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Tom Brokaw: Friends Across Barbed Wire and Politics

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Yup.  I didn't talk to them about it in 1942.   Tosh. Jr and I weren't alive then. Only met the family in 1953.  


Nothing to argue about.


Europeans often slaughtered indigenous peoples who got "in the way" (Google Jeffrey Amhurst blankets small pox),  but disease spread by mere contact probably killed more.  The Han peoples who immigrated to what we call Japan tried to kill off the Anu, and and the Russians mowed down those who resist when their empire moved south in past centuries and more recently.


Then there was Dresden and Bomber Harris generally.


Home sap has a lot to answer for.  We seem hard-wired to fear the "other," and fear shortly leads to hate and violence.  Civilization seems to be a thin layer over the beast.  :(

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I think it is regrettable that this thread, which started off as a nice story about acts of friendship and kindness that occurred in the midst of terrible and tragic circumstances, in the Scouting History section of the forum, got turned into a comparison between the Japanese internment and the Holocaust (and some other things, but mainly between those two things.)


We all know the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during WW2 was a terrible thing and a shameful episode in the history of our country.  Do we really have to get into debates over whether it is "as bad as" or "not as bad as" another historical event that stands on its own?  And yes, I suppose my feelings about this are probably influenced by the devastating toll that the Holocaust took on my family:  Great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. killed, and cousins never born.  I grew up around two grandmothers who had to live with the fact that their parents (not all but a majority), siblings, etc. had been slaughtered, for nothing.  So when someone says that some other event was "as bad as" the Holocaust... I am not even sure how to complete that sentence.

Edited by NJCubScouter
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More about the Scouting connection along with photos in this link.


Some excerpts:. I definitely recommend reading above link.

When they are together, it's not hard to see the Boy Scouts they were when they met seven decades ago, in the barbed-wire Japanese internment camp that sprawled over desolate fields. One was imprisoned here; one belonged to the only troop that agreed to a jamboree on the inside.


Two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed an order ordering all Japanese Americans away from the Pacific Coast.

Mineta and his family were among 120,000 who were "relocated" inland to one of 10 internment camps that opened amid the wartime hysteria. The majority were citizens, forced to leave behind their homes, jobs, belongings and crops. Families lost everything. Mineta remembers tears streaming down his father's face as they left San Jose and headed first for a way station at the Santa Anita Racetrack, then to the Heart Mountain camp, 15 miles outside of Simpson's home town of Cody.

Simpson remembered how the rows of tar-paper barracks appeared almost overnight on a sagebrush flat. There was nothing near the camp but the railroad tracks that transported the internees. With more than 10,000 usually there, the camp dwarfed the population of Cody, then at just more than 2,500.

"The townspeople in Cody were not thrilled," Simpson said. "We didn't know who was in there except it must have been a pretty bad group with all that activity."

"I remember the day we got there in November [1942]," Mineta said. "The wind was blowing, all this silt was hitting our faces, cold as blazes. . . . The restrooms were quite a ways away, so when it would get cold and either raining or the snow, you had to go to the bathroom at 11 or 12 at night and trudge through all that mud and muck and mire.

"And then each of the units had one single globe in the middle of the room and a potbelly stove in the middle. My job was to get the coal from the bin and then bring it - and that's what kept us warm."

He was 11.

No schools had been built for the thousands of children who were among the internees, so to keep the children occupied, camp elders decided to form Boy Scout troops.

Long before internment, scouting had deep roots in the Japanese community. Immigrant parents viewed it as a very American tradition and admired the organization's values of good citizenship, loyalty and service. When Mineta's family left their house for the train ride to the assembly center in Southern California, young Norman wore his Cub Scout uniform.

So Heart Mountain troop leaders wrote to troops in nearby towns, inviting them to participate in Boy Scout jamborees. All refused. They were afraid of the armed guards and uneasy about the unfamiliar faces inside.

"It was a confusing time," Simpson said. As a young boy, "You were sorting out your world when nobody was there to teach you what the hell was going on, but you knew it was mess."

But his troop's leader, Glenn Livingston, was "a scoutmaster ahead of his time," Simpson said. He told his young scouts that the boys behind the barbed-wire fence were just like them, and he was right: The Heart Mountain scouts, Simpson said, read the same comics and earned the same merit badges.

Even as a young kid, Simpson said: "You knew these were Americans, especially when you met the Scouts. They didn't even know where Japan was."

By chance, he was matched up with Mineta, who remembers Simpson as a "roly-poly kid with lots of hair."

Among their tasks that day was pitching a tent.

There is some dispute between the two, as usual, as they recount what happened next. Mineta claimed that when it came time to build a small moat around the tent, Simpson suggested routing it so that it would flow toward the tent of another Scout - one known as a bully.

"It was no skin off my nose, so I said 'Sure,' " Mineta recalled. By chance it rained, and the moat worked perfectly to flood the kid's tent.

"Oh, he laughed, 'hee hee hee, haw haw haw, hee hee hee,' " Mineta said. "I had to say, 'Alan, stop laughing so we can get some rest.' "

Said Simpson: "He said I laughed hideously at the event. I don't recall any cackling, but it was fun."

They spent a day together. Then Simpson went back to a comfortable life as the son of a prominent family in Cody. Mineta stayed behind the barbed wire for a year.


Much more in source link above.

Edited by RememberSchiff
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  • 1 year later...

A beautiful story from a national disgrace.  I've always thought very highly of Simpson as a result of it.

It showed real courage on the part of Simpson, his troop, and especially his SM to accept that initial invitation. 

Edited by T2Eagle
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  • 3 years later...
Posted (edited)


Norman Y. Mineta, a son of Japanese immigrants who was held in an internment camp during World War II and later became one of the country’s highest-profile Asian American political leaders, as San Jose mayor, a 10-term congressman, and as Transportation Secretary who ordered commercial flights grounded after the 9/11 terror attacks , died May 3 at his home in Edgewater, Md. He was 90.






Scout Salute and Farewell,

CC: @T2Eagle

Edited by RememberSchiff
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