A common accusation hurled at libertarians is that they do not champion or, indeed, care about the rights and status of minorities. A common misconception is that the Left has historically been the defender of the oppressed. Those who wish a more accurate view should heed the tale of the Masuda family.
On May 26, 2002, the Orange County Register (California) carried an article entitled “True Embodiment of Memorial Day.” It read, in part, “The story of the Masuda family in many ways is a portrait of America: Immigrant family struggles, sets roots, faces intolerance, defends freedom, and eventually wins justice.”
The story of Kazuo and Mary Masuda is both a cautionary and inspiring tale. The brother and sister were Nisei and, as second-generation Japanese-Americans, they were targeted by their own government for brutal oppression during World War II; their story cautions us against judging people on the basis of ancestry or skin color, especially during times of crisis when emotions substitute for reason.
Their story also inspires us through the bravery and dignity displayed by Kazuo and Mary. Equally inspiring are the rare persons who spoke up in their behalf, not years afterward when the political “error” had become clear, but while the injustices were actually occurring. One of the loudest and most persistent among those rare voices was R.C. Hoiles, the founder of the Freedom newspaper chain and an avid libertarian.
The tale begins abruptly on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On the evening of December 7, Gensuke (George) and Tamae Masuda were at their farmhouse in Talbert, Orange County, when there was a knock on the door. According to a 1940 census, the Japanese-American community at that time comprised 1,855 people, most of whom were engaged in farming. Many were Issei, first-generation Japanese, who had immigrated. Many received knocks on their doors that night.
Without explanation, sheriff’s deputies took Gensuke and loaded him onto a bus with other Issei. Ten days later — without trial, legal representation, or right of appeal — Gensuke was accused of “subversive activity” and incarcerated in a stockade at Ft. Missoula, Montana. The authorities refused to state specific reasons for the accusation, but there was a general fear that a Japanese invasion of the West Coast was imminent and would be assisted by resident citizens of Japanese descent, such as Gensuke.
The news of his father’s imprisonment incensed Kazuo, who had not been present at the farmhouse with other family members. On October 17, he and his brother Takashi had boarded a train to report for military duty at their respective basic-training camps. He launched a campaign within the military that led to his father’s release.
On February 19, 1942, Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the War Department authority at its sole discretion to exclude any persons from prescribed areas, including much of the West Coast. The order was the basis of a relocation campaign and mass detention aimed at both Issei and Nisei.
The Masuda family joined more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans who involuntarily left their homes and businesses to be interned behind barbed wire by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in 10 primitive “relocation” centers in Colorado, California, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, Idaho, and Arizona. The vast majority of the internees were American citizens; their detention lasted three years, from 1942 to 1945.
During the upheaval, what did the major newspapers say? Next to none of them spoke out against the massive violation of civil liberties, especially none on the West Coast, where it was occurring. A March 6, 1942, editorial in the San Francisco News was typical in arguing that
Japanese leaders in California who are counseling their people, both aliens and native-born, to cooperate with the Army in carrying out the evacuation plans are, in effect, offering the best possible way for all Japanese to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States.
Even before Executive Order 9066 was signed, however, round-ups began.
R.C. Hoiles’s campaigns
On February 2, the first raid on Japanese occurred in the Los Angeles harbor area whereby about 500 alien Japanese fishermen were “evacuated” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
R.C. Hoiles spoke out. On February 5, two weeks before the internment order was announced, the Register stated in what was a moderate tone compared to later pronouncements,
The recommendation of the grand jury to have all alien enemies removed from Orange County calls for a difficult undertaking. Every bit of wealth that these workers are prevented from creating, which we so badly need during the war, will have to be created by the labor of some other worker…. Of course, there is no such thing as absolute security. We must run some risks in every move. Risks are life itself. It would seem that we should not become too skeptical of the loyalty of those people who were born in a foreign country and have lived in the country as good citizens for many years. It is very hard to believe that they are dangerous.
As the internments became law, Hoiles and editor Pete Cooey became more aggressive in their defense of Japanese-Americans, with the Register often reprinting anti-internment articles from other papers. In the October 14 Register, Hoiles called the evacuations unconstitutional:
Few, if any, people ever believed that the evacuation of the Japanese was constitutional. It was a result of emotion and fright rather than being in harmony with the Constitution and the inherent rights that belong to all citizens…. We must realize, as Harry Emerson Fosdick so wisely said, “Liberty is always dangerous, but it is the safest thing we have.”
He argued that “we [America] should make every effort possible to correct the error as rapidly as possible” because “convicting people of disloyalty to our country without having specific evidence against them is too foreign to our way of life and too close akin to the kind of government we are fighting.”
We cannot help but believe that we would shorten the war and lose fewer lives and less property if we would rescind the order and let the Japanese return and go to work, until such time as we have reason to suspect any individuals of being guilty of being disloyal to America.
The same issue of the Register reprinted a rare article supporting the Japanese-Americans that had been written by Clarence Hall for The Christian Advocate.Entitled “The Japanese Evacuation in Retrospect,” the article stated,
The fact that the evacuation was accomplished efficiently and humanely on the part of the U.S. Army, with the almost unanimous cooperation of the people involved … has not quieted the rising feeling among many thoughtful Americans that grave injustices — political, racial, and economic — have been committed against these people.
Meanwhile, Kazuo had joined the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which consisted of Japanese-Americans. He was killed in action on August 27, 1944, at the age of 25. He had already received the European Theater Ribbon with a battle star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the American Defense Ribbon, and the Good Conduct Medal; he would later be awarded a Purple Heart.
In early May 1945, the Germans surrendered unconditionally; the Japanese followed suit about three months later in the wake of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Issei and Nisei return.
The 1942 article by Clarence Hall in the Register had asked, “What is to become of these people [Japanese-American internees] after the war?”
Also in early May, Mary Masuda was granted permission to travel to Talbert in order to prepare the way for her family’s return to the farm. Like many other Japanese-Americans, she was not welcomed back by all. One reason was economic. The Gazette Telegraph, a member of the Freedom newspaper chain, later reported that the evacuation had cost Japanese-Americans “a $40 million property loss, according to Federal Reserve Bank figures, in addition to temporarily smashing the development of a minority ethnic group.” Much of that $40 million was usurped by people who simply took over abandoned businesses, goods, houses, and property.
That is what happened to Mary. Without paying rent or receiving authorization, people had farmed the Masudas’ land and lived in their home. A group of men visited her on the first night, threatening violence if she did not leave. When she reported the incident to the police, she was told that nothing could be done about it.
Several days later, the police changed their minds, owing largely to public pressure. Hoiles had spearheaded that pressure by featuring a photo of Mary on the front page of the Register. He published lengthy commentaries by her, as well as columns defending the returnees and their property rights.
On June 6, in a letter to the editor, Mary expressed her gratitude to Hoiles. “This letter should have been written long ago and I hope you will forgive me for my negligence,” she wrote.
The fine publicity of my incident, along with the large picture of … myself appearing in the front page of your newspaper was indeed a great honor and I am deeply grateful to you…. It is truly gratifying to know that an influential concern as your newspaper is standing by the minority group, for the democratic principles so that our gallant men who are giving their supreme sacrifices are not dying in vain…. I sincerely hope it will not be too long before I shall have the pleasure of thanking … you in person.
Only then, after the fever of war had cooled, did other media cover the Masuda story. On December 8, Joseph W. Stilwell, a four-star general, visited the Masuda farm to present Mary with Kazuo’s Purple Heart. Present at the ceremony were four newsreel companies, two broadcasting networks, and dozens of reporters and photographers.
In November 2005, a member of the Masuda family thanked R.C. Hoiles on behalf of Japanese-Americans, stating, “We are very grateful for what he did.”
What Hoiles did was to speak out against an injustice at the point when it had overwhelming public support. After the war, it became popular and politic to defend the Nisei. But Hoiles spoke out when it counted most — while the injustice was occurring. He did not act in self-promotion; he spoke out of simple decency.
More than 20 years after the war had ended, the Gazette Telegraph reported on January 23, 1966,
R.C. Hoiles … has been honored for his defense of the rights of Japanese Americans. Hoiles … was given an award for distinguished service at a dinner meeting of the Japanese American Citizens League in Santa Ana. Approximately 340 Orange County JACL members attended…. It was stressed at the JACL meeting that Hoiles, in taking a strong editorial stand, “was the only one with the courage of his convictions.”… Dignitaries at the honor meeting included Toshiro Shimanouchi, consul general of Japan.
To this day, Japanese-Americans leave flowers on R.C. Hoiles’s grave.
This article originally appeared in the November 2011 edition of Freedom Daily. Subscribe to the print or email version of Freedom Daily.