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May 31 - June 4, 1999

Tuesday, June 1, 1999

The heroics of war

Sunday afternoon, in the midst of official Memorial Day ceremonies, a service was held at the Unitarian-Universalist Church on Franklin to honor Karl Yoneda, who died on May 9 at the age of 92. An Examiner obituary described the lifelong activist as a "communist agitator, towering labor figure and warrior for social justice." Yoneda styled himself as simply a "kibei worker." Maybe he was closer to the truth. Surely, this Japanese-American poet and proselytizer realized the layers of complex nuances that underlay his seemingly self-deprecatory phrase.

Goso Yoneda was born in Los Angeles County in 1906. ("Karl" came later, in homage to Karl Marx.) Yoneda thus started life as a U.S. citizen at a time when his Japanese-immigrant parents could neither own land in California nor become citizens here. He later recalled baby-sitting for his two younger sisters while his father and mother worked in a vegetable garden in Glendale. When the boy was seven, his father --- who had contracted tuberculosis --- took the family back to Japan. The father died a couple of years later, leaving his wife to raise three children in a remote mountain village near Hiroshima.

The young Goso received a thorough Japanese education, for the country's nineteenth-century reforms had created a truly national school system. Soon, in the economically depressed period that followed World War I, social protests began to disrupt Japanese daily life, only to be sternly suppressed by a government eager for order. Even in remote Yasuno, Yoneda found his way into student demonstrations and a newsboys' strike. He devoured every book he could find, including works by social thinkers like Rousseau and Kropotkin. And he dropped out of school at the age of sixteen to join the labor movement.

Arrested several times in Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima, the young man might have destroyed his health by years of incarceration like many of his compatriots. But the Japanese Imperial Army saved him with an induction notice, issued in the winter of 1926. Paying his family home a dramatic pre-dawn visit, he clandestinely bade his mother farewell. He made his way back to Southern California, where the 1924 Japanese Exclusion Act had intensified the organizing activities of Nikkei --- ethnic Japanese --- workers. Yoneda must have felt right at home.

Spurned by the AFL, laborers of color --- in Los Angeles, this meant particularly Japanese, Mexicans and Pilipinos --- found support first among the Wobblies and then, more effectively, in the Communist Party. Yoneda quickly joined the CP. The next fifteen years were filled with demonstrations, often bloody, on behalf of poor workers and the unemployed. He moved to San Francisco to edit Rodo Shimbun, a CP-sponsored, Japanese-language newspaper. And he began to "pack a hook," supplementing his meager salary by working as a longshoreman.

He also developed an "affinity" for a young woman, which ripened into a firm partnership. Imbued by her Russian-Jewish parents with a political passion that matched Yoneda's own, Elaine Black had acquired the sobriquet "Red Angel" for her knack of turning up, bail money in hand, whenever progressive activists needed assistance in getting out of jail. For several years, the two lived together, forbidden by California law to marry. At last, fearing reprisals for their "moral turpitude," they accepted a loan from friends for the train fare to Seattle, where they were legally united.

All this is background for what happened in the 1940s, when the various strands of Yoneda's life became entangled. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, setting in motion the incarceration of Nikkei on the West Coast. Yoneda, who had spent much of his career protesting Japanese militarism, found himself out of a job: with the classification of nisei as enemy aliens, he was forbidden to work on the docks prior to evacuation. He also found himself out of political support: the Communist Party announced that it "was suspending all members of Japanese ancestry and their non-Japanese spouses for the duration of the war."

To earn money, Yoneda volunteered for construction work at Manzanar. To his astonishment, his family joined him almost immediately --- his son, Tommy, by virtue of his Japanese blood, had been assigned to what an assisting Maryknoll priest described as "a Children's Village with well-trained sisters"; Elaine, by virtue of her talent for raising holy hell in the face of official opposition, had obtained permission to accompany him. The two activists started a campaign to allow nisei into the U.S. army. They --- or rather, Yoneda --- immediately ran into big trouble.

Every relocation camp had a contingent of pro-Japanese residents, primarily kibei --- U.S. citizens who, like Yoneda, had attended school in Japan. At Manzanar, a group known as the Black Dragons watched vigilantly for signs of Allied sympathizing and delivered swift punishment. Camp administrators ignored its verbal and physical harassment, perhaps pleased to find confirmation that Nikkei traitors did indeed exist in their midst.

One evening fourteen Black Dragons invited themselves into the Yonedas' quarters and angrily harangued Karl in Japanese while his terrified --- and uncomprehending --- wife and son looked on. Ironically, one of the epithets they hurled at the dedicated Communist was "FBI dog." For some reason, the intruders left without laying a finger on him, even though they had earlier assaulted two of his colleagues, sending one to the hospital. But they left behind emotional scars. Later, after Yoneda provided valuable service in Asia as part of Military Intelligence, Tommy greeted him ecstatically on his return. Horrible nightmares had beset the boy, Elaine revealed, because he feared that the Japanese --- "they're bad guys like those in Manzanar" --- would capture his father.

After the war, the handsome figure of Karl Yoneda once again appeared among California radicals, campaigning alongside his wife against war and for Nikkei redress. But few of his associates could have known that Yoneda fought his most bitter battle for peace against a band of fellow kibei workers in a crowded tent in the lonely Owens Valley.

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999

Friday, June 4, 1999

The aftermath

And there it was. Just a few hours after the peace plan was announced, national security adviser Samuel Berger was on "Nightline" stating that a long-term reconstruction plan for Yugoslavia was in the offing. In the aftermath of 72 days of maniacal pique-ridden bombing which has caused $100 billion in damage to the Serbian infrastructure and environment, helped disperse most of the population of Kosovo and curtailed the livelihoods of 1.5 million Serb workers, Berger dangled the let-the-healing-begin card, presently our greatest national sentiment.

There is an underlying perverseness to this cloaked U.S./NATO strategy-on-the-fly which is unspeakably foul. If we step back for a moment, it's clear NATO died as an effective enforcer for the globalist agenda, at Rambouillet, when it demanded that Yugoslavia, in effect, subject itself to NATO occupation --- "free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY," Article 8 of the Accord reads --- a passage which the Berliner Zeitung noted, "sounds like a surrender treaty following a war that was lost."). NATO only realized its demise after hostilities commenced, when Milosevic reacted with military tactics which any NATO field commander now realizes he himself would have used if similarly corralled. Forced to target mainly Serb noncombatants and their homes and workplaces and let the Kosovars wend slowly in the wind, NATO's rear guard destructiveness perforce became more pronounced, and with it inevitably came the realization that the realm of NATO options had dwindled to one: Blast the living shit out of them, and then offer to rebuild, because that's the only way we can sneak the globalist blueprint past a world which views us with contempt. I don't think it too great a stretch to submit that, by comparison, the Columbine killers had more moral courage.

Berger actually had the chones to close out his "Nightline" visit with a breathtaking reprise of the original U.S./NATO intentions: "Yugoslavia is the one area that has not been integrated into post--Cold War Europe." And then, in verbal facsimile of Clinton's hubris of seven weeks ago when it was a given that Milosevic would fold and forever disappear, Berger crooned, though rather supplicatingly: "Except for humanitarian reasons, I don't think a rebuilding program will go into Yugoslavia if Milosevic is still in power."


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But we can leave concerns about the current muscle-bound status of the goons of the global economy to freshly minted worriers like Lawrence Eagleburger and others within the Beltway whose task it is to limn such details on the talk shows. Yesterday a World Bank study took the ramifications of globalism to another level altogether. It reported that the world has 200 million "newly poor" since 1993, much of it a consequence of the Asian financial crisis, and recommends urgent changes in rescue programs to protect people, and not just economies. Safety nets, of the sort Clinton abandoned in America's inner cities a few years ago, must be expanded to handle rising rates of poverty worldwide, the bank stressed. The study cited data which show sharp rises in the numbers of poor in India, Africa, eastern Europe and central Asia.

The bank and its counterpart, the IMF, have long demanded of countries that they cut wages and employment, and reduce government spending and health and safety benefits in exchange for economic assistance. That it has now distributed guidelines to world governments disabusing them of the wisdom of such structural adjustments, timely affords us some realistic perspective. It relegates the Clinton-Milosevic tiff, for all its madness, to the sludge pit where would-be toughs slither and hiss out their remaining days.


* * *

If you're lucky, the resultant mud splattering on your own street won't be lethal, though it has other pernicious forms in the age of the corporate logo. Robert Reich used to attempt to convince us that we're now all "symbolic analysts," and that we shouldn't feel bereft with the denuding of the American industrial base. Reich came to mind when I picked up the San Francisco Observer the other day and saw a full-page ad placed by Joe O'Donoghue and the San Francisco Residential Builder's Association. The ad espouses continuing the construction of so-called live-work units South of Market since, according to the SFRBA, blue-collar jobs are no longer a mainstay of the city's economy. The growth of multimedia jobs in SOMA, the ad maintains, necessitates that local housing be built for the techies. The text reads like a compilation of recent columns on the subject by O'Donoghue's pal, Warren Hinckle, garnished with Hinckle's blowsy syntax and tumbling sentences, though curiously without his customary stabs at one-time political cronies or former employers who relieved him of his duties.

One would have thought that George Cothran's superb SF Weekly pieces on the live-work grotesquery had put the matter --- factually, at least --- to rest. Cothran's comprehensive research detailed that, in fact, blue-collar jobs in the city are growing, and laid bare the lucrative nexus of belly-to-belly chumminess between developers and city government.

Surely the World Bank report should be instruction enough in convincing us that the international crises brought on by rapacious capital flows means that we ought to be renewing domestic production for domestic consumption. And that clearly means manufacturing and light industry and the protection of those industrial zones. Similarly, the overheated San Francisco real estate market should be an omen of the extent to which the city is becoming a satellite-suburb of Silicon Valley, as affluent high-tech employees down there bid up the costs of city housing to obscene levels, displacing the working poor.

Fully one-third of the nation's investment capital is to be found in Silicon Valley. A high-tech economic monoculture burnishes everything around it in its own image, political leaders indisputably so. Like all powerful corporate industries these days, it believes it can go where it likes, and work its will. And it will do to you what it did to Belgrade, if you're not careful. Put that in your peace pipe and light your own fire.

--- Copyright John Hutchison 1999

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