The Congressmen Who Met in a Japanese Internment Camp

Every week, The Friendship Files contains a dialog between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or extra buddies, exploring the historical past and significance of their relationship.

This week, she talks with two former members of Congress, a Democrat and a Republican, whose across-the-aisle friendship originated a few years earlier, when one boy—Norman Mineta—was incarcerated in Wyoming together with his household in an internment camp for Japanese Americans throughout World War II. The different boy, Alan Simpson, was a part of an area Boy Scout troop that visited the camp to have a jamboree with the scouts who had been imprisoned there. Mineta and Simpson had been paired up for that in the future. Decades later, after they each entered politics, they reconnected; after they each had been elected to Congress, they labored collectively to assist cross the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The act served because the federal authorities’s formal apology to those that had been imprisoned in the course of the battle, and paid them monetary reparations. Mineta and Simpson’s friendship is featured within the upcoming PBS particular Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Story, which airs May 20. In this interview, they focus on the atrocity that introduced Mineta’s household to Wyoming, their Boy Scout antics, and why they suppose friendships throughout political events are more durable than they was once.

The Friends

Norman Mineta, 87, a former Democratic consultant from California (1975–95), secretary of commerce beneath President Bill Clinton, and secretary of transportation beneath President George W. Bush. He now lives in Edgewater, Maryland.
Alan Simpson, 87, a former Republican senator from Wyoming (1979–97). He now lives in Cody, Wyoming.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

Julie Beck: Tell me slightly bit about your childhoods—Senator, rising up in Wyoming, and Mr. Secretary, your childhood in San Jose, up till your loved ones was imprisoned.

Alan Simpson:  My mother and father lived in Cody. I used to be raised right here. I simply lived the everyday boy’s life, and joined the Boy Scouts. And battle got here in ’41.

Norman Mineta: And I used to be born in San Jose, California. My mother and father had been each immigrants from Japan. After December 7 [1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor], President Roosevelt had signed Executive Order 9066 delegating to the Department of War the power to evacuate and intern individuals. And quickly after the manager order was signed, all these large placards went up on utility poles and sides of buildings the place there have been comparatively massive populations of these of Japanese ancestry. Those indicators mentioned Attention, all these of Japanese ancestry, alien and non-alien. As a 10-year-old child, I checked out that signal, and I mentioned to my brother, who’s 9 years older, “Who’s a non-alien?” He mentioned “That’s you.” I mentioned, “I’m not a non-alien. I’m a citizen.” He mentioned, “It means the same thing.” I mentioned, “Why aren’t they calling me a citizen?” And my brother mentioned, “Well, maybe some sort of psychological warfare.” And that’s why, to today, I nonetheless cherish the phrase citizen, as a result of my very own authorities wasn’t prepared to make use of the phrase citizen to explain me.

Former Senator Alan Simpson (left) and former Representative Norman Mineta (proper). (Courtesy of Mineta Legacy Project.)

Beck: What do you bear in mind concerning the journey there and your response to the camp? Were you in a position to make buddies with different youngsters your age whenever you bought there?

Mineta: The first camp we went to was Santa Anita, the racetrack close to Los Angeles. We left San Jose on May 29, 1942, on the practice, and went to Santa Anita. Then, in November, we went from Santa Anita to Wyoming. We bought as much as Wyoming on a chilly, blustery day, and advantageous sand was pelting our faces. We had been from California, so we did not have any heat garments. When we bought to our constructing, the place was simply stuffed with silt and the colleges hadn’t been constructed but. The camp elders had been slightly nervous about what to do with the girls and boys. So they’d written to the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts and mentioned, Please come and assist manage troops.

So we had about eight or 10 Boy Scout troops within the camp. And our scout leaders would write to the scouts in Deaver, Ralston, Powell, Cody, and all of the cities across the camp to ask them to return for jamboree.

Beck: I’ve to say, I’m not completely positive what a Boy Scout jamboree is. Is it only a assembly of various troops?

Simpson:  Oh, you’ve bought to get collectively and speak about your advantage badges. And learn to braid the bolo, and do all types of issues.

Mineta: These troops wrote again and mentioned, “No, no, there’s barbed wire all around that camp. There are military guard towers with searchlights and machine-gun mounts. Those are POWs. We’re not coming in.” And our scout leaders would write again and say, “No, these are Boy Scouts of America. They wear the same uniform you do. They read the same manual you do. They go after the same merit badges you do.” And thankfully, the Boy Scout troop from Cody determined to return in. They had a frontrunner who thought this was a very good factor to do.

Beck: Senator, did you reside close to the camp? Had you seen it earlier than your troop went for this jamboree?

Simpson: The factor concerning the camp was, right here you might be dwelling in Cody, Wyoming. The battle has began. You don’t even know a lot about Japan in any respect, and all of the sudden we’re at battle. There was nothing between Cody and Powell, Wyoming. It was only a two-lane highway. They picked probably the most distant areas of America to place these camps. And they couldn’t have discovered a extra distant one than between Cody and Powell, with only one highway. Not a farm, not a homestead, no water, no irrigation. And all of the sudden the third-largest metropolis in Wyoming sprung up on the prairie in weeks.

You had barbed wire throughout. Guard towers. And within the guard towers, searchlights and troopers with rifles, all aimed inside. So when you had been an area boy, you’d say, “Why the hell would I ever want to go there? All the stuff is aimed inside, so they must be some real characters in there. What if they escape?” Well, the scoutmaster was manner forward of us. He mentioned, “Look, they’re American citizens.”

Downtown in Cody, there’d be an indication on the door of a restaurant: No Japs allowed. You sons of bitches killed my son in Iwo Jima. It was a time of complete hysteria—battle hysteria and racial prejudice. There isn’t some other manner to have a look at it. Getting to know Norm and the opposite scouts was a time of progress and understanding.

Beck: Tell me concerning the jamboree. How lengthy was it? What did you guys do? What had been your impressions of one another?

Simpson: He was a pixie. He had an amazing snigger, an amazing smile, and he was enjoyable. And he was very severe, really working towards Eagle Scout. I used to be simply hanging by my thumbs attempting to get to be a Star Scout.

Mineta: It was only a one-day affair. We went by the knot-tying contest and the woodworking contest and learn how to begin a hearth with out a match. Then we bought paired off with a Boy Scout from Cody. We needed to put up a pup tent, and since you might need rain, it’s a must to defend your tent. You must construct a moat across the tent. So we had been constructing our moat and Alan mentioned, “You know, there’s a kid from my troop in that tent down below. He’s sort of a bully. Would you mind if we cut the water to exit that way?”

It was no pores and skin off my nostril, so I mentioned, “Sure.” So we constructed this stunning moat, reduce the water to go right down to the opposite tent under us, and as luck would have it, it began raining. And our moat labored fantastically. The moat flooded the opposite tent.

Mineta members of the family and buddies at Heart Mountain Relocation Center throughout World War II. Norman is within the entrance row within the white shirt. (Courtesy of Mineta household)

Simpson: I do bear in mind it was humorous as hell. And it meant that our work as scouts was good.

Mineta: Out of that brief expertise got here this excellent, stunning relationship. I simply love Alan.

Simpson: Then when he turned mayor of San Jose [in 1971], I wrote a observe to him. I mentioned, “Well, how are you doing? I’m in the state legislature out in Wyoming and saw your name. Do you remember the fat kid from Cody and the tent?” He wrote again and mentioned he positive did.

Mineta: I might say that I knew Alan when he had hair and was roly-poly.

Simpson: Then he was elected to Congress in ’74. And I used to be elected to Congress in ’78. We instantly seemed one another up.

Beck: So after that first letter you didn’t actually write forwards and backwards?

Simpson: That’s proper. We did not correspond or do something till we bought to Congress.

Mineta: And but in ’78 when Alan got here to the U.S. Senate, our friendship went again as if we had been nonetheless sitting in that pup tent once we had been 12 years previous.

Beck: What was that second like whenever you guys met one another once more in spite of everything that point?

Simpson: We simply got here towards one another and gave one another an enormous squeeze. I’ve ruined a number of glasses in my pocket squeezing him. Our wives have given up on us. They say, “My God, there they are over there hugging and squeezing each other.” Well that’s what you do you probably have pretty buddies, and he’s the loveliest of the loveliest ones.

Mineta: My spouse says when Alan and I see one another, we revert to being 12 years previous.

Simpson: We actually do. There’s a biblical phrase, “The scales fell from their eyes.” They suppose they’re 12 they usually’re really 87.

Beck: How did serving in Congress collectively form your friendship? Obviously you had been in numerous chambers and on completely different sides of the aisle, however did you’re employed collectively on something? Did you ever discover yourselves at odds over sure points?

Simpson: Oh positive. But you understand, he was in a special [field]. He was very large in aviation. I don’t know what that committee was, however his butt was formed like an airline seat. And I used to be concerned with immigration, and veterans’ points, senior residents, and nuclear high-level waste.

But then the reparations invoice [for Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II] got here up, and Norm was proper there. He mentioned, “Now we need help. We got it done in the House. Will you be ready?” So we started to maneuver it within the Senate. There had been different nice movers and shakers. I wasn’t the principal one, however I actually dragged a couple of individuals with me.

Mineta: Alan was very, very useful in shifting that invoice on the Senate facet.

Simpson: My personal colleague from Wyoming, Senator Malcolm Wallop, was a really clever, articulate man. He was very a lot against reparations, and right here I used to be, combating the battle. I lastly mentioned, “Look, Malcolm. I was there. You weren’t.” And we made our peace and moved on, which it’s a must to do.

Beck: Did he find yourself voting for reparations or in opposition to?

Simpson: He voted in opposition to it.

Beck: Did you guys have a good time when the invoice handed?

Simpson: When we have a good time, he has a Diet Pepsi and I’ll have a glass of Cabernet. That’s concerning the extent of our celebrations.

Beck: Over your years working in Congress, what did your friendship add to your life that was completely different from friendships you had inside your individual political events?

Mineta: Today, the phrase compromise is a nasty phrase. And but in these days, we’d combat in subcommittee, full committee, on the ground of the House, after which we’d slap one another on the again and say, “Come on. Let’s go have a drink. Let’s go have dinner.” And that simply doesn’t occur immediately. That sort of relationship doesn’t exist.

One time we had been having dinner and somebody got here as much as us and mentioned, “Simpson, you’re a conservative Republican and that is a liberal Democrat. Now tell me, what is the biggest difference between the two of you guys?” And Alan thought of it and he says, “Well, I wear 17 E shoes; he wears 8 1/2 D.” And the man checked out Alan as if pondering, Now what sort of a response is that? And he went off mumbling to himself.

I began laughing. I mentioned, “You son of a gun. That’s the very reaction you wanted to get out of the guy, walking away mumbling.” He does issues like this on a regular basis.

Simpson: There’s a deepness there that you do not all the time have with others. Friendships go, friendships cross. Friendships aren’t friendships whenever you see a man you haven’t seen for 20 years and he says, “Well I haven’t heard from you. I wondered what happened to you,” placing slightly guilt journey on you. We by no means did any of that. We simply noticed one another and began up proper the place we had been and all the time with nice good humor and enjoyable. Very real affection and love for one another as human beings.

Beck: Why do you suppose it has turn into more durable today on Capitol Hill to kind the sort of friendship that you just two have?

Mineta:  I believe a part of it’s the schedule. Because within the House, the primary vote is [Monday night or] Tuesday. They’re there all day Wednesday, then Thursday the final vote is [often] at 3 o’clock. So they don’t get to know one another.

When we had been there, [House Speaker] Tip O’Neill mentioned the primary vote could be Monday at 12 midday and the final vote Friday at 3 p.m. So we had been there the total week. We bought to know one another. Members would socialize, in addition to legislate collectively—whether or not you need to play basketball or no matter sport it is likely to be. And you actually meant it whenever you mentioned, “My good friend, my fine colleague from Wyoming.” And that doesn’t occur immediately.

Simpson: The worst factor immediately is a factor referred to as hatred. It’s “I hate Trump.” “I hate Hillary.” “I hate Warren.” “I hate McConnell.” It isn’t about “Oh gosh, I don’t agree with them.” Then, man oh man, the hacking that’s occurring inside the Democratic Party and over within the Republicans … This is insanity. It’s stupefying to observe.

Mineta: I bear in mind when Alan mentioned one time, “Hate corrodes the container it’s in.”

Simpson:  And boy, you see it on the faces of individuals. It’s unraveled of their options, the hate. That’s the distinction.

Beck: Do you suppose it’s potential to return from this, when it comes to individuals’s relationships?

Mineta: I do not understand how we put Humpty Dumpty again collectively once more.

Simpson: You must do it with management, and there may be none. The leaders have all gone into hiding, or political correctness has overpowered their model, or their pollsters have met with them each Wednesday and advised them to not contact this or to not contact that.

Mineta: On high of that, when you take a special view from management, then they’ll say, “Oh, we’ll get someone to run against you in the primary.”

Simpson: Winning was an amazing factor. You gained and also you moved on. Or you misplaced and also you shook fingers. Nowadays, when you win, you need to rub the opposite man’s nostril in it. You need to taunt. It’s nearly infantile. It’s like youngsters in a sandbox.

Mineta: I bear in mind May of 1995. Alan and Ann [Alan’s wife] went again to Cody and introduced that Alan was not going to hunt reelection in 1996. Before they went out, we talked about it. I mentioned, “Why are you going to not run in ’96? You’re in the majority and you ought to stick around.” He says, “No. The stability of this place is starting to go. I want to get out of here before it’s totally gone.”

Beck: After you left Congress, how did your friendship progress after that? How usually are you in contact today?

Mineta: Well, 2017 was not a very good well being yr for me, however as much as that time, we’d go on holidays twice a yr. We’d be on the cellphone 4, 5 instances a month. So we nonetheless keep in contact.

Simpson: Then out right here we’ve a pilgrimage yearly, because of lots of the incarcerees. Norm and I often are requested to say one thing.

Beck: A pilgrimage to the place?

Mineta: Going to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, the camp that I used to be in.

Beck: You go there yearly nonetheless?

Mineta: Yes.

Beck: From assembly one another whenever you had been so younger, when this horrible factor was taking place, after which connecting up later as adults, what has it meant to have a buddy that is identified you thru all these completely different phases of your life?

Simpson: It warms your coronary heart. Both of us have been by some well being issues. We’re slowly falling aside, however we cheerfully slog on as a result of Deni and Ann [our wives] give us no pity. Just whack on us with sticks. No—they don’t.

Mineta: Alan all the time says, “Remember the good old days when we talked about politics, history, education, sex?” Now immediately, all we do is have organ recitals. We speak about our liver, our bladder, our coronary heart, abdomen, no matter.

If you or somebody you understand ought to be featured on The Friendship Files, get in contact at friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com, and inform us a bit about what makes the friendship distinctive.

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