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[INTERVIEW] Yuri Kochiyama on War, Imperialism, Osama & Black/Asian Politics

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  • madchinaman
    Yuri Kochiyama: On War, Imperialism, Osama bin Laden, And Black-Asian Politics http://awol.objector.org/yuri.html Interviewed by Tamara Kil Ja Kim Nopper for
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 12, 2005
      Yuri Kochiyama:
      On War, Imperialism, Osama bin Laden,
      And Black-Asian Politics
      http://awol.objector.org/yuri.html


      Interviewed by Tamara Kil Ja Kim Nopper for The Objector: A Magazine
      of Conscience and Resistance, an official publication of the Central
      Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO)
      ************

      A long time freedom fighter, Yuri Kochiyama is an eighty-two year-
      old Japanese woman who is well known in activist circles for her
      commitment to anti-imperialism and participation in Puerto Rican
      liberation and Black liberation movements. Kochiyama is a survivor
      of the US federal government's WWII incarceration of Japanese US
      citizens. Under Executive Order 9066, "enemy aliens" were rounded up
      and put in camps for extended periods of time; with the exception of
      some German crewmen seized from ships, Japanese in the Americas,
      including those residing in Peru, were the only ones targeted and
      locked up.

      After WWII, Kochiyama and her late husband Bill, also an internment
      survivor, moved to NYC and then specifically to Harlem, where Bill
      had grown up. There, Kochiyama became politicized by the likes of
      Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, Harold Cruse, and other Black activists and
      intellectuals. And so began her journey into anti-imperialist work
      and racial politics. As this interview shows, while she no longer
      lives in Harlem, Kochiyama's critique of US imperialism has not
      diminished over time. Here we talk about WWII internment, Yuri's
      life in Harlem, the relationship between war, imperialism, white
      supremacy, and prisons, Osama bin Laden, and Black-Asian politics.

      WWII Internment

      Objector: During WWII, you and your husband were interned for being
      Japanese. How did this influence your views of imperialism and war?

      The first question was posed wrong as I was not married yet, and so
      I can't answer for my husband. But during World War II, my family of
      only my mother and one brother and I were sent to an inland
      internment camp in Arkansas. Every person of Japanese ancestry
      (that's 120,000 people) was dispatched to ten camps.

      My father was arrested on the morning of the bombing of Pearl Harbor
      on December 7 and sent to the Terminal Island Federal Prison. He had
      just come home from the hospital the day before on December 6, and
      was very weak. He died six weeks later. He was in the fishing
      business. All fishermen were suspect as the US government thought
      fishermen would best know the Pacific waters, and might side with
      the Japanese enemy. My twin brother left the University of Berkeley
      a few days after the war was declared as most universities
      throughout California didn't seem to want Japanese Americans on
      their campus.

      He volunteered into the US army as did many Japanese Americans. But
      I was surprised my brother was accepted, as my father was taken to
      prison and being interrogated daily. My twin brother was sent to an
      army training camp in Wyoming. My older brother also tried to
      volunteer but was not accepted because of health reasons.

      Objector: What connections do you see between the World War II era
      and today?

      There are many similarities, but today, there is only one super-
      power, the United States. To make or bring on wars, wars begin with
      greed for land or resources, lies and demonizing the target, and
      controlling one's own homeland with harsh measures or restrictions.
      Today, there's no concentration camp or internment camps like the
      Japanese experienced, but the Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians are
      the new targets. They are losing jobs, homes, and even their lives.
      They are being detained and deported. Many may become stateless.

      Life in Harlem

      Objector: When you and Bill returned to where Bill grew up in
      Harlem, how did that move shape your political consciousness?

      My husband, Bill Kochiyama, a New Yorker, returned from World War II
      in January, 1946. We first lived in Amsterdam Houses, a low-income
      housing project in mid-town New York City. After twelve years there,
      we moved to Manhattanville Houses in Harlem. Luckily, we lived
      across the street from the Harlem Freedom School which was run by
      HPC (Harlem Parents Committee). We heard some of the best speakers
      of that time: James Baldwin, writer; Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights
      leader from Mississippi; Joe Patterson, grass roots activist; and
      Peter Bailey, a Malcolm X follower.

      Our six children also enrolled in the children's classes. Our whole
      family began learning about Black history. But aside from the
      Freedom School, I began attending Malcolm X's meetings at Audubon
      Hall, and Amiri Baraka's Black Arts School in mid-Harlem. My teacher
      there was Harold Cruse, author of The Crisis of the Negro
      Intellectual.

      Objector: What were Black people's stands on war and imperialism?

      Black people in Harlem began organizing against the Vietnam War
      before the general anti-war movement. In 1963, two years before
      Malcolm died, he spoke about American military advisors already in
      Vietnam, and he warned that America will soon be sending troops, and
      when that time came, we must begin to build a strong anti-war
      movement. He said "the war in Vietnam will be the war of all Third
      World's people--the war to suppress self- determination, liberation,
      and Communism. He died before the anti-war movement began to
      flourish. Harlem-ites used to carry banners of the Muhammad Ali
      quote: "No Viet Congs ever called me nigger."

      War, Imperialism, White Supremacy, and Prisons

      Objector: What did you think of imperialism and war?

      If you meant back then when the war [WWII] began, I was a twenty
      year old, knew nothing, a small-town gal living comfortably, and
      totally apolitical. But if you mean now, today at age eighty-two,
      after living fifty-four years in New York, forty of them in Black
      Harlem, meeting awesome leaders and speakers like Malcolm X, John
      Henrik Clark, Mae Mallory, Robert Williams, James Baldwin, Fannie
      Lou Hamer, Elombe Brath, Kwame Ture and etc., etc., people. I became
      quite a different kind of person. I began learning about American
      history, history of unending wars, inhumanities, truths-never-told,
      and profound ideas about ideologies, political theories,
      inequalities, racism, and human shortcomings that have caused
      holocausts throughout the world.

      As for imperialism, which is a policy of extending power and
      control, and usually by military force and hegemony, the government
      of the United States is the best example. Imperialism, terrorism and
      war go hand in hand. But it begins with capitalism, private
      ownership and profit-making.

      Objector: Do you see a relationship between imperialism and racism?
      Between imperialism and white supremacy?

      We learned about imperialism through the history of the colonization
      of Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, annexation of Hawaii, and
      the take-over of both the Caribbean Islands, and much of the
      Pacific. In all these instances of incursions and usurpations of
      other people's territories, it was the epitome of white superiority.

      Yes, there is certainly a relationship between imperialism and
      racism, and imperialism and white superiority. It was white
      superiority and racism that gave western people the impetus to rule
      over or control people of color as if people of color were inferior.

      Objector: Currently, the US has one of the largest imprisoned
      populations in the world, most of the population being Black. Do you
      see a connection between war and imperialism and prisons?

      Yes, I think there is a connection between imperialism, war and
      prison. Imprisoning such an alarming number of Blacks, both men and
      women, is part of a tactic to depopulate Black people in the US.
      Controlling the birth-rate of Blacks by imprisoning both Black men
      and women for such long periods during their most fruitful years is
      plain genocide. In Africa, reducing the number of Africans is done
      by allowing the spread of HIV-AIDS, a perverse and grotesque way of
      eliminating millions of Africa's future.

      Objector: What are things people can do to fight war and
      imperialism, especially if they are people of color in the US, the
      belly of the beast, so to speak?

      The growth of the Black and Brown prison population will continue to
      expand, as the people of color population grows. "Repression will
      breed resistance." US' greatest fear of revolution and greatest
      desire of empire will one day come to a climax. Progressives of
      whatever color will join hands and fight the mutual enemy. We must
      remember Malcolm's quote: "I believe there will ultimately be a
      clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I
      believe there will be a clash between those who want freedom,
      justice and equality for everyone, and those who want to continue
      the system of exploitation. I believe there will be that kind of a
      clash, but I don't think it will be based on the color of the skin."

      Objector: Do you see a relationship between the US' response to self-
      determination movements and the growth in the prison population?

      The response of US' government relationship to self-determination
      movements is revealed in the number of political prisoners
      incarcerated, like Mumia Abu Jamal, Jamil Al-Amin and Sundiata
      Acoli; Black and other radical political organizations that have
      been crushed, like the Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Action
      Movement; the number of leaders assassinated, like Malcolm X and
      Martin Luther King in the US; Patrice Lumumba and Steve Biko in
      Africa; and neutralizing of Marcus Garvey; the exiling of Assata
      Shakur; the sanctions placed on nations like Cuba, Libya, Iraq,
      North Korea, who disagrees with US policies, etc; and the demonizing
      of anyone who held anti-American feelings like Osama bin Laden, or
      criticized America like Paul Robeson.

      Osama bin Laden

      Objector: I am curious, you talk about Osama bin Laden in the same
      phrase as Paul Robeson and in the larger context of talking about
      the US trying to thwart self-determination movements. Yet bin Laden
      is quite different from the folks you mentioned; he is a pretty rich
      guy whose rise to power was in many ways made possible by the US
      government, which can't really be said about the rest of the folks
      you mention. Why do you include bin Laden in this group of people?
      Also, do you think freedom fighters should support bin Laden?
      Finally, how would you respond to the argument put forth by some
      freedom fighters that bin Laden's agenda is more reactionary and
      does not really speak to the needs of the masses of people who exist
      under US dominance?

      I'm glad that you are curious why I consider Osama bin Laden as one
      of the people that I admire. To me, he is in the category of Malcolm
      X, Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Fidel Castro, all leaders that I
      admire. They had much in common. Besides being strong leaders who
      brought consciousness to their people, they all had severe dislike
      for the US government and those who held power in the US. I think
      all of them felt the US government and its spokesmen were all
      arrogant, racist, hypocritical, self-righteous, and power hungry.

      bin Laden may have come from a very wealthy family, but by the time
      he was twenty, he came to loathe the eliteness and class conduct of
      his family. But it was not a sudden break. Growth for anybody is not
      a sudden thing. We all develop gradually. After all, he was thrust
      by birth into a wealthy family. He tried to become a part of his
      family. However, he found too many differences between most of his
      family and himself. He did go through the usual experiences of being
      from a wealthy family; attending well-groomed colleges, meeting
      people in the circle of the "haves;" but what put him in another
      path was that he took the learning of Islam very seriously…

      You asked, "Should freedom fighters support him?" Freedom fighters
      all over the world, and not just in the Muslim world, don't just
      support him; they revere him; they join him in battle. He is no
      ordinary leader or an ordinary Muslim. He may have once been
      surrounded with luxuries, but he adapted to the realities of a
      hunted "terrorist leader," living in caves and doing without modern
      commodities…He went through heaven and hell with his men…

      You stated that some freedom fighters responded that bin Laden's
      agenda is more reactionary and does not speak to the needs of the
      masses of people who exist under US dominance. bin Laden has been
      primarily fighting US dominance even when he received money from the
      US when he was fighting in Afghanistan. He was fighting for Islam
      and all people who believe in Islam, against westerners, especially
      the US--even when he was fighting against the Russians…I do not care
      what the US government or Americans feel--I think it's shameful what
      this government has done from the beginning of its racist, loathsome
      history.

      And today, when I think what the US military is doing, brazenly
      bombing country after country, to take oil resources, bringing about
      coups, assassinating leaders of other countries, and pitting
      neighbor nations against each other, and demonizing anyone who
      disagrees with US policy, and detaining and deporting countless
      immigrants from all over the world, I thank Islam for bin Laden.
      America's greed, aggressiveness, and self-righteous arrogance must
      be stopped. War and weaponry must be abolished.

      Black-Asian Politics

      Objector: You are well known for your anti-imperialist work with
      Black and Puerto Rican communities. Why do you think it is important
      for Asian people to support these movements?

      Everyone must support movements that fight for freedom, justice and
      self-determination; and we must protest racism, inequality and all
      the negatives that divide society.

      We must be conscious and knowledgeable of what happened to the
      indigenous people (misnomered American Indians) who were all but
      annihilated by the European settlers; and also how Africans were
      brought here through the Transatlantic Slave Trade with millions
      having died before reaching these shores.

      Asians also experienced racism, discrimination and segregation, but
      not the most abominable aspects of racism and degradation like the
      indigenous and Africans. Some Asians, being naive or ignorant were
      even swayed into becoming culturally westernized and looking down on
      those darker than themselves.

      I hope that kind of thing is not happening today. Asian Americans
      did not join the modern civil rights movement `til the end of the
      60's, but they were active in the anti-Vietnam War movement, the
      struggle for Ethnic Studies, protested Apartheid in South Africa,
      supported the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, the
      Puerto Rican Independence Movement, and the Chicano Movement. Many
      Asians were also involved in anti-gentrification drives, fought
      against rising college tuition, and supported well known political
      prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal.

      Asians must learn that it was the Blacks that first struggled
      against racism; and fought for basic needs, like food, housing,
      medical care, education, and jobs. The spear-heading of the Black
      struggle laid the groundwork for all the other movements, including
      the women's movement and the fight against homophobia.

      We must also be aware that people of color were not allowed in the
      early American movements or various struggle for a better standard
      of living. Even major unions did not allow people of color. On the
      strength and unrelenting spirit of the Black and Latino activists,
      Asians began forming their own Asian formations like Asian Americans
      for Action, I Wor Kuen, Katipunan Democratic P, and anti-war
      brigades were named after Vietnamese heroes.

      I think there should be both integrated political organizations, as
      well as specific ethnic groups that need the privacy to organize by
      themselves. There will always be opportunities to create united
      fronts on various issues. Our most immediate task is to stop US
      imperialism.

      ******

      Copyright 2003 Tamara Kil Ja Kim Nopper
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