American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War

American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War

by Duncan Ryuken Williams


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This groundbreaking history tells the little-known story of how, in one of our country’s darkest hours, Japanese Americans fought to defend their faith and preserve religious freedom.

The mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II is not only a tale of injustice; it is a moving story of faith. In this pathbreaking account, Duncan Ryūken Williams reveals how, even as they were stripped of their homes and imprisoned in camps, Japanese American Buddhists launched one of the most inspiring defenses of religious freedom in our nation’s history, insisting that they could be both Buddhist and American.

Nearly all Americans of Japanese descent were subject to bigotry and accusations of disloyalty, but Buddhists aroused particular suspicion. Government officials, from the White House to small-town mayors, believed that Buddhism was incompatible with American values. Intelligence agencies targeted the Buddhist community for surveillance, and Buddhist priests were deemed a threat to national security. On December 7, 1941, as the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, Attorney General Francis Biddle issued a warrant to “take into custody all Japanese” classified as potential national security threats. The first person detained was Bishop Gikyō Kuchiba, leader of the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist sect in Hawai‘i.

In the face of discrimination, dislocation, dispossession, and confinement, Japanese Americans turned to their faith to sustain them, whether they were behind barbed wire in camps or serving in one of the most decorated combat units in the European theater. Using newly translated sources and extensive interviews with survivors of the camps and veterans of the war, American Sutra reveals how the Japanese American community broadened our country’s conception of religious freedom and forged a new American Buddhism.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674244856
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 262,259
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

An ordained Buddhist priest in the Soto Zen tradition, Duncan Ryūken Williams has spent years piecing together the story of the Japanese American community during World War II. A renowned scholar of Buddhism, he has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Irvine, and Trinity College, and is now the Director of the Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture at the University of Southern California. He has published five other books, including The Other Side of Zen.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Thus Have I Heard: An American Sutra 1

Buried Texts, Buried Memories 10

1 America: A Nation of Religious Freedom? 15

December 7, 1941 16

American Buddhism: Migrations to Freedom 22

Buddhism as a National Security Threat 27

Surveilling Buddhism 32

Compiling Registries 35

2 Martial Law 39

Buddhist Life under Martial Law 40

Camps in the Land of Aloha 47

3 Japanese America under Siege 55

War Hysteria 57

Tightening the Noose 63

Executive Order 9066 68

The Forced "Relocation" 77

4 Camp Dharma 85

The Dharma in the High-Security Camps 87

5 Sangha behind Barbed Wire 97

Horse Stable Buddhism 99

"Barrack Churches" in Camp 112

6 Reinventing American Buddhism 122

Adapting Buddhism 123

Sect and Trans-Sect 130

Interfaith Cooperation 135

Rooting the Sangha 144

7 Onward Buddhist Soldiers 149

Richard Sakakida, American Spy 151

The Military Intelligence Service 161

Draftees and Volunteers 168

The 100th Battalion 175

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team 180

8 Loyalty and the Draft 183

The Loyalty Questionnaire 184

Tule Lake Segregation Center 186

Leave Clearance and the Draft 196

9 Combat in Europe 200

Dog Tags 201

Chaplains 208

Fallen Soldiers 216

10 The Resettlement 227

Return to a Hostile West Coast 229

Temples as Homes 234

Resettling in Hawaii and Japan 243

Buddhism in America's Heartland 248

Epilogue: The Stones Speak: An American Sutra 254

Acknowledgments 261

Notes 263

Index 373

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