Nowadays when Dartmouth students hear the name Hopkins, they think of the “Hop,” the campus performing arts center and home to chicken tender quesos from the Courtyard Café grill. Yet the memory of President Hopkins at Dartmouth spans far beyond the funky building that bears his name. Amidst the turmoil that World War II produced, President Hopkins extended a helping hand to an atypical pupil. Takanobu “Nobu” Mitsui, class of 1943, was a legacy at Dartmouth, a physics major, but more importantly in an era of international conflict, a Japanese national. His experience demonstrates how President Hopkins established Hanover as a haven during wartime hysteria.
The outbreak of World War II coincided with Mitsui’s matriculation at Dartmouth in the fall of 1939. By August of 1941, as the relationship between Japan and the United States was deteriorating, the undergraduate began to debate whether he would continue his studies or return home. Despite the possibility of internment, Mitsui wished to remain at Dartmouth.
He was fortunate to have the sponsorship of a classmate of his father’s, Charles Griffith, class of 1915, as well as the backing of the President of the College himself. On August, 11, 1941, President Hopkins expressed his willingness to help Mitsui remain in the United States when he wrote to Griffith stating, “I can see no likely risk in the sponsorship which you have established, and I should be very glad, as a matter of fact, to cooperate with you or to give any official or personal endorsement that might be helpful to you in the matter at any point.” Although Nobu’s father, Takanaga, wanted him to return home, he allowed Nobu to remain at Dartmouth due to the support of Hopkins and Griffith.
The events of December 7, 1941, revealed the strength of Mitsui’s relationship with the College. On the day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, reporters targeted Mitsui as an outsider and solicited him for an interview. Nonetheless, a group of Mitsui’s peers also congregated at his dormitory, showing their support and assuring Mitsui that he was welcome in the Dartmouth community. In his memoir, Mitsui declared how “being classified as enemy at first left me feeling forlorn and helpless, but the goodwill expressed by school authorities, the student governing body,” who had voted to guarantee his well being as long as the government allowed him to stay, “and our close friends was supportive and warmly welcome.” It is clear that he felt as though he had a firm support system in Hanover.
The day following the bombing, Mitsui “felt a vague uneasiness,” fearing that the attack may prompt someone to act against him, yet he “had not experienced the slightest change in atmosphere” on campus. He later described how “when the war did begin, I was not thrown into a panic. Everyone’s manner toward me was all I could have wished. Basically, it was as if they had known from the beginning that my presence was harmless.”
Mitsui visited President Hopkins later that day, who described him merely as “a victim of circumstances.” Mitsui recalled how he stood “gazing gratefully into the frank, unwavering eyes of a man who harbored no discrimination whatsoever against someone from a foreign country.” He juxtaposed his experience with one that someone in the opposite situation may have encountered since “the president of a Japanese university could not possibly have shown publicly such concern for a foreign enemy student studying abroad. If he were to do so he would be labeled as unpatriotic, and it would become impossible for him to stay in office.” This was not the case with President Hopkins; although he was often away from campus, he made every effort to ensure Mitsui’s well being.
Not only did President Hopkins help Mitsui remain at Dartmouth by providing moral support, but he also stepped in when the war interfered with Mitsui’s tuition payments. Nobu’s family had been using his cousin in New York, Sadakazu, as a medium by which to fund his education. When Sadakazu became interned at Ellis Island, the accounts were frozen, and Mitsui could no longer pay his Dartmouth bills. After extensive correspondences with the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, the administration decided to offer Mitsui loans while he completed his studies.
Nonetheless, wartime circumstances required Mitsui to make some compromises. President Hopkins suggested that Mitsui end his involvement with the Dartmouth Broadcasting System (DBS). He thought it would be best for Mitsui to avoid any connection with radio broadcasting and photography, which were the basis of the club. In a letter from July of 1942, President Hopkins stated that this recommendation was “made in the desire to protect him rather than in any question which we have in our own minds,” revealing that instead of doubting Mitsui’s actions, he merely sought to avoid any misconceptions concerning the student’s extra curricular activities.
However, the entire Hanover community did not share President Hopkins’s feelings toward Mitsui. A newspaper article from September 23, 1943, declared “While New Hampshire boys languish and die in barbarous Japanese prison camps, a scion of one of Japan’s handful of great families whose wealth greases the gears of the global war, dwells unobtrusively in the academic atmosphere of this New Hampshire college town.” While their anger is understandable, those that personally knew Mitsui saw no reason to object to his presence.
Despite the opposition, Mitsui did not regret staying at Dartmouth. In a letter to President Hopkins from January 11, 1943, Mitsui wrote that “staying here means I am fighting for democracy… going back means either I am giving up or postponing my duty as a human being, God’s child.” Furthermore, his memoirs reveal his strong conviction that Dartmouth was his home. He stated, “Immediately upon the outbreak of the war, I found myself firmly determined to stay in America, and later I came to realize that the motivating factor in my decision was this place, here where I was.” This was in part due to the bond he felt with his friends and fraternity brothers, and the hill winds and picturesque setting of Dartmouth may have contributed to this sentiment as well, but it undoubtedly was also related to his connection with President Hopkins.
Likewise, President Hopkins held a special affinity for Mitsui. In 1944 he exchanged a series of letters with an acquaintance, John Tyssowski, in which he explained his sponsorship. This correspondence reveals how he had more than a single motivation for supporting the Japanese student. Although President Hopkins believed continuing his connection with Mitsui would be advantageous for the nation: “I always felt that we were in all probability rendering a large public service in affording educational opportunities to a man of his prominence at home and bound to have his influence in periods subsequent to the war. “The nature of their relationship was more than mere politics. In addition to writing how he had “the very definite feeling that Mitsui may be very helpful in the period succeeding the war,” he continued by stating: “Moreover, as always happens when personal relations are involved, I have become very fond of the boy, and he is to be classified as ‘my favorite [Japanese relation]’ for the time being and I think probably permanently.”
Ask for Hopkins’s President Office Records: Student Undergraduate files to see the letters, and to read the translations of Mr. Mitsui’s memoir completed by Edward Rasmussen ’42, ask for MS-1069.
Also see a previous blog post regarding Nobu Mitsui.
Posted for Haley Shaw ’15.