Paul Rusch in Postwar Japan: Evangelism, Rural Development, and the Battle against Communism , traces Rusch’s remarkable life in Japan, including his heretofore unknown and unlikely role in influencing America’s postwar policy and Japanese politics. Part saint, part con-man, Rusch was fearless when it came to helping the Japanese people. Whether it was in illegally appropriating food and medicine to care for abandoned Japanese children, or risking court martial to aid the Japan Episcopal Church, Rusch was akin to Robin Hood, always rationalizing his varied schemes if he felt they served the greater good.
Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Paul Rusch went to Japan in 1925 to help rebuild the Tokyo Y.M.C.A. in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake. In a remarkable 54-year odyssey, Rusch was a college instructor, Episcopal missionary, prisoner of war, army intelligence officer, promoter of American football in Japan, and, in 1938, founder of the Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project (KEEP).
As a champion for the rural poor in Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture, Rusch later transformed KEEP and its famous mountain lodge Seisen Ryo from an Episcopal training camp for youth into a center for rural development and agricultural innovation, introducing new farming methods, state-of-the-art machinery and American livestock that had never before been tried in highland farming communities of Japan. With a declared mission to uplift Japan’s rural poor through food, health, faith and hope, Rusch inspired many Americans to lend their support to a nation once considered a bitter wartime enemy.
Having served in two devastating world wars, Rusch believed global peace could be achieved through agricultural abundance and the elimination of hunger. Beginning in the 1980s, Rusch’s modern-day followers took his conviction a step further, extending a helping hand to assist impoverished villagers beyond Japan in the highlands of the Philippines, teaching them ways to preserve and sustain their natural environment, improve their health, develop their economy, and thus foster cooperation and peace among tribes who were once bitter and deadly rivals. The heirs of KEEP’s vision thus addressed the problems of the 21st century with a new twist on the Rusch’s mission, demonstrating that ecological sustainability can lead to abundance, and that abundance can lead to peace.
Over the course of his life, Rusch often challenged the conventional attitudes of the day, standing against racist animosity toward Japanese and Japanese Americans. After World War II broke out, Rusch was interned by the Japanese, but upon his return to America in 1942, Rusch joined the army to serve as a mentor and advocate for Japanese American serviceman, recruiting them to serve their country, but also working to convince army commanders to see Japanese Americans not as members of a particular race, but as individuals and fellow Americans who were fighting for freedom.
Rusch was anxious to return to Japan after the war, serving in army intelligence and influencing the course of American policy. Through the contacts he cultivated in prewar Japan, Rusch was able to secure evidence that American officials used to help keep Emperor Hirohito on the throne.
As an Episcopal lay missionary, perhaps Rusch’s fondest wish was to evangelize Japan, hoping that country would serve as a springboard to convert all of Asia to Christianity. Under the approving eye of Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur, Rusch went to enormous lengths to rebuild the Nippon Seikokai, the Japan Episcopal Church.