We’re very sorry to learn of the passing at 98 of the war hero, Sgt. Ben Kuroki, the “Boy from Nebraska.” His life merits long remembrances in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and in the Rafu Shimpo, which includes comments from his daughter Julie.
We were fortunate to be able to interview Mr. Kuroki at his home in Camarillo, California in 1998, the very last piece of new footage to go into the documentary. Ben graciously agreed to appear, despite his initial misgivings, to share how his story intersected with that of the Fair Play Committee at Heart Mountain. After the PBS broadcast he sent a nice note to say how pleased he was at his fair treatment in the film, and to invite us to visit him anytime.
In this excerpt from the outtakes in our DVD extras, Kuroki answers the criticism he endured during the war for his fervent patriotism.
To learn more about Ben’s life, we encourage you to acquire a copy of our friend Bill Kubota’s excellent 2007 PBS documentary, Most Honorable Son.
Our condolences to Ben’s widow, Shige, daughter Julie, and all his family and many friends.
Curfew violator Gordon Hirabayashi was a draft resister too. He resisted the 8 pm military curfew placed only on Japanese Americans, when he saw it didn’t apply to his white classmates at the University of Washington. He resisted the mass incarceration all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And he resisted the draft when an induction letter was sent to him after his high court conviction was upheld
In her solo play on the lone resistance of Gordon Hirabayashi, playwright Jeanne Sakata shows that the truth of the Japanese American experience can work as powerful drama onstage, without violating the history or resorting to melodrama.
HOLD THESE TRUTHS, which is ending its longest run ever of four weeks at the ACT Theater in Seattle, uses nothing but the actual word and deed of the UW student and Quaker pacifist, based on Sakata’s hours of interviews with him. Where she compresses events or fictionalizes Gordon’s letters from jail, the words are always drawn from his actual writings, the minimum of dramatic license is taken, and the intent is always to illuminate the real nature of Gordon’s character.
Her approach succeeds brilliantly. Sakata brings Gordon’s inner life to the surface while retaining respect for the facts. She makes it look simple, but her craft is quite accomplished.
Having known Gordon through his visits to Seattle later in life, it’s odd to see him portrayed on stage by someone who bears such a striking resemblance. Ryun Yu captures something about the tilt of the head when Gordon would pursue a thought. He finds an expansive energy in the younger Gordon, while staying true to his pure convictions and measured speech. Yu holds the stage for 90 minutes, and earns a standing ovation every night.
At a pivotal moment in the play, Yu as Hirabayashi trembles at the gravity of his decision to violate the military curfew, and take on the government. He realizes his will be a test case, and the line he writes in a letter, “Therefore, I must refuse this order for evacuation,” precedes by two years the nearly identical stance of the draft resisters at Heart Mountain: “Therefore, we hereby refuse to go to the induction, or to the physical examination, in order to contest the issue.” The difference was Gordon had no organized resistance around him, no model for his selfless stand. He did it alone, and the Heart Mountain resisters had his example as a guide.
Seeing the play performed in Seattle is especially meaningful, at a theater just a few blocks from the federal courthouse where Gordon was first arraigned in 1942, and a few blocks more from the King County Jail where he served nine months. Hearing a stage voice announce the wartime exclusion order in terms of real Seattle territory – Roosevelt and N. 85th – made the history all too tangible for an audience that can visualize those streets today.
That federal courthouse was also the scene where Gordon in 1985 was given a chance to put the government on trial for withholding evidence that could have changed the outcome of his Supreme Court test case.
To promote the return to Seattle of HOLD THESE TRUTHS, I was pleased to moderate a July 20 panel at Town Hall Seattle featuring Jeanne and three of the Sansei attorneys who gave their time to back Gordon and Fred Korematsu in their attempt to overturn their high court convictions in 1985.
Rod Kawakami, Lorrie Bannai, and Daniel Ichinaga took us inside their legal strategy to refute the claim of military necessity used to justify the wartime incarceration. On the eve of the hearing, Kawakami described how the government offered Gordon a Presidential pardon in exchange for dropping the case; it was revealing of Gordon’s character that he rejected the offer, saying “We should be the ones pardoning the government.”
While preparing for the panel, I dug up an article I wrote for the Pacific Citizen in November 1985 that examined in detail the final written arguments in the “Clash of Legal Arguments in ‘Civil Liberties Case of the Century.’” It was remarkable that we could share our memories of being in the same place at the same time — Rod and Daniel representing Gordon, me covering the hearing as a reporter — and each of us feeling the weight of history being re-enacted in that courtroom.
See more pictures from the panel in this Facebook photo album. HOLD THESE TRUTHS runs through Sunday, August 16.
Flashback Friday: Thanks to JK Yamamoto, former editor of the Hokubei Mainichi, for reminding us that it was on this date 23 years ago that we staged the first ceremonial homecoming for the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.
Under the sponsorship of Prof. Wendy Ng at San Jose State University, the May 29, 1992 event was a special evening program for the national conference of the Association for Asian American Studies, held in the Studio Theater of Hugh Gillis Hall.
We called it “The Boys of Mountain View – San Jose,” and what lent it the ceremonial feel was the readers’ theater script compiled by writer Frank Chin that threaded together the original writings of the resisters, the editorials in support of the resisters by Rocky Shimpo editor James Omura, and a warm narration provided by poet Lawson Inada. Omura, Frank Emi, Mits Koshiyama, Dave Kawamoto, and Gloria Kubota read their own words from the time, from the scripts in the music stands in front of them. For a bit of dramatics we staged part of the interrogation of Frank Emi by camp director Guy Robertson, with Emi’s words read by the current editor of the Nichi Bei Weekly, Kenji Taguma.
We shot the event with three cameras, thinking that cutting between them would provide the framework for a documentary about the resisters. But once we got the tape into the editing bay, we immediately saw the problem: all the readers were looking down at their scripts in the music stands, and making no contact with the audience. It just wasn’t visually compelling.
That began an eight-year journey to shoot new interviews and gather archival film and stills for what would eventually become Conscience and the Constitution. The San Jose State homecoming was the first event we shot, and it turned out to provide the last shots in the finished film, with the applause from the audience and the recovery of their history providing an emotional lift to help cap our story.
While only a few moments from the evening survived in the final cut, you can get a feel for this first ceremonial homecoming for the Heart Mountain resisters in the DVD outtake, “The Return of the Fair Play Committee.”
This is the story of a rank-and-file supporter of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, one of the many never named who chipped in two hard-earned 1944 dollars to the defense fund for the young draft resisters.
His name was George Yoshisuke Abe, and yes, he was my father. Dad died in his sleep on April 1, his last laugh on all of us. He was 91.
In preparing for his service, I revisited a chronology he wrote some years ago, and was startled to discover something I’d completely overlooked: Dad was in fact a no-no boy.
This is what he wrote of the time he was handed the loyalty questionnaire in 1943.
At first I answered Yes, Yes to questions 27 and 28 but late after talk with Mr. Oda and Nisei friends I changed the answer to No, No and went to administration building to have it notarized. Before that Nisei girl officer in the office wrote explanation for reason of changing the answer in loyalty questionnaire. After notarized I hand the letter to hakujin officer in the same office. At that time I never realized the seriousness of Yes, Yes and No, No. I sure found out the consequence later.
About a month later Yes, Yes and No, No groups were separated. The Yes, Yes and the disloyal to U.S. about 1000 of them were shipped to different camp later known to be Tule Lake segregated camp in Calif. I went to see departure of Yes, Yes group [here he probably means the No-No group] because some of my friends were going. It was terrible scene to see. Loved ones and family being separated and tears were flowing everywhere. Out of segregated, some had change of heart and some were shipped to Japan.
Dad then wrote of the later JACL campaign to solicit volunteers for the Army as a demonstration of Nisei loyalty, and the reinstitution of the draft in early 1944.
Some volunteered. Others resisted draft and taken to jail. There were talk of drinking soy sauce that made heart rate to go way up so that Army examiner will reject on ground of bad heart. Somehow the draft never came to me. I had already registered for draft before the evacuation in 1941 in County of Santa Clara draft board #111. I carried draft card with me so I wasn’t worried too much.
It’s regrettable the things one never thinks to ask until it’s too late. Why did he change his answer from yes-yes to no-no? Since he did register as no-no, why wasn’t he segregated to Tule Lake with the others? And since, on paper at least, he was 22 when Selective Service was reinstituted for the Nisei in 1944, why didn’t he get the call until 1947? He may not have known himself.
I can’t say that Dad’s personal wartime resistance was the reason for making CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION, or for maintaining this blog. I’ve never drawn the direct connection. But it’s not hard to see how one’s origins shapes a person and motivates them.
He will, of course, be deeply missed. Goodbye, Dad, and thanks for everything.
Two separate Day of Remembrance events in San Francisco next weekend feature the memory and the legacy of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.
All forms of camp resistance, including that of the draft resistance at Heart Mountain, will be recognized at the 2015 Bay Area Day of Remembrance, Sunday, February 22, at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas. The theme of the event sponsored by the National Japanese American Historical Society is “Out of the Shadows of Infamy: Resistance Behind Barbed Wire.” Their promotional film produced by Cary Matsumura presents voices from the community, including archived outtakes from CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION that feature Fair Play Committee leader Frank Emi and Professor Roger Daniels:
It’s a pleasure to see that Cary included video of Seattle Issei redress visionary Shosuke Sasaki that we shot for Densho. UPDATE: Here’s a link to Sunday’s DOR 2015 Program. Thanks for mentioning Resisters.com as a source for some clips and including two versions of the courtroom photo in the printed program.
The day before, on Saturday, February 21, the notable Films of Remembrance series will include “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” which also features a sequence on the Fair Play Committee. This series too has a trailer. Catch a glimpse of the Wyoming courtroom photo at the 1:17 mark:
Films of Remembrance screens at the New People Cinema in San Francisco Japantown. It’s curated by Kenji Taguma and sponsored by the Nichi Bei Foundation.
The legacies of journalist James Omura and the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee live on in two new museum exhibits opening this month in Washington, DC and Seattle.
On May 16, the Newseum, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, opened “One Nation With News for All,” an exhibition on the origins and influence of the ethnic media in the U.S. One section discusses free speech during WWII, specifically highlighting this photo of James Omura as the editor of Denver’s Rocky Shimpo, with this description:
Fighting for Free Speech During World War II
Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were forced into internment camps by the U.S. government. Despite this, the men in the camps were still called up for American military service. James Omura, editor of Denver’s Rocky Shimpo newspaper for Japanese Americans, risked jail by publishing stories about a draft resistance movement at a Wyoming internment camp. Charged with conspiracy to counsel draft evaders, Omura was acquitted on free speech grounds.
The Omura photo is also used on an interactive kiosk featuring 100 pioneering ethnic media outlets from Colonial America to today. Visitors can touch the map and find out more about those news organizations.
The mission of the Newseum in Washington, DC, is to champion the five freedoms of the First Amendment through education, information and entertainment. It blends news history with technology and hands-on exhibits. “News for All” will be on display there through Jan. 4, 2015.
The mug shot of Frank Emi at Leavenworth is included in the program for a new exhibit in Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience, “In Struggle: Asian American Acts of Resistance.” We uncovered the prison mug shot in time for inclusion on the menu animation for Disc Two of our DVD. The exhibit is on view through January 18, 2015.
Who knew that one of the unforeseen benefits of creating the first Day of Remembrance at the Puyallup Fairgrounds in 1978 would be the creation of an annual platform for the screening of our film? So it is that this year we’ll have the privilege of showing CONSCIENCE at South Seattle Community College for the college’s Day of Remembrance program, and speaking afterwards with students, faculty, staff and the larger community. It’s free and open to the public, with this eye-catching flyer:
Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, Kenji Taguma and the Nichi Bei Foundation will present the third annual Films of Remembrance on Sunday, Feb. 23rd, at New People Cinema, 1746 Post St. in San Francisco’s Japantown. The program last year featured CONSCIENCE, and one film this year has a Fair Play Committee connection:
The film ““Hiro: A Japanese American Internment Story” by Keiko Wright, winner of a Student Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, covers how Keiko and her grandfather Hiro Hoshizaki rediscovered the painful memories of his wartime incarceration at Heart Mountain. The 30-minute film also includes a small portion on the resistance of Hiro Hoshizaki’s brother, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee resister Tak Hoshizaki.
“Hiro” won the Gold Medal in the Documentary category at the 39th Student Academy Awards. It screens at 5:00 p.m. on Feb. 23.
Happy new year. It was a busy 2013 — so busy that we’re only now catching up to posting new video, audio and images from events of the past year: three panels at the JANM national conference and two fall screenings.
JAPANESE AMERICAN NATIONAL MUSUEUM national conference – July 5, 2013
The museum recently provided an audio recording of our panel on redress and creation of the first Day of Remembrance in Seattle. Click on the montage above to hear about the “Tangled Routes to Japanese American Redress.”
It was a great pleasure to catch up with an old friend, and my former housing officer at UC Santa Cruz, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. We enjoyed a lively discussion after a screening of her “Farewell to Manzanar,” in which I was forced to relive my on-screen character’s beating at the hands of one of Hanako Wakatsuski’s uncles, or so she says. The museum website promises an audio file will be forthcoming.
In another audio file you can hear Heart Mountain resister Tak Hoshizaki present his fascinating insider’s look at the Fair Play Committee, “Kiyoshi Okamoto and the Four Franks,” which you can also read online here. Joining him in the “Standing on Principle” panel were Professor Tets Kashima and author Mary Woodward.
Thanks to Tracy Kumono for all the sharp photographs from the JANM conference.
FIFE HISTORY MUSUEM: “Rights, Rations, Remembrance” exhibit – October 17, 2013
Of the hundreds of screenings we’ve done over the years, this one was memorable for the number of Fife residents for whom this history is a living memory, and who brought that energy and interest to the film. This Facebook photo album shows the nearly 100 who joined us for a special evening. Museum director Molly Wilmoth has since moved on, but thanks to her for choosing our film to launch their museum program series.
NAGOMI TEA HOUSE: “Nikkei Heroes” film series – November 2, 2013
Another special program this year was one aimed at the Japanese-speaking community in Seattle. This was the first time in the U..S. that we screened CONSCIENCE with the Japanese subtitles created for the Fukuoka Film Festival in 2001. It was the first event in a ”Nikkei Heroes” film series at the Nagomi Tea House, a new performance venue inside the old Uwajimaya supermarket at 6th and Weller. Our thanks for the support of Uwajimaya owner Tomio Moriguchi and Hokubei Hochi Foundation director Elaine Ko.
Two videos are posted here. The first is a link to my introduction to the film. The second video, embedded below, captures the Q and A after the screening. The second video begins abruptly after these opening words were already heard:
“As I was growing up, the party line in our community was that our response to the forced expulsion was represented by one of two catchphrases. The first was ‘Shikataganai,’ Japanese for “it can’t be helped.” Passive resignation in the face of injustice. The second was ‘Go For Broke,’ Hawaiian slang for “go all out, give 100 percent.” That just didn’t seem right…. “
The video picks up from there:
Thanks for a busy and productive 2013. Here’s looking forward to what the new year brings.
Here’s something new: a special program aimed at the Japanese-speaking community in Seattle, in which we’ll screen CONSCIENCE subtitled in Japanese. An original poster has been produced for the event.
This is the first event in a “Nikkei Heroes” film series at the Nagomi Tea House, the new performance venue inside the old Uwajimaya supermarket at 6th and Weller. We’ll be using a version of our film with Japanese subtitles that were created for the Fukuoka Film Festival in 2001.
The screening is coming up Saturday, November 2, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm, at 519 6th Avenue South. Admission is free with a donation suggested. You can register for tickets through this Eventbrite registration. The series is presented by the Hokubei Hochi Foundation, the North American Post, and Soy Source.
Seattle jazz artist Stephen Griggs is staging a series of music and spoken word concerts at the Panama Hotel Tea Room, based on the history of Japanese Americans in Seattle. The project is inspired by the music of Oscar Holden and the novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. But he was also reading John Okada’s No-No Boy and says “the powerful feelings and stories told by Okada will influence my project.” Also this:
I want you to know that your film Conscience and the Constitution served as an inspiration for my Panama Hotel Jazz project.
So many camp stories sound conciliatory and driven by fate. This film told stories of resistance and agency. I am not of Japanese ancestry and the film’s perspectives felt less alien to me. That opened a door for me to develop my project from a stance of civil injustice which is common ground for all Americans.
Two more free concerts in the series remain, at 2pm Saturday September 14 and 21. The Panama is located at 607 South Main Street in the International District. The project is funded by the 4Culture Historic Site Specific program.
Also inspired was Rob Hellebrand, who sent a nice note along with a paper he wrote entitled, “Nisei Divided: An Account of the Fair Play Committee at the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Internment Camp.”
I have really enjoyed looking through the resources at your website. I happened to first come upon it in 1999 when I was writing a paper for a class. I knew relatively little about the internment camps and wanted to know more, and just kind of fell into the story that you told there. This was when the DVD was still in production, so I only had the documents that you uploaded to go by.
About five years later, I attended a symposium about the resisters at the University of Oregon. I remember I was at the food table and I looked up and recognized Frank Emi from sixty-year-old pictures. He seemed surprised that I would know who he was.