Howard Levenson

Howard today posed in his Greens Leisure World® Oriental-decorated apartment

Howard Levenson

by Paul Roberts

Little did Howard know when he enlisted in the Army that he would become a “spook.” He was very bright, and after a battery of tests, it was determined that he could be of great use to the military by going to school and learning a language, which turned out to be Japanese. So off he went, at the tender age of 17, to the University of Minnesota, to spend a year with many of the instructors who were Nisei, second generation offsprings of migratory Japanese who had settled in California. They were of an elite class, including doctors, chemists and professional people, having trained in their profession as Americans. Unfortunately, after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the United States panicked, not having a handle on infiltrated spies who could do irreparable damage, and so willy-nilly, rounded up all Japanese Americans and reassigned them to rehabilitation camps in other states, away from the West Coast. These Nisei were thoroughly American but were caught up in the moment of frustration. Some were a great asset, drafted to teach the likes of Levenson. Others volunteered as translators for Marine combat units in battles in the South Pacific, such as Peleliu, Gloucester, Iwo Jima, provided a needed communication link with the enemy. There was one of the most outstanding fighting units of Nisei in Italy, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, distinguishing themselves with the most heroic efforts of any fighting unit of the war, earning several Medal of Honors.

After his year, he was sent to Ft. Belvoir, VA, for basic training, and from there was sent to the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) headquarters at Ft. Holabird, Maryland for additional training in undercover intelligence. At the end of the war he was sent to Japan to work with the Army of Occupation as a counterintelligence agent, reporting on Japanese Communist Party activities, which included political rallies, held in and around Tokyo and monitoring publications. The American intelligence was extremely interested in the power that the Communists could wield, especially in this post war period when we were entering the Cold War, in which Japan was surrounded by the Red Chinese and USSR Communists, posing a potential threat. It was a known fact that the Japanese Communist Party, begun in 1922, had been a political factor for years. They even were involved with the Chinese Red 8th Route Army in Manchuria, during the Japanese occupation in China, in which they fought actively against their compatriots and were brainwashed in their monolithic form of communism. It was the concern of the military that the communist might be a force involved in the political, post-war organization of the government. Thus the deep concern as to what they were up to.   

In 1949 they won 10% of the vote, sending 35 representatives to the Diet. They were the only political entity that opposed Japan going to war with the United States, and had grown to the largest Communist party in the world, with 320,000 members. His stay was uneventful, just observing a people trying to put it all in the past and start over. He spent his time going to political rallies, observing, and refining lists of new recruits to the movement. He was present when a massive meeting of 30,000 Left Wing Democrats and Communists met in Hibiya Park at which the Premier, Shidehara and his labor policies were denounced. At the end of the gathering, the crowd marched on to his residence, broke his security gate down and rioted. It was a time that the shackles had been loosened, people were longing for the democratic freedom they had been denied and now were vociferously making their voices heard. Political posters proliferated, including ones encouraging women, at last, to vote, which eventually resulted in many of them being elected to the Diet.

One observation he made was having his office next to the office of General Douglas MacArthur in the Dai Ichi building, which housed the General Headquarters, and observing every day like clockwork, when the general left the building, going to lunch, a crowd of civilians would silently gather, reverentially bowing their heads in mute respect, humble reverence. One of the enduring decisions the general had made as head of the Occupation Forces was not to prosecute the Emperor, Hirohito, as a war criminal. It was probably the salvation that avoided a civil war, which gave him almost god-like respect by the populace. He created the existence of a stable, resistant, sophisticated civil society that became the bulwark of democracy in the Far East.

After this stint, Howard returned to the U.S., going to the University of Southern California’s School of International Relations, and getting his masters at Boston College. Going to work for NSA (National Security Agency), he became a research analyst, working at the Pentagon as the briefing officer for the chief of NSA, and at the National Military Command as a contract officer, and monitoring radio intercepts. He was involved in the use of Army C-47s which we were running outside the airspace of China and the USSR during the Cold War, using radar and translating and analyzing signal intelligence. He was one cog in the mechanism that kept the West abreast of what was going on on the other side of the fence. By travelling through the South Pacific, he has become an eclectic collector of objet d’art, giving his apartment at the Greens a very tasteful flavor that is reminiscent of the Orient. In a way, this ambience is a constant reminder of a fascinating life, which was never really stressful.

All photos courtesy of Paul Roberts – Resident of Leisure World® Maryland