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Virtual Asian-American Art Museum Project

Alexei Taylor, Author

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Military Service

There does seem to be an element of a fantasy of justice associated with these paintings. This imagery resonates with and intrigues me for a number of reasons. One, because of its popular cultural associations, which you’ve just spoken about: comic strips, action movies, that type of thing. But also because, of course, while you may not practice martial arts, you do have a personal history of service in the U.S. military, and you come from a family for whom military service has been significant (fig. 4).

This is probably a first to even have that [topic] enter into the conversation about my art making. There were several issues that happened—things, I think, of note. During college I went to the University of Washington, which required ROTC— Reserve Officers’ Training Corps—for all of its male students. It was one of the most painful things for me, to go through military science courses for those first two years. I detested it. There was nothing about it that interested me at all, and I said to myself that I would gladly be drafted as a private rather than go in as a commissioned officer. My mind was completely made up. The evening before I had to sign the contract that stated I was terminating my military science train- ing, my dad invited Shiro Kashino over to persuade me to continue with my training. Kashino was one of the most highly decorated veterans of the famous 442nd Infantry Regiment during World War II and a very old family acquaintance. He came over, and I was braced for this onslaught and swore that he would never convince me to change my mind on the subject. He reminded me that when the war broke out and the Nisei [second-generation Japanese Americans] were called to serve their country, they were not allowed to be officers in their own units. And he felt that it was up to the new generation—the Sansei, third generation like myself—to prove that they were capable of being good officers, and that this was an opportunity for me to do so. I saw that argument coming, but I was incapable of fending it off. After three hours he had changed my mind. The next morning I went in and signed the next few years away and became an advanced student in the ROTC and went on to serve in the military.
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