Time Magazine

Monday, Oct. 18, 1948

Not Worth Living


Last week in the Federal District Court in Los Angeles, a U.S. citizen was sentenced to die as a traitor to the U.S. In all U.S. history, only a handful of traitors have heard that sentence. None has actually been executed as a traitor to the U.S.

The traitor was a bespectacled, wiry, 27-year-old Nisei named Tomoya Kawakita, better known to hundreds of G.I. prisoners as "The Meatball." The son of a California grocer, Kawakita was caught on a visit to Japan by World War II. He threw in his lot with the Japanese. As an interpreter in the prison camp at Oeyama, he taunted G.I. prisoners in their own ball-park English, took savage delight in beating and tormenting them.

During his three-month trial, veterans trooped to the stand to tell how he had forced them to beat each other, made them work when they were sick, beat one man into temporary insanity. After the war, Kawakita returned to California. He was studying at the University of Southern California when a former Oeyama inmate spotted him in a Los Angeles store.

In pronouncing sentence, Federal District Judge William C. Mathes declared grimly: "His life, if spared, would not be worth living. The only worthwhile use for the life of a traitor is to serve as an example to those of weak moral fiber who might hereafter be tempted to commit treason against the U.S." Unless a higher court reverses the verdict or the President intervenes, he will die in the San Quentin gas chamber.

[NOTE: His death sentence was commuted to life in prison by Pres. Eisenhower. Pres. Kennedy stripped him of his U.S. citizenship and deported him to Japan.]

Tomoya Kawakita, 1948
Suspense of the long trial is over and Tomoya Kawakita, 27, hears his conviction as traitor against the United States of America. With him is his attorney, Morris Lavine. Jury was made up of nine women and three men.
(Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1948)

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