Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated August 3, 1942

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated August 3, 1942. Higano Family Papers, Acc. 2870, Box 1, folders 9-11. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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Area A Headquarters
August 3, 1942
Dark & gloomy

Hi, pal! ---

The great Romeo seems to be having a wonderful time in the Middle West, eh what? But slightly lonesome and filled with studying at times, no doubt. And thanks so much for your long (80% on Y.T.) letter – your interests are easily discernable.1 Life here in camp continues along the same line – not monotonous but very little variety. Three months have elapsed since I arrived here, and thank heavens, they’ve gone by like a breeze. Our stay here now will be very short – there may not be more than two or three weeks remaining, but definite word on this is impossible to obtain at this moment.

When am I going to get out of this hell hole? I certainly don’t know – I wish I did – but it isn’t even certain that we students will be permitted to leave. The picture now is black, but the situation changes from day to day – all the pressure possible is being applied both in Washington and in San Francisco to have the Army okay the schools which will accept the Japanese, but that is the damn bottleneck. It seems that the Army with its smug dictatorial power feels that most of the schools are located near defense plants or important sites and won’t let us out – hell, we aren’t saboteurs or spies!! The color of the picture changes every day – perhaps tomorrow may bring the much awaited good news – the travel permit to leave camp to go to Oberlin. Right now since our move seems so close, I wouldn't mind or feel that I should be here until we are settled at our destination before leaving for school. Call me a fool, call me what you will, I refuse to give up hope. I’ll be seeing you soon – on the outside!!!

Hell – what have you in your past life to hide from Y.T. I’ll bet I could tell her all I know – and she’d consider you an angel for it – or don’t I know you so well. Anyway I’ll promise to watch what I say – don’t worry. But I’m looking forward to meeting her as much (or almost as much) as I’m looking forward to seeing you again.

In regard to your questions on relocation, I’m a loss for an answer to give you. I certainly wish it were possible for your parents to join you there in St Louis – it might very well be done. For example Kay Kimura’s family joined him in Wyoming. But I’d advise waiting for about a month until we are in the WRA centers. Then we won’t have to worry about the WCCA, a branch of the Army – (the Army in plain clothes) which has no authority and a lot of red tape. From there I think it is very possible for relocation to wherever you are for your parents. In a way I’m tired of giving and getting – this advice of wait, wait, wait – until we get into the permanent camps, but as I review the thing, that is the only wise thing to do. To make or create too much disturbance in the assembly centers is only to arouse the ire of the Army – and then it’ll be a struggle to wrest some power from the W.R.A. to get even with us. And who can buck against the stubborn, dictatorial, authoritative power of the military forces without arousing their ire?

Norio, I agree with you 100%. There is absolutely too much of the “what the hell” attitude although not as prevalent or outspoken as you might think. We are trying to show the nisei that they must triumph over this life, or it will kill them. But how can we triumph?? Spiritual preparation – a faith deep and strong enough to tide us over any physical pains or hardships – a faith in the goodness and the fullness of life without which we are defeated before we begin. I hope, and I’m trying to do what I can, to spread this idea, to practice this idea, and at least live up to my ideals and hopes. The student relocation plan is excellent – 2 or 3,000 students on the outside with their countless friends and intimates inside cannot help but improve the general outlook on life. And yet the Army cold heartedly refuses to cooperate in the student relocation plan.

A more widespread and effective solution would be job relocation – a gradual process of assimilation into the American stream of life of all of us kept in these camps. Some are applying for writs of habeas corpus, Gordy questions the constitutionality of this evacuation; but although such efforts are necessary for future reference, the problem might be very greatly aggravated by a mass release amidst the growing public hysteria. The program to follow, then, is a process of finding jobs for individuals in camp and then allowing them to go out to work. This will necessarily be slow – the leaders in camp would be the first to leave, life might deteriorate at first, but this appears to be the most practical solution under the present circumstances. Even if isseis were not permitted to leave, the niseis staking their claim on the economic life of the nation will ease that much the problems of the post-war readjustment – that is the direction in which we should put our utmost energies.

I’ve heard of Harvey Itano, but I don’t know or didn’t know of any others leaving camp for school. Who is the other person to whom you refer? Give me all of the dope you might have – really, I’m in the dark.

In four days I shall begin another year in my short existence. I guess I’ll be eligible for military service then, but I’ve registered as a C.O., so my future isn’t at all certain. Twenty years in this chaotic world - living through the world’s greatest depression, and now the second World War, a man made catastrophe beyond human comprehension in scope and horror. There are some who curse their fate for being born to an age such as this – in a way I’m glad to suffer one small portion of the world’s sorrow and horrors – there is so much to be done, so much which must be done - is man, or myself, equal to the task? We will, we must, triumph!!

Last Sunday I had to deliver a discussion or talk on “My Ideal Girl”. Imagine me expounding forth on such a topic to a group of high school age kids – and then to be asked whether I thought My Ideal Girl should neck or not. I had to be subtle in answering the question – to come out too bluntly might hurt someone’s sense of decency which reminds me of some of Harry’s letters – I need some hormone excitement. Life is so drab and monotonous without a little such experiences – dances are our closest outlets. With the camp filled up like this, one has absolutely no privacy. And I’ve lost interest in all or most of the girls in Area A. Blackheads, blackheads, and more of the same. I’ve become so calloused that I don’t think there are any pretty faces in the mob – but some excitement – damn it, why can’t we?

Yesterday we had a very interesting discussion on Buddhism which brings up a question which I’m trying to answer. In the portrait of Christ in Kagawa’s "Behold the Man,” he suffers quietly and beautifully.2 His voice is not raised against the human injustices or cruelties of the Romans, but against man’s self-deception. Does this teaching of Christ encourage social reforms, active opposition to governmental policies? He lived a life of suffering. Then are we, as true followers of Christ, to suffer patiently man’s injustices to man? There is a dilemma which must be studied and thoroughly thought out!

My writing is horrible, but I hope that you can bear with me until I finish. I’m enclosing with this letter a copy of the pamphlet “American Refugees” put out by the F.O.R. of which I’m glad to say I’m now a member.3 If you are struck by it as I was, I wish that you would try to push the distribution as inconspicuously as possible. That pamphlet is powerful stuff – I can’t think of a better, more concise summary of our situation and problems. Also inside are the last two issues of the Camp H. Newsletter.

I have just seen a letter from the WRA in Frisco where by all nisei who have not been to Japan can seek to get private job relocation outside the Western Defense Command (from the WRA centers). The WCCA is a damn nuisance in any man’s language. And another rumor, or near fact – the order has come through for our moving. We will start moving on the 15th, 16th, or 17th of this month – obviously Idaho - the sooner I get there the happier I'll be--- I was just grappling with Bill Yamasaki who’s signed up to go in the advance crew leaving for Idaho on the 9th of August. It is obvious that our removal is very, very close.

This letter has lost all semblance of continuity; write me here unless you receive notice that I’ve moved – so until again – be good – don’t act too much like the lovelorn swain – I’m hoping for a good workout – So long-------



1. Y.T. refers to Yasuko Tani.
2. Toyohiko Kagawa's novel on the life of Christ, Behold the Man, was published in 1941.
3. F.O.R. refers to the Fellowship for Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization. The 8-page pamphlet, American Refugees was published in 1942.