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A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States

By Gordon Hirabayashi – A Review

A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States, by Gordon Hirabayashi (University of Washington Press, 2013). In 1942, University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi refused to obey the curfew and mass removal of Japanese Americans on the West Coast, and was subsequently convicted and imprisoned as a result.

A Principled Stand brings together Hirabayashi’s prison diaries and wartime correspondence to tell the human story of the Quaker of Hirabayashi v. United States, the Supreme Court case that in 1943 upheld his conviction, and of the 1987 vacating of that conviction on appeal.

A Principled Stand, HirabayashiOn a lonely road in southern Utah, a farmer in a truck picked me up. He said, “You’re a Chinese aren’t you?”

I said, “No, I’m an American.”

“I knew that,” replied the farmer, “but you are a Chinese American aren’t you?”

I answered, “My parents came from Japan; therefore, I’m an American of Japanese ancestry.”

After a few moments, he said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have picked you up.”

Trying to be a good Quaker, I said, “Well, I don’t want to get a ride under false pretenses, so if you’ll stop the truck, I’ll get out.”

He thought that over and said, “Well, I picked you up, so you can stay.”

With time on hand I explained to him why I was hitchhiking to prison to serve time for a wrong constitutional decision. When we reached his house, he made me go upstairs to take a bath, fed me dinner, put me back in the truck, and drove me to a well-traveled crossroad. (148f)

Such is the style and the human penetration of the experience of Gordon Hirabayashi, posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2012 for his prison service in challenging the unconstitutional curfew and evacuation of citizens of Japanese ancestry on the west coast of the United States during World War II.

Gordon Hirabayashi's Medal of Freedom and certificateThis book, in Gordon’s own voice, is based on his personal journals during the period, as compiled by his brother James and nephew Lane. A Principled Stand is full of references to his journey as a Quaker and to the American Friends Service Committee and the support services of many Quakers in his principled ordeal.

Gordon took determined and calm comfort for the long term in the U.S. Constitution, despite the abandonment of that document by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here is evidence of a generous spirit, who claimed the Quaker tradition in his discernment for holding together faith and practice while under tremendous social pressure. Remarkably for the time, he recognized that his witness was carried out on behalf of all Americans, even though with the contemporary support of only a few:

Legal courts may throw the book at me, but a “higher court” shall see that in time justice will prevail. For such a time I live. Until such a time, may the Eternal Spirit keep me buoyed and tender in the spirit of love. (124)

This is a compelling read and is available from Quaker Books, the Friends General Conference bookstore.

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