Charles Kobayashi letter on Allegiance

To: Lorenzo Thione, Jay Kuo, George Takei. Wendy Gillespie. Stafford Arima

From: Concerned Supporters of Allegiance: The Musical

Dear Lorenzo, Jay, George, Wendy and Stafford,

We thank you for the invitation to comment regarding Allegiance.

A number of us attended one or both showings of the Allegiance DVD in Sacramento.  We were impressed and moved by most aspects of the play.  The casting and score were superb. Allegiance has the potential to be the most far reaching medium to tell the story of the suffering and the noble actions of Japanese Americans resulting from their incarceration during World War II.  Overcoming adversity and the ultimate triumph of Japanese Americans by their courage and integrity is among the greatest of American stories.  Our desire is that Allegiance will be a highly acclaimed financial and artistic success while honoring the perseverance, integrity and the nobility of ALL Japanese Americans.

A few of us who volunteer to teach the Japanese American story (including annual docent work at the California State Museum) have met to discuss Allegiance.  We wish to express the following concerns:

Concern 1:  The negative portrayal of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and Mike Masaoka only tells one aspect of his leadership and the JACL’s contributions.

Concern 2:  The 442nd Regimental Combat team is the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the US Army. It is acknowledged that their military record in World War II contributed to the betterment of all Americans of Japanese ancestry.  The records of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence often are recognized as an integral force in the signing of the redress legislation.  The characterizations and dialogue in Allegiance are insulting to the sacrifices made by the veterans.

Concern 3:  The vast majority of the Isseis and Niseis took a patriotic stand of loyalty to the United States while a very small minority group of resisters protested the violation of their constitutional rights.  Both took honorable stands.  The opportunity is there for Allegiance to provide a lasting legacy and tribute to honor both these factions. But that is not the case in the preview workshop version shown in Sacramento (also in San Diego).

We offer the above concerns with the hope that they will contribute to an even better Allegiance.  The version that we saw resurrects the old wounds by only telling one side of the story.

We are aware that some changes have been made to Allegiance since the Sacramento and San Diego showings and attempts have been made to learn about specific changes. However, we have not received any definitive information regarding changes that address the concerns that we have raised above.

DISCUSSION POINT I:  ALLEGIANCE’S PROTRAYAL OF THE RESISTERS

It is evident that a primary goal of Allegiance is the portrayal of resisters (draft resisters, No-No’s, et al) in a positive light.  We have no issue with this as their story needs to be told.  Our objection is that this should not be accomplished at the negative portrayals of the JACL, Mike Masaoka, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in view of the many positive contribution they had made for the Japanese Americans.

It is unfortunate that so much negativity arose and some still may exist towards the resisters.  It is understandable that the first generation Japanese immigrants, the Isseis, had reason to feel love and respect for the country of their birth.  How hard it must have been for them to decide on loyalty between their land of birth and their newly adopted nation.  Who could blame them for being No-Nos as they were denied the right to citizenship and labeled as “enemy aliens.”  In spite of this, most Isseis remained loyal to the United States as their foremost consideration was the future of their children in this country.

We have no problem with Allegiance portraying the resisters in a positive light.  However, we object to the negative portrayals of Mike Masaoka and the JACL.  George Takei responded immediately to our concerns by stating that “Responsible educators should tell the full actual story of American history”.  We agree but Allegiance fails to tell that story.  So when we followed up immediately with some questions, we have not received a reply.  We believe changes should be made to eliminate the vilification of Mike Masaoka and the JACL, neither of which deserves egregious characterization meted out by Allegiance.  We believe that positive changes in the dialogue and roles of the JACL and Mike Masaoka would result in Allegiance becoming a more powerful, inspirational and memorable message of suffering, endurance, perseverance and triumph.

At the Sacramento presentation, George compared Allegiance to the classic musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein.  There is a connection as the stories in South Pacific, Carousel, The King and I, Sound of music and Oklahoma addressed injustices such as racism, politics and cultural differences.  However, all of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, has the potential to rank with those classics, an opportunity exists for a comparable uplifting legacy.

DISCUSSION POINT II:  NEED FOR ALLEGIANCE TO RECOGNIZE THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE LOYAL JAPANESE AMERICANS, JACL MIKE MASAOKA AND THE MILITARY SERVICEMEN

A.  Loyal  Japanese Americans

There should be recognition of the Issei  generation who, through their silence, demonstrated their loyalty to their adopted country.  Though denied the right to  citizenship,  many wanted what was best for their children and peacefully accepted internment.  Although they were too old for military service, they could be viewed as Yes-Yes Isseis as they were silent but loyal.  Most Niseis as well took the loyal action of peacefully going into the camps.  Some people said that they had sold out by not resisting internment.  This was 1942 – before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the protests for equal rights women, etc.  What option did Japanese Americans have when they were ordered, under provisions of a presidential executive order to leave their homes under military guards?  Why did intelligent Germans who disagreed with Hitler not speak out against the Third Reich?  Why did the Jews peacefully go to the extermination camps during World War II?  It is easier said than done to speak for justice.   It is easy to criticize after the fact, especially when you were not there to experience the existing conditions of the time.  In 1942, Japanese Americans had to play it close to the vest with the cards that were dealt them.  The vast majority of the Sanseis are not critical of their parents for not having resisted internment and they recognized  their parents’ predicament in 1942.

B.  JACL (Acknowledge JACL  as the foremost rights advocacy group for Japanese Americans)

The JACL was the lone nationally organized group representing the rights and interests of the Japanese American communities.

The following are among the contributions by the JACL for the betterment of all Japanese Americans:

  1. Prior to World War II, JACL leaders were already fighting discrimination and issuing statements to Japanese Americans to be good citizens with all the rights and responsibilities associated with that privilege.
  2. Repeal of the Cable Act which provided that any Nisei woman who married an alien ineligible for citizenship would lose her citizenship.
  3. Attained citizenship for Isseis who fought for the United States during World War I.
  4. Prevented passage of many anti-Asian laws in California including those that would have banned deep sea fishing for Isseis.
  5. Gained Niseis eligibility for professional licenses.
  6. Advocated for the renunciation of dual citizenships for Niseis.
  7. Advocated that the clergy treat the Japanese American Buddhists equally with the Christian Japanese Americans.
  8. JACL adopted a resolution in 1970 to support redress when it was placed before its National. Convention.
  9. The Seattle JACL chapter persuaded President Ford to rescind Executive order 9066, which had enabled the internment of Japanese Americans.
  10. The JACL redress committee voted for the establishment of a commission to study interment, signed by President Carter in 1980. This led to 20 days of public hearings in nine cities to collect testimony from government officials, the public, historians and internees.  The Commission concluded that three factors had caused the internment – racial prejudice, war hysteria and the failure of political leadership. This galvanized Japanese Americans for the redress movement
  11. Located areas that would accept Japanese Americans after World War II.
  12. Led letter writing campaign to support redress legislation
  13. Advocated and lobbied for the eventual passage of the redress legislation.

C.  Mike Masaoka (Historians and researchers have documented his leadership during internment and after World War II)

Mike Masaoka and the JACL advocated loyalty and service in the military.  He and four brothers served in the 442nd with one being killed and another severely injured.

The demonizing of Mike Masaoka, especially the portrayal in the musical number “Better Americans in a Greater America,” is unfair and insulting.  The apology by Sam, at the end of the play, to his father for having joined the 442nd Regiment is an affront to Masaoka, his brothers and the 18,000 Japanese Americans who served with honor and distinction in the military during World War II.  This apology should be removed.

Mike Masaoka is the only nonfictional character in Allegiance and we understand that your contention is that all of his utterances are factual.  However, how can his statements be factual in terms of the time period in which the play takes place when Mike Masaoka already was in the service when the Heart Mountain resisters first came into being?

Mike Masaoka made statements prior to the evacuation that Japanese Americans might even be willing to go to the extreme of suicide to safeguard their homes and associations.  In the Lim Report, the question is asked if this pre-evacuation statement about suicide squads was the genesis for the formation of the 442nd. Ms. Lim states that Michi Weglyn answers that she thought so.  Wasn’t Ms. Weglyn’s  conjecture the basis for Ms. Lim’s conclusion that “Though Masaoka’s brash proposals were summarily rejected at the time, it would later be reconsidered and implemented by the military”? There is no credible evidence between his pre-evacuation statement to the formation of the 442nd as an alleged suicide unit.  Allegiance dialogue states that Masaoka/JACL advocated suicide squads to ensure dangerous missions which would lead to high casualties resulting in greater publicity.

These characterizations are untrue and offensive.  Is it not correct that you are taking theatrical liberties and taking the above statements totally out of context?

Mike Masaoka, in his speech to the JACL National Convention in 1982 rebutted to critics that the JACL was the lone organized voice for Japanese Americans in the early pre-evacuation years and throughout World War II.  He admitted that all JACL decisions were not correct but that all decisions were honestly and sincerely made with the belief that they were for the good of the great majority of those of Japanese ancestry. Interestingly, he commented about critics who were not there in those tragic days. To quote him:

“But when you think back, those who are old enough to recall those dark and tragic days and remember the situation then, I think, you will agree with me that all the historians in the ivory towers were never there.  Or the people who want to write scenarios for books and scripts for plays, they weren’t there.  We were!   And this is the story I want to tell.”

The full text of Mike Masaoka’s speech would be worth reading for all of the principals involved with Allegiance to gain an understanding of the dilemma faced by Americans of Japanese ancestry in 1942.

D.  Military Servicemen

The dialogue in Allegiance where Sam Omura tells his father he wished he had never volunteered for the 442nd needs to be removed. It is demeaning and disrespectful of the Nisei veterans.

The record of the Niseis who served in the US armed forces is well known.  Over 18,000 men and women served and with great distinction in both the European and Pacific theaters.  The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is recognized as the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in the history of the US Army and received 7 presidential unit citations, 21 medals of honor, 52 distinguished service crosses, 550 silver stars, 4,000 bronze stars and 9,000 purple hearts.  The valor and record of the 442nd were instrumental in changing the attitudes of the general populace toward Japanese Americans and it is highly unlikely the redress legislation would have passed had it not been for the 442nd.  Just recently Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to all of the Nisei veterans who had served during World War II.

DISCUSSION POINT III:  HARVARD CASE PAPER: CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE JACL, MIKE MASAOKA AND THE 442ND IN THE ENACTMENT OF THE REDRESS LEGISLATION

There is a paper titled “Against All Odds:  The Japanese American Campaign for Redress.”  It is a Case Program, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, written by Calvin Naito and Esther Scott.  To quote from that paper, “To get redress, the Japanese Americans would need an act of Congress and, given the formidable obstacles faced, some would say an act of God.”

This paper chronicles those formidable obstacles from the initial strategies, the drafting of legislation, the securing of Congressional authors for the bill, the lobbying for Congressional  support and ultimately the signing by President Reagan.  This chronicle includes all the individuals, organizations, events, etc. that played major roles in the decade long battle for enactment. This miracle happened because of the contributions of many.  Prominently included in the paper are the following points:

  1. JACL played a prominent role in the redress.
  2. Grant Ujifusa, along with Mike Masaoka and the Japanese American members of Congress , met individually with Representatives and Senators to urge their support for redress.
  3. Aligned against redress opponents were venerable members of the Japanese American community like Masaoka and Yasui, who played key (though different) roles at the time internment.  Masaoka emphasized the heroism of the 442nd.

All these efforts led to a growing belief that the redress legislation was not a special interest bill but a broader bill about the whole nation.  It was a miracle that the bill was passed by Congress.  However, a major obstacle remained as President Reagan’s advisers were recommending a veto of the bill.

The JACL members and supporters coordinated letters and visits to support the redress bill but the vast majority of letters being sent to Washington DC were in opposition to  redress.  The case paper concludes with an inspiring story of what may have been the deciding factor in President Reagan signing HR 442.  (The bill was numbered in honor of the 442nd.)

The story starts in 1945. The town of Santa Ana, California refused to allow the body of Kaz Masuda, a 442nd soldier killed in Italy, to be buried in its local cemetery.  When the town subsequently acknowledged this injustice, General Stillwell, who presented the Distinguished Service Cross to the Matsuda family, was accompanied by a young actor named Ronald Reagan, then a captain in the army.  Years later, Masuda’s sister wrote to President Reagan recounting his presence at the service and the brief address he had made. She wrote:

“The presence of you and General Stillwell greatly affected the community and      led to a better life for our family . . . . Many times I have been asked to speak at the Kazuo Masuda Middle School.  I speak to all of the history classes, and quote your words to the students”.  Urging him to support the redress, she said, “All of us in our family – – – I believe Kaz as well —would be greatly honored if you would. I also believe that America, through you, would honor itself.”

President Reagan, when he signed the redress bill, read the same brief speech he made in Santa Ana in 1945:

“Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is All of one color.  America stands unique in the world.  The only country not founded on race, but in a way —an ideal.  Not in spite of, but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world.  That is the American way.”

The polyglot in Allegiance is the two Japanese American factions.  Through President Reagan, America honored Japanese Americans by signing the redress.  Through you, we similarly hope Allegiance will honor all Japanese Americans by showing the American way of fair play.

CONCLUSION:

Thank you for offering the opportunity to provide comments .  We sincerely hope that you give strong consideration to our thoughts to bring about a final Allegiance product that will portray fairly and honestly both the resister story and those who served loyally as citizens and in our armed forces.  If you wish, we are available to meet with you for any additional questions or additional thoughts.

Yours for a successful Allegiance,

Charles Kobayashi                                                           Eileen Otsuji

 

Les Ouchida                                                                       Marielle Tsukamoto

 

 

 

 

 

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