New & Notable: No-No Boy
By John Okada
Seattle: University of Washington Press, c1981, c1976
From Professor Lorraine Bannai:
After they had been removed from their West Coast homes and left all they had built and after they found themselves incarcerated in desolate camps, the over 110,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II were subject to a further indignity. Early in 1943, they were handed questionnaires. One of the questions asked if they were willing to serve in the U.S. armed forces; another asked them to swear their loyalty to the United States. The questions caused confusion and, in some, resentment.
Ichiro Yamada answered both questions “No” and became one of the “No-No Boys,” sentenced to a prison term and made an outcast in his own community. John Okada’s landmark book explores the complex and mixed reactions that Japanese Americans had to the internment. Most felt that they could prove their loyalty through their cooperation and by fighting for their country. Some said they would fight if freed. Some could not swear allegiance to a country that had interned them. Ichiro paid dearly for the answers he gave and struggled with the belief that he had done the wrong thing.
I think that this book, which follows Ichiro’s post-war life in Seattle, is important because of its more nuanced view of the Japanese American community’s conflicted responses to wartime incarceration. But, more importantly, the book’s importance derives from the fact that John Okada wrote this book in 1957 – a Japanese American writing about Japanese Americans long before there was a body of work that one could call Asian American literature. Mr. Okada passed away at 47, never knowing that he paved the way for others to speak of the dark chapter that was the internment.
From the Publisher:
Question #27 asked: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?”
Question #28 asked: “Will you swear unqualified allegiances to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or other foreign government, power or organization?”
Feeling betrayed by their native country, many young American-born Japanese boys answered “no” to both questions. They were segregated into a special camp and considered potential enemies of this country. The name given them was the “No-No Boys.”
This is a poignant story of life after the Japanese internment told through the eyes of a no-no boy, John Okada.
About the Author:
John Okada was born in Seattle, Washington in 1923. He attended the University of Washington and Columbia University. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II, wrote one novel and was dead of a heart attack at the age of 47. John Okada died in obscurity believing that Asian America had rejected his work.
Additional Information Online