This week is Yuriko Hohri birthday. She is the unsung worker bee to William Hohri’s NCJAR lawsuit against the U.S.A. to redress the Constitutional wrongs committed against Japanese Americans by the WWII concentration camps
BAD DAY AT BLACK BLOCK
I was surprised to receive an e-mail that criticized the cartoon strip I drew in tribute to William Hohri. He died. He was a great man.
His daring lawsuit against the US Gov’t twisted the conscience of the U.S. Courts up the ladder to the US Supreme Court. Once the highest court in the land heard Hohri’s suit, it would have no choice but to to order redress for the unconstitutional concentration camps that held Japanese Americans during WWII. The JACL had to make sure the suit never reached the ears of Supreme Court.
In 1942 the US government winked and took the word of the Japanese American Citizen’s League (JACL) -Shhh!. The JACL spokesman Mike Masaoka ( a Secret Agent of U.S. Intelligence ) said it was the will of the Japanese themselves to volunteer themselves into camp for their safety from White mobs. The JACL ruled Japanese America during the camp years with secret knowledge of White racism (everyone knew the JACL were dogs inu ,) and the internee (polite for prisoner) fear and delight over the JACL’s gift to the oppressive government– the voluntary delivery of the Nisei to White racist camps. The government wreaked patriotic White racist American vengeance on the Nisei for Pearl Harbor. The Nisei were Americans and hadn’t attacked Pearl Harbor but the JACL Nisei took responsibility for the foreign act as the American way..
My strip was based on a color movie by John Sturges, BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK with a bowtied and bespectacled Nisei William Hohri as black hatted Spencer Tracy, the one armed man that rides a raging diesel past Manzanar, in the American desert.
Tracy lost his arm in the war. Komoko lost his life but won a medal for saving his officer’s life. Tracy is taking Komoko’s medal home to his father in desert whistle stop called Black Rock. The locomotive growls the diesel high rpm heart that turns the watts out of coils that move the wheels of the metal mechanical wonder past Jerome and Rohwer in the Arkansas desert and straight into the desert west.
Heart Mountain, Wyoming, Minidoka, Idaho. Night and day the locomotive pulls the cars rolling and clicking past Amache, Arizona closer and closer to Black Rock.
BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK was about a desert town closed inward, on itself to keep secret Robert Ryan’s patriotic murder of a Japanese pariah and the confiscation of his land. Robert Ryan, slim snaky small-eyed owns most Black Rock and all the people of Black Rock wants the out of town land for himself. There’s water on Komoko’s land. Ryan wants it.
The presence of WWII and Japanese America dominates the atmosphere, the characters, the very dialog of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK without one Japanese American appearing on the screen.
My BAD DAY AT BLACK BLOCK cartoon was all White people played by Japanese American actors from life and history.
This train runs straight past Heart Mountain, Wyoming and all the camps in all the emptiness of the American desert to the all Japanese American signal stop at Black Block on the edge of nowhere. The rage of the locomotive slows to hisses and spits of steam out of hot valves all over the hog. The metal slows to vibrating from the long run it has run, and can’t wait for Spencer Tracy to step off the rolling stock to the ground. William Hohri steps off instead, with Spencer Tracy’s black fedora on his head and Tracy’s one hand of his one arm lost in the war. The one hand holds a suitcase. Both of his feet hit the ground. Everything in moderation, even moderation.
The train rattles metal, wheels into a roll and lifts its shadow off Bill Hohri. The sun sucks the water out of bodies so fast, it hurts. Luckily, Bill Hohri thought to have water on the train.
Bill Hohri has come from WWII to Black Block with a Bronze Star for the soldier who saved his life in his pocket. The sun beats the land and raises wobbly heat mirages.
Black Block presents Bill Hohri with a dusty dirt street, wooden buildings with dried up wooden sidewalks along the sides. There’s the Japanese American Walter Brennan, the toothless telegraph operator, a good man gone bad and Japanese Dean Jagger the town-drunk as Sheriff, the Japanese American bad man who’ll get it right. Hohri is met with snarls and scared looks at the newspaper, at the gas pump wherever he goes looking for the dead soldier’s father and a glass of water. He walks toward the café.
Before he can take the step up to the sidewalk, out of the sun, he’s stopped by the JACL’s Mike Masaoka in the Robert Ryan role of the Fascist Boss of the town who wears a white hat. “I hear you’re looking for a Japanese named Komoko.”
“Yes. Do you know his whereabouts?”
“Komoko is not a name, not even a word in Japanese,” Town Boss, Moses Masaoka says.
“Did ya hear that? Komoko’s not even a word, in Japanese!” a fat and ugly eyebrowed Yellow Ernest Borgnine smiles his gap tooth, and stands behind the boss and bares his hairy navel.
“It’s his name,” Hohri says.
“My boys are official, meaning, ‘paid’, Confidential Informants to the FBI.” Boss Masaoka says. “All of them. You can take the word of anybody in town.”
Hohri attempts to step out of the sun into the shade under the second story gallery. But Japanese Lee Marvin, steps forward, spilling drool from his hanging lower lip. “I also goon for the Boss.”
“ We don’t have to speak Japanese here in Black Block Black Block speaks for all the Japanese. Everything we say has the truth of FBI behind it.”
“And the truth of G-2 Army Intelligence,” Yellow Ernest Borgnine says. “And the Office of Naval Intelligence.”
“That’s a lot of truth,” Moses Masaoka says.
“The County Sheriff vouches for them all by radio,” Japanese Lee Marvin rumbles rocks in his throat. “Direct to FBI headquarters.”
“Oh, by radio!” Hohri marvels. “To Headquarters.” How appropriate! Hohri thinks. The JACL Jr G-Men code named by the FBI T-1 through T-11 still pretends that the resistance to the JACL-backed camps never existed. All memory of the only journalist, Jimmie Omura , the salty soil scientist expert on the U.S. Constitution, Kiyoshi Okamoto and Judo superman Frank Emi is missing from the weekly paper.
“Never heard of’’em.” Moses Masaoka says. “Have either of you?”
Japanese Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin shake their heads, no.
“ There’s no evidence they ever existed,” Boss Masaoka says, “My slate is clean..”
“My plate is clean too, boss,” Japanese Ernest Borgnine says enthusiastically.
“I believe your Boss said ‘slate’ not ‘plate,’ ” Hohri says.
“You see,” Moses Masaoka says. “This is Black Block the 100% American camp run by my JACL boys. If they say slate is the same as plate, it’s the truth. That just the way it is in Black Block.”
“ The most American of All the camps,” Japanese Lee Marvin adds.
Hohri “I came to Black Block to give Mr. Komoko a medal that belong’s to son Pvt frst class Komoko.”
Yellow Earnest Borgnine says, “Why don’t you give it to Pvt Frst Class Komoko?” Japanese Lee Marvin toward Yellow Earnest Borgnine and whispers in his ear.
One armed Hohri continues, “His boy gave his life to save mine. His father lives here in Black Block.”
“The JACL signed up all the boys in town to go fight.”
“Komoko volunteered for the US Army, not the JACL.”
“You saying there’s a difference?” Japanese Ernest Borgnine thrusts his belly forward. Toward Hohri. Masaoka stops him by raising his hand. “U.S. Army not the JACL. Yes, now I remember. I’ve heard that before. There was a young man. I remember now. His father, Komoko was an internee at Black Block. Komoko was a Jap.”
“A Jap? His son volunteered for the Army! I have his son’s medal.”
“Yeah. His being a Jap, surprised me too! But only 100% Americans here. I’m sorry. I put him on the train to Tule Lake in California.”
“And you are?”
“Everybody in Black Block knows all-American, Mike (Call me “Moses”) Masaoka!”
“Why Moses?” Masaoka laughs. Gap toothed Japanese Ernest Borgnine laughs menacingly. Japanese Lee Marvin laughs his voice clattering boulders down his throat..
“Yeah, Boss,’ Japanese Lee Marvin speaks up in a dry gutteral voice. “Why do we call you Moses?” “
“Have you read the Bible, stranger?” Masaoka says to Hohri.
“Look around you.,” Masaoka says. “As Moses led the Jews out of the cities into the desert, for forty years, so has my JACL led all my people out of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle into desert camps!”
“Forty years, Boss?” Yellow Earnest Borgnine asks.
“Healthy desert camps! Desert health camps!”
“For forty years? A generation with no memory or experience of Pharoah. Know only what they have been told.”
“What’s that? You’re talking crazy, boy.” Yellow Lee Marvin says..
“And that makes you Moses?”
“We’re here for our health, right Boss?” Japanese Ernest Borgnine says.
“You’re damned right, it does. The Congressional Record of the United States agrees with me.”
Japanese Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin burst into applause that’s immediately swallowed by the bright dry heat. “Brilliant, Boss!”
“Very eloquent, Boss. Very eloquent.”
Hohri proves Mike M. Masaoka is a paid FBI Confidential Informant, names names and unites the sixty years of a variety of Japanese American writing by John Okada, a novelist, Lawson Inada, a poet, Michi Weglyn, a fashion maven, David Mura, a novelist with no direct experience of camp. His book seems to say there is no such thing as a Japanese American not affected by the camps. What the writers say about life in camp, seems from different times, different places, different languages until the differences developed into a community of causes for William Hohri’s lawsuit against the US Government for $224,000 American money to redress each of the 123, 313 American citizens unconstitutionally imprisoned in ten U.S. concentration camps that are still administered by the same U.S. Dept. of the Interior that built them as concentration camps. Would the Jews tolerate a concentration camp still administered by the Nazis that ran them in the 40s? So why are the same treacherous JACL and the Dept of the Interior still in charge of the Japanese Americans and the camps in the desert?
Hohri waits for the train at the small station with no shade.
“Hohri,” the Japanese Walter Brennan calls from the dirt street.
He hobbles closer and says, “I want to thank you for getting off that train. You faced down the sheriff, the bully, the telegraph operator, and then united us as good people against the evil ick Moses Masaoka.”.
“No thanks necessary. It was a pleasure.”
“The town would like that medal you brought for Komoko.”
“You’ll take care of it?”
“It will take care of us. What you have in that box is our conscience. You have vindicated what we knew was true, as George Washington vindicated the good words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution by not accepting the throne as king of the United States. Instead of Kingship, George Washington accepted the office of President allowed by the U.S. Constitution.” That was a bit much for a week of cartoon strips to carry. But I drew and lettered it, and signed it with love and gave it away free, to the Los Angeles Rafu Shimpo, the only Japanese American newspaper left in the country.