Book Review:
A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States

  • Posted 3/04/2014
  • Essay 10728
By Gordon K. Hirabayashi with James A. Hirabayashi and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi
Hardcover, 217 pages
Photographs, appendix, glossary of names, index
University of Washington Press, 2013
ISBN 978-0-295-99270-9

Gordon Hirabayashi (1918-2012) was a Japanese American who for reasons of conscience resisted the curfew imposed upon Japanese Americans in the immediate wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent removal of coastal-dwelling Japanese Americans from their homes.  Hirabayashi's case reached the United States Supreme Court, which upheld his lower court conviction. Some 40 years later, legal historian Peter Irons used a rare doctrine called writ of error (coram nobis) to reopen the case, ultimately resulting in Hirabayashi's vindication. 

Gordon Hirabayashi's case has been the subject of many scholarly examinations. A Principled Stand utilizes Hirabayashi's personal files and writings to tell his own view of his story. Since the book was written, the Hirabayashi family has donated these materials to the University of Washington Libraries. This work, therefore, documents not only Hirabayashi's personal perspective on his historic case, but demonstrates the considerable muscle archival materials can possess during their life cycle: from personal expressions created for various reasons under varied circumstances, to valued testaments of personal history, to fully available ingredients for scholarly examination and conclusion. A Principled Stand proves that boxes of paper hauled from home to home and stored in closets and garages can eventually become the meat of history.

Assembled jointly by Gordon Hirabayashi, his younger brother, James Hirabayashi, and James's son, Lane Hirabayashi, A Principled Stand reconstructs Gordon Hirabayashi's story in his own words, mitigating the previous absence of an autobiography, which Gordon Hirabayashi outlined but never wrote.  Numerous images throughout the book -- many provided by family members and not previously available -- augment the text.  

The son of Japanese immigrants, Gordon Hirabayashi took his American citizenship seriously from earliest boyhood. "My father," he later wrote, "instilled in me the importance of having convictions and adhering to the standard of conduct dictated by those convictions" (p. 30). These principles would prompt Hirabayashi's impulse to defy racially motivated curfews and forced internment during World War II.  Hirabayashi, who became affiliated with the Quaker American Friends Service Committee during his undergraduate years at the University of Washington, had listed himself as a conscientious objector on his draft registration card. His relationship with the AFSC deepened while he was imprisoned. One interesting aspect of A Principled Stand is its documentation of AFSC's activities, and of its organizer Floyd Schmoe, whose daughter Esther Schmoe Gordon Hirabayashi subsequently married. 

The first half of this book chronicles Hirabayashi's childhood and youth -- the years in which his character and values were shaped. The second half recounts his decision to resist the curfew order and the internment, and the consequences of those decisions.  Hirabayashi's parents and siblings were interned in Tule Lake, California. 

Once Hirabayashi is jailed in King County, the book recounts in journal-style his situation and those of his cellmates, many of whom were also incarcerated as a result of their conscientious objection. Other cellmates -- such as two Nisei import-export dealers -- had sold scrap iron to Japan as part of their regular business activity, and so were caught up in the anti-Japanese war hysteria dragnet. The book's level of detail regarding Gordon Hirabayashi's day-to-day life in prison is fascinating, and previously undocumented.  

Released and allowed to work in Spokane while his case made its way to the Supreme Court, the book's account of Hirabayashi's life during this waiting period is equally fascinating. Hirabayashi eventually ended up serving 90 days in a work camp in Tucson, Arizona, hitchhiking there from Spokane to start his sentence. As with his King County Jail experiences, Hirabayashi's life in this racially segregated work camp where many fellow inmates were conscientious objectors offers a fascinating window into seldom-examined aspects of American life during World War II. 

A valuable book, highly recommended.

By Paula Becker, March 4, 2014

Submitted: 3/04/2014

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