RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Interpreting Tule Lake

I would like to urge all of the readers of the Nichi Bei Weekly to participate in the National Park Service’s plans to create and develop a historical site at the Tule Lake Unit in Newell, Calif. I received a letter from the director, Mike Reynolds, who is superintendent of the Tule Lake Unit of WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

As he puts it, “The most overarching issues are how to interpret what occurred at Tule Lake and how to ensure that visitors have meaningful experiences at Tule Lake tied to its history.” So, as a step in working toward a plan, the Park Service is hold a series of community public meetings and invites everyone to come to share ideas, concerns and thoughts about Tule Lake. What would you like included in this project?

Maybe you don’t have any thoughts on Tule Lake and wonder what all this means. Why all this focus on this particular camp? If you are at all interested in Japanese American history, then Tule Lake has to be one of the crucial areas of concern regarding the whole history of our incarceration during World War II. After all, one of the repeated rationales for putting us into the camps was that the government could not distinguish the loyal from the disloyal and so they had to put all of us away. By all, they meant babies, orphans, people who were in hospitals and bed ridden folks. They would deal with the sorting out later. Except they never really had a plan to do this.

Well, how were they going to winnow out the “disloyals”? They had no program, no apparatus, no policy in place, nobody in charge. It just begins to sound like a big farce when one sees just what they did. So they came up with this plan to use a questionnaire to sort us out. (The history of the questionnaire has not been studied carefully, though I did a preliminary one and it is a fishy mess.) They created boards to examine the answers and came up with a grading system, and most of you know what happened after that. It is the conventional wisdom that the answers to questions 27 and 28 in the War Relocation Authority’s so-called loyalty questionnaire (Question 27: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

Question 28: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign government, power, or organization?) were the deciding ones, and they were important but many other factors entered into the classification of “reject,” or “disloyal.” And then they designated Tule Lake to be the camp, the segregation camp, for all that they decided were the “disloyals” and troublemakers and proceeded to round them up at the other camps and move them into Tule Lake.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that, since some “loyals” who were already living in Tule Lake decided to stay there, and so you had a volatile, mixed population and all kinds of conflicts and clashes developed afterward. To me, Tule Lake is the most important, symbolic, dramatic story of the whole experience, and I think that it is vital that its story be told accurately, sensitively and thoroughly. I would like whatever is created to reflect the depth of the wrongs that were inflicted on all of us. This is a chance to do it right, and I want all of you to participate.

The meetings will be held up and down the coast, starting on June 18 and continuing until September 24. But you don’t have to go to a meeting. You can write or call or e-mail the Park Service to ask a question, make a suggestion, tell them what you think, etc. This is easy.

Contact information:
Mail: National Park Service
Pacific West Region-Planning Division
909 First Ave. Suite 500
Seattle, WA 98104
Website: www.nps.gov/tule
E-mail: tule_superintendent@nps.gov
Phone: Mike Reynolds, (503) 667-8101; Anna Tamura, Project Manager (206) 220-4157

I believe that the park service means to do a good job, and it intends to be transparent in all of its deliberations. So, we have the opportunity to help in crafting the project. Please spread the word about these meetings and the contacts. I want everybody’s input, and it will be our own fault if we don’t seize this opportunity to tell the story correctly and as honestly as possible.

The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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