[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Moorhus: I would like you to start this morning with telling us your full name, when and where you were born, and then about the family into which you were born.
Tanabe: My name is Barbara Jean Tanabe. I was born January 12, 1949, in Tokyo, Japan, at a U.S. Army general hospital. That was the period of the U.S. occupation of Japan.
My father [Frank Shinichiro Tanabe] was an American soldier. He actually was an Issei, or what was considered first-generation immigrant, although his contemporaries were Nisei, which is second generation. What was unusual was that my father was actually born in Japan, at Osaka, and when he was a year old, his mother, my grandmother [Katsuko Tanabe], decided to leave her husband, who was Mr. Okomoto. She left for the United States with her year-old son, which is very, very unusual, very unheard of. She ended up in Seattle, where she met Mr. [Kakujiro] Tanabe, my grandfather. He adopted my father, and that was the beginning of the Tanabe side of the family history in Seattle, Washington.
So my father was actually an Issei, first generation, so at the time when the war broke out, he still had Japanese citizenship. He was not a U.S. citizen. It was very important for him to become a U.S. citizen. When war broke out and the War Relocation Authority was formed and the president ordered the evacuation of all Japanese-Americans from certain designated areas of the United States, the family was interned, which is they were relocated, taken out the homes and put into camps. At that time, my father was a Japanese, as was my grandmother and my grandfather, so in order for my father, who was then of college age (he must have been around twenty, twenty-one), in order to get out of camp, he had to join the army. But in order to join the army, he had to have citizenship. So he managed to get his citizenship and join the army. Because of his Japanese language facility, he was sent to work in what was called CBI, the China-Burma-India theater of military intelligence. He was part of a unit called MIS, Military Intelligence Service, and so he served in that area during the war.
When the war ended, he was in Shanghai and he ended up in Tokyo, where he was discharged. That's where he met my mother, and they were married. He was discharged, and worked as a civilian for General [Douglas] MacArthur during the occupation, in military intelligence. We were born there. Because he was with the military at the time, or working for the military, and we were born in a military hospital, we received U.S. citizenship, although my mother was Japanese.*
* Barbara Tanabe did not provide her birth mother's name.
There were three of us born in occupied Japan, and that was my older brother, Roger, who is two and a half years older than I am, and a younger sister, Irene, who is two years younger than I am.
So my early years were spent in postwar Japan. Now, you have to remember, Japan in those days was totally devastated. Very few homes had running water. In the city itself, there were open sewers. There was very poor sanitation. Material goods were very hard to come by. Very few people had radio. Television was certainly a luxury. Very few cars. Because we were an American family and my father worked for the American government, we had scrip. This is also the period when military personnel used their own money, and we had privileges to go to a post exchange or a base exchange and buy American goods. We were fortunate in that we had a house. We had a television set, radio, and other things. Part of that was because when my grandmother visited us, she was appalled at the lack of things, and so she would send things like clothes, which were very hard to get in postwar Japan. So we were, I suppose, considered the more fortunate compared to some in our neighborhood who were still trying to make it back from the war.
So my growing-up years were very dissimilar from those who grew up in the United States in the roaring fifties. That was a time of optimism and luxury and great abundance in the United States, but that wasn't the case in Japan. Right from the very beginning, I grew up in unusual situations.
Because the neighborhood was basically Japanese and my mother spoke only Japanese, my first language was Japanese. When I started going to school, I went to the American schools in Japan, which would be the schools on base where military children went, and we all spoke English. However, because I hadn't quite gotten the hang of how to speak English, I was very uncomfortable. I remember that in nursery school and even to first grade, the teacher always sending me to the corner because I wouldn't speak up in class. Well, I didn't know what to say because I wasn't quite sure how to say it all in English. I remember distinctly going home one day and saying, "Dad, what's the difference between a rock and a stone?" Because I'm not an English speaker, I couldn't understand why they had so many words for a rock. I remember having a great deal of difficulty as a child adapting to an American teacher and American classmates, and, you know, there's a fair amount of kidding and teasing, of course, at that age.
Even within the Japanese community, even though my friends were Japanese, there were periods, obviously, when they resented the fact that I went to a different school, that a school bus came by and picked me up, that my family had a car and we had certain luxury things that they were not entitled to have. So again, I got a fair amount of kidding and ostracism, some from some of my Japanese friends.
I remember very distinctly when I was about five years old, going to the neighborhood park, where there was this little hill. I'm sure it wasn't more than two feet high, but when you're only two feet high, it looks like a mountain. The big thing was for the kids to try to climb up and be at the top. I remember trying to do that, and the Japanese kids all crowded up to the top and said, "No, you can't come up here. You're a Yankee." And they stoned me. I remember being totally bewildered, because these were my friends and yet they were now calling me a Yankee and stoning me. I remember trying to defend myself and then knowing that I couldn't because there were just too many of the Japanese, and trying to run home. I remember the neighborhood police officer saw what was happening and literally carried me away from the kids and carried me home. By that time, I was just totally drenched in blood, because I had this huge gash on my forehead.
There were incidents like that that were traumatic for any child, trying to figure out who are my friends, what am I going to do, those types of things. And so from a very early age I knew why I was different, or the fact that people were going to see me as different, no matter what I tried to be. For one group of people, they were going to look at my face only and see that it was a Japanese face and the face of maybe an enemy. Because this isn't too far after the war, and so I'm sure there were still feelings of resentment that it was the Japanese that started the war, the Japanese that perpetuated all the cruelties, etc., etc.
In Japan, of course, Japan is a very nationalistic, very, very strong-willed group of people, and for them to see someone within their midst who looked like themselves but was an American, the Americans that came and conquered and were now telling them how to run their lives, I'm sure there was resentment for that, too. That's kind of the background of my very young years.
Moorhus: How had your mother met your father and how had she been able to balance being Japanese but married to an American?
Tanabe: That part I really don't know, and that's because when I was six there was a divorce. It was a very, very bitter divorce. Since the age of six, the family has never spoken about the mother. As far as my father was concerned, she was not here, and we were never to bring up that subject again, which is very hard when you're a youngster.
I don't know what the circumstances were, but from what I can piece together from my own memory, she was a Japanese whose family lived in Hokkaido, which is far north of Tokyo. In those days, a lot of people left the farm or left the countryside and came to Tokyo looking for work, and I presume that that's what she did. I remember that her younger brother was a student at the university and lived in our house, because I remember seeing him around. I just have vague memories of things like that. But I know that my mother was a very hot-tempered person who drank a lot, because I remember being in a taxi and all of a sudden she'd pass out, and the driver would get very angry and look at me and say, "So where am I supposed to take you, little girl?" I had to figure out how to get home by myself and bring my mother in. There were incidents like that when she wasn't around and I would have to do a lot of things.
Having said that, however, I also remember that I was probably her favorite of the three, because I remember her always fixing my hair, spending extra hours fixing my hair, for instance, and making sure that I had on nice dresses; whereas, my older brother was more of—you know how little boys are, kind of off on his own type of thing. And my younger sister was very rambunctious and all of that, but I was a very serious little girl and I was very adultlike in the way that I behaved toward her and my father. If they ever said anything to me, I did it and I followed all the way through. So I'm sure that in many ways she saw me as her ally and so treated me well. But you have to understand, we're talking about a five-year-old here, and so my memory is probably not good.
I do know that shortly before the divorce she was hospitalized, because for weeks I'd never see her and my father would never explain what happened. But then he'd take us to the hospital and we would be allowed to see her from a window. We were not allowed to go in or anything. Later on I found out that she had typhoid or some disease which at the time was considered to be highly contagious, and so we had to be separated.
Then after that, I never saw her again, except during the trial. I remember distinctly the judge calling for me to come forward and asking me, "Do you prefer to live with your mother or your father?" By that time, the mother had been away from the family, and I felt closer to my
father, so I said, "With my father, of course." Then later on, I found out that my mother had renounced claims to the children because she felt that we would have a better future going to the United States rather than living in Japan, where it was very uncertain at the time what was going to happen.
These are little things that you piece together over a period of many, many years, but it was a traumatic period. I remember the judge asking me the question, and then I remember my grandmother coming, and then we all got on this ship. It was the USS President Wilson, and we all went to the United States. By that time I was about six.
There were periods, also, before the trial when I think my mother tried to take us back. She came one day and packed all of us and went off. We went somewhere, and I can't even remember where. My father came looking for us, and there was quite a scene. I remember the neighborhood police coming out and all the neighbors coming out, and they were telling me, "You children are so bad, causing so much problems for your parents to fight like that." Again, you know, this is in Japan. These things don't happen, and it was being done very publicly. It was just a period of intense chaos.
Out of the three kids, I think my sister was far too young to understand what was happening. She was about three or four. My brother kind of felt, "I'm just going to have fun. I'm going to stay out of it." So during that period, it was up to me to keep the family together, or I assumed it was my responsibility to keep the family together. It was I who cooked meals. I remember I was so short, I couldn't reach the stove, and so I had to drag the chair over and try to figure out how to do everything, because we were hungry and we had to eat. I remember burning myself, and my fingers stuck together because they burned together, and I didn't know what to do. There were things like that, where it hurts, but you have to do something and so you just move ahead. You become very resilient. I did all the marketing. I would figure out where the money was and figure out how much we needed, and I would go to the store and buy bread and rice and things, and then I'd come home and fix supper.
Moorhus: As a five-year-old?
Tanabe: By this time I was six.
Tanabe: At a very early age—and I think children are much more resilient than people realize—you do things for the family. For whatever reason, I felt that it was my responsibility, because my parents were so involved in trying to figure out their own problems that we had to make sure that we got things done. I learned to accept responsibility very early on, not to have to rely on adults and just kind of figure it out and just move ahead.
I remember I had my seventh birthday party in Chicago. We went on the President Wilson. God, it was just an awful trip, because back in those days, we're talking about two weeks over the Pacific, and I got seasick from day one. It was just a miserable trip for me. And then we took a train from San Francisco all the way to Chicago, where my grandparents lived at the time, because after the war, they were not allowed to go back to the West Coast. They didn't have anything left. Everything had been taken away. So I think they went to Chicago, where my grandfather worked as a cook for a Catholic hospital. I remember seeing nuns around, and they were very kind to us.
So we went to Chicago, and it happened to be my seventh birthday. I remember that was the very first time I ever had a birthday cake, and I didn't know that this was done. Gee, America's kind of neat! We get this new tradition. It was very neat for me.
Then my father went to Seattle to look for work, and so the family was separated again. The kids stayed in Chicago for about six months, as I recall, and then we moved to Seattle to be with my father.
In Chicago, I remember the nurses were so kind to me, or to the children, and so I was beginning to think maybe the Americans aren't so bad, because as a child, you're very suspicious of people. I have no idea which hospital it was. It was in Oak Park [Illinois] somewhere. But it just softened my image of the United States.
Then we went to Seattle, and by this time I was picking up enough English. I must have been around eight by the time we were in Seattle, and I made up my mind, "Okay, I'm going to stop thinking in Japanese, because it slows me down. I'm going to start thinking in English and just concentrate on English." My experience in Japan was so bad, I didn't want to really remember any of it anyway, so I started to block out everything about Japan, to the point that I was very fluent in English at eight.
So that's kind of my early years. But I remember also being in Seattle, where we lived in an American neighborhood. You try to develop friends. Again, it was this whole thing of people saw me as Japanese, and I remember the phrase always ringing in my ear about "You dirty Japs. You shouldn't be here," that type of a thing.
When you have social pressures like that as a child, a child's best defense is to see what you can do better than anybody else. Obviously, I'm not going to change my face. I was small, very small and scrappy, but I couldn't beat up anyone even if I wanted to. However, I knew that I was fairly intelligent, so I decided I was going to concentrate on studies. So from a very young age, I started to read all the time. When you can't go outside and play with people, you have to stay home, and the only thing you can do is read. I did a lot of reading as a child. In school, I remember third, fourth grade I was a very good student, a very good student, so the teachers really liked what I did. Some of them even encouraged me to go back and bring out some of the Japanese, because they said, "Oh, you can read Japanese books? That's wonderful! Why don't you bring one of your favorite Japanese books from home and read it to the class." That was about maybe third grade. I would bring a story of a Japanese princess who has a very poor childhood, but is found by a woodskeeper and raised to be a very lovely child and then realizes she's actually from a royal family, and so there's a happy ending. It was that kind of a story. I read that story, translated it, and everyone thought it was just neat that I could do that. This is the first time I realize barriers can come down and you don't have to always have your defenses up.
At about that period, my father was transferred back to Japan. He joined the civil service, and he went assigned to Okinawa.
Moorhus: Before we get to Okinawa, let me ask a couple of questions here. When you were in Chicago with your grandparents, did you speak Japanese or English?
Tanabe: I spoke Japanese to them. They didn't speak English.
Moorhus: So you were living a bilingual existence in America, much as you had lived a bilingual existence in Japan.
Tanabe: Yes, but it was becoming more American, because neighbors would come in and they would speak English. The nuns spoke English. So I had more English than I did in Japan, because in Japan the only ones who spoke English to me were my father and my teachers. But I remember even in Japan I was very good in things like math. It was very easy because that you didn't have to have your language skills for, and I had a very good memory, retention.
Moorhus: Do you remember learning how to read?
Tanabe: Yes. It was in Tokyo when I learned, and I remember all the little books like, "See Dick run," you know, Dick, Jane, and Spot, those series. And I thought, "God, this is so easy." But the thing is, I think as a child you just kind of learn at your own pace, and I learned very quickly. I remember looking at those books and thinking, "Gee, is this all you do to read?" [Laughter.]
Moorhus: Did you learn to read in both English and Japanese at about the same time?
Tanabe: Yes. My mother would read the Japanese books to me, and then I just picked it up from that. She would read it to me. I never formally sat down and went to a Japanese school and learned the characters. I just kind of learned it, because if I wanted to read Japanese books, that's what I had to do. So learning, reading, and writing came very easily to me at an early age. Now, it could have been because of a lot of external factors that made it necessary, because I had certain social problems with the neighborhood kids, so I spent as a child a lot more time indoors reading and being more introspective than most people. I had to, because there were just a lot of things that were going on in my life that I had to really control.
I don't normally talk about this, but I feel that it's very important for you to understand this background to realize the intensity that I bring to any job and the intensity with which I went into journalism and was able to survive the first few years. What I went through as a journalist is nothing compared to what I went through as a child, when you think about it. People say, "Wow, Barbara, how could you put up with all of that?" Well, I could. But you can't explain it by saying, "Well, I had this kind of unusual childhood." Very difficult to say. The only people that really understand what I went through is my immediate family. Even my son [Nicolas Kawaguchi] doesn't quite understand all of it, because I haven't told him everything.
Moorhus: When you moved back to Seattle, the three children moved in with your father?
Tanabe: Yes. Well, actually, with our auntie and uncle, my father's sister and her family, who had four children. This was a little difficult, because we were outsiders and it was a crowded family situation. My auntie and uncle, I'm sure, did their best, but they had to take care of their four kids first and then it was the three of us. My brother and my sister were behavior problems, obviously, and my uncle had a lot of trouble with them.
What I did during that period, I remember, was I did everything I could to help my auntie so she could help my brother and my sister. I'd make the sandwiches, help with the dinner, help with the yard work and the housework. So that period I do not remember too much at all, except that we were just trying to get by.
It's a very unusual background, but eventually what happened was, the family did get back together, and I think it was about when I was nine or ten. My father went to Japan and married another woman [Setsuko Tanabe].
My stepmother then had a baby. This was in Seattle in '59. It was my brother [Ike Tanabe]. I remember my stepmother saying distinctly, "I don't want you to ever let him know that you're a half-sister. He's going to be part of the family."
So I said, "Don't worry, I'll take care of him."
So from the time I was ten—this is in '59—I took care of my brother all the time. He said my name before he said anyone else's name. But I think it was because I was always the kind of person that took care of the family. From very early on I always took that responsibility, and so it was never difficult for me to withstand criticism or attacks, because I feel like that's my responsibility.
But the age of ten was very important, because I was in Seattle and my brother was born. I started to read the newspaper pretty regularly in Seattle, and I remember that Hawaii and Alaska gained statehood in '59. There was just a lot going on, and I was thinking, "This is kind of neat to be able to read things and keep up with what's happening all over," and I felt like I didn't ever want to be in a position where things happened and I didn't know about it or I couldn't participate. I decided very early on that I wanted to be a journalist so that I could keep up with these types of things.
You know, at the time we're talking about newspaper reporting, because I wasn't watching that much TV. It is very typical of the way I do things. I thought, if I'm going to be a newspaper reporter, I'm going to have to really be able to understand newspapers. So I would sit and read the newspaper and analyze it story by story. I would read every single story in the newspaper every single day, and I would analyze how it was written.
Moorhus: You mean you would pick apart the newspaper story to see how they constructed it?
Tanabe: Yes. Very unusual for a ten-year-old to do that, but I did things like that. I remember reading a biography of Dwight Eisenhower, because he was president at that time, and my little brother was named after him because he was born in the Eisenhower administration. His name is Ike. And I said, "Wow, this is kind of a neat story. If he could go through things like that and come out, you know, there's hope for other people like me."
I had this thing for reading biographies. I remember going to the library and starting from A and going all the way to Z, reading every single biography that was in the library over a period of one year. That's the kind of child I was—very intense, very unusual, and it was my way of blocking out things that were not real pleasant for me. Rather than going into fiction and stuff like that, biographies were a great, great way to learn for me because the stories were about people who overcame certain barriers, and they did it in their own way.
My father realized how much I liked reading, so he bought a set of encyclopedias, a Science Book of Knowledge, the old classics, the King Arthur thing. I read everything. I read all the classics, and then I started down the encyclopedias. I would just literally read encyclopedias. It was very unusual, but that's just the way I happened to be.
Moorhus: The biographies that you read, were these in the children's section or were these in the adult section?
Tanabe: Oh, yes, they were in the children's section, so they were very easy to read. Most of them were very well-known people, like presidents of the United States or things like that, great scientists.
Moorhus: Was this a series or just books written by a whole range of people?
Tanabe: It was a series, as I recall. And it wasn't that many on the shelves. It was maybe like three or four shelves.
Moorhus: I remember a set of books with all orange covers that were all biographies.
Tanabe: I don't remember that, but they were biographies. Today I can't tell you who they were. I can just tell you that I got great enjoyment out of reading it, because it was just kind of neat.
When my father went to Okinawa, the interesting thing is that he was a public affairs officer, and so he would deal with newspaper reporters from both the United States and Japan who were covering affairs in Okinawa. This was an island south of Japan that was once owned by Japan, but was taken over by the United States and was run by the United States, most of it was a military base. My father would bring home a lot of things about journalism—not journalism, but things like propaganda, public affairs things, and these are booklets that are written by the United States government, USIA [United States Information Agency], for instance, to explain certain policies of the United States. He'd bring these home to read, so I'd sit there and read with him about U.S. foreign policy. I remember reading about propaganda, and I said, "What is propaganda, Dad? I don't understand."
He said, "Here, this explains the whole thing."
So I read the whole thing about use of propaganda and how it influenced foreign policy. I was sort of like this sponge absorbing all this stuff.
Obviously, my social skills weren't the greatest, but at that point I was just concentrating on things that I could do very well, because if I got beaten up, at least I had something in which I could excel very well. I remember in school I would obviously always get the highest score on any test, especially on history tests. Those were my best, and writing essays and things, reports. I always had to have the highest score in the class, and if I didn't have the highest score, if it was the second or third, I'd really be upset. It was almost paranoia.
Anyway, I was very competitive in school, even in athletics. I was small, but I was very fast. I could do the 50-yard dash faster than anyone else, because I was low to the ground and my feet moved fast. And I could throw a ball harder than anyone else. I was very intense and very competitive. I remember thinking to myself when I was in fifth grade, "If I don't win, then I lose." It was either one or the other. I always forced myself to be prepared. Very early on I decided I was going to be a journalist, not just any journalist, but the best journalist. So I always set myself to read things, study, and try to understand and absorb.
By the time I got to high school, I did a lot of things. I was president of the honor society and I was president of the student council. I was editor of the newspaper and editor of the yearbook. I did all of these things. I did them very intensely. I never had any problems at school ever, and the teachers always loved me because I never created any problems. I handed in my reports on time, and they were always well done. I set this very high standard for myself in
everything that I did, and I think part of that is because it was such a traumatic childhood, that in order to get out of it, I had to just set my sights way higher so that I could overcome things.
I also realized that journalists have a responsibility to be able to communicate with all kinds of people, and it was my sense that if we as communicators were doing a good job, we could reduce misunderstandings. The kids wouldn't have beaten me up and I wouldn't have gotten all those "dirty Jap" remarks if people understood what the other cultures were like. And the best way to bridge that gap is through more information flow, better communication, those types of things. That's what I had concluded when I was quite young. I can't give you an exact date, but right around the time I was ten, I was reaching these conclusions on my own and deciding that's what I was going to be. I was going to be a foreign correspondent.
Once I decided that, of course, then I started to read all about people like Ernie Pyle* and [I read] Wilbur Schramm's Social Responsibility in Mass Media, and those types of things, which are college books, but they were fine reading for any kid that wanted to get into it. So very early on I was connecting mass media with social responsibility.
Moorhus: Did you have any anxieties about going to Okinawa?
Tanabe: No. I mean, anything was better than living away from the family. When you're living in somebody else's family, you're always an outsider. Going to Okinawa meant the family could be back together again. Sure, it was Japan, but I was getting beaten up by the Americans, too, so it didn't matter. I just felt that I could do anything.
Moorhus: Was your brother Ike born in this country?
Tanabe: He was born in Seattle, so he was a U.S. citizen. He was the only one born in the United States. He was always a source of great joy for me. Other kids might give me a bad time, but he was always glad to see his big sister. It was like he was my pet. I taught him how to ride the bike and we did many things together. Even today, we're very close.
Moorhus: You said that going to Okinawa meant the family would be back together, so you were still living with your aunt and uncle in Seattle—your father and his wife and the new baby and all the children?
Tanabe: No, we lived together as a family for a period of maybe six months. I can't remember if my father came back with her or we went back and then came back. I can't remember. But I remember there was a period when we were going back and forth quite often. You know, children's memories dim, and there are certain times when you just don't want to remember anything so you kind of black everything out.
Moorhus: So it all kind of runs together.
Tanabe: Yes, it all kind of runs together. But I remember there was about almost one year when we did live together as a family in Seattle, but it was very brief, and then we went to Okinawa.
* Ernie Pyle, Ernest Pyle (1900 - 1945), illustrator and journalist. In 1944 he received the Pulitzer Prize for his distinguished coverage of World War II, including U.S. invasion of North Africa in 1943 and the Normandy invasion in 1944. While observing the advance of U.S. troops near Okinawa in the Pacific, he was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire.
Moorhus: What was Okinawa like in 1959?
Tanabe: Well, it was a big military base. We lived on base. It was very regulated. We could only go into certain sections of town that were open to military. There was a lot of resentment and tension against the United States' occupation of this island. As a matter of fact, President Eisenhower was supposed to visit, and we were looking forward to it. He was supposed to stay for a longer period, but it turns out that all he did was just ride through town and leave right away because the protests were so strong. There were lots of communists and they were doing all these snake marches around. I remember my father was very, very busy working with all the reporters. It was a period of great tension between the United States and Japan.
Again, it reinforced my feeling that journalists could really play a big role in helping to reduce tension, because it's really not necessary if people just understood things better. Children are also very naive. You think, "If they understood, they wouldn't be so mean," and that's all you want, for them to stop being mean to you.
It was not a situation that would be ideal to raise a family, because in a military situation, there are many regulations. By the time I became a teenager, the only place we could go was a teen club on base. There were very few jobs outside of base. We were segregated from the Okinawan community. We Americans lived on base, and it was just like this little island within an island, and there wasn't that much communication with the Okinawans.
Plus, the Okinawans don't consider themselves Japanese. They have a history that's very distinct from the Japanese islands. They call the Japanese "Naichi." They would look at me and say, "Are you Naichi?" I would say, "No, I'm an American." You have to learn to slide labels around, because you know the Okinawans don't like the Japanese, so therefore you say, "I'm an American." Well, of course, then you have to also accept all the negatives that come with Americans.
By this time, I'd studied a lot about American democracy and American government. I was very intensely loyal to all the things that the United States stood for and was trying to do, because I was reading a lot about foreign policy. A lot of it is propaganda, but, you know, I wasn't that sophisticated. I was very patriotic and felt that we had to be loyal beyond a doubt. It was an interesting experience, and that's where I spent probably my formative years, which would be junior high and high school.
Then again, this is also the military era when Vietnam was happening. You'd sit and you'd look outside and you'd see these waves of B-52s taking off, and you'd know that they were on a bombing mission. I was a volunteer for Red Cross. We used to meet all these medical evacuation planes coming in from Vietnam. I remember being in movie theaters, where all of a sudden they'd stop and say, "All those with the 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron please report immediately," and half the people would leave. It was really a war front, and so you didn't really dare criticize the United States for anything that it might be doing.
I was in high school, and we were supposed to think more critically about certain things. I remember one of my teachers leading a discussion about history as it was written in history books and how we should be thinking more critically about it. The next day, she was gone. The rumor was that she was asked to leave. The authorities couldn't afford any kind of critical analysis of U.S. behavior when they were mounting a war. I remember watching television. Again, this is military television. There are no commercials. The only commercials are things like, "Keep your mouth shut. Military secrets are just that." It was a rather unusual place to be in the early sixties.
I also worked at the military hospitals, and these guys would talk about what it was like in Vietnam and how they weren't so sure anymore. But of course they couldn't say that in a real loud voice, because they were concerned about how it would affect their careers or whatever might happen to them. So I was exposed to a lot more than a normal junior-high or high-school individual—living abroad like that and trying to read my father's things as he brought them home. We never talked about his work that much. He knew that I had made up my mind that I was going to be a journalist, and I think he liked that idea. But you know how fathers were in the fifties. They didn't talk to kids, and he was a typical father. He'd kind of say, "Here, you might want to read this," or he'd give me things and I'd read it and I'd ask him a couple of questions and that was it.
Moorhus: You mentioned the Eisenhower years. What do you remember about the Kennedy years?
Tanabe: I remember there was a great deal of excitement during the campaign, the [Richard M.] Nixon- [John F.] Kennedy political thing, and President Kennedy's charisma extended overseas, as well.
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Tanabe: Kennedy was inspiring, the kinds of things he said we should stand for as a nation, the kind of vision that he saw. It was just very exciting, very exciting. I was probably in junior high. This is 1960. It was neat to be a part of a country that could have this kind of a leader. It was just great being able to identify in that way.
When he was assassinated, that was in '63. I remember it was very early in the morning, and my father was up and working already. I got up, and he didn't say anything to me, but I could tell from his face something awful had happened. He was monitoring Voice of America, and they were talking about the assassination of President Kennedy. He and I didn't even say a word. We just sat and listened to the broadcast for an hour.
The whole base went on alert. Of course, you didn't know what caused it, so we were all on alert. School was canceled. We had a huge memorial service. It was a pretty devastating period, and I think being on a military base it was even more so, because it was the commander-in-chief that was lost. And, you know, a military family is a very tight family. It was very somber.
Anyway, in high school, I wrote a lot of things for the newspaper. I don't remember any particular article. I didn't keep that many, but I did write a column for the local newspaper on happenings. It was sort of like a teen column. A lot of local newspapers have that. I did that for a couple of years, and so I was sort of like the journalist for the school or something.
I also was active in trying to promote better understanding between Okinawa and the American community, so I got involved in a lot of those types of clubs and organizations and activities. I remember there was a trip to Japan. Our advisor was an army captain, and I remember he pulled me aside one time and said, "You know, Barbara, you shouldn't be so competitive and you shouldn't be so intense, because it really intimidates people." That was the first time that I'd been told that perhaps I needed to back off a bit, that I didn't need to control everything. I was starting to get these reminders that there was more to everyday life than what I saw from my own perspective.
My father used to always say that to me, but he'd never explain it. He'd always say, "Barbara, you've got to look at the bigger perspective." Well, to a kid that doesn't mean anything.
Moorhus: It's not very helpful.
Tanabe: It's not real helpful at all.
My parents are retired and live in Seattle now. We're close, but we weren't when I was a kid, because I didn't feel I needed to rely on them. I never got an allowance. I always worked on my own at babysitting and things like that. They never had to buy me anything, because I just took care of everything on my own.
So were they my role models? No, not really. Did I have role models? No, not really. My role models were people in books who went through tough situations. I felt, "I'm here for a reason. I've got more brain power than a lot of people. I've got more stamina and internal strength than a lot of people, and I should be using them in some way to help kids in situations similar to me." It's hard to describe. I knew what I was striving for, so it was always easy for me to give an extra effort, because I was doing it for more than just myself. A lot of it is because of the racism that I experienced as a child.
When I went back to the United States in the late sixties was also when I found out about the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war. My dad never talked about his own childhood, never, never, ever talked to me about his childhood, never talked to me about camp, never talked to me about the war. The war he couldn't talk about because it was military intelligence. Everything was classified. He couldn't say anything about what he did. But my grandpa asked me, "Did you know about camp?"
I said, "What camp?"
Here, at age eighteen, I learned about camp. That's the first time I heard of it, and what he was telling me moved me to tears.
Moorhus: We want to get into that.
Tanabe: Yes, a little bit later on.
Moorhus: Yes, a lot, probably in the next session.
In high school, were there teachers and courses that particularly appealed to you more than what you've already said? You really liked the history, you said?
Tanabe: I loved American history and world history. I loved history because it was about people and it was about people who led countries and it was about countries that made an impact. History had a lot more meaning to me, and it was alive for me.
In medieval English history class, for example, I'd go to the library and I'd pick out some historic fiction books about the kings. I remember reading about Henry II, and thinking,
"This is so interesting." So I read about the entire Plantagenet* kings. There were like five or eight volumes written by Thomas Costain. He's a famous historical fiction writer, and he made the era come alive. So I didn't see history as just facts and figures; I saw them as individuals and personalities that affected the course of a nation. I think it was because of my curiosity that I always took that a step further, and so it always had more meaning for me. All these courses had a lot more meaning for me than, I guess, to an average child.
I remember we had to do a report on Silas Marner, and instead of just reading the Silas Marner, I read five different versions of it to get a sense of how different authors looked at it and wrote it. That's the kind of child we're talking about. I remember one history teacher took us to go see "Becket"*, the movie with Richard Harris, and I was so fascinated by it that I went straight to the library after that and I got books out on Becket and the king and read the whole thing.
I remember when "The Longest Day"* came out. Remember that movie? It was a big, three-hour movie. I read five books on individual units that fought in the war on D-Day, so I learned all about the strategy, the logistics that went into it. I could have told you every single piece of equipment that landed, the armaments that were used. I knew all of that. Of course, I don't know it now, but at the time it was just kind of fun to know.
Moorhus: I have one more question about the kind of advice or support you got about going to college.
Tanabe: My mom didn't think I needed to go. She was a traditional Japanese. Women didn't go to college. She told me, "I'll find a husband for you, and you can do your thing."
I said, "No, Mom, don't do that for me."
So they kind of left me alone, because they knew I would do everything myself.
Moorhus: What about from the school?
Tanabe: I never received any kind of help. I went to the University of Washington. The only reason I did that is because I knew I would have to pay my way through, so I could only afford to go to a state school. We were legally residents of the state of Washington, and I knew I could get in. With my GPA and with everything that I'd done, I should have applied to other schools in the East Coast, such as Harvard and Radcliffe. I would have loved to, but I didn't have the money. I was very practical. I said, "I know I could do it, but I just won't be able to afford it. Besides, I have to take care of my grandfather."
* Plantagenet (Kings of England) from Henry II (1154), trace their ancestry from Anjou in France.
*Peter Glenville's movie, "Becket" (1964). Peter O'Toole starred with Richard Burton and John Gielgud in this film about Thomas à Becket, chancellor for Henry II of England in the 12th century.
*"The Longest Day," based on book by Cornelius Ryan, describes preparations for and events of Allied invasion on the beaches of Normandy, June 6, 1944.
Moorhus: This is your Grandfather Tanabe that had come from Chicago?
Tanabe: Yes, he had moved to Seattle. I always had family responsibilities, and straight through junior high and high school I always took care of the house and stuff. It was known to me that it would be better if I went to Seattle so that I could take care of my grandfather, so I did.
Moorhus: You took a ship from Okinawa?
Tanabe: No, it was a military flight from Okinawa to San Francisco [California], Travis Air Force Base. As a military dependent, I could fly space available, so I did that. And then I had to take a commercial flight from San Francisco to Seattle. But I was very independent.
Moorhus: And this was 1967?
Tanabe: Yes, and this was the age of the flower children. Coming straight from a military base and getting to San Francisco and seeing all the hippies—it was a real eye-opener. It was a culture shock for me. I was a straight-laced, very military orientation; seeing these flower children, and then going to the university and hearing all these remarks about the U.S. government was a real culture shock, but it was very interesting.
Moorhus: We'll pick up there next time. Thank you.
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