The Japanese-American author of a book about the hardships her mother experienced in the United States during World War II calls on young people to learn more about the era's immense suffering and work toward ridding the world of such conflicts.

"One of my major goals is to recruit high school, college and graduate students" to tell the story to the next generations, said Shirley Higuchi, a 64-year-old lawyer in Washington, during an interview ahead of the 78th anniversary of Tokyo's Aug. 15 surrender in the war.

Shirley Higuchi, author of the nonfiction book "Setsuko's Secret," poses for a photo in Washington on July 8, 2023. (Kyodo)

In 2020, Higuchi published "Setsuko's Secret," a nonfiction book based on the life story of her mother Setsuko who was incarcerated at a U.S. camp with her family after the December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The book's Japanese translation was released in March this year.

Two months after the Japanese attack, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order that authorized forcible relocation efforts and led to U.S. authorities transferring more than 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans to some 10 camps.

Setsuko was 11 years old when she and her family were taken from their home in California to the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming, Higuchi said.

The executive order was justified as an attempt to prevent spying activities and attacks on military facilities of the United States by residents including Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans. But Higuchi said, "There was no evidence of any such activities."

At Heart Mountain, the five family members including Setsuko lived in a 45-square-meter room in the camp's wooden barracks, with shared bathrooms and showers. The property was surrounded by barbed wire and had armed guards on duty around the clock.

When Higuchi, as a grown-up, sought details about the wartime confinement of her mother's family, Setsuko did not talk much about it and simply said, "I was happy," or that the camp had been a "fun place" where she met her husband.

Unbeknownst to Higuchi until after her mother's death in 2005, Setsuko had also given more than $100,000 to help convey the history of the incarceration camps.

Higuchi later became chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and worked to open a museum in 2011 called the Interpretive Center, which preserves and exhibits materials related to the old camp.

Norman Mineta, a former Heart Mountain incarceree and the first Japanese-American to assume U.S. Cabinet posts, including secretary of commerce, contributed to the project.

"I got the impression that the Japanese students are very sheltered," Higuchi said. She visited Japan in 2019 and talked to high school students in Tokyo.

"Japanese young people need to open up their minds and know what is going on in the world, and more importantly, know their history -- good and bad -- of Japanese in America," she said.

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