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From Hiroko to Susie: The Untold Stories of Japanese War Brides

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Who are these women and what do we, their children, know about them?

Kathryn Tolbert writes: I thought she was beautiful, although I never understood why she plucked her eyebrows off and penciled them on every morning an inch higher. She had been captain of her high school basketball team in Japan, and she ran circles around us kids on a dirt court in our small town in Upstate New York. I can still see this Japanese woman dribbling madly about, yelling “Kyash! Kyash!” That’s how she said Kath, or Kathy.

[Above: Hiroko and Bill with Kathy, left, Sam and Susan. The video is the trailer to a short documentary film, “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides,” which features Hiroko and two other war brides.]

She married my American GI father barely knowing him. She moved from Tokyo to a small poultry farm just outside Elmira, N.Y., and from there she delivered eggs all over the county and into Pennsylvania. My sister describes her as having a “core of steel.” She raised us as determinedly as any mother could, and yet, looking back, I barely knew her.

Some people think the film I co-directed, “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides,” is a paean to loving Japanese mothers. When one interviewer suggested as much to me and fellow director Karen Kasmauski, we exchanged a look that said, “Shall we tell him the truth?” The film, titled after a Japanese proverb, is about strong women, for sure. Warm and loving mothers? No.

So who are these women and what do we, their children, know about them?

They are sisters and daughters of the ferocious enemy that attacked Pearl Harbor in the “day of infamy,” an enemy that surrendered four years later after waves of firebombing on Japanese cities and the dropping of atomic bombs. They married men who occupied their country and came to the United States. And then? They disappeared into America. There were tens of thousands of them, yet they vanished from public awareness — Japanese women who were barely a blip in immigration history, who married into families of North Dakota farmers, Wisconsin loggers, Rhode Island general store owners.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

They either tried, or were pressured, to give up their Japanese identities to become more fully American. A first step was often adopting the American nicknames given them when their Japanese names were deemed too hard to pronounce or remember. Chikako became Peggy; Kiyoko became Barbara. Not too much thought went into those choices, names sometimes imposed in an instant by a U.S. officer organizing his pool of typists. My mother, Hiroko Furukawa, became Susie.

How did it feel to be renamed for someone in the man’s past, a distant relative or former girlfriend? My mother said she didn’t mind, and others said it made their lives easier to have an American name.

The brides, as many as 45,000, landed in the home towns of their husbands, places where Japanese people had been visible only on World War II propaganda posters. Was their skin really yellow? One war bride in South Carolina was asked to pull up her sleeve since no yellow was visible on her hands and wrists.

Hiroko Furukawa Tolbert, 85, mother of Kathryn Tolbert, arrived in Elmira, N.Y., in 1952. Her in-laws called her Susie. (Karen Kasmauski for The Washington Post)

My mother, once a daughter of privilege, came to her in-laws’ chicken farm. She has lived in the same two square miles of countryside ever since. It has been 64 years.

[Read the full text here, at The Washington Post]

I read and reread the transcripts from interviews I had recorded with my mother when I was pregnant with my own daughter more than 20 years ago, when I realized I didn’t have even a timeline of her life. Six hours of tapes and they didn’t tell me what I now wanted to know. So I went back to her recently to try to understand what she could possibly have been thinking when she made the choice to marry an American soldier she barely knew. “I wasn’t thinking. I just had to get out,” was one of her succinct responses.

I didn’t know other women like her, although I had two journalist friends who were also daughters of Japanese war brides. When they proposed making a film about our mothers, I readily agreed because I had always wanted to tell her story. And she’s such an excellent raconteur that, sitting beside her in the film as her interviewer, I’m almost an unnecessary prop.

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Experts Say Best Option Now Is Keeping Nation As Comfortable As Possible Till End

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 01:  Dr. Bruce Ribner, an epidemiologist and professor in the School of Medicine's Infectious Diseases Division, confirms that Emory University Hospital will be receiving and treating two American patients diagnosed with Ebola virus during a press conference at Emory University Hospital on August 1, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Ebola infected patients will be transported to Emory University Hospital from Liberia in the next couple of days and receive supportive care and treatment in a isolation unit separate from the general hospital.  (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON—Saying there were no other options remaining and that continued intervention would only prolong the nation’s suffering, experts concluded Tuesday that the best course of action is to keep the United States as comfortable as possible until the end.

“We need to accept the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have long—simply helping it pass that time in comfort is the humane thing to do.”

According to those familiar with its condition, the country’s long, painful decline over the past several decades has made it clear that the most compassionate choice at this juncture is to do whatever is possible to ensure America is at ease during its last moments.

“Attempting to stabilize the country in its current enfeebled state would not only be extremely expensive, but it would also cause unnecessary agony as it enters this final stage.”

— Economist Danielle Martin

“We need to accept the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have long—simply helping it pass that time in comfort is the humane thing to do,” said economist Danielle Martin, speaking on behalf of a large group of experts ranging from sociologists and historians to lawmakers and environmentalists, all of whom confirmed they had “done everything [they] could.” “Attempting to stabilize the country in its current enfeebled state would not only be extremely expensive, but it would also cause unnecessary agony as it enters this final stage. Read the rest of this entry »


Michael Barone: Is it Time for Civil Disobedience of Kludgeocratic Bureaucracy?

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Michael BaroneBarone-3 writes: Is there any way to reverse the trend to ever more intrusive, bossy government? Things have gotten to such a pass, argues Charles Murray, that only civil disobedience might — might — work. But the chances are good enough, he says, that he’s written a book about it: By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.

“The Progressive push to give politically insulated bureaucrats power to impose detailed and often incomprehensible rules was a product of the industrial era, a time when it was supposed that experts with stopwatches could design maximally productive assembly lines.”

Murray has a track record of making seemingly outlandish proposals that turn out to be widely accepted public policy. His 1984 book Losing Ground recommended the radical 51j9hLRFPVL._SL250_step of abolishing all welfare payments. A dozen years later the federal welfare reform act took a long step in that direction.

[Order Charles Murray’s book “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission” from Amazon.com]

Murray was prompted to write By the People, he says, when a friend who owns a small business was confronted by OSHA inspectors and had an experience similar to one recounted in Philip Howard’s The Death of Common Sense.

[Read the full text of Michael Barone’s article here, at WashingtonExaminer.com]

The inspector found violations. Railings in his factory were 40 inches high, not 42; there was no automatic shutoff on a conveyor belt cordoned off from workers; a worker with a beard was allowed to use a non-close-fitting dust mask. Picayune stuff. But unless changes were made, the inspector said, we’ll put you out of business.

“What is to be done? Citizens, says Murray, should be willing to violate laws that the ordinary person would instantly recognize as ridiculous. And deep-pocketed citizens should set up a Madison Fund, to subsidize their legal defense and pay their fines.”

How had things come to this pass? Murray ascribes it to the abandonment of effective limits on government embedded in the Constitution by its prime architect James Madison. That started with the early twentieth century Progressives, who passed laws setting up independent and supposedly expert bureaucrats in charge of regulation, and furthered by New Deal Supreme Court decisions.

“The cultural uniformity that people remember from the post-World War II decades is the exception rather than the rule in American history. We were a religiously, ethnically and regionally diverse nation in James Madison’s time, Murray says, and we are once again. The uniformity temporarily imposed by shared wartime and postwar experiences is no more.”

Murray argues that these mistakes cannot be reversed by the political or judicial processes. The Court won’t abandon longstanding doctrines on which millions of people have relied. Congress, even a Republican Congress working with a Republican president, won’t repeal vaguely worded statutes that give regulators wide-ranging discretion. Read the rest of this entry »


[EXCLUSIVE] Hong Kong Democracy Protests — Democracy, Strategy and Tactics

The Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters had planned to have some kind of vote yesterday on how they would go forward.  But they didn’t.  From the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper:

Occupy Central protesters and observers yesterday backed an 11th-hour decision to scrap a poll on the way forward for the month-old sit-in, saying the move made it easier to enter into more talks with the government.

Protest leaders announced the U-turn hours before the electronic ballot was to start at 7pm and apologised for not having sufficiently discussed with demonstrators the poll’s methodology and objectives. But shelving it did not mean they had shifted their stance or intended to end the occupation, Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow Yong-kang said.

Some protesters had said the poll was redundant. A huge banner that called for delaying the poll was hung from an Admiralty footbridge yesterday morning.

Occupy co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting said: “The public may feel there are problems with the movement’s organisation and leadership, and we admit that … I promise that in the future, we will give sufficient notice to and discuss with protesters before making a major formal decision.”

For me, the lesson in this story is that “democracy” is not a self-executing political panacea. Democracy has a value — a high value — as ONE element of a fair and well-ordered society. But democracy can only serve its proper function as a check on the tyranny of the state when it operates within a system of well-defined and transparent laws and institutions. It is not surprising to me that the vote called by the protesters did not happen. There was no framework of law and institutional operation within which it could happen.

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Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters still occupy the ground in front of the main government offices — but what do they do now?

The smartest lawyers and statesmen in the rebel colonies worked for many months to draft the Constitution of the United States before it was finally implemented. Doing this created the framework of laws and institutions in which democracy operated as only one dynamic part of a system that was crafted after extremely careful deliberation by some of the wisest men who have ever considered these issues. The Framers of the US Constitution did their work after putting in place a temporary structure — the Articles of Confederation — to ensure a stable environment for long enough to work out the permanent “political operating system” for their country. They did not do their work in the heated stress and passion of an armed rebellion against the Crown. They first made an imperfect compromise in the Articles of Confederation to buy themselves the time they knew it would take to work out a truly well-ordered system. My advice to the protesters: study history.

“For me, the lesson in this story is that “democracy” is not a self-executing political panacea. Democracy has a value — a high value — as ONE element of a fair and well-ordered society.”

The problem, of course, is that there is no time for study.  The pro-democracy protesters have been improvising and responding to the largely pro-Beijing government’s actions from the beginning.  They are working from a base that is fueled by legitimate passion for liberty and fear of tyranny, but without a well-established leadership operating within a widely-recognized and accepted organizational structure.

“But democracy can only serve its proper function as a check on the tyranny of the state when it operates within a system of well-defined and transparent laws and institutions.”

In any conflict, all things being equal, the side with the more easily achieved strategic goal and the larger number of tactical options will prevail. For better or worse, in this situation, the side with both of these advantages is the pro-establishment side. For the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government, the strategic “victory condition” is maintaining the status quo, and they have a broad range of tactical options along the spectrum of patiently waiting out the protesters on one end to forcefully removing them on the other. I fear the pro-democracy side may not really realize this or, if they do, can think of no tactical response other than “keep doing what we’re doing.” Without regard to the merits of either side’s goals, this makes the pro-democracy side’s strategic and tactical position very weak. Unless they realize this and adjust their strategy and tactics accordingly, the outcome for them does not look good.

“In any conflict, all things being equal, the side with the more easily achieved strategic goal and the larger number of tactical options will prevail. For better or worse, in this situation, the side with both of these advantages is the pro-establishment side.”

This grim picture is playing itself out in a situation where the largest number of the anti-establishment protesters are high school and college students, without strong and experienced leadership that has been tested over time, and without any organizational infrastructure to support the building of strategic or tactical consensus.  Unless this situation changes, it looks increasingly unlikely that the pro-democracy movement will put itself into a situation where it can achieve a real “victory.”  If their only tool is a “passion for democracy,” they cannot prevail.

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Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is fenced in by its own passions.


STRIKING BACK: ‘Compassionate Conservatives’ vs. Tea Party Insurgents

Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, called for "a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." (Photo: Thinkstock)

Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, called for “a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” (Photo: Thinkstock)

Philip Klein  writes:  When the Tea Party movement emerged to challenge President Obama in 2009, it also posed a counterweight to the “compassionate conservative” wing of the Republican Party, which was defined by the expansionist policies of President George W. Bush.

After years of being marginalized, compassionate conservatives – emboldened by the overreach of Tea Party conservatives during last fall’s government shutdown fight – are attempting to reassert control over the party.

In the winter 2014 issue of National Affairs, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner – two former speechwriters and advisers to Bush – propose “A Conservative Vision of Government,” in which they advance many of the arguments that were used 15 years ago to sideline small-government conservatives and lay the groundwork for the Bush-era spending binge.

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