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.
In 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.