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They Call Me Moses Masaoka: An American Saga (book)

Creators: Mike Masaoka

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Book cover. Courtesy of William Murrow and Company, Inc
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Nisei known primarily for his role as executive secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) during World War II reflects on his life experiences, and declares with confidence that he would make the same choices if he could do it over again.

Synopsis

Masaoka begins his memoir by recounting his childhood in Utah, including the untimely death of his father and how his mother kept their family together despite considerable economic hardship. He then explains how he was introduced to the organization with which he is most associated, the JACL, in the 1930s.

Masaoka's role with the JACL during World War II is controversial, and as such, he dedicates much of his memoir to explaining his reasoning and justifying his decisions when he and other JACL leaders chose to, as he puts it, support government policy instead of opposing the evacuation orders. He describes his role in the decision to create an all-Nisei army battalion, and recounts his own experiences in Europe where he served as a press officer whose responsibility included publicizing the exploits of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team .

His chapters on his career following World War II focus on his work as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. who specialized in promoting Japanese business interests in the U.S., as well as pressuring lawmakers to vote to change discriminatory legislation that had hampered Japanese American success in the U.S.

Author Background

Mike Masaoka was an important leader of the Japanese American Citizens League and a Washington lobbyist whose legacy in Japanese American history is both substantial and controversial. He is best known for strongly advocating for complete cooperation with the government's orders to Japanese Americans to leave their communities, as well as his endorsement of Nisei serving in the U.S. military in order to prove Japanese American loyalty to their nation.

Response

Mike Masaoka was a galvanizing figure in the Japanese American community, and reactions to his memoir mirrored prevailing opinions about him. This is probably best exemplified in the lengthy exchange of opinions in the pages of the JACL's official organ, the Pacific Citizen , as well as letters submitted to the editor, in the months following the memoir's publication. On one side, reviews such as those by then-Japan Society president David MacEachron (reprinted from the New York Times ), Peter Horinaka (reprinted from the Dayton Daily News ), Harry Honda , and Bill Hosokawa (co-author of the book) praised Masaoka for his significant contributions to the community and American history, as well as characterizing the memoir as a valuable account of the behind-the-scenes negotiations of the most trying times for the Japanese American community. On the other side, Frank Chin (reprinted from the San Jose Mercury News ), William Hohri , and Lane Hirabayashi denounced Masaoka and the JACL for heavy-handed tactics during World War II and a concerted effort to dismiss and subvert efforts to give those who did reject cooperation with the government—the plaintiffs in the coram nobis cases as well as the draft resisters —equal consideration in the conventional narrative of Japanese American history during World War II. The division of opinion over Masaoka's legacy extended to letters to the editor; some, including Bill Hosokawa, strongly objected to the Pacific Citizen' s decision to reprint Frank Chin's highly critical assessment of Masaoka. Others, including Aiko and Jack Herzig and Frank Emi , praised the Pacific Citizen for presenting diverse viewpoints and publishing a reassessment of one of the institution's best-known leaders as well as the organization itself.

Authored by Emily Anderson

Might also like Out of the Frying Pan: Reflections of a Japanese American by Bill Hosokawa; Manzanar and Beyond: Memoirs of Frank F. Chuman by Frank F. Chuman; We the People: A Story of Internment in America by Mary Tsukamoto

Media Details
Author Mike Masaoka
Publication Date 1987
Reviews

Reviews

Chin, Frank. "Debunking the Fairy-Tale of WW2 Internment." Pacific Citizen , Dec. 4–11, 1987, 4. [Reprinted from San Jose Mercury News .]

Daniels, Roger. Reviews in American History 17.1 (March 1989): 131-39.

Honda, Harry. "A Story That Many Anticipate." Pacific Citizen , Jan 1–8, 1988, 7.

Hirabayashi, Lane. "He Always Worked Within the System." Pacific Citizen , Feb. 12, 1988, 5, 7.

Hironaka, Pete. "Man Who Made a Difference." Pacific Citizen , Feb. 19, 1988, 5.

Hohri, William. "Masaoka Book Offers a Selective History." Pacific Citizen March 4, 1988, 5-6.

Hosokawa, Bill. "From the Frying Pan." Pacific Citizen , Nov. 13, 1987, 4.

MacEachron, David. "In the End, a Hero." Pacific Citizen , Jan. 1-8, 1988, 7. [Reprinted from New York Times , Nov 29, 1987.]

Niiya, Brian. "They Call Me Moses Masaoka." Tozai Times , May 1988, 6-7.