History demands that the person who gave birth to an idea must be recognized when it reaches maturation.
—Washington Supreme Court Justice Charles Z. Smith, on Henry Miyatake, 1997
A one-liner from the October 3 edition of the Auburn (Washington) Reporter reported under “Deaths:”
Miyatake, Henry, 85, September 16.
After all he did for the Japanese American community and everyone who was affected by E.O. 9066, which means all of us residing in the United States, he gets a one-liner in the County Register. I shed a few tears over that thought. And then I wrote:
“Great man, restless mind
Died alone, apparently;
Maybe he wanted it that way.
I couldn’t think of anything more to write.
* * *
Later, I remembered half-promises to him.
“Bob,” Henry said about 3-to-4 years ago, “you haven’t finished writing about the Internment.”
“Yes, I have,” I said.
“No you haven’t,” he answered, handing me a book. “You’ve got to read this. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
I looked at it. Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, by Robert D. Stinnett. I thought, “Oh no, not another book about Magic Cables and stuff like that. What’s Henry doing reading this kind of crap?”
He must have read my mind. “Just read it, Bob,” he said. “It’s the real story of United States getting into the war. And why we ended up in the camps.”
“But it’s not my kind of reading,” I said. “It’s all words, numbers, and people’s names. Lots and lots of description. No dialogue. Tough to follow. My mind drifts too much.”
Henry made me promise that I’d take a look at the book. I did. And I knew why it consumed him. But after slogging through five-to-six chapters of the book, I was asking myself, do I really want to write anything on this?
I figured out what got Henry’s attention. Stinnett was making the case that President Franklin Roosevelt knew of Japan’s plans to bomb Pearl Harbor, but he wanted to let it happen in order to unite the country into entering the war and, perhaps, even incarcerating us.
But I really didn’t see any reason to pursue a book, let alone finish Day of Deceit. Whether we were pawns in FDR’s political battles or the entire country’s scapegoat for the war made no difference to me. In the end the President, Supreme Court, Congress, and every U.S. citizen shoulder the responsibility. They all used us for pawns in their game in which people who can be identified by their looks and appearances may be sacrificed without regard to the laws written on the books. No different than what is happening now.
But I just couldn’t tell Henry that I wasn’t interested. Because he was a very persistent guy. And then I’d end up making a promise I never would keep, … as opposed to only a half-promise. So I avoided giving him his book back. And I’ve felt bad every time I see this book in my house. It’s too late now to give it back.
For those who don’t know about Henry’s historic achievements, he was the “Man with THE Plan,” the Seattle Plan for redress. In November 1979, Congressman Mike Lowry introduced the first redress bill for the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated for no reason other than their ancestry under the guise of “military necessity.” Henry’s plan was the basis for that bill.
Henry did a lot of research, pitched his plan to his friend, Mike Nakata, who talked to his friend Shosuke Sasaki, and all of them started talking to community members and organizations, including national Japanese American Citizens League, and reached out to the remotest parts of the country to gather enough votes in Congress to redress a wrong.
This 20-year organizing campaign, ending in the 1990s when payments of $20,000 went to individuals who were incarcerated or forcibly evicted from where they were living is one of the most remarkable stories of the 20th century.
I asked some of the younger folks in the community if they had heard about Henry Miyatake who had just died last month. Too many of those I asked did not know who he was. I felt sad once again.
So I can’t let this rest. There are a lot more stories about Henry Miyatake. In a month or two or even three, we will have a memorial service for Henry. All of us who knew Henry should get together with those who did not know Henry and what he did for everyone who who cares about democracy and everyone who takes it for granted.
Watch for notice of it. We need this, whether we know it or not.
I, along with Tom Ikeda of Densho, Japanese American Citizens League Seattle Chapter, Nisei Veterans Committee and other individuals and organizations will be working on a memorial service for Henry. More information will follow in the coming weeks.
Bob Shimabukuro is the author of “Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress.”