Peace Is a Chain Reaction: How World War II Japanese Balloon Bombs Brought People of Two Nations Together

By Tanya Lee Stone. Candlewick Press, 2022. 176 pages. $24.99/hardcover or eBook. Recommended for ages 10–12.

Tanya Lee Stone takes us on an unusual storytelling adventure, which begins in California at the outbreak of World War II and reaches across 75 years of U.S. and Japanese history. With the attack on the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japan suddenly became an enemy nation to the United States. For the duration of the war, the U.S. government, in a massive reaction and violation of constitutional rights, detained thousands of Japanese American citizens and their families in ten vast internment camps in the West. The rationale for the internment—never borne out—was that cultural and ethnic ties to Japan made them potentially disloyal to the U.S. war effort.

In a lively style that appeals to middle school students and with many photographs and illustrations, Stone weaves the remarkable story of one such U.S. citizen, Yuzuru John Takeshita, interned at Tule Lake Camp with his family. Takeshita’s single initiative to bring the two sides together for healing after the war became a “chain reaction” that expanded over the years to reach and change many hearts in both countries.

In a 1985 visit to the Japanese village where he spent some childhood years living with his grandfather, Takeshita learned that his friend’s wife had been recruited, as a schoolgirl, to help make the paper for bomb-carrying balloons, thousands of which the Japanese army set adrift in 1944 to reach the United States and wreak indiscriminate harm. One of these balloon bombs exploded and killed five children and a teacher in Bly, Ore., near where Takeshita had been interned. His friend’s Japanese wife, feeling deep remorse for the harm she had caused, asked if he would take a thousand origami paper cranes (a symbol of peace) folded by her and her former schoolmates who had been involved in the project and give them to the families of the Bly victims. This he did, beginning a wave of cross-cultural friendships. This small gesture of healing for the six U.S. lives lost occurred in the context of many thousands of Japanese who had died at the hands of the U.S. atomic bombs in 1945.

I will let Tanya Lee Stone narrate in Peace Is a Chain Reaction the many details of this peacemaking adventure and how it spread: back to Bly and far beyond. It is a wonder how one person, Yuzuru John Takeshita, so wronged with internment by his U.S. homeland, could forgive and become a vessel for peace in a war-wounded world. I see this book as a catalyst for family and classroom conversations, on what the peace testimony Quakers so treasure really looks like in practice, how it began in this story, and how it might begin with us.

Ken Jacobsen and his wife, Katharine, lived, served, and taught in Quaker schools and communities for many years. Since her passing in 2017, he seeks to share the life of the Spirit as they did from his lakeside home in Wisconsin. Ken is a member of Stillwater Meeting (Ohio Yearly Meeting).

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