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Life Behind Barbed Wire

Life Behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawaii Issei

YASUTARO (KEIHO) SOGA
TRANSLATED BY KIHEI HIRAI
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY TETSUDEN KASHIMA
Copyright Date: 2008
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqws9
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  • Book Info
    Life Behind Barbed Wire
    Book Description:

    Yasutaro Soga’s Life behind Barbed Wire (Tessaku seikatsu) is an exceptional firsthand account of the incarceration of a Hawai‘i Japanese during World War II. On the evening of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Soga, the editor of a Japanese-language newspaper, was arrested along with several hundred other prominent Issei ( Japanese immigrants) in Hawai‘i. After being held for six months on Sand Island, Soga was transferred to an Army camp in Lordsburg, New Mexico, and later to a Justice Department camp in Santa Fe. He would spend just under four years in custody before returning to Hawai‘i in the months following the end of the war. Most of what has been written about the detention of Japanese Americans focuses on the Nisei experience of mass internment on the West Coast—largely because of the language barrier immigrant writers faced. This translation, therefore, presents us with a rare Issei voice on internment, and Soga’s opinions challenge many commonly held assumptions about Japanese Americans during the war regarding race relations, patriotism, and loyalty. Although centered on one man’s experience, Life behind Barbed Wire benefits greatly from Soga’s trained eye and instincts as a professional journalist, which allowed him to paint a larger picture of those extraordinary times and his place in them. The Introduction by Tetsuden Kashima of the University of Washington and Foreword by Dennis Ogawa of the University of Hawai‘i provide context for Soga’s recollections based on the most current scholarship on the Japanese American internment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6335-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    DENNIS M. OGAWA

    “Please don’t get cold” were Sei Soga’s last words to her husband as he was being arrested and taken away. At the time, Soga found himself unable to respond; a half-year would pass before he was allowed to see or speak to her. In a poem he expresses his feelings for his wife:

    After a long half-year

    I take my wife’s hand into mine

    And for at least half a day

    I do not wash away her touch

    Soga was one of 1,466 Hawai‘i Japanese who were imprisoned during World War II. He was arrested on the day of the...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)
    TETSUDEN KASHIMA

    During the Second World War two dramatically different scenarios confronted persons of Japanese ancestry in the United States and the territories of Alaska and Hawai‘i. Many knowledgeable Americans now understand that in the continental United States and Alaska, their resident persons of Japanese ancestry, identified as the Nikkei, became involuntary victims of a tragic and gross violation of civil liberties and personal freedom. They suffered a mass expulsion from their homes and confinement in ten incarceration centers for periods ranging from months to, for many, three years. It was military necessity, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared on February 19, 1942,...

  6. Life behind Barbed Wire

    • PREFACE
      (pp. 21-22)
      Yasutaro (Keiho) Soga

      After four years, I returned to this green island in the Pacific Ocean from the snowy mountains of Santa Fe. The differences between this world near sea level and where I had been, 7,500 feet above the sea and surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, were never so apparent to me than upon my return. Honolulu seems to have changed much, but I truly believe that it is still a beautiful place—as it has always been. Coming home to a warm, loving family after living day in and day out with only men in a barracks was a dream come...

    • 1 THE BOMBING OF PEARL HARBOR
      (pp. 23-28)

      “Like a thunderbolt out of the blue” literally describes the news of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Near the end of 1941, the situation between Japan and the United States had become serious, but most of the people in Hawaii believed something would be done at the last moment and war would be avoided. This was the thinking not only of Japanese here, but also of high-ranking military officials. At around nine o’clock in the morning on December 7 (December 8 in Japan), I was sitting on my porch, relaxing in ayukata(cotton kimono) and reading a magazine as...

    • 2 SAND ISLAND DETENTION CAMP
      (pp. 29-65)

      Sand island lies just a short distance away from Honolulu. From the pier, we walked for about thirty minutes before we were lined up in front of the barracks. The 35th U.S. Army Regiment Commander, who was responsible for the security of the area, addressed us: “The United States and Japan are at war. I am aware of the outstanding characteristics of the Japanese, but you are now detainees. In due time each of you will get a hearing. Some of you may be released while others may be detained during the war. You are not criminals but prisoners of...

    • 3 THE VOYAGE TO THE MAINLAND
      (pp. 66-70)

      We remained in port for one night before leaving Honolulu on the SSMatsoniaat 2:30 on the afternoon of the seventh. The commander in charge of our transportation was Colonel Craig and our spokesman was the Reverend Keizo Miura, a Nisei. Both proved to be responsible and efficient. I understand that the treatment of internees and conditions on board for the first four groups were more or less the same. By the time our group boarded, however, things were more relaxed. We could use the toilets and showers freely—although the water coming through the showerhead was salt water....

    • 4 SCENERY SEEN FROM A TRAIN WINDOW
      (pp. 71-72)

      About one hundred and forty of us left Angel Island at four o’clock in the afternoon on August 27, 1942. As usual we were not told of our destination. I felt I did not care where I went. Following the example of those before me, I left my graffito mark in a corner of the room before leaving: “So we are Japs. Let us stomp defiant over sea and mountain.”

      At Sand Island the bed next to mine had been occupied by a dangerous-looking tattooed man of about fifty. When I had hesitantly asked what part of the Mainland he...

    • 5 LORDSBURG CAMP
      (pp. 73-122)

      As we approached the camp gate, the third and fourth groups from Hawaii, having arrived earlier, gathered to greet us. I nearly wept for joy at being reunited with the following old friends: Mr. Kango Kawasaki, Mr. Sadato Morifuji, Mr. Tokuji Adachi, Rev. Shunsei Shiratori, Mr. Shin Yoshida, Rev. Sutekichi Osumi, Mr. Ryoichi Tanaka, Mr. Takegoro Kusao, Dr. Ryuichi Ipponsugi, Mr. Sutematsu Endo, Mr. Yoshio Koike, Mr. Riichi Togawa, Mr. Shogo Miwa, and Mr. Matsujiro Otani. That night I took a shower and felt like a new man. Although the camp was four thousand feet above sea level, it was...

    • 6 SANTA FE CAMP
      (pp. 123-210)

      The official order to move to Santa Fe Camp was issued on June 10, 1943. The first group was comprised of 350 internees, all of the second battalion’s fifth through seventh regiments and several members of the eighth. They left on Monday the fourteenth. The second group of 350 included the remaining members of the eighth regiment and all of the third battalion’s eleventh and twelfth regiments. They left on Wednesday the sixteenth. The last group, consisting of the third battalion’s ninth and tenth regiments, followed soon afterward. The rumor was that three thousand Italian POWs would be taking our...

    • 7 RETURN TO HAWAII
      (pp. 211-224)

      As we were driven out of the barbed-wire enclosure of Santa Fe Camp, the relief we felt showed in our faces. I inhaled deep breaths of freedom for the first time in four years. Of course we were not entirely free yet. Until our release from custody and the designation “internee” was struck from our records, we were still subject to many restrictions. In this way, life behind barbed wire continued for a while. Three hundred and twenty-seven internees exited the camp gates at 2:10 p.m. on Tuesday, October 30, 1945, and arrived at the station seven minutes later. Our...

  7. APPENDIXES

    • APPENDIX 1 INTERNEES SENT TO THE MAINLAND ON THE FIRST SHIP BY OCCUPATION
      (pp. 225-225)
    • APPENDIX 2 INTERNEES SENT TO THE MAINLAND BY ISLAND (INCLUDING JAPAN)
      (pp. 226-226)
    • APPENDIX 3 STATUS OF JAPANESE AT SANTA FE CAMP AS OF AUGUST 10, 1944 (COMPILED BY THE JAPANESE OFFICE)
      (pp. 227-227)
    • APPENDIX 4 INTERNEES AT THE HONOULIULI CAMP
      (pp. 228-228)
    • APPENDIX 5 LIST OF INTERNEES BY NAME
      (pp. 229-254)
  8. POSTSCRIPT
    (pp. 255-255)

    Three years have passed since those of us who were sent to camps on the Mainland returned to Hawaii. This book stems from a series of articles I wrote for theHawaii Timesfrom January to July 1946. I received encouragement for these pieces as well as criticism. (Some readers felt I had been too candid.) However, many friends advised me to publish the articles in book form—the first public record of the wartime experiences of Japanese in the United States. I followed their advice, although I may have taken longer than they had anticipated.

    I would like to...

  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 256-256)