Opinion/Nomiyama: There's no honor for RI in a victory holiday based on race

·3 min read

Ken N. Nomiyama, of Newport, is a third-generation Japanese American and a retired businessman. He serves on the board of the Tule Lake Committee, an incarceration camp established in California by the U.S. government during World War II.

On Aug. 8, Rhode Island will celebrate Victory Day, popularly known as Victory Over Japan Day. It is the only state with such a holiday and I believe that this holiday in its present form, with its racial overtones, should no longer be officially recognized by Rhode Island.

The holiday was established soon after the end of World War II to mark a triumphant moment in history. Over 90,000 Rhode Islanders served in uniform in Asia and Europe during the war and over 2,000 lost their lives. The state’s economy was impacted, as Rhode Island was heavily invested in manufacturing materials for the war. It is understandable that surviving war veterans and their friends, families and veterans’ organizations would want to keep this memory of the war alive.

Victory Day is celebrated each year on the second Monday of August, which coincides with the atom bombings of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, of Nagasaki on Aug. 9 and the surrender of Japan on Aug. 15, 1945, to end the war. While the holiday is no longer called Victory Over Japan Day, it is a common perception that the holiday’s celebration is aimed at the defeat of Japan and is not connected to the defeat of Germany and Italy in Europe.

There is an unfortunate racial element to this because Japan since World War II has become a peaceful country and an important ally of the U.S. Furthermore, as the holiday targets Japan, it also targets the American citizens of Japanese descent. This troubles me because I am Japanese American.

I am sensitive to this because of the hatred and violence that were directed at the Japanese living in America, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. Gen. John DeWitt, who was in charge of incarcerating the Japanese from the Pacific Coast states, exclaimed that “A Jap is a Jap. It makes no difference whether the Jap is a citizen or not.” And much of the U.S. government and public agreed with him.

My parents, second-generation American citizens, were among the 120,000 Japanese who were taken from their homes and jobs and forcibly confined in government prison camps. I was born in one of these camps during the war: the maximum-security Tule Lake Segregation Center in California.

Note that despite doubts about their loyalty and the ill treatment they were receiving, over 30,000 Japanese American men and women fought for America during World War II. As soldiers in the Pacific and Europe (the segregated 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team), they collected 14,000 awards including 21 Medals of Honor, suffering over 800 deaths in action.

Today, there is an anti-Asian sentiment throughout the country. There have been thousands of cases of racially motivated anti-Asian violence, leading to physical and verbal attacks against Asians and even some deaths. In Rhode Island, there are Japanese who are uncomfortable leaving their homes on Victory Day because they fear violence. Having a racially-based holiday fuels these actions and attitudes.

Whether or not the holiday is officially called Victory Day is beside the point. It is widely known as Victory Over Japan Day. This perception has stood since 1948 and will not go away. I am a tax-paying Japanese American resident of Rhode Island. I have two grandchildren in its public schools. I recognize the importance of preserving the legacies of World War II.

But I do not think a state holiday should be focused on an issue defined by race.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Opinion/Nomiyama: There's no honor for RI in a victory holiday based on race