Recent studies of the Asia-Pacific War have moved away from narratives of military battles and diplomatic negotiations, long the dominant mode of historical writing regarding this time period, allowing us a better understanding of the wartime experiences of various social groups on the home front, on both sides of the Pacific. The activities of Japanese and American Christians, however, have yet to receive adequate attention, despite the fact that they were part of some of the most extensive transnational networks forged between the two warring nations.
This paper considers the activities of two white Protestants—one a liberal preacher and the other a returning missionary from Japan—who advocated peace in wartime America through reference to the Japanese Christian leader, Kagawa Toyohiko (1888-1960). The preacher, John Haynes Holmes (1879-1964), pastor of the Community Church in New York, was deeply moved by the news of Japanese American internment in 1942, prompting him to write an imaginary letter to Kagawa, describing “the tragedy of these days.” He was not alone in expressing such sentiments, as could be seen in the actions of Helen Topping (1889-1981), Kagawa’s English-language secretary who had begun working at the Tule Lake Camp shortly after repatriating from Japan. Inside the camp, Helen worked as a high school teacher for second generation Japanese Americans, whom she taught using Kagawa’s publications as textbooks. Through an examination of their motives and discursive strategies, I argue that such liberal activists sought to enact a religiously-based interracial reconciliation in direct opposition to the war.