WASHINGTON--Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, whose uncle died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, views Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor with President Barack Obama as a symbol of commitment to working together for the future.
After they were sent to internment camps following the Pearl Harbor attack, both of her grandfathers used to say: “War is not good. War is not good.”
However, they never discussed their wartime experiences nor blamed their fate on the Japanese attack.
Hanabusa, who says she is probably the only member of Congress who has had a relative killed in the atomic bombing, believes an apology in words is not necessary between the United States and Japan since actions speak louder.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
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Q: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will become the first sitting Japanese leader to visit the Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial. How did you feel when you first heard the news?
A: I had sort of anticipated it because President (Barack) Obama went to Hiroshima, and he was the first president to have gone there. Ambassador (John) Roos, who was an Obama appointee, was the first high-ranking American to ever go to the Hiroshima Memorial.
World War II has always been one of the sensitive points of the otherwise strong relationship between the United States and Japan. So I thought, “Well, this would be the beginning of the symbolic repair of that relationship.”
I was sort of surprised that they both chose not to go on Dec. 7 in commemoration of the 75th anniversary, but going on the day may have been a bit too difficult for them. I am glad that they are doing it before President Obama leaves office because that’s the symbolism that is necessary. However, I was not surprised as to the fact that it did occur.
Q: What kind of message do you think President Obama and Prime Minister Abe should deliver at the memorial?
A: The symbolism of them being there should take care of the past, and both of their messages will be for the future.
President Obama has always emphasized the pivot or the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, and that commitment to the Asia-Pacific is what I think both President Obama and Prime Minister Abe, plus all our allies in the area, want to see reaffirmed. Their message should definitely be a commitment to working together for the future.
Q: President Obama did not apologize for the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima, and Prime Minister Abe is not expected to apologize for the Pearl Harbor attack. Do you think Americans will be fine with just the prime minister paying tribute to the victims and vowing that we must never repeat the horrors of war?
A: The question that people must ask is, “Is it necessary to have the apology, or is the symbolism of the fact that they’re doing it short of saying ‘we’re sorry’ sufficient? Because then you get into the details that will lead to discussion and debate.
At this point in time, we are all concerned about the stability of the region. You also have to consider the fact that when we talk about security, it consists of more than what people were looking at in World War II.
So I think that they both don’t need to say it in words. I think their actions will speak to that, and I’m hoping that people will find it very true that the actions are more important than the actual words.
Q: Many people see Prime Minster Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor as intended to reciprocate President Obama’s visit. But the White House said that they don’t see the two visits as being linked, although I suspect that there is some sort of linkage.
A: Yes, and I think it’s linked, but the fact that they don’t want to say it’s linked is fine, because what we need is to see them both together. Whether President Obama went first or Ambassador Roos went first, all of that discussion is something that people, the academics, and the journalists can argue about. But to me and to the people, (it’s more important that) they’re going to see that they’re both there.
Q: Was your family impacted by the war?
A: I’m probably the only member in Congress that had somebody killed in the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. I am “yonsei” (fourth-generation Japanese). My grandfather’s mother was still in Hiroshima. My father, who was “sansei” (third-generation Japanese), was the oldest, so they could not send him, and the next brother went there. He was just out of high school. And then the war broke out, and he did not return. I never met my uncle.
From what I understand, he got drafted into the army, but I don’t think he ever served. Then the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, and he was killed. They said they found his body on the shore.
My uncle below that uncle was military intelligence, MIS, on the American side. Because of his understanding of the Japanese language, he was serving in that capacity. So I have the classic two brothers.
Three of my grandparents were all born on the Waianae Plantation. But my one grandfather, on my Hanabusa side, his parents were there but returned to Japan because they wanted their children to be Japanese citizens. So when his parents brought him back to Hawaii, he was about 14 years old. And he never gave up his Japanese citizenship.
There was a law in the United States, for a short period of time, that if you were married to an alien, you lost your citizenship, even if you were a citizen. So my grandmother, married to my grandfather from Japan, lost her rights to citizenship during that time. After the war, she reapplied and regained her citizenship.
My grandfather (Hanabusa side) refused to give up his Japanese citizenship because one of the unique things that Japan did was take care of him after he lost a son in the atomic bombing. So he was always very appreciative of that. Every year, he would take his daughter, my aunt, and other people, and he would go back to Japan. So Hiroshima has a very personal impact for me.
Q: After the Pearl Harbor attack, many Japanese-Americans suffered from being interned in camps, including one of your grandfathers.
A: Both. My grandfather was sent to the internment camp in Hulu-uli-uli, and my other grandfather (Hanabusa side) was sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico, because he was the plantation fisherman. The Americans were very concerned about Japanese who had access to boats.
Hawaii was different from the mainland. On the mainland, whole families were taken. In Hawaii, they were given the option of leaving the family behind.
My father was older, so he was able to support the family. He worked for a company that actually created the natural gases for the military in Hawaii, so he would always get an exemption.
My other grandfather, who was in Hulu-uli-uli in Hawaii, was the carpenter of the plantation. My grandmother did all the military laundry. She had five daughters, and they all chipped in and did military laundry.
My great grandparents, who were from Japan, were never taken away. So my grandmother had to support both the children plus her in-laws, but they were given the option, and they chose not to go and stayed in the plantation homes.
So it was a very unique situation that Hawaii posed. People who were ministers, Japanese school teachers, language school teachers, “issei” first generation were the ones who were taken to the mainland.
Q: Have you ever discussed with your parents or grandparents about the Pearl Harbor attack or the Hiroshima bombing?
A: I wasn’t born when the war hit. But my father told me that my grandmother had a very difficult time. In her mind, she lost a son because of the Japanese custom of sending one to Japan to care for her mother-in-law. So that was her issue--that had we kept him back, he wouldn’t have died. But who knows what would have happened.
I don’t think anyone can understand the devastation of the atomic bombing until you go to Hiroshima.
My grandmother, from what I understand, for the whole time refused to go into the memorial and see it. My father and his other brother and sister went, and they said they could only take seeing it once. After that, they never wanted to see the memorial again. I have never been there, but they said when they saw it, they realized what the extent of the devastation was.
They also had a cousin who was in Hiroshima. She had no actual signs of any kind of physical impairment. But when she finally made it to California, she got very ill--and it was from radiation poisoning. She had to have transfusions, but they got to the point where they couldn’t transfuse her anymore, and then she passed away.
So there are different levels of the impact of Hiroshima and the atomic bomb. What I hope is that people will always realize that that is not the answer. All of my grandparents would say, “War is not good. War is not good,” having experienced it on varying levels.
Q: Did your grandfathers witness the Pearl Harbor attack firsthand?
A: I don’t believe they did because they were living in the countryside. I believe planes came over Kaena Point, so one of them said once that he saw the Hinomaru, the red sun design, on the planes and thought, “What is this?”