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1941 Pearl Harbor Day at Dartmouth

Mitsui.jpgThe Nov/Dec 2010 issue of the Alumni Magazine reproduced excerpts from the autobiography of a Japanese national, Takanobu “Nobu” Mitsui, Class of 1943, in which he describes the reaction of the Dartmouth community to his presence in Hanover immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

Something I particularly felt grateful for was that the student governing body in a majority decision voted to ensure my personal safety within College limits. They also kindly asked me to report to them if any student gave me trouble in the future. They explained to me that the dean represented the administration, but seldom if ever went to students’ rooms and such; however, so long as the [U.S.] government had not issued instructions, they would guarantee to me that I could go on doing what I had been doing up to now.

The next morning—the morning of December 8—I went as usual to my classes. In any nation, in any society, you can never be certain that in a crowd of people there may not be some fanatic out of control, so to some extent I felt a vague uneasiness, but leaving a class at 2 p.m. I realized I had not experienced the slightest change in atmosphere.

That morning when I had some free time I went to the office of the College president, Dr. Ernest Martin Hopkins, class of 1901, to pay my respects.

“What has happened is terrible,” he said in a quiet, level tone. “You have had the misfortune to have become a victim of circumstances.”

While I was absorbing these brief and forceful words I was wondering if our roles had been reversed, would I have been feeling hostile thoughts, seeing this person before me as having become a threat? Instead, here I was, gazing gratefully into the frank, unwavering eyes of a man who harbored no discrimination whatsoever against someone from a foreign country…

Even in Japan there would no doubt have been examples of individual acts of kindness toward enemy aliens. The point of difference between Japan and America would be, for example, that the president of a Japanese university could not possibly have shown publicly such concern for a foreign enemy student studying abroad. If he were to do so he would be labeled as unpatriotic, and it would become impossible for him to stay in office. In America the laws and government regulations must be observed, but beyond that what you choose to do outside these specific provisions is not a matter for concern.

Ernest Martin Hopkins may have had much to answer for regarding the College’s admissions policies, but on the day after the day that will live in infamy, and in the subsequent period, he showed a humanity — as did all of Dartmouth — that should make us proud.

Addendum: The next time you are in Rauner Rare Book Library, you can see Takanobu Mitsui ‘43’s autobiography by asking for this reference.

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