Shaw: There’s much to admire about Dr. Sugihara

Happy 100th birthday on Monday to an extraordinary man... Dr. Jim Sugihara of Fargo. Sugihara served as dean of the College of Chemistry and Physics at North Dakota State University for about 30 years. He had an enormous impact on NDSU students a...

Happy 100th birthday on Monday to an extraordinary man...

  • Dr. Jim Sugihara of Fargo. Sugihara served as dean of the College of Chemistry and Physics at North Dakota State University for about 30 years. He had an enormous impact on NDSU students and faculty members. However, there was a dark time in American history when it seemed extremely unlikely that Sugihara would be working anywhere in the country.

Shortly after the U.S. entered World War II, the 23-year-old Sugihara, a college graduate student, was ordered to live in what was called an internment camp, but was actually a prison. He was sent there along with about 110,000 other Americans of Japanese ancestry, even though Sugihara was an American citizen. All he could bring was one suitcase. He vividly remembers the lack of heat, the barbed wire and the armed guards.

"It was totally absurd," Sugihara said. "I wondered why this could be done to us who are American citizens. We were not accused of anything. It was totally without justification."

This was not about national security, but about racism and fear mongering. When he lost his freedom, Sugihara was questioned about his loyalty to the government.

"They took away our liberties, put our families in confinement and asked us to be put in the military for a system that treated us this way," he said.

After he was released, Sugihara embarked on a brilliant academic career, first at the University of Utah and then at NDSU. He was reluctant to come to Fargo, in part because he was unsure how he would be treated due to his ethnicity. However, NDSU President Herb Albrecht made him feel so welcome and wanted that Sugihara couldn't say no.

"It was just amazing how I was accepted," Sugihara said. "They didn't look at me as a Japanese American. They treated me like an honorable person."

Sugihara's remarkable leadership at NDSU caught the attention of many. He was awarded the Blue Key Doctor of Service Award and an honorary doctorate from NDSU, while the U.S. Department of Energy sent him to Russia to speak about geochemistry. Meanwhile, he became a passionate NDSU sports fan, and still has his Bison football season tickets. His apprehension about NDSU turned into a success story.

"I have been treated so well in this community," Sugihara said. "People here have been so warm, friendly and welcoming. I can't say enough good things about NDSU and Fargo."

Sugihara, who knows something about mistreatment, calls President Trump's policy of separating migrant families "inhumane" and "completely unjustified."

Sugihara says he's not bitter about what happened to him and has moved on. Still, he emphasizes that people should learn from those unjust imprisonments. "Don't let this ever happen again," he said. "It is so wrong to use racial bias against a group of people to consider them as a different part of the U.S. population." Amen.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV new director. He can be heard Fridays, 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., on WDAY AM radio. Email jimshawtv@gmail.com