Thursday, October 28, 1999

Memorial to fix
movie that wrongs
Japanese Americans

An isle couple protested doubt
cast on loyalty at the USS Arizona site

By Lori Tighe


Like New Yorkers who never go to the Statue of Liberty, the locally born and raised Tanabes had never been to the USS Arizona Memorial until last year.

What they saw disturbed them.

They said it was a sin of omission. The movie at the memorial shows a Japanese-American man cutting cane before the World War II attack, and then describes the threat of local saboteurs among Hawaii's large Japanese population. But it never mentions the FBI found no evidence of any local Japanese saboteurs before, during or after the war.

"It leaves a doubt in viewers' minds, maybe that's why the Japanese were sent to detention camps," said Yoshie Tanabe, 68. "I felt wronged when I am depicted as a possible saboteur."

The U.S. Park Service recently agreed to take out the scene of the man in the cane fields. It also will introduce the movie to the millions who see it yearly with the disclaimer that no proven sabotage by local Japanese Americans ever occurred.

Courtesy Hiroko Ishiguro
Yoshie and James Tanabe's efforts helped win
a commitment to change the movie being shown
to visitors at the USS Arizona Memorial.

"I see it as a victory, but not 'we won and they lost,' " said Clayton Ikei, president of the Honolulu chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. "It was important that the Pearl Harbor Survivors backed us. They saw our concern."

When the Survivors realized the Japanese-American groups didn't want to change history but rather to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," as Yoshie Tanabe said, they agreed.

"I've looked at that film for 15 years and I never once was bothered by it," said Robert Kinzler, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors. "But if it bothers them that much, I'm not upset by it (removing the scene). It's not racist, it just stated the facts at that time."

The Tanabes saw the film about seven more times just to make sure they weren't being too picky or thin-skinned, James Tanabe said.

"We realized it was an omission. We never did believe it was done maliciously. The sabotage was never found, that was the key thing," he said. "But the movie left you in doubt."

Yoshie Tanabe vividly recalls the real thing. She was 10 when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

"I remember being called Jap. I felt what it's like to be black and called nigger. It makes you feel 'Why did my parents ever give birth to me? Why wasn't I born with blue eyes and blond hair?' "

She had two brothers who fought with the U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy and France. One went on to serve in Vietnam. "Look at how loyal the local Japanese were. We had to prove our loyalty," she said.

The Tanabes asked the National Park Service for a private viewing of the movie with the Japanese American Citizens League and the Americans of Japanese Ancestry Veterans Council. They supported the effort. U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink also asked the National Park Service to rectify the film.

"The movie sent the message the internment camp was justified. It undercut a lot of the gains Japanese Americans made," said Ikei, who also had never gone to the USS Arizona Memorial.

The Tanabes and the Japanese-American groups hope the USS Arizona museum will expand information on Japanese loyalty in Hawaii and include the bravery of the 442nd.

Gary Barbano, with the federal Department of the Interior, told Yoshie Tanabe, "You did the American thing."

"That's what our country is all about," she said. "You're going to correct it when it's wrong, and support it when it's right."

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin