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Peculiar Odyssey: Newsman Jimmie Omura’s Removal from and Regeneration within Nikkei Society, History, and Memory - Part 5 of 7

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Omura’s retreat eliminated a formidable counterweight to the JACL’s hegemonic hold over Japanese Denver’s public life. The existence of a large, active JACL chapter, along with a favorable press to promote its agenda and social gospel, ensured that the organization would prevail. How the immediate Japanese American past would be configured within (and outside of) Denver’s Nikkei community was also discernible.

The basic lesson for Nikkei to learn from their wartime history, as adumbrated by Yasui, was that, unlike most other Americans, they needed to fulfill obligations like military service before their civil and human rights would be granted to them. This lesson’s subtext was that the JACL’s policy of “constructive cooperation” had been prudent and patriotic, while those who had advocated and/or practiced resistance on constitutional grounds were misguided, mischievous, or treasonable. The real Japanese American heroes had been those valiant Nisei who had answered their military duty call so that they could “go for broke” for America.

The Pacific Citizen disseminated this same JACL-shaped historical narrative throughout Japanese America. One of its two principal interpretive voices was Denver-based columnist Bill Hosokawa, with the other being its editor, Larry Tajiri, who moved to Denver after the PC’s transfer in 1952 from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles.

The PC was the unofficial voice of early postwar Japanese America. Because Mike Masaoka was a veritable one-man gang lobbying Congress for the JACL-crafted program covering Japanese American rights and benefits, he amplified the PC’s version of Japanese American history within a strategic national center. During wartime Masaoka had strongly supported Nisei military service, viewing it as the best way of “proving” their loyalty. The all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s first volunteer, Masaoka had served as a public relations officer and, in that capacity, was a very effective pitchman for the JACL rendition of Japanese American history.

For over three decades following his Rocky Shimpo resignation, Jimmie Omura disappeared from Japanese American society and was erased from Japanese American history. He remained a Denver resident, but lived apart from the Nikkei community. In 1951 Omura got remarried, to another Nisei woman, and together they raised two boys. Omura operated a successful landscaping business until illness in the late 1970s forced him into retirement.

The JACL played a key role in expunging Jimmie Omura’s name and memory from Japanese American history and consciousness. While he prospered in landscaping, the JACL thrived as an organization. Its expanding membership encompassed the Nisei elite, and outside of Japanese America it was viewed as that community’s representative. This situation crystallized as early as 1948, as can be seen through one of Togo Tanaka’s Colorado Times columns reprinted in the Pacific Citizen on September 25 that year.

Although Tanaka began his column pointing out how Japanese Americans had been transformed from a despised into an accepted, even respected American minority group, his primary motivation for writing it was to rejoice over the reversed estates of JACLers and anti-JACL resisters since camp days. Then “pressure boys” within such morally defiled places had intimidated and seduced the Nikkei majority into believing that JACL leaders were informers who had sold out their ethnic community for self-advancement and needed to be punished with beatings and banishment. Having accomplished this objective, resistance “messiahs” were themselves removed from the camps as “troublemakers.” Still, as with Harry Yoshio Ueno, whose arrest had sparked the Manzanar Riot and driven Tanaka and his JACL cohorts out of the Manzanar camp, each of the other charismatic resistance leaders had been transformed into “a martyr to his glowing cause.”

However, explained Tanaka, posterity would vindicate neither Ueno nor his counterparts. Just three years after the war it was apparent that these individuals had not “contributed anything more than zero to securing the present position of Japanese Americans in U.S. life.”

Having punctured the historical pretensions of camp resisters, Tanaka turned his pen to obliterating them, via Ueno, from the collective memory of Japanese and mainstream America: “This ex-fruit-stand clerk has disappeared into the obscurity and oblivion from which he reared his sallow head, and no one seems to care very much if at all. Thus, the story endeth.”

Although Yasui and Tanaka were not literally conspiring to oust resisters from the Japanese American World War II story and to refigure the JACL’s role in it, they worked in tandem toward those ends. While Tanaka was exorcising those who had resisted the U.S. government-WRA-JACL alliance’s dismantling of the Nikkei community’s traditional cultural arrangements, Yasui was extirpating those who had resisted that same alliance’s compromising of Nisei citizenship rights.\

Neither Yasui nor Tanaka presumed to write books about Japanese American history and its defining World War II experience. However, another prominent JACL leader, Bill Hosokawa, did tackle this task, authoring or coauthoring four interrelated publications: Nisei (1969),1\ East to America (1980),2 JACL in Quest of Justice (1982),3 and They Call Me Moses Masaoka (1987).4

Setting aside these books’ overall quality, what is instructive here is Hosokawa’s erasure of resisters from the Japanese American wartime story. Nowhere appears the name of James Omura. This could hardly have been simply an oversight. Both Hosokawa and Omura had been born and raised in the Seattle area, figured significantly in the 1942 Tolan Committee hearings, were associated with Heart Mountain political developments, and resettled in wartime Denver and remained there.

Hosokawa does mention draft resisters in his last three books, but only perfunctorily and as a foil, variously, to discredit the purported revisionism of historians (like Roger Daniels),5 to glorify the compassionate efforts of JACLers (like Minoru Yasui and Joe Grant Masaoka) to “save” them,6 and to highlight their meager number and lack of heroic merit relative to Nisei soldiers.7 As for Harry Ueno and other militant anti-JACL resisters, Hosokawa is also silent, with the single exception of a reference in Nisei to Joe Kurihara, “perhaps the chief agitator in Manzanar.”8

Part 6 >>

Notes:

1. Bill Hosokawa, Nisei: The Quiet Americans (New York: Morrow, 1969).
2. Robert A. Wilson and Bill Hosokawa, East to America: A History of the Japanese in the United States (New York: Morrow, 1980).
3. As cited in fn. 5 above.
4. Mike Masaoka with Bill Hosokawa, They Call Me Moses Masaoka: An American Saga (New York: Morrow, 1987.
5. Hosokawa, East to America, 243-44, and Masaoka with Hosokawa, They Call Me Moses Masaoka, 179.
6. Hosokawa, JACL in Quest of Justice, 273-74.
7. See, especially, Masaoka with Hosokawa, They Call Me Moses Masaoka, 179.
8. Hosokawa, Nisei, 361-62.


* Arthur A. Hansen, “Peculiar Odyssey: Newsman Jimmie Omura’s Removal from and Regeneration within Nikkei Society, History, and Memory” in Louis Fiset and Gail Nomura, eds. Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest: Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians in the Twentieth Century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005, pp. 278-307.

@ 2005 by the University of Washington Press

jacl James Omura journalism newspapers pacific citizen World War II