Internment Camp Quotes in No-No Boy
“Why don’t you do something about it?”
“I tell [Taro]. Mama tells him. Makes no difference. It is the war that has made them that way. All the people say the same thing. The war and the camp life. Made them wild like cats and dogs. It is hard to understand.”
“Sure,” he said, but he told himself that he understood, that the reason why Taro was not a son and not a brother was because he was young and American and alien to his parents, who had lived in America for thirty-five years without becoming less Japanese and could speak only a few broken words of English and write it not at all, and because Taro hated the thing in his elder brother which had prevented him from thinking for himself. And in this hate for that thing, he hated his brother and also his parents because they had created the thing in their eyes and hands and minds which had seen and felt and thought as Japanese for thirty-five years in an America which they rejected as thoroughly as if they had never been a day away from Japan.
…he was thinking about the Kumasakas and his mother and kids like Bob who died brave deaths fighting for something which was bigger than Japan or America or the selfish bond that strapped a son to his mother. Bob, and a lot of others with no more to lose or gain then he, had not found it necessary to think about whether or not to go into the army. When the time came, they knew what was right for them and they went.
What happened to him and the others who faced the judge and said: You can’t make me go in the army because I’m not an American or you wouldn’t have plucked me and mine from a life that was good and real and meaningful and fenced me in the desert like they do the Jews in Germany…
And some said: You, Mr. Judge, who supposedly represent justice, was it a just thing to ruin a hundred thousand lives and homes and farms and businesses and dreams and hopes because the hundred thousand were a hundred thousand Japanese and you couldn’t have loyal Japanese when Japan is the country you’re fighting and, if so, how about the Germans and Italians that must be just as questionable as the Japanese or we wouldn’t be fighting Germany and Italy? Round them up. Take away their homes and cars and beer and spaghetti and throw them in a camp and what do you think they’ll say when you try to draft them into your army out of the country that is for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? …
And then another one got up and faced the judge and said meekly: I can’t go because my brother is in the Japanese army and if I go in your army and have to shoot at them because they’re shooting at me, how do I know that maybe I won’t kill my own brother? I’m a good American and I like it here but you can see that it wouldn’t do for me to be shooting at my own brother; even if he want back to Japan when I was two years old and I couldn’t know him if I saw him, it’s the feeling that counts, and what can a fellow do? Besides, my mom and dad said I shouldn’t and they ought to know.
It had mattered. It was because he was Japanese that the son had to come to his Japanese father and simply state that he had decided to volunteer for the army instead of being able to wait until such time as the army called him. It was because he was Japanese and, at the same time, had to prove to the world that he was not Japanese that the turmoil was in his soul and urged him to enlist. There was confusion, but, underneath it, a conviction that he loved America and would fight and die for it because he did not wish to live anyplace else. And the father, also confused, understood what the son had not said and gave his consent. It was not a time for clear thinking because the sense of loyalty had become dispersed and the shaken faith of an American interned in an American concentration camp was indeed a flimsy thing. So, on this steadfast bit of conviction that remained, and knowing not what the future held, this son had gone to war to prove that he deserved to enjoy those rights which should rightfully have been his.
…It was on this particular night that the small sociologist, struggling for the words painstakingly and not always correctly selected from his meager knowledge of the Japanese language, had managed to impart a message of great truth. And this message was that the old Japanese, the fathers and mothers, who sat courteously attentive, did not know their own sons and daughters. “How many of you are able to sit down with your own sons and own daughters and enjoy the companionship of conversation? How many, I ask? If I were to say none of you, I would not be far from the truth.” He paused, for the grumbling was swollen with anger and indignation, and continued in a loud, shouting voice before it could engulf him: “You are not displeased because of what I said but because I have hit upon the truth. And I know it to be true because I am a Nisei and you old ones are like my own father and mother. If we are children of America and not the sons and daughters of our parents, it is because you have failed. It is because you have been stupid enough to think that growing rice in muddy fields is the same as growing a giant fir tree. Change, now, if you can, even if it may be too late, and become companions to your children. This is America, where you have lived and worked and suffered for thirty and forty years. This is not Japan.”