Silent Voices of WW IISyndicated Columnist
Friday, August 12, 2005
SANTA FE— Here's another great book on World War II by New Mexicans, about New Mexicans.
Published in 2005, Silent Voices of World War II ties together the key roles played by New Mexico and New Mexicans in the war. Authors Nancy Bartlit and Everett Rogers reveal how a little state like ours could have such an impact on a world war.
Major players in this book are the New Mexico National Guard in the Philippines, Navajo code talkers in the Pacific, Japanese relocation camps in New Mexico and the development of atomic bombs in Los Alamos.
Although seemingly unrelated, the authors find connections between these people and events. For instance, several thousand Japanese Americans, classified by the FBI as "dangerous enemy aliens," were interned in Santa Fe despite our nation's most secret scientific laboratory being on the mesa, just across the Rio Grande.
How could that have happened? Was it a serious risk to our national security? These were people that other communities and states had begged not to have, and yet they were housed at the bottom of "The Hill," where our super-secret bombs were being made.
Another strange twist was identified by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. He complained to Manhattan Project director, Gen. Leslie Groves, that his scientists were every bit as cooped up as the Japanese enemy at the Santa Fe internment camp.
The authors also delve into the decision-making processes that led to Los Alamos becoming the site of our bomb factory, to Japanese Americans being interred, to the New Mexico National Guard being sent to the Philippines and to Navajos being chosen to communicate our top military secrets.
Also discussed is the irony of code talkers who were disciplined as children in federal schools for speaking their native language.
The government was very pleased with the magnificent performance of its code talkers, but when one of them went back to school to finish his education after the war, he found that the rules hadn't changed. In addition to Santa Fe, New Mexico also kept Japanese at Fort Stanton and Lordsburg. Those were POW camps, run by the Army, as opposed to Santa Fe's detention camp, run by the Department of Justice.
In time, Santa Feans, known for their tolerance, became accustomed to having the internment camp on the northwest side of town. Many of the internees began working in town. But that ended when a group of New Mexico guardsmen, who had been rescued from Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines, returned in March with blood curdling accounts of Japanese atrocities.
The daring raid that freed those prisoners, who were too sick or injured to be shipped to Japan as slave labor, was told in the recent book "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides, of Santa Fe and in The Great Raid on Cabanatuan, by William Breuer. It also has just been released in theaters as The Great Raid and is getting good reviews.
Bartlit and Rogers approached their subjects in Silent Voices from a sociological point of view. They don't just tell what happened but provide an analysis of the events and people.
Rogers, who died since the book was finished, had a Ph.D. in Sociology, with a special interest in intercultural communication. He was a communication professor at the University of New Mexico.
Bartlit, holds a Master's degree in international communications from UNM. She lives in Los Alamos and has been chair of the Los Alamos County Council, which is similar to a mayor in most towns. Earlier, she spent two years teaching in Japan and since, has returned to study Japan's technology and industry. ❇