In the aftermath of World War II anti-Japanese sentiment was still at a high among the American people. Caricatures of Japanese people littered popular culture and there was still a hatred that stemmed from the Pearl Harbor bombing in 1941. Japanese- American civilian relations were very low and prejudices ran extremely high. This story begins with Robert S. Johnstone, a Lafayette freshman who was drafted into World War II in 1944. After 3 months of training n Georgia, Johnstone was deployed to the Philippines. The eighteen year old served less than six months until he was killed by Japanese fire at Ipo Dam on May 14th 1945. After his death, his family decided to use his $10,000 life insurance to provide a scholarship to Lafayette. This scholarship was to go to a native Japanese student who would receive full tuition at Lafayette College. The Johnstone family wanted the scholarship to promote peace through education. Mr. Johnstone said, “I established this fund because I don’t think we are going to have peace by settling the war with hate and hard terms…..We are trying to do our small share by helping other people to keep the peace.” The first Japanese recipient of the Johnstone Scholarship (The first overall recipient was Chinese because of federal travel restrictions to and from Japan) was Robert Yukimasa Nishiyama, a 22 year old veteran of the Japanese Imperial Navy – Kamikazi sector. He never was deployed because the war ended before he was scheduled to fly. The news of his enrollment in the Fall of 1948 spread across the country with articles published in Time Magazine and the Denver Post and caused both positive and negative reactions among Americans. Many expressed anger and disbelief at an American university accepting someone that was supposed to be the ‘enemy’ as others thought of it as an important step towards peace and reconciliation. Nishiyama himself was nervous about attending, but he was quickly accepted among his American peers, saying they were nothing but friendly and welcoming. Not only did the Johnstone family fund the scholarship for Nishiyama, they got to know him on a personal level, inviting the student over for dinner often. Robert Nishiyama graduated from Lafayette in 1952 with a degree in International Affairs and returned to Japan after graduation working for AMP a technology manufacturing company.
This scholarship was more than giving an international student the opportunity to study at an American university, it represented peace through education and knowledge. It reminded me of the Gorbachev lecture last fall who stressed the same points of the importance of education in world affairs. He said “We are reaping the consequences of a strategy that is not conducive to cooperation and partnership, to living in a new global situation” in his speech here at Lafayette last October. This underlying theme is the basis for the new Oechsle Center for Global Education that is slated to be finished in the Fall of 2014. Gorbachev was the speaker that “kicked off” the center’s development.
Below are pictures of Nishiyama during his time at Lafayette: