Anyway, here's some thoughts and scraps of research on a Jim Morita centric fic I've been wanting to write for years. (You know those projects you feel absolutely passionate about, but are too terrified of actually executing for fear of screwing it up? Yeah. This is my white whale fic.) Be warned, this is a long one.
A lot of people are aware of the Japanese American internment camps, and much of Morita's narrative in fanfic is contextualized in light of that. But I've always wanted to go deeper into the other aspects of his background.
Morita served as the communications officer for the Howling Commandos. What does that imply about his history? He could've received training during basic, but there's also the chance that he learned it before he ever enlisted. There were a number of radio stations within the Japanese American community, especially in the more rural agricultural regions in California. The population was more scattered there, and they needed a way to remain up to date with each other. Perhaps Morita's father ran one such station. This would've meant that Morita's father likely would've been one of the first the military police came for. Initially, community leaders, teachers, and those who ran the newspapers and radio, were the ones targeted for internment. What would it have felt like to watch his father being taken away?
Morita, too, would eventually have been interned along with the rest of his family. And he probably was sent to the Fresno Fairgrounds and stayed in the horse stalls before he was sent to the actual internment camp. (Isn't that fun.) In addition, one of the cruelties of Japanese American internment that isn't usually discussed is that oftentimes, once the families were interned, their Caucasian neighbors often claimed the vacated properties for themselves. Unless, the family was fortunate enough to have friends to watch over their land for them, many of them did not have homes to return to after internment.
Morita would've spent maybe a year or less in internment before recruitment for the 442nd Infantry Regiment began in the spring of 1943. Before that, any Japanese American who attempted to enlist or would've been drafted were disqualified from the military under the designation, 4-C, or enemy alien. However, more manpower was needed for the war, and so the US started to recruit from the interned population, which is a huge dick move, my god.
To test their loyalty, a form was distributed to the Nisei, or the second generation Japanese American immigrants, the majority of whom were around draft age during WWII. The last two questions of the form became notorious within the internment camps, and was viewed with a lot of resentment. The first asked if they would be willing to serve in the military for the US. The second asked if they would declare unqualified allegiance to the US and renounce all allegiance to Japan. Many viewed these last two questions as a trap as the second question implied that they had existing loyalties to Japan when that was not the case. Either they answer yes and are forced to serve in the US military, or they say no and are punished for not displaying sufficient loyalty to the US government. Those who did in fact say no to either of those questions, dubbed No-No Boys, were relocated to the Tule Lake Segregation Center or sent to military prison.
The fact that Morita was in fact serving in the military implies that he had answered yes to both of these questions, which is interesting in itself. It's a complicated decision to choose to serve in the military of a country that imprisoned your family. There are a lot of reasons why the Nisei men would say yes. Some believed that they had no choice. Some felt that the only way to free their families from internment was by proving their loyalty to the US government by fighting in the war. Either way, Morita would have served in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a unit comprised almost entirely of Nisei.
He would’ve been sent to Camp Shelby for training, and this would've been the first time he met a Japanese American from Hawaii.
There are a number of fundamental differences between the Hawaii Nisei (dubbed Buddhaheads) and the Mainland Nisei (dubbed kotonks). The Hawaii Nisei did not suffer nearly as many hardships from the US government as the Mainland Nisei did. Pearl Harbor is located in Hawaii, and the islands themselves were one of the most important military outposts for the Pacific Front. However, the Japanese American population in Hawaii comprised a significantly larger percentage of the total population than on the West Coast. A hefty 37% compared to the 0.1% on the mainland. In addition, while Japanese Americans on the mainland were scattered, isolated, and disconnected, the Japanese Americans in Hawaii were a strong cohesive community. As a result, the Japanese Americans represented a significant economic and political force in Hawaii to the point that it was entirely unfeasible to detain them on the same scale as on the mainland.
The Mainland Nisei had lost their jobs, their homes, and their freedom. Their entire family was imprisoned. Even before they were interned, they suffered the racism and abuse of their Caucasian neighbors. They saw joining the 442nd as nothing more than becoming cannon fodder for the US. On the other hand, the Hawaii Nisei felt a great deal of loyalty and obligation to the US. They were the largest minority group in the islands and felt a strong sense of solidarity towards each other. They were more relaxed and optimistic, and more financially secure because their families remained uninterned. They saw serving in the 100th as an opportunity to defend their country.
So naturally, the two groups hated each other.
The Mainland Nisei saw the Hawaii Nisei as uneducated, clannish, and badly mannered. The Hawaii Nisei saw the Mainland Nisei as disloyal, elitist, and too haole (Hawaii pidgin term for Caucasian). The Mainland Nisei could not understand why the Hawaii Nisei could display so much loyalty to a country that had been so cruel to the Japanese Americans. The Hawaii Nisei didn't understand why the Mainland Nisei displayed so much bitterness and resentment towards their own country.
The two groups did not stop fighting until the 442nd's commander arranged for the unit to visit a nearby internment camp. The Hawaii Nisei were utterly shocked by what they saw there, seeing the way families were crammed together in makeshift barracks. Up until that point, the internment of their fellow Japanese Americans was so far removed from their own experiences that it was unimaginable to them. It was only seeing the reality with their own eyes that they finally understood and empathized with what the Mainland Nisei had endured. It was then that the 442nd truly united.
In the spring of 1944, the 442nd were deployed to support the 100th Battalion, another primarily Japanese American unit comprised of Nisei who’d already been serving in the military before Pearl Harbor. The 100th had suffered heavy casualties in Italy, earning the name “The Purple Heart Battalion". The 100th was placed under the command of the 442nd, combining the two units.
This combined unit went on to become the most decorated unit in US military history. In its two years of service during WWII, it earned more than 18,000 awards. The reason for this outstanding performance can be attributed to a couple of things. One, the unit was largely comprised of highly educated men. They were college graduates, some with their Masters degrees or PhDs. Many of them would've qualified for officers training if the US hadn't barred Niseis from all command positions. Two, the Niseis had more reason than anyone else to give everything they had in this war. Many believed that their performance on the European Front directly affected whether or not their families would be freed from internment. The motto of the 442nd was "Go for Broke", a Hawaii pidgin phrase that means to risk it all, gamble everything until you go broke. It reflects the feeling within the unit that it didn't matter if they died as long as they proved themselves enough to the US government to decide to let their families go home. And in fact, the 442nd was also the unit that suffered some of the heaviest casualties in WWII.
The timeline gets a bit messy, but I headcanon that Morita was captured in October 1944 after a grueling series of battles where they fought to free the town of Bruyeres, then were given barely a day's rest after that victory, sent to take a town of zero strategic value called Biffontaine, then almost immediately after sent to rescue the 1st Battalion in the Vosges Mountains. The 442nd came out victorious in all of these battles, but they'd lost two-thirds of their soldiers over the course of a week. (Yeah, General Dahlquist didn't give a shit about the Nisei soldiers. He basically considered them expendable.) Considering how chaotic and terrible those battles were, I can imagine Morita getting captured amidst it all and being taken to Azzano.
So after enduring all of that, fighting one brutal battle after another, seeing almost all of his friends die because of the maliciously careless decisions of a general who didn't think Nisei lives were worth protecting—after all of that, imagine what it would've felt like to listen to Dugan say, "What, are we taking everybody?" I'd be pretty fucking pissed too.
And I think it was a very deliberate decision on Morita's part to join the Howling Commandos instead of rejoining the 442nd. Captain America has been in the public consciousness for a while already. He knows how much of a symbol Steve has come to represent. And considering it was very likely that he volunteered for the 442nd to prove his loyalty and his 'Americanness' to the rest of the country, he was probably thinking of just how valuable it would be for the public to see a Japanese American face fighting alongside the most powerful patriotic symbol of the war. Maybe it would convince the American public to start seeing Japanese Americans as one of the good guys, maybe it would be enough to move public favor to the point that the US had no choice but to let the interned families go.
So anyway, this is just me really wanting to see more of (and one day write) a much more complicated and nuanced portrait of Jim Morita. Because goddammit, his story would be absolutely fascinating.