Before The Colors Fade: The Return Of The Exiles
June 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 4
There were only two instances of outright defiance. One was the sheriff in Nevada County. He said, “The Japanese shouldn’t have come back and they’re not entitled to any protection and they aren’t going to get any from me.” He actually tried to stop the Southern Pacific from using Japanese section hands on the right of way!
I’d sent one of my prophylaxis task forces up there to see if they couldn’t cool him off, but I finally had to call Governor Warren. I asked him if he didn’t think we ought to call out the state Guard. Warren, who wasn’t as impetuous as I, said, “Let me call the sheriff.” I don’t know what he said to him. I know what I would have said in his place. “Look here, this crazy Kenny is on my neck, and I’m going to have to call out the Guard.…” At any rate, whatever he said worked.
Then there was the sheriff of Orange County. He took the position that it was just unreasonable of me to ask him to get in wrong politically by defending the Constitution in the matter of these returning citizens. I believe Warren talked to him on the phone, too. Warren really knew how to handle these law enforcement people because he’d been one of them. But he was ready to back me up, and they knew it.
The following year there were only two sheriffs defeated for re-election in California. One was the sheriff of Nevada County, and the other was the sheriff of Orange County.
You mentioned a prophylaxis task force.
The man who headed up that aspect of the work was Charles Johnson. He’d been an appointee of Warren’s; I found him there when I took office in 1943.
Well, he was very interested in this prophylactic technique method, and he got in touch with the War Relocation people, and they would let him know when a group of Nisei were about to return to a given area. Charley and another agent would go down to wherever it was and drop in on a whole roster of citizens: the sheriff, the police chief, the mayor, the board of supervisors or the city council, the editors of the newspapers, and the commanders of the American Legion and the V.F.W. Charley would say, “Now you’re going to get these Japanese-American citizens back, and of course we expect their return to be peaceful and orderly, and what can we do to help you?” Just that “Big Brother is watching you” hint was usually enough.
One of the greatest weapons we had, though, was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team—the magnificent all-Nisei regiment that made such a heroic showing on the Italian front and later in the Battle of the Bulge. The 442nd was based in Hawaii, but it included a number of California Nisei. And the War Relocation people had some forty or fifty of these decorated heroes—we used to call them rag-rug boys because of all their ribbons—and they were taken around the state as missionaries of good will. It was a brilliant public relations campaign, and it probably did more good than any other single action.
Another prophylactic technique we used was the posting of a reward. I got some wealthy private citizen in San Francisco to put up !5,000 for information leading to the arrest, and so on, of anyone causing—or even making threats about causing—physical harm to a returning Japanese. I’ve always believed that since the people you’re after are rats, the best way to proceed against them is to offer an inducement to their fellow rats to turn them in. I believe we only had to pay the reward once, but that’s not the point. The object of prophylaxis is to prevent. The knowledge that the reward is there for whoever can claim it deters a certain percentage of incipient criminal behavior.
Did the sentiment against the returnees slack off after V-J Day?
No. We still had a problem. At the time only about 12,000 had come back to California. We were expecting another 35,000 or 40,000, and in increasingly large groups. There was no reason to assume the hatemongers would give up just because the Emperor had.
All in all—when they all had returned—how many incidents of violence were there? Serious incidents?
Perhaps a hundred in all. Serious ones? Well, there weren’t any killings. Not even any serious injuries. That was to a certain extent luck. Also, now, in the post-V-J Day stages, we finally got something going in the way of prophylactic education for police officers.
You recall we had made a plea for that sort of thing back in 1943, with our little blue book, but we hadn’t got many takers. Individuals may have read the material—I’m sure they did—but there were no formal programs, classes, or anything of that nature.