Last week saw strong reactions to President Trump’s executive action around the funding of a wall on the U.S.’s southern border. Meanwhile, I was reading a book about someone who had been affected by another controversial presidential action a long time ago.
Executive Order 9066 was issued 77 years ago this week by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The order authorized the incarceration of all persons of Japanese ancestry who had been living along the West Coast of the U.S. This included not only resident aliens from Japan, but also tens of thousands of American-born citizens.
A new offering from Sasquatch Books, “Rising Son,” focuses on the remarkable life story of Masao Abe, all of whose relatives in the U.S. were imprisoned under 9066. But Abe’s path was different.
Born in California in 1916 to Japanese immigrants, Abe was a youngster when his parents took him to Japan and left him to be raised by his grandparents so that he could be immersed in the language and culture of his ancestors.
Abe had been there a decade when his parents returned from America for good to help their elders. But the Sino-Japanese War had broken out, so they sent Abe back to the U.S. to keep him from being conscripted into the Japanese military.
And yet, with World War II being fought in Europe, Abe was drafted after he returned to California — by the U.S. Army.
This was in September, 1941. And it was just after he’d completed basic training that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
Because Abe was a Kibei — someone who had been born in the U.S. as a first-generation Japanese-American, educated in Japan, spoke fluent Japanese, and then returned to the U.S. — the Army wasn’t sure how to deal with him, now that Japan was an enemy.
For a while, Abe and the relatively few other Kibei soldiers were in a state of limbo, shunned by their fellow soldiers, and deprived of meaningful assignment by the Army.
But finally Abe and a handful of others like him were recruited by the Military Intelligence Service. They were given intensive training as interrogators, then shipped out to the Pacific Theater and embedded on the front lines. Their assignment: convince Japanese Imperial soldiers to surrender, and obtain whatever strategic information they could.
But Abe and his fellow Kibei officers were in a tricky situation – in the close-quarters combat they were engaged in on those islands in the Pacific, they were in nearly as much danger of being mistaken for enemy soldiers and brought down by their own side as they were of being killed by the Japanese fighters.
This veteran’s harrowing story was elicited from him many decades after the fact by Sandra Vea, a Seattle-based educator and the longtime partner of one of Abe’s grown sons.
“Rising Son” is a consideration of bigotry, loyalty, heroism, sacrifice and war — all the more riveting because it is a true story.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.