John Suzuki discusses American Grit with New Day NW.
Sample questions from the press about American Grit.
It’s about the American concentration camps of WWII where tens of thousands of Americans were incarcerated solely because of their race. And it’s also the unbelievable story of the Japanese American men who volunteered out of those camps to fight and die for the U.S. Army, the same Army that put them and their families in those camps to begin with. It’s an amazing story that I promised to share with the world.
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, fear of spies on the West Coast led to suspicion that anyone who looked like the enemy must be the enemy. President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 to incarcerate over 120,000 people in American concentration camps across the U.S. including 50,000 children.
It was terrifying. Nobody knew where they were going or what was to become of them. All they knew was that they were to be rounded up and incarcerated by the U.S. Army, and they could only bring what they could carry. Their only reference of anything like this happening was in Europe where they rounded up people solely for their race. And like Europe, nobody was spared from incarceration, men, women, children, and the elderly. Some people thought they were to be taken to the desert to be shot. It was truly a terrifying time for them.
Several thousand men volunteered out of the camps to fight for the U.S. Army, became part of a segregated fighting unit of Japanese Americans called the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and went on to be the most decorated war unit for its size and duration in U.S. history. And Shiro Kashino, the man I write about, went on to become one of the most decorated soldiers of WWII with six Purple Hearts. It's an incredible story of courage and loyalty.
This was an UNBELIEVABLE story. For six months the U.S. 5th Army (200,000 men), could not break through a mountain range in Italy called the Gothic Line which blocked them from Germany. Knowing that the Germans were guarding every inch of the front side of the mountains, the 442nd decided to attack from the back side of the mountains which amounted to a 3,000 foot cliff… in the dark of night… in complete silence. If a man fell, he was told not to cry out, and men did fall. They made it to the top without being detected and surprised the Germans. What the entire 5th Army couldn’t do in six months, the 442nd did in less than 48 hours. 28 days later, Italy surrendered, and six days after that, on May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered.
When they closed the camps (and remember, a lot of folks lost everything), everyone was kicked out and given $25 and a one-way bus ticket to start all over again. They were viewed as the enemy during the war, but worse later as the enemy that LOST the war. The late Senator Daniel Inouye walked into a barbershop in his Army uniform and was told to read a sign that said "We don't cut Jap hair." For decades it was tough to find jobs, buy real estate, but they kept true to their American dreams of a better life for their children, and they never gave up.
I wrote American Grit to honor the victims of the camps and the men of the 442nd, and most importantly to bring people together in a spirit of caring for one another. Because if we don’t stop being so divisive and putting people in buckets of white or black or Christians, or Muslims, or gay or rich or poor, it is combination of widespread fear and categorizations of people that can lead to concentration camps in America happening again. Remember 911? Someone came up with the misguided idea to roundup all Muslims because “all Muslims are terrorists.” So my world view is that we have to find a way to stop living in so much fear, and bring a little more love into the world.
American Grit is a wartime story, but it’s actually more of a love story; love of country, love for our families, and love for one another. And it’s super important that we teach folks about this chapter of our history because history forgotten gets repeated. So please read this book, and when you’re done with it, pass it along to someone so they can learn from it too. And the bonus is that it’s a REALLY amazing story, and I can say that because it’s not my story… I just wrote it.