Woodward book celebrates the defence of island neighbors

Most islanders know the story of Walt Woodward’s fight against racism and war-time hysteria during and after the World War II eviction of Bainbridge’s Japanese Americans.

But never have they had such an intimate look, in both words and pictures, at Woodward and his wife Milly’s life during those years. “In Defense of Our Neighbors,” a new book by Mary Woodward, Walt and Milly’s daughter, is an up-close portrait of a dynamic and individualistic couple as they navigated the challenges of running the Bainbridge Review while providing a voice and a defense for the hundreds of residents banished from their island homes.

Mary Woodward will read from her photo-rich book at Eagle Harbor Books, 157 Winslow Way, on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Read Kitsap Sun book reviewer Barbara McMichael’s take on “In Defense of Our Neighbors” below.

Bookmonger: Bainbridge Couple’s Historic, Principled Fight has Lessons for Today

By Barbara McMichael

America’s most shameful action during World War II surely was the blanket incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the West Coast.

Granted, it was a frightening time. But instead of rising to the occasion and setting a high standard, the American government resorted to a policy based on “fear itself.” But not everybody colluded.

“In Defense of Our Neighbors” is the story of Walt and Milly Woodward. The book, written by one of the couple’s daughters, gives a personal account of their fight to defend the civil liberties of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The Woodwards were the new owners of the Bainbridge Review when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Even as relative newcomers to the island, they knew that Bainbridge had a community of a couple of hundred Americans of Japanese descent and they used their newspaper to counsel against a xenophobic reaction.

Unfortunately, their pleas for restraint were drowned out by more strident calls for preemptive action on the domestic front.

Less than four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to a potent mixture of suspicion, racism and fear by ordering that Japanese-Americans up and down the West Coast be removed from their homes and forced into exclusion.

The first American citizens of Japanese descent to be taken from their community were the ones on Bainbridge Island. Under armed escort, they were delivered to Manzanar, a dusty, makeshift camp located in the California desert. And, as it turned out, they were the last to regain their freedom three years later.

But unlike many others in their situation, these people had a place to come home to, and that was largely because of the efforts of the Woodwards.

During the war, they kept in close touch with the goings-on in the internment camps and regularly published news in the Bainbridge Review about their displaced neighbors. They ran stories about the conditions of the camps, and about the heroics of the young men who had enlisted right out of those camps and fought for the U.S. armed forces.

The Japanese-Americans of Bainbridge Island were not allowed to fade in memory or be lumped into an “enemy” stereotype, because the Woodwards kept treating them like part of the community. And that meant that when the war was finally over, they had a community to come back to.

“In Defense of Our Neighbors” is a handsomely produced book, graced with a foreword by best-selling author David Guterson, who modeled his principled newspaperman in “Snow Falling on Cedars” after Walt Woodward. It is stuffed with historical photos and also contains many old articles and editorials from the Bainbridge Review — although these are reproduced at a reduced scale and are somewhat tough to read.

Imbued with daughter Mary’s special insights into what made her parents tick, this account of the Woodwards’ crusade for civility and social justice in a world gone topsy-turvy is a lesson for all time.

7 thoughts on “Woodward book celebrates the defence of island neighbors

  1. Notwithstanding another attempt to tell the Woodward side of the relocation story, the fact is this field has been plowed far too many times. I believe the storyline is nearly threadbare.

    One will recall Mary Woodward let an effort along with several teachers and Frank Kitamoto to immorialize this story in the controversial curriculum Leaving Our Island. The curriculum was opposed as being biased, bad history and in large measure propaganda. The controversy was carried in the international press and national press. Despite Superintendent Crawford’s assurance that the curriculum was accurate, the curriculum was quitely gutted last year and that is another story.

    In Defense of Internment by Michele Malkin appears to be the book Woodward is trying to honor with her title. However, fiction cannot hold up to Michelle Malking galvanizing book. I assume the title was another clever editor with an inside joke. We will see what comments Ms. Malkin might want to share with the readers.

    I believe far more accurate information can be obtained from several local sources. One source is the documentary series War and MAGIC being aired weekly on BITV (station 22) and BKAT (Bremerton station). I believe there are 24 in the series with 4 more in production. You can see the series in streaming video either through BITV or http://www.internmentarchives.com and go to the documentary sectio. Another excellent resource is Bainbridge Historians at http://www.bainbridgehistorians.org and go to the blog site for excellent analysis.

    Again, wonderful to see the Woodward homage to Malkin’s In Defense of Internment.

    LET IT NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, and “it” being allowing collusive elements to infiltrate Pacific Rim countries during World War II as the Japanese did. Espionage and sabotogue are real dangers during war time. We have espionage on Bainbridge and I believe the Woodward knew that but time has been allowed to airbrush that out of this newest book.

  2. “Captain” Olsen –

    Although it’s true that Josef Goebbels maintained that if you repeated a lie often enough, people would come to believe it, I think it’s time to give up your one man crusade against the truth. While it is theoretically possible that everyone except you and Ms. Malkin is “out of step”, it seems most unlikely. Even Ronald Reagan (Peace be upon him!) thought we had something to apologize for.

    If you persist in trying to sell your version of history, I suggest that you follow the advice common in Nelson’s navy: “Go tell it to the Marines!”

  3. Comrade Phil Gee: thanks for the moment of levity with your comments. The story told by Woodward is barren and replete with self-serving amnesia. There was espionage on Bainbridge Island and even Frank Kitamoto may know some of the players. Ask him.

    I stand by the failure of Woodward et al to foist a propaganda curriculum on our poor students for any sustained period of time.

    This book’s publication was a sweetheart deal funded with monies from out of the area.

    Again, see War and Magic playing on BITV and BKAT with streaming video on http://www.internmentarchives.com. Also see www. bainbridgehistorians.org for thoughtful analysis of the issues and foibles of this special-interest pressure group.

    No one will read this although they may require our little mush head students to memorize it.

  4. Olsen:

    At this remove, the occurrence/non-occurrence of “espionage” is a moot point. The biased reading of history promoted by you, your wife, Malkin, et. al. is simply entertainment for a few die-hard revisionists.

    What IS relevant — and what you are obviously able unable to grasp — is that the vast majority of Americans agree that it is un-American to punish an entire class of people for the possible transgressions of a few, even during wartime. What is so complex about this simple tenet that you can’t get that through your head? Or are you now making the case that everyone who was interred during WWII was in fact guilty of espionage?

  5. Mike, what source can you provide that the “vast majority of Americans agree…”? H.R. 442 was never put to a public vote.

    The Senate voted 69-27 to approve the bill with certain ammendments, and after the ammendments had been applied the final document was voted on by only six senators in a late evening session. The House voted to approve the bill 257-156. Reagan reluctanly signed the bill in an election year.

    You can read about that here.


    The vast majority of Americans have no in-depth knowledge of this history. Passive reading in the media and taxpayer funded re-education of this history (a result of the bill, “Leaving Our Island” being a perfect example) has a lot to do with public sentiment.

  6. Here is an interesting quote from the Tolan Commission on National Defense Migration made by Representative Carl Curtis of Nebraska March 7, 1942.

    Mr. Curtis: May I say something right here. I don’t believe anything will be gained by assuming that everyone who has to be evacuated is disloyal. These military decisions must be made upon the basis of the best judgement of those military authorities who are in charge. The rest of us will have to comply. It will be tuff, it will be cruel and there will be hardships.

    Sherman had an old idea of what was war, but that was a long time ago and it is old-fashioned. But that is going to fall upon every American.

    I live in a little town of 1,700 people. One of the car dealers there sells automobiles. He did sell automobiles, radios, washing machines and tires. His Government at Washington says, “You can’t sell any of those things. You can’t even buy them.”

    It so happens that that family has two sons in the armed forces and a third one about to go. Well, now, they are not sitting down at their supper table and talking about their liberties and their precious rights to do business and their precious things being taken away. It is one of those things that all of us are just going to have to take on the chin and like it.

    Mike, the only people saying everyone who had to be evacuated was guilty are the pro-reperations activists. In fact, the quote above was in response to Japanese-Americans who tried to make the same argument in 1942, hence the reponse by Mr. Curtis.

  7. Mike– air brushed history told as history is not history. The Woodward book glosses over the facts. Kitamoto has always glossed over the fact. Again, ask Mr. K about spies and he can tell you a thing or two.

    It does matter because there was a war underway and this area, as all war-time national security areas, had data helpful to the enemy. It is not complicated to understand.

    Again, watch War and MAGIC, BITV/BKAT or streaminn on http://www.internmentarchives.com or read brilliant articles at http://www.bainbridgehistorians.org.

    And no, not everyone who was relocated was spying. Unfortunately, the wheat and the chaff both got caught up in war-time security actions. As the Docent Moriwaki says “IT HAPPENS.” I say, LET IT NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, and it being held hostage to terrorism or enemy agents and collusion.

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