Ni‘ihau.
|Internee tents at Sand Island in December, 1941.|
Prisoners had creative ways of dealing with the humiliation of incarceration. When they had to use the latrine they would have to report to the guard and say “Prisoner.” Instead, the internees would purposely mispronounce the word and report as “Pissoner.” Such pranks have a familiar ring. It’s how POWs, like Gerald Coffee in Vietnam, dealt with similar situations.
The concept of “Ganbare!” -- endure and overcome -- is raised time and again as detainees faced family separation, loss of dignity and other hardships.
What also helped them the most? The Hawaiian concepts of “ohana” (family) and “aloha” (love and caring).
In her “oral histories,” Saiki reveals that what the prisoners most remembered the kindness, caring and sharing not only of their fellow inmates but also of the camp guards such as Sgt. Launcelot Moran, Lt. Col. Horace Ivan Rogers and Capt. Siegfried Spillner.
These characters show the strength of humanity and the importance of “home” despite national origin or religious affiliation.
One online dictionary shows the meaning of “ganbare” as “bear up!, hold out!, keep going!, Never say die!, Come on!, Hang in there!, Go for it!”... similar to the 442nd’s “Go for Broke!”
Ganbare! -- enduring, persevering, overcoming -- is reflected in the way Japan is dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. It’s also a lesson learned from 1941 to help people prevent conflict and not repeat the mistakes of war.
This week Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead served as keynote speaker at the 26th Annual Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) National Leadership Training Conference, during Asian American Pacific Islander Month.
"We as public servants, all of us, with the trust of the American people must leverage our uniquely American advantages in diversity if we are to lead institutions poised to deliver greater peace and prosperities to the generations to come," Roughead said.