[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-War]: Hinnershitz on Walters, 'In Love and War: The World War II Courtship Letters of a Nisei Couple'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Thu Jan 2 15:55:08 MST 2020


---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Date: Thu, Jan 2, 2020 at 9:31 AM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]: Hinnershitz on Walters, 'In Love and War:
The World War II Courtship Letters of a Nisei Couple'
To: <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>


Melody M. Miyamoto Walters.  In Love and War: The World War II
Courtship Letters of a Nisei Couple.  Norman  University of Oklahoma
Press, 2015.  296 pp.  $19.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8061-4820-5.

Reviewed by Stephanie Hinnershitz (Cleveland State University)
Published on H-War (January, 2020)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Melody M. Miyamoto Walters's edited collection of her Nisei
grandparents' WWII-era courtship letters is a touching primary source
that also makes important interventions in the fields of military,
gender, and Asian American history. In fact, Walters tends to
undersell the significance of her work in her introduction. She
rightly proclaims that this treasure trove is "overall ... a personal
story ... a family story," but claims that "the information gleaned
came not through the rigorous standards of academe or through the
personal tallies of human subject forms" (p. xiii). Emphasizing the
personal element of her grandparents' letters is a valid point that
differentiates this study from others, but _In Love and War _is
skillfully edited to ensure a seamless flow between the letters
themselves and Walters's introductions to their themes. Combined with
careful archival research at the University of Hawaii archives and
the Hawaii War Records Depository, the focal point of Walters's
work--her grandparents' correspondence--goes far in "address[ing] the
complex question of what it meant to be a Japanese American living in
Hawaii during World War II" (p. xii).

Organized chronologically and thematically, each of _In Love and
War's _chapters focus on a key theme. Chapters 1 and 2 provide useful
background information on Yoshiharu Ogata and Naoko Tsukiyama
(Walters's grandfather and grandmother, respectively) as well as the
general atmosphere and landscape of Hawaii immediately before and
after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Chapter 3 delves more into
the intricacies of long-distance courtship between Yoshiharu and
Naoko when both were teachers in different locations and living in
the early days of martial law in 1942, while chapter 4 includes more
details on the war efforts of Nisei in Hawaii as well as the
maturation of Yoshiharu and Naoko's relationship as they approach
marriage. The final chapter as well as the epilogue offer conclusions
to the experiences of Japanese Americans more generally during World
War II in Hawaii as well as the love story of Walters's grandparents.
Clear organization and accessible introductions to the highlighted
letters of each chapter allow the reader to absorb the personal
stories and history of Hawaii.

But Walters's source base also reveals overlooked gaps in the
narrative of Japanese American history, including the role of class
in the relationship and experiences of Yoshiharu and Naoko. Far too
often, the rich, detailed, and varied lives of Asian Americans and
Japanese Americans are grouped into one racialized experience to make
convenient generalizations of an ethnic and racial group (something
this author is guilty of and is always looking to correct). Walters's
grandparents and their letters offer a more nuanced understanding of
"local" Japanese in Hawaii. Naoko's family were members of the
merchant class on Oahu, practiced Christianity, and befriended many
whites or _haoles_. Naoko's class background also shaped her
schooling and the high value her family placed on education: she
graduated from the Teachers' College at the University of Hawaii in
1940 and worked as an elementary school teacher and librarian. In
contrast, Yoshiharu came from a more rural background on Kauai. His
parents became plantation workers after arriving in Hawaii in the
early 1900s and were practicing Buddhists who largely socialized with
other Japanese immigrants. However, Yoshiharu's family also embraced
education as a means for social and economic advancement and he
graduated from the Stout Institute in Wisconsin in 1940 with a degree
in industrial arts education. Early courtship letters between Naoko
and Yoshiharu reveal these class differences in subtle, yet powerful
ways. Lacking a strong command of English at times, Yoshiharu often
expressed some embarrassment of his writing. He joked with Naoko in a
letter from August 10, 1941, and encouraged her to "have a good
laugh" at his English as she "probably won't come across anything
funnier" (p. 27). In another exchange, he compliments Naoko on her
eloquent letters, which, as he noted, "probably [didn't] mean much to
[her] coming from a guy like [him]." "I'm sure that the social and
cultural contacts that you had so far is far beyond that you find in
me and I'm sure those people also paid you complements" (p. 36).
Naoko and Yoshiharu also playfully exchanged their thoughts on
"civilization" and "high culture." Naoko described her love of
Beethoven, but also her disapproval of those who only claim that they
like classical music "so they can say things like that" and "get all
cultured on the outside" (p. 33). In response, Yoshiharu joked,
"About the only time I'd really enjoy reading poetry or listening to
symphony is when I'm in bed with perhaps a broken leg" (p. 34). The
exchanges between Naoko and Yoshiharu that highlight their class
backgrounds speak to the myriad ways that socioeconomic differences
worked in Japanese American communities; they could serve as
obstacles or challenges in a relationship but could also be playfully
mocked.

Walters's use of her grandparents' letters to explore the experiences
of Japanese Americans in WWII beyond internment or the service of the
Nisei men who fought with the storied 442nd regiment is her most
important contribution to the existing literature. Books and articles
abound on internment and war service, yet Walters offers an alternate
narrative that offers space for exploring those who fall outside of
the more documented case studies. Most striking are the different
views on patriotism and war service between Naoko and Yoshiharu.
While Yoshiharu sought to avoid the draft through his occupation as a
teacher and service in the Varsity Victory Volunteer Corps (a
civilian engineer unit in Hawaii) as a result of his dedication to
traditional familial obligations, Naoko often chided him for his
less-than-overtly-patriotic sentiments. Walter explains that as a
more rural "outsider," Yoshiharu lacked a strong connection to the
American war cause because his family did not fit the standard image
of "American," while Naoko--being from a more "Americanized"
background and having a brother who was in the ROTC--often expressed
her desire for Japanese Americans to prove themselves in their war
service. Although she detested the "female dictators" who served as
administrators and who "[thought] patriotism is saluting the flag and
singing the nat'l anthem every morning," she explained that the
"humiliation" among Japanese Americans of having ancestral ties to
the enemy would hopefully "give us the chance to show we are as
American as we can possibly be" (p. 3). However, Naoko also knew that
service took many forms. "Of course you ought to 'do your duty' but
you can do it better in the job you have right now," she wrote to
Yoshiharu after he previously informed her of his deferment for
service (p. 70). Naoko also "did her duty" by being friendly (though,
as she stressed to Yoshiharu in many letters, not "too" friendly) to
the servicemen stationed in Hawaii. The wartime letters of Naoko and
Yoshiharu move Japanese American history beyond internment and
service and allow readers to get a glimpse of life under martial law
in Hawaii. As Walters explains, it was not that Yoshiharu or Naoko
was oblivious to internment on the mainland or the discrimination
faced by Japanese Americans during the war. Rather, their experiences
as "local" Hawaiians and Japanese Americans were shaped by their
environment and unique backgrounds.

_In Love and War _is a welcome addition to the scholarship on WWII
and Japanese American history--highly recommended for the public as
well as specialized scholars. Walters goes beyond her initial goal of
uncovering the identity of local Japanese Americans in Hawaii and
breaks ground for a new approach to military history that uses
personal letters and family histories to uncover the complexities of
war, gender, class, and love.

Citation: Stephanie Hinnershitz. Review of Walters, Melody M.
Miyamoto, _In Love and War: The World War II Courtship Letters of a
Nisei Couple_. H-War, H-Net Reviews. January, 2020.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54135

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
License.




-- 
Best regards,

Andrew Stewart



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