Nichijo: The Testimony of John
Fates on the Wind
I should begin to talk about Iva Toguri here, though I wouldn't meet her for another two years. The childhood experiences and aspirations of two young Americans from California could hardly have been less similar. Eventually we would be thrown together and placed in the surreal limelight of a wartime propaganda machine, but about this time, we were crossing the ocean in opposite directions.
Born July 4, 1916, Iva was a Los Angeles girl whose Japanese ancestry was only a footnote to her upbringing. Her parents had emigrated from Yamanshi prefecture in Japan early in the 1900's and were determined to raise their children to be Americans. They pointedly avoided the narrow outlook of Japanese community and business associations. They characteristically chose to live in Caucasian neighborhoods, attended Christian church and Sunday school and celebrated Easter, the Fourth of July and Christmas in the traditional American ways. They had no aspiration to send their children to study in Japan, as was the custom for successful Japanese immigrant families, and from the time the children were of school age; English was the dominant language in their home.
Iva grew up a typical American girl; educated in the public schools, participated in the Girl Scouts, was active in high school athletics, took piano lessons. She had a crush on Jimmy Stewart. She had no interest in Japan, Japanese language, culture or customs; no concept of Japanese history, geography or religion; and no taste for Japanese food.
She majored in Zoology at UCLA and when she graduated in 1940, she continued in a graduate program she had hoped would lead to a medical career.
It was a family matter that took Iva to Japan. Iva's mother's only living sister had diabetes and high blood pressure and lay gravely ill in Japan. The family wished to send their love and most likely their last respects. Iva's mother was also very weak and bedridden from the same congenital ailments. Her father and brother were busy with the family retail business, and so it fell to Iva the responsibility of representing her family by her dying aunt's bedside.
It was the late spring of 1941, and hurried arrangements were made for the trip. Iva's passport was applied for and passage booked aboard the Arabia Maru, Los Angeles to Tokyo, departing July 5, as early as she could arrange.
The Toguri family had taken little interest in politics and world affairs and had no inkling of the increasingly hostile relations between Japan and the U.S. As the date of her departure drew near, there was a delay in the issuing of her passport but she was told she could obtain it from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo after she arrived. It seemed like a small matter at the time. A bureaucratic matter, "OK. I'll just pick it up over there".
* * * * *
As Iva waited for her ship to sail for Japan, I was reluctantly returning to California, my monastic studies cut short by the impending crisis. The passengers aboard the Ruth Alexander from Yokohama to Seattle in May 1941 were mainly refugees of one sort or another. Like me, some were Americans who had been living in Japan pressured to leave by the U.S. Embassy. There were a number of German Jews having fled their country to escape persecution there. Japan had made an unfortunate and opportunistic alliance with the Axis powers and those fleeing the European regimes we forced to move on from their temporary refuge. There was a family of Russians who had been living in Manchuria until the Japanese Imperial Army had thrown that area into turmoil through their invasion. The father had been a choirmaster at one of the large churches during the Czarist regime and they had fled Russia at the time of the Communist takeover and had settled in Manchuria. The son, Donat Ivanosky, had been born in Manchuria and spoke English as well as Russian and Chinese. He was going to the United States under the patronage of the Countess Tolstoi, who had been living in New York for years. We were an exotic mix, being swept about by historic currents.
The ship had taken a Northern route in order to call at Vancouver before it reached Seattle. It was an extremely rough crossing, so much so that through the night, people were running fore and aft below decks with flashlights to see if the steel plates of the hull were still holding together. The ship would roll and shudder, the stern of the ship would come out of the water and the propellers spun faster in the air. Then, all this steel tonnage smacked down again and the torque of the spinning screws digging into the water would shake the whole vessel from end to end. It was a terrifying crossing.
Finally we docked at Vancouver, British Columbia, and representatives of the U.S. State Department came aboard to question a number of people. One of the names on the list, wouldn't you know, was John Provoo. I was interviewed at length about where I had been and what I had been doing and they were particularly interested in what I thought about the likelihood of war in the Pacific. I gave them my candid opinion.
It seemed obvious, very obvious, I said, that war was imminent. Japan was an armed camp. The military was in control of foreign policy, and their ambitions are being thwarted by American sanctions. The children were being drilled in the art of bayoneting on their playgrounds with wooden weapons and straw enemies. The people are being told that the Americans are responsible for the hunger and shortages wracking the country. Every family had members in the military. Japan had made an alliance with the Axis Powers and the average Japanese citizen believed that war was inevitable. I repeated this story whenever asked by any member of the American government, but it always seemed to fall on deaf ears. Perhaps they knew but weren't letting on. It was strange, the Embassy in Tokyo knew war was coming, but different agencies of the government did not. The American public was more focused on our rising involvement in Europe, all the while a military build-up swirled all around the west coast ports and shipbuilding facilities of the San Francisco Bay. Of course there would be war with Japan.
In a short while, the ship sailed for Seattle. Sweet Antoinette met me there. Our friendship had become romance. I remember we attended a performance of the opera Madame Butterfly in Seattle before returning to San Francisco.
San Francisco had changed markedly in the eighteen months that I been in Japan. The anti-oriental hostility roiled closer to the surface. The people were arousing themselves to a passion for war. Most openly favored joining the war against Nazi Germany, and undoubtedly the war would include its Japanese ally as well.
I was being tossed about these currents as was most of my generation, though not in the unreasonable hatreds of Japanese and German individuals or even their countries, but swept up in the tide of patriotism and the call to duty. It was inescapable.
When I returned home, there was a draft notice waiting for me. My mother said that it had arrived a few days earlier. I took the advice to enlist rather than be drafted. Later that week I went to the Naval Intelligence Office in San Francisco and reported the fact that I had just been to the Far East and that I spoke fluent Japanese and offered my enlistment. I never received a response to this offer and as the date of my induction neared, I opted to enlist in the Army. Now, I had the naive idea that I might be able to choose the theater of service and my assignment. I chose the quartermaster corps, which I thought consisted of issuing cases of beans and blankets and clerical duties. At any rate, I assumed it would be far from the front lines. Oh, brother.
I was sent immediately to Fort McDowell at Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. It was a staging area for shipment of troops overseas. I wasn't given one day's basic training, use of firearms, none of that. Instead, I was given a lot of KP. Due to the number of troops passing through Angel Island, there was a huge consolidated mess, where meals were served almost continuously except for very late at night.
Within the military's realm, the heat of war fever was more intense than with the public at large. Thousands of recruits swarmed through such facilities as Angel Island from all parts of the country; new haircuts, fresh uniforms, brave boasts and vitriolic denunciations of their probable enemies, the Germans, Italians and Japanese. In San Francisco, soldiers and sailors enjoyed their few last tastes of American entertainment; everywhere the sidewalks and bars were cluttered with young men in uniform. Young girls blushed with admiration, old men offered backslapping encouragement and nightclub emcees proposed toasts to the soon-to-be "fighting men".
In June, on a short leave, I eloped with Antoinette to Reno, Nevada and we were married before a retired Justice. We spent a few days informing friends and parents, spent a night in the Ben Franklin Hotel in San Mateo. In the morning, we raced to San Francisco to catch my boat back to Angel Island. I arrived at the dock after the boat was untied and pulling away. I had to jump and catch the rail and was pulled aboard by other GI's. This was the full extent of my marriage until 1946.
It was only a few days later that my own contingent of troops was to sail for the Philippines, and I next saw her standing on the dock and me at the rail of my ship. Since most of the troops aboard ship were from the deep South, and had no one seeing them off, an officer, the chaplain, who had became aware that my family was there at dockside, allowed me to run down the gangplank and say farewell and exchange parting embraces and run back up, and the ship cast off. A little more than five weeks before, I had been a Buddhist priest in Japan and now I was aboard ship, a married man, a U.S. Army private, embarking from San Francisco to the South Pacific.
We sailed aboard the luxury liner, the SS President Cleveland, which had been pressed into service as a troop transport. In the hurried preparations to add manpower to the American military presence in the Philippines, there was no time to spend refitting the ship, so I sailed off to war in a first class cabin with sheets on the bed. With the exception of the food, we were going to enjoy a luxury ocean voyage.
The mood aboard ship was an odd mixture of South Pacific cruise and fatalistic camaraderie. Many on board were in a similar position as myself, with little or no basic training or knowledge of military procedures. We felt that we were going to war and that we would most certainly be killed in the jungle and there was nothing to be done about it, so we might as well enjoy the boat ride.
There was almost a festive air about it. There was a large American flag painted on the side and the ship was floodlit at night during our crossing. I joined a few others in putting out a mimeographed ship's paper for the troops. We would get news from the ship's radio operator, draw up a cover with a hula girl on it, and print it up. The officer who was directing the effort gave the staff such glowing letters of commendation that it seemed we deserved instant promotion.
The ship stopped a few days in Honolulu and we were able to get off and stretch our legs for a few hours before continuing on to Manila. After the ship pulled out to sea again, I was called by the commander of troops and informed that he had received orders concerning me by radio from Washington, D.C. I was to be transferred from Quartermaster Corps to the Intelligence Department of the G-2 office at Fort Santiago, the headquarters of the Philippine Department. I, like the others, had abandoned myself to a cipher's death on some distant battlefield: a bullet flying through the air, then, lights out, game over. For some, it would be that simple. For me, it was complicated from the very beginning.
2015 John Oliver