Conflict and Crises
Japan at War:
H E M O R N I N G O F December 8 (December 7 in the U.S.) was a Monday, and [British businessman] Colin Stanbury and I walked to the Shioya station on a warmish day. Colin in his customary style hailed the children with his "ohayo buchan" (Good morning, youngster), while the youngsters greeted him as "ohayo-san" (Mr. goodmorning).
I swung, as customary, into the consulate's rear entrance and found the Japanese employees huddled in the semi-gloom of drawn shades. Mr. Suzuki, in halting terms, said that war had started between Japan and America. Mary Ogawa, our receptionist and phone operator, confirmed this, and I raced upstairs to the consul's office to find [Consul] Arthur Tower and [Executive Officer] Jerry Warner in a quick huddle. Tower was staying in Jerry's house, both had heard radio news that morning of American installations in the Philippines being bombed, and had come prepared for the worst. Jerry had simply grabbed a tooth brush.
We quickly organized. Arthur and Jerry took care of the fee stamps and passports to be destroyed or mutilated as well as office seals. I handled certain office seals and confidential visa files. By 9:00 a.m. we started the destruction, burning papers in several fireplaces and even in coal scuttles. The Treasury attache was similarly busy. Mary was on the alert to warn us when the police or military came. Some time later I learned that she had used ingenuity to forestall what would have been a premature descent by the gendarmerie. She had one phone call, from a commercial firm next door, complaining that the burned ashes of paper from the chimneys were coming in their windows!
I n Kobe I had affiliated with a Masonic lodge, and after monthly trips to Yokohama I received the thirty second degree. As lodge secretary one of my current actions was to place the large wooden box of lodge records in a filing cabinet among my personal papers. After the war, the reopened lodge was the only one whose records were intact.
The kempi were clearly chagrined when they saw the burned paper in the fireplaces and the preparations made for their arrival. As they traversed the offices there was a lock cabinet ajar, which Jerry noticed and in which Arthur had just put the office accounts. Jerry moved over and found a pretext in answering how the cabinets worked to respond, "In this way," and twirled the lock closed. We had lunch brought in from the Kobe Club, while the kempi waited for orders and took photos of the charred fireplaces. We took stock of our numbers. Dusty [Vice Consul Otis Rhoades] was on a courier trip to Tokyo and was under house arrest there. In addition to Arthur, Jerry, Martin Scott (the Treasury attache), and myself, there were nisei staff members: Mary, Martin's secretary, Jerry's secretary, and a male clerk Arthur had brought from Nagasaki.
Late in the afternoon we were bundled into cars and taken to the Tor Hotel, the second of Kobe's two European-style hotels and up the hill from the commercial area. Here we were in separate rooms off a first floor corridor, each with black-out curtains. The next several days I was confined to my little hotel room with its bath; three times daily a guard would bring food, and that would be it. My room was bare except for a bed and a small table with a box of matches, so I spent hours making wooden fences and designs and counting wall patterns while huddled under a blanket, for it had turned cold.
After several days we were allowed to gather in Arthur Tower's room to find, other than Mary, the nisei had left. She alone resisted the official and intimidating interrogation to which each of them had been subjected at kempi headquarters. She said she was an American, her folks had raised her as one, and she intended to remain so. Arthur had been taken to the consulate and threatened if he did not open the various safes and locks. He refused. He was a stubborn and courageous man, and I am sure he would have suffered bodily harm before giving in. In any event, the five of us had a chance to be together briefly, to gain moral support, and to respond to the kempi's question whether we wished to be interned in the hotel or in Jerry's house. We said the former and the next day were shifted to the latter.
Jerry's house was sizeable, with four bedrooms, one a sleeping porch. I had the latter, while next to me was Jerry, and down the hall on the same side were Arthur and Scotty. Across from them was Mary. There were also two bathrooms, one opposite mine and Jerry's. Downstairs was a large general reception entrance with a fireplace and four guards, two on each twelve hour shift duty around the clock. This was house arrest. Jerry and Arthur converted a small, first floor storage room into a food and liquor storage area for shipments that only the week before had come through Japanese customs, a cache that proved a lifesaver in supplementing some meager fare. Our major base though, was the large living and dining rooms with a door into the big entry area. Scotty's cook was permitted to work for us, while Jerry's housemaid continued. Mary was in charge of them, and in one meal each day she prepared an American dish for five. The expenses were split four ways among the men, and for a period I was on credit, on the cuff as we joked, until the Swiss were able to allocate funds.
The Foreign Service generally brings tolerance for religions and races. Many Protestant and Catholic missionaries claimed my regard for their faith and staunchness in adversity, since men of each Christian branch had suffered prior to our exchange. We also learned of the variation in treatment afforded American officials by the Japanese military. I cannot forget FSO Oliver Clubb, later hounded by a malicious senator, who endured six months harsh solitary confinement in Hanoi, where he had been consul, and who had come courageously through the ordeal. There were, of course, Japanese I liked and respected, and the many Japanese-Americans who stood by their country. I can understand, knowing these, the motivation of the legendary Hawaiian infantry battalion of Japanese-Americans that became the most decorated unit in the American army.
Our house routine quickly made a pattern. We would breakfast at 8:30 a.m., after which we could walk in the garden, read, study Japanese, or take a turn at "schnellbach" in the living room. It belonged to Jerry and was a Dutch game played on an elongated, raised sides ironing board on trestles, with four slotted compartments at one end into which we slid 20 wooden disks. Five disks in each slot gave a perfect 100 score. By the end of internment we all regularly scored in the 80s. At 10:30 a.m., Arthur and I would take a strenuous half-hour of calisthenics on the side terrace. Like Scotty, Mary took no exercise. Once when we teased her she silenced us by effortlessly doing a high, feet-to-hands back arch. She exercised privately.
What proved to be our only dissension was brought on by developing strains. Isolated as we were, Jerry and Scotty pressed Arthur to demand that we see the Swiss, our protecting power. Arthur resisted, not wanting to ask the Japanese military, asserting the Swiss were taking every practical way to reach us. In a climactic evening Mary sensibly retired and I, disturbed the difference could disrupt our unity, did my best to follow a lighter perspective, apparently bridging the two views, as Jerry later confided. Nevertheless, the frustrations of our internment remained significant.
When the Swiss did get to us, we had various difficulties to overcome with the Japanese for ordinary living arrangements, such as finances and the disposal of home effects. Three times all was supposedly set for an exchange and three times it was indefinitely postponed. While it finally took on the fourth attempt, to our knowledge, we were not optimistic that we would leave Japan. We certainly believed the United States would win the war, but we also knew enough elementary Japanese psychology to expect that after heavy bombing of the fragile cities and impending military defeat there would be small chance for any diplomatic exchange. A scorched earth, military dominant mentality gave little ground for comfort.
Considering the hundreds of thousands of Allied prisoners in East and Southeast Asia, and heavy American and Japanese future casualties in an invasion, there was no reason to decry the future use of the atomic bomb for a quick end to the war, seen, as in China, that Japan had lost the mandate of heaven. It was a subject we never talked about. Added to all this were various tensions with our guards, one of whom was obnoxious. Once I heard an argument between Arthur and the obnoxious guard, and plunged down the stairs in time to grab the poker he was aiming at Arthur's head. We were not sure of the consequences, but fortunately there were none, for the guard had lost face.
Among the five of us we worked out an unspoken live and let live philosophy, realizing that we were in the same boat and had to get along. Each of us was entitled to his share of bad days and, again unspoken, two people could not have the same bad day. In this way we accommodated and found the qualities in each other. After all, we were together virtually every waking hour, so by June 1942, when we left Kobe, we had the equivalent of several years in a normal family. Arthur and Scotty I came to think of as uncles, Jerry as an older brother, and Mary as the lady of the family. The test came when on the exchange ship all four men ate together, and Mary couldn't because women had a separate seating.
Martin Scott was a Kentuckian with a keen mind and a grand sense of humor. He was a gentleman, and one who knew his bridge and juleps. As a Kentuckian, he had mint from his home planted on the side of our house and we had that home pride. I had earlier known him as a leading Kobe Club personality, highlighted by his semi-annual bar standing speech of that earthy American classic, "Change the name of Arkansas?" Being one of a foreigners' local champion bridge team, he also taught us the game, but after internment and a game with an obsessive devotee, the contrast was too strong and I no longer play. Mary Ogawa was a graduate of the University of Idaho, who had to be the best humored of us all, with remarkable psychological strength. I think on occasion we men might have spoken out, perhaps to our regret, if she hadn't been there.
Two memorable forays came about because of our combined campaign. First, we insisted on church at Easter and second, that each of us have a physical examination before leaving Kobe. The kempi finally agreed, and we went to a nearby Catholic church for the service. The guards stayed in the back of the church, while we split up and sat among the congregation. A young Eurasian woman I knew sat beside me, and we had an animated conversation without the guards knowing, during which I learned what was happening in the foreign community and gave her news of us. Then came individual visits to the doctor, a Czech. He gave me full marks, and when I told him of the strenuous physical routine, he shook his head.
About noon on April 18, Patriot's Day, two of us were watching Jerry play tennis when a plane came over the Rokko hills very low. It had markings we did not quickly note, but it headed to the port area, we heard the sound of bombs, and saw smoke rising. Our obnoxious guard, now jittery, herded us into the house. We were greatly excited, since we knew one of ours had been at work. A Doolittle raider had hit Kobe, although I was told later by a pilot on the raid that the plane and crew never made it. However, it was a harbinger, and culminated in a postwar Kobe unrecognizable from bombings.
After some time the Swiss succeeded in visiting us infrequently, but became more regular when an exchange seemed definite and we prepared to leave Kobe. The day arrived, and we entrained for Yokohama under guard, being joined in Osaka by its four consular Americans. They had an easier time than we, and had even been allowed to go on outside forays.
We also found with us the Latin American consular people from Kobe, for the exchange comprised all countries in the Western Hemisphere. The Brazilian consul general in Kobe and his niece were along, and, after we arrived in Yokohama, to be held in the Grand Hotel, she entertained us every afternoon with a piano concert in one of the large reception rooms of the deserted hotel. We circulated freely in our segment of the hotel, and the stimulus of new faces and events helped. Noteworthy from the Peruvian consul, who had it from the Spanish ambassador as his protecting power, we got belated radio news of the battle of Midway. This really cheered us up!
Finally the promised day came and in mid-June we were taken to the Asama Maru, the exchange ship. There we were joined by our embassy crowd and other official personnel from the Western Hemisphere, by numbers of missionaries and their families, as well as by some businessmen. American officials and businessmen had been without their families, who left in November 1940. The missionaries had steadfastly refused to part with theirs, and it grated on some to see them all coming aboard, for the missionary component, we were told, had been an obstacle in the exchange. There were a few hitches that kept us in the harbor about a week but on June 25 we started for Lourenço Marques in Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique.
On the way we were joined by an Italian ship from Shanghai, the Conte Verde, caught there by the war and now carrying the people from China which paralleled our course, say a half mile or more, as we rolled along. While the two ships traveled with full lights and huge electric light crosses amidships on both sides, we were happily unaware that an American submarine stopped seconds short of delivering a torpedo attack on the Conte Verde. A fifth immunity message, the earlier four not received, was decoded just in time, according to Clay Blair, Jr. in his book "Silent Victory," Volume 1.
From a distance, Hong Kong was a shattered hulk as the result of the fighting, and our men there, including Bob Rinden [previously assigned in] Montreal, had some hard stories. At one point the consular staff had been lined up in the belief they were to be shot. In the Saigon River we took on more passengers, including my Fletcher [School of Law and Diplomacy] friends, Harlan Clark from Bangkok and Kingsley Hamilton from Saigon. We were told that the Asama Maru, after adding our repatriates from Hong Kong and Saigon, had about 900 passengers and our companion ship, the Conte Verde, carried about 600, so both ships were crowded. Yet we were all United Nations nationals, so despite the known presence of police agents among the crew, we were comfortable to be with our compatriots.
Voyaging on, by the first week in July we were, they said, at Singapore. Although out sight of land, Japanese military aircraft flew over us for two days until we departed across the Indian Ocean for Lourenço Marques, beyond Japan's military control.
Every life has exceptional days, but a personal best was July 23rd , when we entered the harbor at Lourenço Marques. The first sight was an American flag freighter (later sunk, we heard) near the entrance. It blasted its whistle and we all cheered, because we felt near the end of a trying period. The Japanese and Italian ships docked end to end, and ahead of us waiting was the Swedish ship, Gripsholm, with its Japanese cargo from America. The time was not long, but it seemed so the next day as we collected our gear. Single lines went down the gangplanks, the Allied contingent walking on one side of a long warehouse, while the Japanese took the other. Our people were only able to take what they could carry, but we were told the Japanese had been given generous limits, including refrigerators.
In the midst of this there was a small scene. Japanese youngsters from the stern of the Gripsholm and American children from the bow of the Asama Maru, began talking to each other to compare notes on the food aboard. This is what interested them as they talked to their peers.
When we reached the decks of the Gripsholm there was tremendous confusion. Suitcases were strewn all over, and everyone was carrying on animated conversations. There was some official order in the turbulence, since I got my next assignment. It was telegraphed, and assigned me to Istanbul -- a crusher. I wanted to get into the war, so as soon as possible I wired the Department requesting leave of absence to join the armed forces. I thought with my experience on Japanese shipping that I could be useful to Naval Intelligence, and I wanted to see some action. I got a brief reply denying my request and ordering me to proceed as directed. I knew by then that no one could travel without official orders and, not satisfied, sent a dispatch making my request at length and by protocol addressing it to the Secretary of State. Later in Istanbul I received a reply which, although longer than the earlier telegram, said the same.
The time came for the Gripsholm to leave, and in the prior evening I searched the ship, finding each of my surrogate family. On reaching home I later learned of our group's various assignments. Arthur performed war-related work in the Department. Scotty, in San Francisco, had a like Treasury mission. Jerry followed Japanese activities from a post in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Mary, on Jerry's strong recommendation, worked for G-2 of the Army upon Pacific order of battle intelligence.
For the present, from the cliff beside our hotel and with a new Foreign Service group, I silently watched the ship's morning departure. My mood reflected a vagrant Churchillian aphorism:
Courage is the one virtue that makes all of the others possible.
Excerpted from Roy M. Melbourne, Conflict and Crises: A Foreign Service Story. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1993. Used by kind permission of the publisher.