Opinion: School might get the name of Pearl Harbor mastermind Yamamoto


Originally published Monday, March 19.

Daily Post Editor

An unfortunate coincidence has surfaced in the Palo Alto school board’s plans to rename Terman and Jordan middle schools.

Terman Middle School is named for both Lewis Terman — a Stanford professor, psychologist and author who was a promoter of eugenics — and for his son, Fred Terman, a Stanford electrical engineering professor who is often credited (with William Shockley) as being the father of Silicon Valley.

Because the board wants to rid the schools of any namesakes associated with eugenics, the Terman name will be removed from the school, even though Fred Terman didn’t have anything to do with the eugenics movement. The thinking of the board is that people would be confused if the school kept the Terman name.

Now the board is trying to decide what names to give the two schools. A citizens committee has compiled a list of six people. One of the six is Fred Yamamoto, a Paly graduate who was held in a Japanese internment camp and later fought in World War II. Yamamoto’s story is inspiring.

However, he has the same last name as Isoroku Yamamoto, Japan’s commander and chief during much of World War II and the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack. There’s no evidence that they’re related.

Know your history

A reader called me the other night, very concerned that a school might get the name Yamamoto. She said that if there were a good person who happened to have the last name of Hitler, we wouldn’t name a school after him because of the confusion.

She wondered why nobody had noticed this previously. “Don’t they teach history in the schools?” she asked.

The school board, with its decision against Fred Terman, has set a precedent that unfortunately might apply to Yamamoto.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.


  1. How could the school board lack the racial sensitivity to even consider a name that would be disrespectful to Chinese-Americans? It’s obvious they never talked to any Chinese about these names.

    • Funny, I though this school was located in the United State and that Fred Yamamoto was a U.S. soldier who died fighting the Nazis, an, not incidentally, liberating the concentration camps and getting rid of Hitler. I had six relatives in World War II and I volunteered for Viet Nam — but I forgot t9o ask the permission of the Chinese community. NB — a million Chinese fought in the Japanese Amy against the United States in Operation Ichi-Go in 1944. James Stewart and Lisa Lu played in the movie. Check it out..

      • Koster,

        Koster, first, is that how you learn the history, from a movie? In WWII, Chinese fought against Japanese invasion and lost 20 million lives.
        Second, your sarcasm about “ask the permission of the Chinese community”, does Chinese community not have the first amendment right to speak out? should they be silent like lambs when they get offended?

    • Far more than million Chinese fought on the Japanese side in World War II. Fred Yamamoto fought on the American side. Look up Operation Ichi-go, read Rana Mitter’s book “Forgtten Ally” or watch “The Mountain Road.”

    • How dare you lump ALL Chinese-Americans into one category. As a second-generation Chinese American, I fully support renaming the school after Fred Yamamoto. I am proud that PAUSD is considering naming the school after an AMERICAN who died fighting against his ancestors, despite the fact that Japanese Americans were interred by the American Government. I am going to write the board members in support of the name. I hate that I am lumped into one group with the racists Chinese in this town.

  2. What a mess this re-naming issue has become. And it’s all because of one Jordan parent, whose child will probably get into an elite college due to this campaign. The school board needs to halt the renaming process now.

  3. You might wonder how could the school board be so tone deaf? This is what happens when you have an all-Caucasian school board in a city that’s 30% Asian.

    • 30% Asian includes a lot of Japanese Americans who wish you could honor a hometown American hero, without saying we are the same as the people Fred died fighting against. I can tell the differnce between Jeremy Lin and Lin Biao, communist general

      • Palo Alto should not be naming a school with such a controversial name. You might be able to tell the difference, but many Chinese-Americans will not. I truly do respect the actions of Fred Yamamoto, but could you imagine if his last name was “Hitler” instead. Can you imagine renaming our schools to “Hitler Middle School?”

  4. It’s very painful to think that our school board would give a school the same name as military commander who was responsible for so many deaths in Korea, China and Southeast Asia. This is really unthinkable. I would urge the school board to not make the same mistake of naming a school after a person, but instead name them after geographic features, like creeks. Please sign this online petition — https://www.change.org/p/board-pausd-org-not-naming-our-school-after-a-person-s-name-incl-yamamoto?recruiter=619878206

  5. Great, so we’re going to put two more peoples names on these schools and in a few years we’ll find out something disgusting about their past. We’ll be right back where we started. Let’s avoid personalities altogether and give the schools numbers, like they do in New York City. PS 113, PS 202, etc.

  6. Shame on Palo Alto School Board. Their decision to rename the schools violates the spirit of the First Amendment, that says that nobody can be persecuted for just speech. Terman and Jordan did not act at their erroneous believes, just spoke and write about them. And removing their manes is definitely a persecution, what else can you do to a good dead man that dishonor their memories. There is a very big difference between not naming and renaming, the latter is a great offence.
    I am calling for everybody offended by this board decision to vote this board out.

  7. Are you proposing that Palo Alto war hero Fred Yamamoto, who died fighting for our country, shouldn’t be treated as an American? Because his name sounds Japanese? I thought Palo Alto residents didn’t think all Asians looked alike.

    76 years ago, some people treated American Fred Yamamoto like an enemy. This is why he and other Japanese Americans from Palo Alto were rounded up and put in prison camps. I’m surprised to see this kind of thinking persist today.

    Fred Yamamoto died so that no one would ever make this mistake again.

    We have a chance to name a school after Fred. This small gesture, 76 years later, is a way for our city to face its past and honor its dead. It’s a way to teach our children never to make this mistake again.

    If we can’t tell Fred apart from a Japanese admiral, it will mean that Fred died in vain. It will mean that 76 years later, Palo Alto will never treat Fred – or me, or my kids, or any Asian person – as a true American.

    Please tell me how I’m supposed to explain to my kids that, even if they died for our country, Palo Alto will never treat them like Americans because their names don’t sound white enough.

    Or, as your reader said, “Don’t they teach history in the schools?” I guess not.

    • Naming Terman school after Fred Terman, one of Silicon Valley founders was ruled out because of “potential confusion”. Why potential confusion with Yamamoto last name is better?

    • Jason, If there were a fine man named Fred Laden or Fred Hitler who had heroic act just like Mr. Fred Yamamoto, would you be ok to name your school “Laden Middle School” or “Hitler Middle School”? Such names unfortunately stir up too much emotional turmoil hence should be avoided.

      • Fred Yamamoto died fighting Adolf Hitler. Fred died fighting Isoroku Yamamoto.

        My family was literally bombed by Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku during the Pearl Harbor attack. That’s why Fred volunteered to fight.

        It sounds like you can already tell the difference? If we can’t tell the difference, does that mean that Fred Yamamoto just sounds too Japanese to be an American hero? Should we ever confuse a Fred Lee with Robert E. Lee?

        Thank you for the dialogue. Both Japanese Americans in America, and Chinese in China, were attacked by the same person. Let’s honor those who gave their lives to fight it.

      • Isoroku Yamamoto’s real name was Isoroku Tanaka. He was adopted. He planned and excuted the Pearl Harbor attack because a traitor in the U.S. Treasury Department, Harry Dexter White, acting under Soviet orders, antagonized the Japanese and made it appear they were about to be colonized. Read STALIN’S SECRET AGENTS, OPERATION SNOW or THE BATTLE OF BRETTON WOODS, It really happened.

    • Herbert Hoover’s real name was HUBER — German, get it? Maybe we should expunge his name so we don’t offend anybody. He also said that FDR provoked most of the Asian wars the Chinese blame on the Japanese — despite the fact the he loved the Chinese people and found the Japanese to be “70 million egotists.”.

  8. This is so ignorant and racist. There are over one million Yamamotos in the world. Are we going to remove everything with name KIM because it has a same name with the worst dictator right now in the world?

  9. As Alex had pointed out, there is a very big difference between not naming and renaming, the latter is a great offence.

    Why it is ok to rule out Fred Terman using the reason of “last names matter” but ok with Yamamoto by saying do not use “Guilt of association”. Purely double standard.

  10. Recently, it is said that there are an increasing number of Chinese and Koreans who do such things in the destruction work of the US-Japan Alliance, among some people in the US and Japan. Is this also one of those cases?

  11. I think people will be able to distinguish between the two Yamamotos, and if not, it will be a wonderful educational experience for our youngsters. The renaming committee should be commended for giving the board an excellent slate of names of distinguished Palo Altans. I’d be pleased with any of these nominees. Good work!

  12. Can someone tell me how many Palo Altoan fought in the World War II and die as a hero? why from all the war heroes pick Fred Yamamoto?

  13. I have noticed you don’t monetize your blog, don’t waste your traffic,
    you can earn extra cash every month because you’ve got
    high quality content. If you want to know how to make extra money, search for:
    Ercannou’s essential adsense alternative

Comments are closed.