Paul Kusuda’s column
Patriotism is not just a word
By Paul H. Kusuda
Part 2 of 2
Last month, I explained my concept of patriotism that was brought to the forefront of thinking
after I read Russ Feingold’s book WHILE AMERICA SLEEPS. The brief quotation from Page
84 of his book brought out an unpleasant memory of the occasion when someone alleged
during a church-related breakfast group that I was unpatriotic because I could not support
the presidential decision to make the preemptive strike against Iraq in March 2003.
Patriotism is not just a word; it’s a gut feeling. It should not be taken lightly or without
Racism was not hidden from me; it was not discussed in our family when I was growing up.
Yet I knew it existed. I was American with a Japanese face. My cultural background was
dual, Japanese and American; my citizenship was not. My parents did not accept dual Japanese and American citizenship
for any of their three children. Becoming a Japanese citizen would have been very easy. At age 18, a person born of
Japanese parents merely had to apply for dual citizenship; thus, a person could be citizens of both countries and have all
rights and privileges. Some took advantage because that would ease any future travel to Japan. My father told me that if I
chose, he would help me make application to proper authorities. I chose not to do so, and he accepted that decision without
How early did I encounter racism? When I was younger than five years of age and returning home from attending
kindergarten (my mother enrolled me early and let me walk to and from school, a distance of about a quarter-mile), three
men sitting on a curb across the street from me finished their lunch and were smoking. One of them yelled: “Hey, kid. What’
s a Jap kid doing walking alone?” I paid no attention even though I felt frightened. I told my parents about it; they told me that
would happen again and that I shouldn’t pay any attention to it. They understood racism and demonstrated to me that though
they didn’t accept it, they tolerated it as a matter of life. The Japanese term they used was “Shikata ganai” or “It can’t be
helped.” Also, they taught me another concept: “Gam batte” or “Endure, stay with it.” Both concepts helped getting through
rough spots in life.
In December 1941, the Selective Service classification of all men of Japanese ancestry was changed from 1-A to 4-C, aliens
ineligible to serve in the armed forces. That was a shattering abomination of an inherent civic responsibility. Though not of
voting age, being 19 at the time, I wrote a letter to the President. He had other more important topics to deal with, so I
received no response. In late 1942 or early 1943, the 4-C status was changed back to 1-A because a decision was made to
establish a uni-racial military group comprised of combat-ready Nisei to serve in the European Theater of War.
In early 1942, together with other persons of Japanese ancestry, both aliens and U.S. citizens, our family was forcibly ejected
from Los Angeles. In all, 120,000 were forcibly removed from the western coastal zones of California, Oregon, and
Washington. Our family eventually lived in a hastily-built camp near Death Valley, California, called Manzanar Relocation
Center. After high-school graduation, I was close to graduating from the Los Angeles City College with a two-year degree in
engineering. During all that schooling, I had taken many civics courses and learned about California and U.S. history, both
Constitutions, Declaration of Independence, etc. The Bill of Rights protected all citizens. I knew about how Native Americans
were treated but felt such tragedy-invoking administrative action could not happen in the 20th Century. I was wrong. BUT, I
remained patriotic. I believed then, as I do today, that in the end, what I consider the American Way would prevail.
Like many other Nisei (Japanese Americans), I wanted to demonstrate to all America that we are proud of our U.S.
citizenship; we fully support our country, not the country of our parents’ birth. In 1941, Japan made itself our country’s enemy.
After I had been incarcerated, without due process of law, in the Manzanar Relocation Center a couple of months less than a
year, an army team visited the Center in January 1943 to recruit volunteers to serve as interpreters/interrogators in the Pacific
Theater of War. They were needed when military documents, mail, or diaries were obtained and when Japanese prisoners
of war were taken. My chance to prove loyalty was provided. I signed up, but to my chagrin, I failed the screening test. My
knowledge of Japanese was too poor.
In February 1943, another army team visited the Center to recruit volunteers to serve in the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental
Combat Team. The 100th Battalion from Hawaii, originally an Army Reserve group, was to serve as the initial cadre for the
442nd. (Though continuing to retain its name, on record it was the First Battalion of the 442nd.) On February 18, 1943, I
volunteered despite the fact that I had been forcibly ejected from Los Angeles and knew that all recruits were for front-line
duty only. (Later, I found that of the approximately 10,000 in the Center, probably a couple of thousands might have been
eligible to volunteer. I think the actual number of volunteers turned out to be extremely small, about 30. On hindsight, I can
understand the small number. Morale in the camp was low and hostility high following a camp-wide disturbance that
resulted in residents being shot, wounded, and a couple killed by army men.) My mother was devastated, and for the first
time I saw her cry. Later, she was relieved, and I was disappointed, when I was not accepted for front-line army duty
because my eyesight was so poor.
I was among the early releases from the Center, about one year as compared with some who were there for about three-and-
a half years. I relocated to Chicago using a fully-paid, one-way ticket for a train ride, and a government check for $25.00.
While in Chicago, I was drafted. I thought I’d
finally get to serve in the armed forces. I was
wrong. My eyesight was such that I would not
be able to serve in any capacity. I wanted to
show I could see well enough to be accepted.
When I explained how I tried to beat the
system, I was told that illustrated my being
devious and manipulative and how I
disregarded the role of an army man to be a
protective buddy to fellow soldiers. What a
crock! By 1945, I would not have to be in the
front lines; I could be assigned to serve in
At any rate, I was rejected again because of
eyesight. How did I try to beat the system?
When I was waiting to be called to read the
eye chart, I memorized the top three or four
lines, beginning with the large letter “E.” When
it was my turn to read the chart, I did so with
confidence. The examiner instructed to take a
couple of steps forward and re-read the chart.
I did. He again made the same instruction. I
repeated the letters. Again, I had to step
forward. Then, to my horror and
accompanying embarrassment, I saw that the
first letter was “A,” not “E.” Someone had
turned the eye chart around. I was referred to
a psychiatrist to explain why I tried to fake the
eye test (determined to be 20:800) since most
men wanted to avoid the draft. He accepted
my view of patriotism.
Patriotism, for me, is not just a word. It’s a gut