DPIE Delivers Historical Element of World War II to Dublin High School History Students

Michael Utsumi, Funding & Programs Coordinator
January 22, 2020

One of the Dublin Partners in Education “Pillars of Service” is Resources for Educators. By our definition, this means delivering an interactive and compelling experience that goes beyond the textbook. To further inspire students’ learning, we strive to provide resources that would otherwise not be available. Prior to the winter break in December, a large segment of Dublin High School students were studying the impact and after effects of World War II. US History teacher, Mary Hake, reached out to partner with DPIE to help examine a very specific element of the Pearl Harbor bombing – the incarceration of Japanese American citizens along the West Coast. 

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy preemptively struck the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, HI. The purpose of the attack was to disable the United States Naval Fleet from interfering with Japan’s expansion efforts in South East Asia. The 90-minute strike was disruptive and there were hundreds of casualties. This act led to the United States’ formal entry into World War II. However, while the attack was momentarily crippling, it was not complete. For one, neglected in the initial targets were the naval repair yards and oil tank farms. Further, no US aircraft carriers were damaged. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had incorrectly concluded that the battle would be won with battleships – rather than through the air and with submarines.

The immediate repercussion was that the United States formally declared was upon Japan the following day. It would lead, President Franklin Roosevelt, to declare December 7th as “a date which shall live in infamy.” Just hours after the bombing, the FBI rounded up over 1,000 Japanese community and religious leaders on the West Coast. They were arrested without evidence and their assets were frozen. Combined with the hysteria of war, the creation of military zones and Japanese detainment was formulated by Lt. General John DeWitt, leader of the Western Defense Command. His belief was to take control of the civilian population in order to prevent a repeat of Pearl Harbor. However, the report was largely unsubstantiated and included false claims of sabotage. Despite push back from the Secretary of War and the Attorney General, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This decree authorized the internment of over 120,000 lives – the majority of whom were American citizens.

It is a personal journey for me and my family. My parents were both born in the Stockton, CA area which makes me a third generation Japanese American. Though they were not married at the time, the Utsumis were sent to Rohwer, Arkansas and the Ikedas were interned at Topaz, Utah. Both families were raised through the Great Depression in the 1930’s. However, the stripping of American civil rights was another atrocious indignity. Most victims were provided less than a week of notice to report to temporary relocation centers – packing only personal belongings that they could carry.

Through the direction of US History teacher, Mary Hake and Librarian, Adair Spence, medium to large group sessions were scheduled over a three-day period in the Dublin High School HUB in December.   I shared this journey through a presentation and some exercises with seven periods of US history students. One of the more intriguing exercises was to divide the students into three distinct age groups – from infants to senior citizens. Under the duress of a timer, the students are then directed to construct a packing list of personal items – all of which can fit into a less than standard sized suitcase. The activity serves at least two purposes. For one, it requires discipline to prioritize one’s basic needs and it also simulates a form of urgency that a majority of the soon-to-be internees faced at that time.

 

In advance of their scheduled period, students were instructed to view a TED Talk that features actor/activist George Takei https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc The “Star Trek” star and his family was relocated during WWII to a camp in Rohwer, Arkansas – the same as my father’s family. 

We reached out to US History teacher, Mary Hake to receive feedback on the presentation series.

DPIE: Overall, what was the impact of having the history students exposed to this type of presentation?

Mary Hake: “Mr. Utsumi’s presentation was extremely beneficial for our US history students because they were able to hear about how the policy of Japanese-Internment directly affected members of our Bay Area community. Instead of just reading from a textbook or watching a documentary about the topic, students were able to learn about how local residents’ lives were negatively impacted, and the suffering that was caused as a result of the government’s WWII policy. The presentation helped to personalize for the students the experience of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast in the 1940s, as they were able to think about what it would feel like to suddenly have to pack up their lives and leave for an undetermined amount of time.

Mr. Utsumi was able to bring in and share valuable primary sources about his family’s experience, facilitate discussions, and field questions, all of which helped our students make deeper connections to this historical topic. The presentation will certainly be a memorable part of our students’ US history experience, and hopefully promote critical thinking as questions regarding our constitutional rights continue to emerge.”   
 

It was our privilege to provide this presentation to over 570 Dublin High School US History students. We are confident that they were able to learn lessons beyond the textbook and to grasp – even momentarily – the loss of their civil rights.  

Photos courtesy of Charles Dehnert from the Dublin Unified School District.  Thank you.