Ichiro Yamada on the Korean War

Ichiro Yamada on the Korean War

The temperature was below zero on a Korean mountaintop. I was here since the August of 1951. I lost track of time, but I’ve been here at least a year and a half now. I’m pretty sure I finished my six month tour rotation long ago. I, Cpt. Ichiro Yamada, am the platoon leader of B Company, 23d Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division. I didn’t join to rectify my past mistake. I didn’t join out of a need to rid myself of my no-no-boy reputation. No, that line of thinking is wrong. I didn’t join because my race, my mother, my guilt, or my past. The past is behind me. I joined because I wanted to as an American, nothing more. I refuse to believe my past or my race had anything to do with my decision to join. The days of blaming myself for my guilt are behind me. But then again, why did I join? I had a decent job as a drafter over at Boeing. I didn’t feel guilty of taking a job away from a potential Japanese veteran. I am colorblind and I don’t dwell on the past… Emi taught me that. But why am I here? Maybe I’m not over my guilt after all. Maybe this is my attempt to cure the disease Freddie and I shared. All I know is once the Korean War broke out, I was on a bus to OCS and I ended up in Korea a few months later.

I’ve experienced more this past year than I have in my previous years of existence. I’ve been treated in the Army fairly. There isn’t a lot of discrimination in this war. It’s not because I’m an officer or anything… It’s just that we’re all treated equally bad. When people are cold, tired, and hungry, they couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the prejudices they held back home. The Korean winter froze the prejudice out of everyone. I heard one Japanese-American was awarded the Silver Star, but I don’t care. I shouldn’t care as to whether he was Japanese or not, only that he was an American. I changed my line of thinking in order to move on with my life.

I thought my life was hard after I came back to the coast in 1945, but these ROKs have me trumped. Their hatred for the their Communist “countrymen” to the north are that of which I have never seen. I use countrymen loosely as their only difference is that in name and political ideology. They have no cultural difference like us Issei and Nisei had, where there was a conflict between American and Japanese culture. There was absolutely no difference in appearance. There was no language barrier like many of us generational Japanese had in America. Although my Japanese was never great, I was able to get by and understand my parents, although sometimes I wish I couldn’t. The Koreans on the other hand very were able to understand each other’s curses and profanities. How can they hate each other so much, when they are so alike? It seems as though no matter how many similarities people share, they will always look to their differences. It seems as though mankind accentuates the largest difference they can, no matter how small and inconsequential, and use it as a base for their prejudice. I find it ironic though, since the Communist propaganda over the loudspeakers across the 38th speak of love and unity.

Their most glaring similarity is their passionate hatred for the Japanese. It is understandable why Koreans, both the ROKs and the Reds, hate the Japanese. The Japanese and Koreans have hated each other for centuries, and Japan’s occupation of Korea where they killed millions of Koreans and Chinese probably didn’t help. At first, I would’ve thought that their common hatred would unite the Koreans but what I find strange is that their common hatred for Japan is one of the reasons why they’re in this war right now. After WWII, the USSR took everything to the North of the 38th, the US to the south. The Koreans to the North opened the Communists with open arms because Russia openly opposed Japanese imperialism since the dawn of the 20th century with the Russo-Japanese War and the Northerners believed the propaganda that the USSR was responsible for Japan’s downfall. The ROKs opened the Americans with open arms for defeating the Japanese. All Koreans hate the Japanese, but they expressed their hatred by siding with two different sides, and they hate each other for it to the point of going to war. They couldn’t care about the US’s and the USSR’s differences, they just hate each other.

I get looks of hatred from the ROKs. I don’t know how they could tell I was Japanese. They can’t read my Japanese name tag which is written in English. They just knew. It’s like second nature to them, being able to discern Koreans from Chinese and Japanese. There are many rumors going around camp where the ROK soldiers would attack Japanese-American soldiers. I’ve even heard that their officers encourage and participate in these attacks. They wouldn’t dare attack me or the other officers though. They have to make do with harsh looks for now. I am fortunate that nobody in my company has been attacked. I find this predicament quite odd. In America, I’m looked upon as a second-class citizen by many people, someone who’s not fully American. When I was in Japan for a few weeks in preparation for my tour of duty in Korea, I wasn’t considered Japanese. In Korea, I’m considered both fully Japanese as evident in their hatred for me, yet American enough as to follow my orders which are backed by the American government. I know it’s sardonic, but I can’t help but to laugh sarcastically at the situation. Why should the ROKs hate us Japanese-American soldiers? I wasn’t the one killing their countrymen during the occupation. Hell, I’ve never even been to Japan until a year and a half ago and I don’t know anything about it. In fact, I hated Japan and all it represented, for it was Japan that made my mother into what she was. It’s not that I’m angry at the ROKs, for I was guilty of the same thing. I distrusted most of the whites who sympathized with the Japanese internment. I know damned well they weren’t the ones who put me in camp or put me into the “no-no” situation, but it irked me every time a white tried to do something nice for me out of guilt. I don’t know why, it just did. Guess we are all a part of the same hypocrisy.