Phase I — Loyal Citizens of a Nation at War

Japanese American students away at school were called home by their parents, but railways, busses, and steamships refused to sell them passage without evidence of citizenship. A hurry-up call for birth certificates allowed most of them to return home for Christmas vacation. Many did not return to school, however. Fear and uncertainty were ruling forces.

—Floyd Schmoe1

The phase between Pearl Harbor and Public Proclamation No. 1 was primarily a time of frantic action followed by public proclamations of support for the Nisei. There was growing uncertainty about the fate of the Japanese Americans but life went on fairly normally on campus after the first spate of panic-induced restrictions on the Japanese.

During this time authorities issued a number of restrictions. All business licenses held by Japanese nationals (Issei denied citizenship by the United States were considered enemy nationals) were revoked. Issei bank accounts were also frozen.2 For a short time in December travel was restricted for all Japanese, citizen and alien, preventing students from returning home.

University officials scrambled to meet the needs of their Japanese American students. Students wishing to return home for the winter break were stymied by the new requirements for proof of citizenship and yet more documents. The records of the Vice-President of Student Affairs is littered with file cards noting the various requirements:3

At the Central Bus Terminal
In order to purchase a ticket to go home students must have:
1.Their birth certificate and A.S.U.W. card
2. A letter from the University and their A.S.U.W. card
3. Or, all three pieces of evidence are desirable if possible to secure.

The Union Pacific, Northern Pacific, or Chicago-Milwaukee Railroads
A birth certificate is all that is required of citizens. In addition, identification such as the A.S.U.W. card may be required.

Travel regulations - Alien-owned cars
The local F.B.I. anticipates no difficulty for Japanese who can prove American citizenship who are driving automobiles owned by aliens.

Within the first week after Pearl Harbor, the Dean's office "assisted nearly fifty Japanese students in securing their American birth certificates from cities throughout the West." 4

On December 12, Robert O'Brien, faculty advisor to the Japanese American students, called a meeting of Nisei students "to discuss pertinent problems brought up by the war with Japan." The various restrictions imposed on the Japanese community were clarified, information concerning the freezing of assets was distributed, and a general discussion ensued about possible future ramifications. 5

Public statements were made in the Japanese American press and in local hearings of the Tolan Committee. The New Year's Day issue of theJapanese American Courier carried a number of articles written by University of Washington faculty and administrators showing support for Japanese Americans and offering advice to Nisei students.6 A holiday message from President Sieg made front-page news.

Today, they have before them their greatest opportunity to erase once and for always any question concerning their loyalty to this American Republic. I am confident that the great majority of them will join with all Americans, regardless of ancestry, origin, creed or color, to bring this conflict to a successful conclusion.

On page eight, J. F. Steiner, chair of the sociology department, provided details on Japanese Americans working at the university as faculty, fellows and staff. Frank Miyamoto of the sociology department rallied Nisei on page nine. And on page ten, John Maki of the Far Eastern department, encourages students to remain at their studies until called to duty.

Let this be the vow of the student citizens today: I pledge my services to my nation; I shall hold myself ready to answer my government's call; and until that call comes, I shall, by continuing my university training, equip myself to become as efficient as humanly possible, be it on the field of action or on the front at home.

During the winter and early spring of 1942, the House Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration headed by Representative John Tolan (D-California), held hearings in Washington D.C. and in cities on the West Coast. The Tolan Hearings came to Seattle late February of 1942. Floyd Schmoe, J. F. Steiner, and Robert O'Brien presented statements and testified. Two UW students also appeared before the committee. Though evacuation was not as yet certain, all their statements seemed somehow resigned to the idea that a mass evacuation would probably occur.

Floyd Schmoe, an instructor in the College of Forestry, was on leave from the university and devoting his time to the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). He spoke primarily to general concerns rather than focusing on students. Schmoe wanted to ensure that the evacuation would be done in an orderly and humane manner. He went on to suggest possible methods for resettlement and to recommend the Yakima Indian Reserve as an ideal relocation area.7

J. F. Steiner carefully detailed the current status of the Japanese population in the state as shown by the 1940 census. He reported that the regional concentration of the Japanese population in King and Pierce counties simplified "the problem of their surveillance and is a factor to be kept in mind when consideration is being given to plans for their removal to other places." When questioned about the loyalty of Japanese Americans, Steiner replied:8

How do we know that I am loyal or that anyone else is loyal? How would we know that the Germans, the first generation of Germans or the second generation of Germans, are loyal? We must know it from their actions, by the company they keep, the organizations to which they belong. As far as the Japanese are concerned, I would think it would be less difficult, for they are more segregated, they are more visible, they cannot hide away or have secret meetings as easily as could Germans or Italians.

He later returned to this issue of loyalty when asked about a hypothetical attack on the Boeing plant.9

There would be some confusion, there is no doubt; but I cannot see how our situation would be materially improved if we simply went ahead and got rid of all our Japanese, first and second generation, unless we took care of the Germans and Italians, also. Unless we did that, we still would have enemies, or potential enemies, in our midst. As to the second-generation Germans, we don't doubt their loyalty. Why should we doubt the loyalty of second-generation Japanese and those who have lived here in this country only and have not had any connection with Japan? Do we suppose that there is something in Japanese family life that prevents, to a great extent, persons from taking over the customs and traditions of the country?

In his efforts to dissuade the congressmen from advocating a mass evacuation of all Japanese, Steiner advocated dividing the Nisei into two classes, "those who are born here, educated in our schools, have had white American playmates, have never visited Japan" and those who have spent much of their childhood in Japan. However at the end of the hearing, when asked about the reactions of Japanese towards mass evacuation, Steiner conceded, "that the Japanese, both first and second generations, would accept it as they would accept any other orders that would come from the Federal Government."10

Robert O'Brien, assistant to the dean and faculty advisor to the Japanese Students Club, sent in a later statement to the Tolan Committee. O'Brien, like Steiner (probably responding to Steiner's written statement to the committee), addressed the question of loyalty. He praised the patriotism of the Nisei students on campus, noting that "after the treacherous attack on Hawaii, over a dozen Nisei called in my office to find out how to volunteer to fight for the United States. In checking over the recent members of the Japanese Students Club, I find 83 who have either volunteered or are serving under Selective Service in the American Army." He went on to detail the purchasing of war stamps and bonds by both Japanese student groups.11

O'Brien concluded his statement with a list of five recommendations. While the first was "that we do not have mass evacuation of American-born Japanese," the third, fourth and fifth recommendations address the possibility of a "general evacuation." The fifth recommendation asked that "Federal funds for college student relocation in other areas be provided."12

Two students, Curtis Aller and Hildur Coon, also appeared before the committee in support of Nisei students at the University of Washington. Both emphasized the "Americanism" of the students.13

What are the Nisei students like? I am convinced that the majority of university students will agree with me when I say that the answer can be given in just one word — American. Aside from superficial differences of skin color, you would be unable to tell them from the average American college student.

All segments of "Interrupted Lives: Japanese American Students at the University of Washington" are copyrighted by the University of Washington Libraries. "Interrupted Lives" may be used online. Segments of "Interrupted Lives" may be downloaded for personal use. The URL may be included in another electronic document.