The Path of a Japanese American Soldier
History is a mystery. It is not simply difficult for understanding, but it is a mystery because with each generation its perception changes. From one point, each generation has its own way of looking on life. From another point of view, the more time passes by, the more new information and historical documents become available and people can eventually find out the truth about their grandparents and their roles in history. The case of wars is even more difficult for understanding, because there opposite sides, and you have soldiers and their relatives, who believe in their state's policy and reasons to die. Than what would be the place of descendant of two countries, which are at war with each other? How this man would be treated in the country he considers his home, while he looks like what it is considered to be an enemy? How a soldier should act while his own country does not trust him? These are very few of those questions Graham Salisbury covers in his historical fiction "Eyes of the Emperor". The aim of this paper is to show how Japanese American soldiers were discriminated during the WWII, shown in the book.
The main character and the narrator of the story is Eddy Okubu is a Japanese American living in Hawaii. Before the war started, he had been already more interested in his American roots rather than Japanese. He rejected his father's advice to visit Japan and understand "the spirit of Satsuma"- the loyalty of Japanese warriors to their Emperor; they were "grateful to die for him" (Salisbury, p. 4). Eddy loved his country so much that he joined the army against his father's will and had to lie about his age. He was only 16 at that time. It all would have been fine, if Japan did not attack Pearl Harbour, and instantly everyone who had the Asian narrow eyes were viewed as enemies. They were not only treated with suspicion, but were actually discriminated. This discrimination was based on fear (Blasingame, p. 350). It did not matter for American soldiers and civilians that those Japanese American soldiers also had American blood in them and that they were actually American citizens. Based on fear of everything alien and different, everything related to pain of Pearl Harbour, was treated as adversary first, and maybe attempted to look into details afterwards (Gill, p. 59). Eddy describes it as a mass paranoia:
"To them we all look like Hiroshito. They see us, they see the guys in those planes
dropping bombs on them. We got the eyes of the Emperor. They scared of us. Scared"
(Salisbury, p. 65)
It was not simply a suspicion, Eddy and his friends had to fight. They had to handle poor discrimination based on belonging to a mixed race. The main signs of such discrimination were not only in the general name they were called, meaning "Japs", but also in their roles in the army and missions they were given. They were not even considered being real soldiers: "I glared at Sweet, getting angrier and angrier about how the army was treating us, like we could not be trusted. Just Japs" (Salisbury, p. 61). They were so mistrusted and misunderstood that they could not be allowed to go to the battlefield and given proper weapon. So they had to be separated and actually guarded by proper soldiers: "Separate them from the real soldiers, the royal ones" (Salisbury, p. 61). Although they were not treated entirely like prisoners of war or hostages, they were guarded and not allowed to go anywhere alone. The only purpose they were considered to serve was as tools of understanding the enemy. In case of the book, they were useful for dog training or dog meat (Blasingame, p.351). But the most humiliating was not actually being bitten by a dog, rather enraging them hitting them with sacks and sticks, and then run in order for them to learn to chase you. Hurting animal and act as an enemy in order to serve your country, which despises you for your roots - "scenes made doubly horrifying by an author's note that reveals the story is based on actual events" (Sieruta, p.480)
Reading the book and American treatment of our own soldiers begins to remind of Stalin Russia and Hitler's Germany, with their discriminative policy towards Jews and Georgian population (Gill, p. 58). It was not simply striking that soldiers were dog baits in order to serve their country while people were needed in the actual battlefield. Even more surprising and humiliating was the rational of presumably intelligent people of that time - doctors and militaries, who believed that dogs should be trained on Japanese descendants because their scent was considered to be different from American people (Winslow, p. 44). It is particularly outrageous because those Japanese American soldiers had given up some of their families, cultural heritage and probably later on their lives in order to serve the country they loved and considered themselves to belong to, and all they received as gratitude was humiliation and a necessity to prove that they were Americans, irrespective of their eyes (Blasingame, p. 350).
Although some of American soldiers who met these guys were eventually convinced that they were patriots of their country and shared the same American values, the government made everything keep them separated from the very beginning, like a disease (Winslow, p. 44). They were not allowed to mix with other units, which again had simply increased discrimination and suspicion. Although they were treated pretty badly, Japanese Americans showed stubbornness characteristic for both nations - they did not give up, but endured all challenges and proved to their government and senior officers that they were worth of their citizenship and their land (Gill, p. 59). So, eventually, they proved they could be trusted and were sent like all other soldier to the battlefield to protect their country from tyranny.
One of the most crucial themes of the whole story of this discrimination is actually the theme of belonging and being worth of what fighting for what is right, and to remain true self - a warrior of honour (Blasingame, p. 350). In this case, the relationship between different soldiers was the most illustrative. There were those soldiers who proved to be complete racists and even sadists until a certain extent, and there were those who tried to understand Hawaii group. In this context, those racist sergeants were nothing better than Japanese and German soldiers destroying everything on their way, mainly because they thought that the enemy can be identified by the colour of skin or shape of a head or eyes. In other words, Salisbury argues that discrimination and ignorance were the main enemies at any war, irrespective of on which side you were (Winslow, p. 44).
This also meant that without fighting for the right cause and knowing exactly who you are, one could go the path of the soldier and get the courage to trust diversity especially in times of war. Japanese Americans did not only proved that they were true fighters; they also proved that they were true Americans, just as those many Natives Americans who remain unknown, they fought not for their fame or career, they fought for their country and the very essence of American values - democracy and freedom, for the right to say "And my homeland, the U.S.A., was getting angry" (Salisbury, p.2). The soldier needs to correspond to its country, and Japanese Americans knew that. That corresponding is not in having the same colour of skin or belong to the same ethnic group or culture. That corresponding is in spirit, and that spirit is to fight till the end and bring victory home, irrespective of anything (Winslow, p. 44).
Overall, from all mentioned above it can be concluded that, in times of war, it is easy to discriminate someone on the basis of their ethnical roots, but true soldiers and patriots of their country are capable of withstanding any humiliation in order to protect what they believe in - independence of their country. Peter Sieruta writes:
"Eddy's lean, first-person narrative heartbreakingly captures his pride, stoicism, and
continued loyalty to a country that treats him with abject prejudice" (p. 480).
Blasingame, James. "Rev. of the book "Eyes of the Emperor", by Graham Salisbury", Journal
of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49.4 (2005/2006): pp. 350-351. Print.
Gill, David. "A Focused observer: an interview with Graham Salisbury", Teacher Librarian,
34.3 (2007): pp. 58-59. Print.
Salisbury, Graham. Eyes of the Emperor. New York: Wendy Lamb Books. 2005. Print.
Sieruta P.D. "Rev. of the book "Eyes of the Emperor", by Graham Salisbury", Horn Book
Magazine, 81.4 (2005): p. 840. Print.
Winslow, Betty. "Historical Fiction", Teacher Librarian, 33.4 (2006): p. 44. Print.