Furor over proposed name for school

Daily Post Staff Writer

A proposed name for a Palo Alto middle school has stirred up controversy for its evocation of Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese commander-in-chief who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor and remains reviled by many from China, Korea and southeast Asia.

Fred Yamamoto, who was not related to the admiral, was a Palo Alto High School graduate who was held in Japanese internment camps during World War II. He later enlisted in the military and died in combat.

Fred Yamamoto’s name was one of six proposed by the Recommending School Names Advisory Committee, which was appointed after the Palo Alto school board voted to rename Jordan and Terman middle schools because both schools’ namesakes, David Starr Jordan and Lewis Terman, advocated for eugenics.

Terman is also named after Lewis Terman’s son, Fred Terman, who is often credited as being the father of Silicon Valley. He isn’t known as a eugenics supporter.
The citizen committee recommended six names of prominent Palo Alto and Stanford figures along with two geographic names, Adobe Creek and Redwood Grove. Both geographic names were ruled out by the school board last week.

The school board is expected to choose names for Terman and Jordan on Tuesday.

Yamamoto was presented as the committee’s top choice.

Dozens of district parents and residents, including many from Chinese and Japanese communities, spoke for and against the proposed name at a meeting of the citizen committee on Monday night.

Retired Palo Alto Judge LaDoris Cordell, who serves on the committee, remarked on the anger in the room, largely along ethnic lines.

“I just said it out loud. There’s all this tension,” Cordell told the Post. “Chinese, Japanese, black people, white people, why are we not talking to each other here in this city?”

Cordell said she stands behind the committee’s recommendation of the name, pointing out that Lucille M. Nixon Elementary School at Stanford isn’t mistaken for being named after former President Richard Nixon.

“There are different Yamamotos. There are at least 10 students in the Palo Alto school district whose last name is Yamamoto. This is just what happens with names,” Cordell said. “They kept making this comparison to Hitler, and it’s apples and oranges.”

After the meeting, Cordell said five Chinese residents approached her to say that they wanted to work to ease the tensions between ethnic communities in Palo Alto.

About white men

School board Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza wrote a statement on Facebook on Monday afternoon saying the schools should be named after prominent figures who are women or non-white men.

She pointed out that Palo Alto’s five secondary schools have had seven names, including five white men’s names and just one white woman’s name, at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School.

“If, going forward, we insist on naming our schools for geographic locations only, then we are forever left with a collection of secondary schools named almost exclusively after white men,” DiBrienza wrote.

She didn’t take a position on the Yamamoto issue.

According to a report compiled by the citizens committee, the name Yamamoto is a conjunction of the Japanese characters mountain (yama) and base or origin (moto), meaning “base of mountain.”

“The fact that our city is located at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains is a happy coincidence,” the report reads. “Yamamoto is one of the most common surnames in Japan.”

The report cites that more than 60 notable Yamamotos, including artists, athletes, scientists and politicians are listed on Wikipedia.

“Among them (is) Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor and who is not related to Fred,” the report says.

An online petition with more than 950 signatures has called for avoiding controversy by using the geographic names.

Yamamoto offensive to some

The petition specifically called for Yamamoto’s name to be excluded because of the emotional effect it dredges up for immigrants whose families were affected by Yamamoto’s actions in China, Korea and southeast Asia during World War II.

“People will feel more offended than inspired by the name Yamamoto,” petitioner Jun Ruan wrote, suggesting that the name Yamamoto would be no less offensive than the current school names. “If family name does not matter, keep the names of Jordan and Terman. If family name matters, do not consider Yamamoto.”

“A week ago I did not know that Yamamoto was a loaded name for Chinese and Korean residents. Now I am hearing from many people that Yamamoto is close to Hitler for some communities,” petitioner Sabra Chartrand wrote. “You could name the schools Zuckerberg, and in 50 years he may be despised for destroying privacy. Please choose a place or nature name.”


  1. Are people 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.

    I guess they really don’t teach history in our schools.

    • Against a controversial name does not equate to denial Mr. Yamamoto as an equal American or ignoring his heroic act.

      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.

      To you or to Ms. Cordell, Yamamoto does not trigger such emotion, but this is undeniably offensive for a big number of residence in the community. Insisting on choosing this controversial name would only divide the community further, while there are many other ways to remember and honor Mr. Yamamoto which would post less risk to rename the school again in the future.

      • Maybe you didn’t know that Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto literally bombed my Japanese American family in Hawai’i? And that’s why Fred Yamamoto, and my granduncle, signed up to fight him? Are we saying that our kids can’t tell two people with Asian names apart from one another? Are we doomed to be perpetual foreigners in our American home?

        Fred Yamamoto literally gave his life to defend China from Imperial Japanese aggression.

        • If that is the case, why not just change the school name to Fred Terman who has nothing to do with his dad(Lewis Terman)’s act on eugenics. Also school district can save lots of money because of that? Refused to rename school to Fred Terman, the reason given by School District is that “Last name matters!” Now we are saying last name doesn’t matter? I only see double standard used here.

    • Except the board shot themselves in the foot with their rationale for why Terman couldn’t be named after the other Terman.

  2. “Chinese, Japanese, black people, white people, why are we not talking to each other here in this city?” LOL Maybe because we are ALL DIFFERENT, different languages, cultures, values, histories, genetics etc. It’s called DIVERSITY! It’s a magical sight to behold political correctness boomeranging on itself. The subtle comparison between Admiral Yamamoto and Richard Nixon is a nice touch. They should leave the names alone and go be leftist busybody control-freaks about something else like the most evil corporations in history, Facebook and Google, squatting next door. ANY name they choose will be “offensive to some” that’s life.

  3. A couple of points,

    1. Whenever “Yamamoto” is brought up in any situation, the first name comes to people’s mind is “Isoroku Yamamoto”. Not many people know who is “Fred Yamamoto”, but anybody who knows the history of World War II and Attacks on Pearl Harbor knows what “Yamamoto” means. You can proof it by conducting an online search.

    2.This petition has nothing to do with the tensions between ethnic community groups. It is not only Chinese, korean and other Asians who are affected by what Yamamoto did during World War II. Japan almost completely destroyed. And, There were some 426,000 American casualties: 161,000 dead (including 111,914 in battle and 49,000 non-battle), 248,316 wounded, and 16,358 captured (not counting POWs who died).

    • Yamamoto, whenever brought up in any situation, is the same as Smith, Chang, Lee, Martinez. It’s a common name.

      And if people can’t tell the difference, isn’t that exactly why the school should be named after Fred Yamamoto?

      • My family was literally bombed in Hawai’i during the Pearl Harbor attack. But we can still tell the difference between an American hero and, well, someone else.

      • “Yamamoto, whenever brought up in any situation, is the same as Smith, Chang, Lee, Martinez. It’s a common name.” This is not true. Just google “Yamamoto”.
        Your insensitivity to certain historic event does not preclude other people being offended.

        • Are you saying that if someone is unfamiliar with Chinese names, it’s okay to object to naming a school after Jeremy Lin, because he has the same family name as communist general Lin Biao? Lin Biao fought in a war and apparently killed lots of people. But would you ever confuse him with Palo Alto basketball player Jeremy Lin? Would you confuse him with Lin-Manuel Miranda?

          Is there any excuse for confusing these people?

        • Steve – Seruously though, it seems like we both are interested in history. During the attacking on Pearl Harbor, the same admiral dropped bombs on my family in Hawaii. I know about him, and I don’t have any love for him either. Maybe he attacked your family too? If so we share that in common.

          But I have faith that you and our fellow Asian Americans can tell the difference between that admiral, and my kind female cousin (who is a Yamamoto, and who’s grandfather watched the bombs drop in Hawaii), the fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, the tea company Yamamotoyama, or Fred Yamamoto. I believe in you and i believe the pain and suffering that you are honoring. But I expect you to be able to tell the difference between us.

        • No, it’s not. If this were a European name we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Why are you discriminating against Asian names.

        • No, it’s not. If this were a European name we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Why are you discriminating against Asian names.

          • You got that wrong. The school board is discriminating against European names — Terman and Jordan. Our school board apparently thinks the name Terman is so hideous that it needs to be removed from a school even though one of the two Termans for which the school is named had nothing to do with eugenics.

            We’re just discriminating against Fred Terman because of his last name.

            So, please, no alligator tears for Fred Yamamoto, he’s the victim of the same kind of discrimination that Fred Terman is experiencing now from the school board.

            I really wish the school board hadn’t dragged the town into this controversy. I’m not voting for any incumbents this fall, that’s for sure.

    • Your numbers are bogus. Incidentally, Chinese prison camps during the Korean war killed 59per cent of their inmates, while Japanese prison cams killed 2 per cent. Who’s the real bad guy here? Both?

      • TYPO — Japanese POW camps and prison ships killed 23 per cent of American POWs,Chinese POW camps killed 59 per cent, including EVERY chaplain and most of the doctors. Japan’s government changed in 1945. China just became a dictatorship as it usually is. The Chinese are a great [people with a tragic history. Bashing Japan won’t make white people like you better — quite the contrary..

  4. We should switch to numbers for schools, and take the drama out of picking a name and then removing it. When we pick a name today, we have no idea what a middle school student will discover about that person in the future. Going to numbers means no controversy, no potential of offending snowflakes.

  5. The school board should put the question of whether we should change the names of schools to the voters this fall. They’re putting the question of term limits on the same ballot. I don’t think anybody cares about term limits, but this is much more of an important question to people.

  6. As a member of the committee on renaming middle schools I can underscore the comments made by “Resident” in an earlier post as being “right on”.

    1. “I think the committee was chosen with bias, had its own agenda and that no input from the community was taken into account” How true.

    2. “I think the name change is wrong for so many reasons one of which that they weren’t interested in getting any type of feedback or using any feedback they received”.

    3. They will do what they want and probably choose names already decided and given no thoughts to alum, community or reason”. Again, how true.

  7. Wasn’t it the Chinese who didn’t like getting lumped in with the Japanese during the war? Weren’t they mad because ignorant people wouldn’t bother to learn the difference? Pretty ignorant I’d say.

    • I’ve never met a Chinese-American girl who resented being mistaken for a Japanese. The reverse is not true. And here is your problem. China had a great culture until the British and the Russian impinged on them. Japan did well until the Americans arrived in 1853 at gunpoint.

  8. It’s funny how a school district that is supposedly so sensitive and concerned about political correctness would consider giving a school the same name as a war criminal. What a bunch of loons!

    • Alexander von Falkenhausen, Chiang Kai-shek’s German military commander before 1939,said that the capture of Nanking was a war crime but that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were even worse war crimes. Chinese people know who Falkenhausen was. Why not name it Falkenhausen Middle School — he actually helped rescue Jews twice and never bombed Parl Harbor.

      • You can’t tell Asian names apart from one another? Sad. I guess we should never name a school after Jeremy Lin because he has the same name as Lin Biao, the Chinese communist general who killed a lot of people. Or maybe you think Lin-Manuel Miranda is the same person. Get real

  9. If the school board names one middle school for a war criminal, it’s not fair to the kids at the other school, who will get a boring name of a person nobody remembers. If one school is going to be named Yamamoto, let’s name the other school after a criminal from the European Theater during World War II. How about

    Himmler Middle School


    Goebbels Middle School


    Yes, these names would be offensive to some just like Yamamoto is offensive to possibly 30% of the community.

    But if we’re going to name one school after a Japanese war criminal, then the other school should be treated the same.

    • Goebbels and Himmler should be offensive to 100 per cent of the world population because they facilitated mass murder. So did Mao. Isoroku Yamamto was a military leader, and not a mass murderer. Mao and Chiang each killed far more Chinese than Hirohito did. Fred Yamamoto died fighting Nazis and rescuing Americans. Most Chinese love everything German — and if you’re Chinese, you know this.

    • 30% of the community includes lots of Japanese Americans who don’t like being called war criminals even if they die defending America

  10. It would be just like the knuckle heads on our school board that in order to deal with a name that offends a few people, they’d pick a name that offends many more. Let’s drop this name change business. It feels like we’re trying to re-write history the way the Soviet Union did when it took over. The school board needs to get back to work on improving our schools. This is a waste of time and money.

  11. The problem here is the double standard. The board decides that Terman can’t continue to be Terman because of the sins of Lewis Terman, ignoring the fact that the school is also named for Terman’s son, Fred, who has nothing to do with eugenics. Ken Dauber said people would be “confused” if the school kept the Terman name.

    Does this logic apply to Yamamoto, the name of both our local war hero and the evil architect of the Pearl Harbor attack? Wouldn’t people be confused by that as much or more than using the Terman name?

    If the board names a school Yamamoto, as the renaming committee has recommended, then it would truly be a double standard. [Portion removed]

  12. NASTY NUMBERS: 23 per cent of the Americans captured by the Japanese died as POWs. 59 per cent of the Americans captured by the Chinese Communists died as POWs. Modern Japan is a democracy with a decent record on human rights. Modern China is a dictatorship with an awful record on human rights. None of this should affect whether or not an American hero of Japanese ancestry has his name placed on a school he once attended. The fact that many Chinese have an inferiority complex about Chinese culture, which is actually extremely impressive if you leave out the dismal politics, is not America’s [problem.

    • They can tell one Cheng from another Cheng, one Martinez from another Martinez, one Yamamoto from another Yamamoto. In other words, they’re being NOT RACIST

  13. I see that all of the elites in town, the “progressives,” are completely behind this, and the regular work-a-day crowd is against it. It’s funny, but I guess the Progressives just figured out that there was a eugenics movement and that Terman, Cubberley and Jordan were involved. It only happened 100 years ago. But they see Confederate statues being removed in other parts of the country, and wish there were such statues here that they could remove. They could turn the removal into a protest march or something. But they need to change some school names to keep them on the forefront of social change. How sad. Can’t we give them something else to do with their time. The changing of school names seems like something out of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, where all of the history was changed so that it supported his view of Communism. And the irony here is that the schools do a lousy job of teaching history, so nobody on the school board or any of these Progressives knew about Japanese Marshal General Isoroku Yamamoto until the Korean and Chinese community complained.

    The school board on Tuesday should drop this whole name change idea. I know the Progressives will be upset. But changing these names — erasing history — sets such a horrible precedent that this town will never live it down.

    To the school board, I know it’s hard to admit when you’ve been wrong. You’ve made a lot of mistakes over the past couple of years. Do I need to list them all? Be brave and admit this was a mistake and don’t change any names.

  14. Seeing all the conflict about this makes me think a couple of things. One is that younger people don’t understand just how famous Yamamoto’s name was during World War Two. Yes, it is in fact a fairly ordinary Japanese name, but it is also one that got enormous media exposure in the United States at a time when most Americans had little or no experience with Japanese names. If you were to go around the U.S. at the time and asked random Americans, “name a Japanese military commander”, his name would surely be the most common correct response, just as “Rommel” would be by far the most likely correct response to “name a German commander”. (Obviously, some people would either be unable to name anyone or would give the name of a political leader, which is why I said “correct response”.) So yeah, if you propose the name “Yamamoto”, you *will* get some strong opposition, whether you think it’s deserved or not, simply because the U.S. has a memory. That’s just the way things work.

    The second thing is that a lot of the people protesting the name seem to think that Admiral Yamamoto was one of the principal instigators of the war, because he drew up the military plan for the Pearl Harbor attack. Well, if you think that, then you really should learn more about that war and the people and forces in Japan who led it down that path. Yes, Yamamoto planned the Pearl Harbor attack, and he was the overall commander of the main part of Japan’s navy, the Combined Fleet. He also knew more about America than most Japanese high officers, which is why he strongly opposed Japan’s drive to war. He eventually gave in because he didn’t have the power to stop it, and he was a military commander first.

    During the war years, the Japanese navy, though strong, always played second fiddle in Japanese politics to the army. The army effectively ran the government, the army drove Japan towards war with its neighbors, and the army committed most of the war crimes. Prime Minister Tojo, who bears *far* more responsibility for Japan’s criminal war than Isoroku Yamamoto, was an army general, and that was no accident. Emperor Hirohito also bears a lot more responsibility; despite the persistent myth that he was a figurehead, he had real power and could have altered Japan’s course at any time. It was he who eventually chose the sane path of surrender rather than the suicidal path of the army’s radicals, who would have literally destroyed their own country in the name of its “honor”.

    As for Admiral Yamamoto, when the war ended he had already been dead for two years, shot through the head by a .50-caliber machine gun bullet from the American fighters that had intercepted his plane.

  15. The above comment is reasonably accurate except for one salient fact: the Pearl Harbor attack was ordered by the Japanese cabinet, not the Japanese Navy or the Japanese Army, after the Hull Note, drafted by Secretary of State Cordell Hull under the influence of U.S. Treasury official Harry Dexter White, deliberately posed what a timid emperor saw as a threat to his dynasty. Harry Dexter White, not Hirohito, was the one who wanted war, Harry Dexter White was a Soviet agent, later exposed by the FBI and praised by the KGB. Read OPERATION SNOW by John Koster, THE BATTLE OF BRETTON WOODS by Benn Steil, and THE VENONA SECETS or STALIN’S SECRET by Herbert Romerstein. I’m a U.S. veteran as was my father and five uncles or senior cousins who served during World War II — one killed in a B-17 over Germany. My best friends also served in Viet Nam. I have many Chinese or Korean friends who are proud to be Americans, and I like and respect them, but I’m tired of seeing foreign-born Asians import foreign pro-Communist politics and beat up on Japanese-Americans who fought bravely for the United States due to problems with their own public image. Fred Yamamoto was a hero! America is for Americans of ALL races, nuit people who think they’re still living in China or Korea.

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