Letter from Kenji Okuda to Eleanor Ring dated July 26, 1942

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Eleanor Ring dated July 26, 1942. Ring Family Papers, Acc. 4241, Box 1, folder 13. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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Camp Harmony
Puyallup, Washington
July 26, 1942

Dear Eleanor,

I tried to start a letter to you once before, but unforeseen interruptions, the heat, and my general frame of mind made it impossible to finish that one. Since this is Sunday, and I can take things easy, (but no, I can’t….I have to give a brief talk this evening on the topic “My Ideal Girl”…imagine me trying to elaborate on such a subject) I might be able to finish this missive. I’ve been writing so many of recent letters so I thought that I would give my right hand a rest and type this to you…..if you don’t mind.

My margins don’t seem to find each other agreeable, but since this is a borrowed typewriter, I must do my best under the circumstances. Frankly I am amazed to find that I have not made any typing errors so far…..it looks like rain all right. But I seem to going far afield. Thanks ever so much for your lengthy missive…and pardon my equally lengthy procrastination. As you might guess, I’ve been so busy lately that my correspondence has piled up on me unmercifully (there I start), and I’m finally trying to catch up….

Bob Rose is still a puzzle to me. When Jackson was not out here several weeks ago, he stated that he had talked with Bob very seriously and that Bob was in a very difficult dilemna which he found a way out of by some very devious arguments. I haven’t kept in touch with the world and Bob, so I don’t know what his latest stand is, but I am certainly interested to hear of your opinions. In any case, if he will do as his conscience dictates, I have nothing but respect for whatever position he might take up. It is true that I might not agree with some of his basic premises, but as a Christian pacifist, actions would speak much more than mere words or ideas.

As I examine myself, I am surprised at the callousless and seeming indifference with which I take situations at which I might have a boiled up a month or so ago. Several days ago, an order came through banning phonograph records. What a denial of freedom; more irksome restrictions in a concentration camp!! But I didn’t get indignant about it ….I took it as a matter of course, or circumstances. Perhaps the ineffectiveness of my wholehearted protest against the twice daily check-up or nose count, the realization of the futility of trying to buck the Army and its authority has lead to this apparently gradual change of heart. Again it might have been Tom Bodine’s sage advice that every attempt to question the authority exercised by the WCCA ( a stooge of the Army) would mean an increasing autocratic treatment by the Army. Now an order has come out prohibiting all residents from being within ten feet of the fence and allowing outside visitors only from 1 until 4:30 every day in the visiting room Again I find myself hopelessly tangled up and with an inner sense of futility of trying to buck the Army. Perhaps the fact that our move to a War Relocation Authority camp looms so near in the future makes me able to bear these conditions with more equanimity. And I am more encouraged when I hear that a Quaker is in charge of the educational and recreational activities at the Idaho permanent camp…

Do I sound embittered and calloused? I hope not, but I often wonder. Deep down inside, I still retain my firm faith in those things and ideals for which we as thinking Christians and humanitarians strive; I wonder at the surface reflections of what I suppose to be that spirit. I am coming to realize more than ever the necessity for a firm faith in something more than, yet including oneself, in God, if we are to live through this time of trial with courage and forbearance.

As I look back upon my philosophy class, I wonder what source of strength there was for one who was a “naturalist”. Just as it is said that there is no atheist in a foxhole, I wonder how those who have claimed to think that naturalism was the logical philosophical metaphysical truth would bear up under a crises such as this. From what would they draw their strength when faced with troubles, disaster, and failure on all hands. So many in here have had no deep faith in anything greater than themselves…..the evidence is disheartening. Some are embittered; some are convinced more than ever that a ruthless self seeking, self-centered life is the answer, for how can you trust anyone else when they are so ineffectual as friends that the person finds himself in a “concentration” camp, U.S. style. I wish that there was something that we could do for them, not as God’s chosen messengers or as “higher” people, but as one who tries to assist where help is needed, that one must find for himself a faith which will enable him to face the future with courage.

All of the outward appearances of this type of attitude which I am trying to fight are not as bad as they might sound; morale in camp is excellent, but many are too flippant and live from meal to meal, dance to dance; the people are bearing up admirably despite these adverse circumstances and making the best of everything. It is amazing to realize how wide the range of adaptation of the human personality is…..but on the other hand we must fight a too complete adaptation which will destroy all incentive and effort to improve ourselves.

I seem to be losing myself saying nothing of consequence. For some reason, I still retain an optimism which refuses to be eradicated by all of the adverse difficulties placed before me. Perhaps I am a young fool who still cannot see life as it really is, but I am glad that at least I am that type of a fool who can still retain his optimism. Our future is indeed grave and dark…what will our problems be as we try to be assimilated into normal life again at the end of this war when the whole country will be faced with the task of assimilating 8 to 10 million young men and women who will be released from the armed forced and defense industries. Unfortunately we have little or no resources to fall back upon…..we must pioneer and establish ourselves as true Americans accepted by all as fellow men. The challenge before us is so great that some will fail, but if camp life will develop within us that deep spiritual faith about which I have tried to express myself, no disaster, no setbacks will deter us from our ultimate goal. If we can learn to live and appreciate God’s handwork in those simple things about us which we have failed to see in our hurried, aimless wanderings…if we can learn to live and find satisfaction in things other than of material significance…..this camp existence will not have been entirely wasted.

Little of interest or importance has occurred in camp recently (both my typing and spelling have gone to the dogs now). I received my pay check for May ($7.29), and the June pay checks will be distributed this week. In any case, there is going to be quite a bit of spending money floating around…..$21,000 for June alone, as you may notice in the copy of the camp paper I am enclosing…plus another free issuance of coupon books the beginning of August. Of major interest now is the question of when and where we are going (as a camp). It is a certainty that we are not going to Tule Lake, and it appears that we will be going to Eden, Idaho. Why? I don’t know, except that that was the site to which I thought we would be going from the first until the Army released a communication, which they probably never meant, saying that we would go to Tule Lake. When are we going? Nothing is very definite, but rumors are fife. It seems that every large camp which has been transferred started movements on the 15th of the month. Now it so occurs that the 15th of August is a Saturday, so the most popular argument goes that rather than start on a Saturday, everything will wait until Monday, and then on the 17th the first group of 500 will leave.

According to general orders from San Francisco, the center manager will receive notice two weeks before the start of the movement, and he will be informed officially of the destination five days before we start. By this account, either the first or third of August should bring us the fateful news…..and if the news comes then, the destination will undoubtedly by Idaho. The construction at that site will end on August 5th, and the Jerome County News writes that present plans are to start occupation of the site about the 15th. It will take about two weeks to complete the movement out of here at the rate of one trainload a day….and those will be some more hectic nerve wracking, work packed days….

This typewriter is failing to cooperate with me, but I must do my best. I’ve just completed 2 ½ hours of tennis on the only tennis court in the four areas made by the use of human ingenuity despite the lack of materials. It’s pretty good……and am I tired having sweated away in the warm, not hot, sun. My major worry is the talk I am expected to deliver this evening……My Ideal Girl…and the audience will be mostly girls…high school and early college age ….am I stuck…but I think that I’ll manage to wriggle out with only a few enemies and fewer ides. But one soon learns to take things a they come.

Pardon me while I take time out for dinner (it is now 4:30). We had cold potatoe salad and cold ham….a good dish for a day like this. I have absolutely no complaints concerning the quality of the food….it’s pretty good although there are bound to be off days.

I was busy at the office very day last week….I’m way behind on my correspondence schedule, but this heat makes it worse. By the way, it seems that the National Student Relocation Committee is not finding a clear path…the Army is the most stubborn obstacle, and I hope that Pres. Sproul and several other men meeting the President, I believe, about this will have its beneficial effects. More than ever I’d like to go to Oberlin, and if the choice is to limited to some small schools okeyed by the Army (the Army refused to okey Oberlin according to reports from San Francisco), I would prefer to stay inside and do what I can to ease and improve the situation here.

I am nearing the end of the page and the letter. Please give my regards to your parents, to Al, to the old lady who has been kind enough to send down preserves and jams, to anyone else you might see. And see if you can’t get Bob R. to write to me. Until again….