Guardian of history challenges historical integrity of “Allegiance”

Only four weeks, and we are already fatigued with the daily barrage of demonstrable lies and outright propaganda coming from the new Administration. Terms like “alternative facts” and “fake news” have suddenly entered the lexicon. In his climate of misdirection, it’s more critical than ever to hold tight to a sense of reality and a common set of facts.

Densho logoIn that regard the Densho Project in Seattle has been a leader in the documentation of facts about the WW2 incarceration of Japanese Americans, both through the video capture of first-person narratives and the preservation of photos and documents. So it is worth taking note when Densho addresses the question we’ve raised before of the historical integrity of the musical Allegiance, screening again today on this Day of Remembrance.

Here are the facts. No resistance leader was hunted by guards like an inmate escaping Stalag 17. No one at Heart Mountain was beaten bloody by guards. And for god’s sake, no guards shot and killed any white nurse in a jealous scuffle with a resister. But even among those who acknowledge both the fabrication and falsification of history in Allegiance, two excuses are often offered: it’s worth doctoring history if it introduces the camp story to more people, or helps “educate” the public.

Densho Content Director Brian Niiya has come forward to disagree. Niiya is editor of the definitive Densho Encyclopedia and editor of two print editions of the Encyclopedia of Japanese American History. After evidently seeing the film-of-the-stage-production in December, he posted this critique, “ALLEGIANCE: See the Film, But Watch For These Historical Inaccuracies,” in which he questions “whether these issues make it unsuitable as an introduction to the story or as an educational tool.” And he adds, “Isn’t there a limit, some point where things veer too far from what really happened, to say that maybe we shouldn’t support the work, that it would have been better if had not been made?

Read the full Densho post to see more of the factual issues Niiya raises. Then, if you attend the screening or watch the inevitable DVD, look past the melodrama to critically see the “alternative facts” being peddled.

What #Resistance Means Now

Smokey the Bear raising a fistDocumenting the history of Japanese American incarceration, and the resistance to incarceration, was always important, but it remained just that — history, something good to know about, to make sure that mass exclusion on the basis of race “never happens again in America.” But when rangers in the National Park Service have to go undergound, and Smokey the Bear is raising a fist in flames, you know something has gone terribly wrong.

We have just passed the tipping point and now live with an authoritarian American government. #Resistance is a trending hashtag. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich posts a daily “Resistance Report” on YouTube. Former sportscaster Keith Olberman rebrands his show on GQ as “The Resistance.” Reuters is instructing its reporters how to cover the new Administration as if it were a banana republic. And the story of the Heart Mountain resisters is getting renewed attention.

KUOW logoThanks to host Bill Radke and producer Shane Mehling for having me on Seattle’s NPR affiliate today, on KUOW’s “The Record,” to connect the Japanese American resistance to the current actions in the streets. Here’s a link to the full 11-minute conversation, which has been well-received. As I said to Bill, I feel both validated that the Fair Play Committee is getting recognized, and appalled that we are now talking about a very real threat to Muslim Americans and Mexican Americans for the purpose of fulfilling a campaign promise to a resurgent white nationalism.

Now everyone can know how the Heart Mountain resisters — 63 young men of high school and college age, really — felt in taking on the United States government in court and putting their futures and families on the line. But here’s a key difference — their draft resistance came two years after the initial expulsion and incarceration. Breaking the Selective Service law as the last hitch upon which they could hang a test case. Thankfully, as the mass actions of the last two weeks have shown, a significant number are standing and resisting now, before the authoritarian crackdown comes down. My favorite sign from last weekend’s airport protests protest signagainst the Muslim travel ban, edited for a family audience, was the one on the right. It captures the spirit of resistance today, one which comes with the benefit of knowing our history.

As social media posts are teaching us now about the German playbook from 1933, and how the German people came to embrace fascism, we’ve learned there’s a German proverb to “Beware the Beginnings.” We’re clearly at the beginning of something right now. I fear this is not likely to end well for our nation. What we can do is rely now on individual and collective action. To quote my favorite dystopian, time-travel film series, which also features a Resistance: “The future’s not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” We can hope for the best, but we must prepare for the worst and work to avert it.

Access needed to site of the barracks at Tule Lake

None of the 24,000 Japanese Americans sent to live in the shallow volcanic lakebed of Tule Lake for the duration of World War II wanted to be there, but their presence makes this a National Historic Landmark.

In hindsight, an airstrip operating on a site of this historic significance is not an appropriate or compatible use, but before anyone could know that, the government after the war granted homestead rights to farmers, and in 1951 granted two-thirds of the main detention and barracks site to the city of Tulelake for an airstrip, which today hosts just one business, a crop-dusting service. It’s not easy to see without an aerial view, but the airstrip runs left to right in the photo below.

airstrip at Tule Lake Continue reading Access needed to site of the barracks at Tule Lake

Adopt “Alternative C” for public access to Tule Lake

Tule Lake aerial photoYour voice is needed to create a record for the National Park Service that will help Stop the Fence at Tule Lake.

Our friends at the NPS have a preferred plan — Alternative C — which will provide for stabilization of structures at the CCC isolation camp, reconstruction of the notorious Tule Lake Stockade and a replica guard tower, and open the site for year-round visitation.
Continue reading Adopt “Alternative C” for public access to Tule Lake

What resistance means now: “Has the Gestapo come to America?”

The Heart Mountain resisters refused induction in 1944 as a last-ditch attempt to clarify their status as American citizens and challenge the constitutionality of the American concentration camps in which they were held. With the actions being threatened by a new Administration, a new kind of resistance is now being called for in the 21st century.

It’s only been one week since the election, and an adviser to the President-elect is testing the public’s willingness to go along with creation of a national registry of all Muslims in America — a database whose only useful purpose would be to make it possible to round them all up for some kind of mass action.

Journalist James Omura saw the dangers of mass registration in February 1942, in his testimony to the Congressional Tolan Committee, which was preparing the public for acceptance of the mass exclusion of a feared racial minority perceived as the enemy. “Has the Gestapo come to America?,” he asked.

This is how it starts,” warns the New York Times.  “1942 all over again?” This is what backers of the President-elect have in mind when he talks of going back to the good old days — when they cite the WW2 incarceration of Japanese Americans as a precedent for a Muslim registry.

Thankfully, there are voices in Congress now that can push back against these dangerous ideas, like that of Congressman Mark Takano.

Outgoing Congressman Mike Honda is echoing the cry for the President-elect to denounce the loose talk, in an interview with The New Republic: “This is fear, not courage. This is hate, not policy.” 

And the Densho Project in Seattle points out that if people seek a precedent, they need look no further than the government’s apology and monetary compensation for the Constitutional violations of mass eviction and incarceration without charges or hearings:

We as Japanese Americans realize we have a moral obligation to defend others targeted on the basis of race or religion, because we have been the targets before. That living memory of exclusion and incarceration brings with it a moral authority to speak when fear of a minority drives the nation down that road again. So we can be horrified at talk of a Muslim registry, and at the same time not surprised, because we’ve seen all this before.

In May, a different kind of fear brought us together in Seattle for a panel on Connecting the Lessons of History, the fear that the racial mistrust and fomenting of aggression seen in the presidential campaign would become normalized. We could see that regardless of the outcome of the election, meaning after Trump lost, we would have much work to do to repair the rips to the fabric of civil discourse. I never believed we would need to be fighting against authoritarians and demagogues gaining real power in America. But that’s where we are this week.

The resistance at Heart Mountain was a classic of American civil disobedience in the 20th century. The example they set — that is the precedent which should guide us now. This is how it starts.

logo for BBC World ServiceUPDATE: The BBC World Service called to talk after this post. Click on the image for the program page and drag the slider to the 30:44 mark. On the last question to me about fear for national security, add this thought: That’s what they said after Pearl Harbor. That we can’t tell the sheep from the goats, so lock them all up. But history has shown, and a Congressional commission concluded, that the real reasons for the incarceration were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. And it’s fear and racial demagoguery that are behind this call for a Muslim registry.

Tule Lake preservation gains national support

The irony was not lost on some, but kudos must go tonight to the JACL National Council meeting in Las Vegas, for providing the first national resolution in support of preserving the Tule Lake Segregation Center as a National Historic Site.delegates to National JACL convention Continue reading Tule Lake preservation gains national support

REVIEW: Writing in the camps as an act of defiance

Relocating Authority In her revelatory new book, Mira Shimabukuro sets a new standard in camp studies with her framing of what she calls “writing-to-redress.” She goes beyond Bulletin #3 from the Fair Play Committee to recover a wide range of camp writing that challenges authority, much of it by women. such as the letter from the Mothers Society of Minidoka protesting the drafting of their sons, signed by more than 100 Issei women.

Our review in the International Examiner calls this a significant act of redress that once again changes the way we look at the Japanese American response to incarceration, and belies the claim of Mike Masaoka in our film that resistance in the camps was limited to “a relatively small number of dissidents.”
Continue reading REVIEW: Writing in the camps as an act of defiance

When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

Thanks to theSuyama Project panelists 60 who joined us on March 12 at the Suyama Project panel to hear about the life of John Okada and how he wove his experiences into his landmark novel NO-NO BOY.

At the panel, historian Roger Daniels asked a provocative question: “When does the term ‘no-no boy’ first appear in print?” No one in the room could say.  Continue reading When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

“Collaborative discussions” begin over fate of airport fence that threatens Tule Lake

outline of Tulelake AirportTule Lake is unique among all ten American concentration camps as a Segregation Center and a government deportation center. A local airport should never have been allowed to be built there in the 1950s, right on top of this site of historic significance.

Kudos must go to the Federal Aviation Administration for underwriting a series of “collaborative discussions” with local and government stakeholders to share views about to resolve the problem of the airport’s presence. These talks are held under what’s known as a Section 106 process under the National Historic Preservation Act, and are being managed by the Udall Foundation, an independent Federal agency promoting conflict resolution in the areas of environment, public lands, and natural resources. They’re underwritten by an FAA grant of about $125,000 that is being administered by Modoc County, California.
Continue reading “Collaborative discussions” begin over fate of airport fence that threatens Tule Lake

Fordham Law students re-enact “Conscience, Loyalty, and the Constitution”

Fordham students

Proving that “racially motivated policies and discriminatory practices are timely issues,” law students at Fordham University in New York City on April 6 re-enacted both the mass trial of the 63 Heart Mountain resisters for refusing to report for Selective Service from inside an American concentration camp, and the subsequent trial of the 7 leaders of the Fair Play Committee and journalist James Omura for conspiracy to encourage draft resistance.

A photo gallery and summary are now posted on the Fordham Law News blog, “APALSA Students Give Heart to Heart Mountain.
Continue reading Fordham Law students re-enact “Conscience, Loyalty, and the Constitution”