"To see what is right and not to do it is cowardice." -- Confucius

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Phil Tajitsu Nash

William Hohri will be remembered in history for the Hohri versus United States class action lawsuit that he and others brought to win judicial redress for Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated en masse during World War II.  While the case did not prevail due to technicalities, I can say from first hand experience as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill in the early 1980s that this case was the hammer over the heads of Congress that allowed them to tell their constituents that they voted for the $20,000 per person redress bill rather than wait for the $220,000 per person class action to prevail.

William's decision to lead the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR), which brought the class action case, emerged from years of social justice and anti-war activism.  He knew that waiting for elected officials to do the right thing had not worked during World War II, so he pushed for a court-based strategy.  He joined with a Seattle-based Japanese American group, convened a support group in Chicago, and communicated regularly with supporters in California, New York, and Washington, D.C.  He envisioned a strategy that called for "47 Ronin" (from the Japanese fable of that name) to make an extraordinary sacrifice by giving $1,000 to pay for the class action suit.  He kept us all informed by writing monthly newsletters to supporters all over the country in the pre-internet era.

William was extraordinarily kind and friendly, but his attention to principle could sometimes be abrupt.  For example, I still remember his letter to the NY Nichibei in the early 1980s criticizing my naive call for an apology and a group-based remedy for the wartime injustice.  I had called for a monument, and he said (correctly) that an injury to individuals requires a remedy that compensates individuals.  He made his famous comment about wanting to buy a car with his redress money, which at first shocked me and then made me see the light.  My mom reminded me of this when she herself used her redress money to buy a Toyota Camry several years later!

In sum, William was one of many Nisei who proved that the "quiet American" stereotype was far from true.  He used his considerable intelligence, writing skill, and leadership ability to galvanize a social justice movement that helped the Japanese American community get the redress it deserved.  I hope that people will read his book, Repairing America: an Account of the Movement for Japanese American Redress to get more insights into his life.

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