Online Lectures

Lecture on Post-War Generation

by Professor Shigeru Miyagawa

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The post-war generation is deeply affected by World War II, even though our lives did not directly touch it. What we hear from our parents, grandparents, or other war generation people, get deeply lodged in our hearts, and it sits there -- as pure emotion -- and constitutes an integral part of our identity. We live day to day mostly unaware of this powerful historical force that resides in us; it only comes out, often unexpectedly but forcefully, when we encounter something, usually something ordinary -- an object, a fragrance, a story -- that triggers the deep-seated memory planted there by the war generation.
A dramatic example of this is the following. While field testing StarFestival around the country (USA), one fifth grade teacher had her students keep a journal. This is what a girl in her class wrote on the first page of her journal.
"I know that Japan had a war with China. My grandmother really hates the Japanese people... My grandmother once told me that the Japanese are brats. My grandmother suffered during the war... I feel bad for my grandmother. I also feel bad for the Chinese people in war, because they are Chinese and I am Chinese too. I am on my grandmother's side... If I were a Chinese soldier, I would kill every Japanese man I can find. Sometimes I have dreams about the war. The war made me more angry. Every time I dream about this war, I see thousands of people, men, women, and children dying. Even though Japanese are almost the same as Chinese, I would never, ever forgive them. Only if my grandmother will. But, I think she won't. Even though she would, her country and her ancestors wouldn't. Neither would I."
This was triggered by the fact that she was about to embark, for the first time, on studying about Japan. What this girl revealed so honestly and so emotionally was a complete surprise to her teacher. I suspect that even her parents and grandparents don't realize the intensity of the emotion dwelling in her. [By the way, I ask that you not forward this to others; this is a very personal and open revelation, and her teacher shared it with me because it is so powerful, and also because of the way she was transformed through studying with StarFestival].
This quote relates directly to "the Professor's" video memo in Site 14, "shoe store," which was assigned to you for tonight. He says, in part, "I loved my Suka grandfather. He always had time for me. He fought in the war in Manchuria and I have a hard time reconciling that with the gentle man I knew." You can view photographs of my grandfather going to the war in the Site 17 Diary.
The war in Asia is the backdrop to the young girl's journal entry, and to my own reflection in Site 14. But the real backdrop to these, and to another comment below, about the horrific experience of the Japanese-Americans in this country, has to do with race, ethnicity, and authenticity. In the piece we read about Japanese jazz, the author, Atkins, quotes Edward Bruner: "'authenticity' implies that someone has the power or authority to 'authenticate' a representation; the concept of authenticity...privileges one voice as more legitimate than another" (p. 32). The context of this quote is the authentication of a genre of music, the idea that, at least among some circles, "the authenticity and purity of jazz are determined by the ethnicity of the performer" (p. 29). When this deed of authentication through race and ethnicity gets played out on an international scale, with powerful and authoritative figures in control, we see acts so violent and inhumane that they seem completely irrational, yet it is repeated over and again around the globe. And the memory of them are passed down through the generations, the emotional force intact and pure.
Prior to the war with the U.S., Japan had attacked and occupied vast areas of Asia. Many Asian countries were at one time a colony of a western power, and the Japanese "played Oriental vs. Occidental," justifying aggression as "Asian solidarity" (John Dower, War without mercy). The propaganda they put forth was to form the "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere," and liberate East Asia from the invasion of oppression of the west (ibid). Despite this appearance of solidarity and equality among Asians, the Japanese held that they were the "master race" (Yamato) -- the leading race in Asia. This led, for example, to the illegal annexation and colonialization of Korea, 1910-1945. Newspapers were shut down; dissenters were imprisoned and tortured; school children had to wear military-style uniforms; and they were forbidden to speak Korean, instead being forced to adopt Japanese (ibid). What was authentic was Japan, Japanese culture, and the Japanese language, and the military authority viewed itself legitimized to carry out these acts of cultural genocide. The inhumane acts of "authentication" by the Japanese military in Asia have only recently begun to surface. It is unclear how the post-war generation, particularly those in their teens and twenties, will react to these revelations.
Switching gear, here is another quote, this one by Gary Mukai of Stanford University, in his review of StarFestival for the journal, Education About Asia.
"My favorite site was number 17, "High School." During my exploration of this site, I learned about the experiences of Miyagawa's mother during World War II. During a B-29 bombing raid on her town, she grabbed a pair of scissors and ran off to a forest by a beach. She later wished that she had taken something more valuable....I was struck by the scissors with which she ran off, and thought about my own family's life in California shortly after the U.S. entry into World War II. Prior to the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast, most Japanese Americans were given very short notice to pack up only belongings they could carry to camp. Many later had regrets not only about what they had left behind or sold for bargain prices but also about what they had taken. My grandfather, for example, took a coconut painted with a scene from Hawaii. He had immigrated first to Hawaii in the early twentieth century and had purchased this coconut. I sometimes wonder why he would have taken such a bulky and seemingly useless item -- especially when space inside one's suitcase was so valuable. As it turns out, I still have that coconut in my office, and I thought about it while exploring the experiences of Miyagawa's mother during World War II. In many ways, the scissors and coconut have become artifacts that are symbolic of a particularly difficult timeperiod., i.e., World War II, for Miyagawa's family and for mine. Though neither Miyagawa nor I were alive during World War II, nonetheless our families' experiences during the war helped to shape both our identities as Japanese Americans."
Gary Mukai is about my age, a member of the post-war generation born after the war. My mother's scissors triggered a memory of his grandfather, and the internment experience, and the seemingly ordinary and mundane coconut sitting in his office took on added meaning as he reflected on this memory. The backdrop to this story is the story of immigration. Immigration from Asia began with the Chinese, who in the 1840s came in large numbers to Hawaii to work in the sugar plantations, and in the 1850s to the West Coast to work in the gold mine and on railroads. The Japanese began to immigrate to Hawaii and to the West Coast in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. With this large influx of Asians, there arose a form of racism targeting ethnic Asians. They were deprived of being naturalized until 1952, when the MaCarran-Walter Act finally gave them the right that the African-Americans, for example, had gained in the nineteenth century. This racism took a particularly ugly and authoritarian form when President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, on February 19, 1942, two and a half months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. E.O. 9066 directed the U.S. Army to "evacuate" people of Japanese descent from areas bordering the Pacific Ocean. They had less than seven-day notice, and, as Gary Mukai related above, they carried only what they could in their suitcases, selling the rest (like their house and car) for virtually nothing and simply leaving the rest behind. They were taken to "relocation camps," some as far way as Arkansas. All in all, over 110,000 "people of Japanese descent" were "evacuated," many of whom were Americans by birth. They were officially released on January 2, 1945. It is noteworthy that they were, never at any time, found to be a threat to national security. Too, no one of German or Italian descent was subjected to a similar form of racism. In recognition of this horrific act, President Ford signed the Presidential Proclamation 4417 in 1976, in which he, and the U.S. government, officially apologized for this inhumane act. In 1988, the U.S. government paid $20,000 to living survivors of the camps.
The war still lives among many post-war people, not so much as a historical event, but as a personal memory handed down from those who suffered the acts of "authentication" based on race and ethnicity, and that memory, for those who possess it, is a pure and powerful emotional part of our identity.