Category Archives: Veterans

In memoriam: Sgt. Ben Kuroki

Ben Kuroki at Heart MountainWe’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.

In Memoriam: Henry Miyatake, visionary for redress

photo: Densho EncyclopediaHenry Miyatake did not appear in our film, but we could not have told the story of the Heart Mountain resisters without first establishing a common foundation of understanding about the underlying facts of the incarceration. And we could never have those facts acknowledged without Henry’s vision of winning an apology and compensation for constitutional violations from the U.S. government.

It’s no exaggeration to call Henry the father of Japanese American redress. In the 70s he railed against Mike Masaoka’s “Japanese American Creed” when its words were used against him by a Boeing Company manager to levy a 25 percent pay cut. He researched and wrote the “American Promise,” apologizing for and rescinding FDR’s Executive Order 9066, which was signed by President Ford in 1976. Henry oversaw production of the very first Day of Remembrance in the nation. And he conceived the innovative “Seattle Plan” for redress and reparations, the essence of which was signed a decade later by President Reagan.

Henry passed away quietly in Federal Way, WA, on September 16. But the Seattle community would not let him go without some closure, as Bob Shimabukuro expressed so well in the International Examiner, “Remembering Henry Miyatake: A man with the plan.” So we held a community memorial service for Henry on Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Hall in Seattle. I said a few words, which were preceded by clips from Henry’s video interview for the Densho Project, which you can watch with a free registration.

“Day of Remembrance and Henry’s Impact on Redress”
Saturday, December 6, 2014

photo: Eileen Yamada-LamphereWe just saw the great value of The Densho Project. Thanks to Densho we will always have Henry’s image and words to remember him by. And seeing him again, I am reminded how that man could talk. Once you got him started, look out. Like Tom said, he had to interview Henry six different times to get his whole life story.

That was part of Henry’s charm. He could talk, and this was a time when we needed people who could talk. But he was also about action.

You have to remember that in the late 70s, the very subject of the camps was open to argument in the newspaper and radio. For every one of us who just mentioned incarceration, there was a war veteran quick to remind people that we attacked Pearl Harbor, or we were put in camp for our protection.

But Henry had a vision. He created a set of flip charts, as you saw in that photo. If we’d had PowerPoint back then, Henry would have made a PowerPoint presentation. But this was the 70s, all he had was paper, and he was a brilliant engineer, so he created flip charts. And he shopped his flip charts all over town. He’d talk to any group that would listen.

I was a young kid fresh from California, and Henry was unlike any Nisei I had ever met. He was unafraid. He thought nothing of going to a Congressman like Brock Adams to get his support, or of working his connections with Governor Dan Evans, or with State Supreme Court Justice Charles Z. Smith, who we are honored to have with us today.

I met Henry through Frank Chin. Frank was writing a piece for the Seattle Weekly about Henry’s flipchart plan. Frank thought the move for redress was bold, and he wanted to help publicize it.

Now Frank was big on ideas. He said let’s call it a Day of Remembrance. His first idea was for us to recreate the eviction and form a car caravan down to the Puyallup Fairgrounds, to go down on Thanksgiving Day, and once we got there, we’d get out and all chain ourselves to the fence. He thought that would be great television.

Henry screamed that Frank was nuts. No one’s gonna go out on Thanksgiving. It had to be a family event, he said, and people want to be with their families on Thanksgiving. So between the two of them we arrived at the program you see on the poster, framed as a formal invitation for the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  And not a protest, but a family potluck.

We nailed those posters to telephone poles, just like in 1942.  Just using the words “Remember the camps / Stand for redress with your family” was touchy with a lot of people. We took the poster to Imperial Lanes, and the manager refused to let us put it up. “I have a lot of white customers here. I don’t want any trouble.”

The signs invited people to assemble in a vacant lot next to the old Seattle Pilots baseball park, where Lowe’s is now. And on the morning of Nov. 25, we were stunned when we arrived at Sick’s Stadium and found a thousand people waiting in line with cars. People were ready for this to happen.

Ben Nakagawa arranged for the use of some National Guard trucks and buses. The driver didn’t know how to get to the Puyallup Fairground, so Henry had to sit in the first vehicle as a guide. And Diana, you may not remember this but you wanted to ride up front with him. But Henry saw another friend of mine from San Francisco,. Benjamin Tong, sitting in the cargo bed of a big 6-wheel-drive Army truck. And Henry says, “How come you’re riding in this truck?” And Ben says, “I want to know how it felt to be taken to camp in a truck, I want to go through the same experience that you guys did.”

So Henry says, “Well, Diana, you ride with Dr. Tong so you can experience what we went through.” And that’s what Diana did, riding in the back of Army truck in the cold November wind, at the head of a 2-and-a-half mile-long car caravan snaking down southbound I-5. And like he said in the video, inside the cars, parents opened up to their kids for the first time. Yasuko Takezawa calls it, “the event that burst open the tomb of Japanese American history.

And every newspaper and TV station was there to see the largest gathering of Japanese Americans in one place in Seattle since, well, since World War 2. We showed we could get the media on our side. And what people had feared most, never happened. There was no white backlash. No angry mob. No “rekindling of old resentments and racism.”

Day of Remembrance made it safe for people across the country to step out of the shadow. We sparked the popular movement for redress and reparations that led ten years later to President Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act for an apology and individual compensation. Today Days of Remembrance are an invented tradition, observed wherever Japanese Americans live.

But taking credit, being in the limelight, was never for Henry.

For one of our newsletters Karen Seriguchi interviewed Henry and asked him, “Do you see yourself as a leader?” “No, I do not,” said Henry. “I ‘m one of the ditch-diggers. Hopefully, all the others will be digging the same way.”

Henry was not there when President Ford signed his American Promise. He was not in the photo when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act. But neither of those turning points that fundamentally changed our history would have been imaginable without the dogged persistence, the selfless commitment, and the unassuming courage of Henry Miyatake.

And that’s why we’re all here today, to remember Henry and to let his family know that as long as our voices are heard, we will never let Henry’s life and achievements be forgotten. Henry taught us to look our history in the eye, with the passion of a professor and the inescapable logic of an engineer.

Henry was a great ditch-digger. He was the conscience of our community. He was my hero, my mentor, and my friend, and I, like you, will deeply miss him.

Update: December 23, 2014
See more stories about Henry in this new obit that was requested by the Nichi Bei Weekly out of San Francisco,

“Allegiance” developmental lab concludes

Best wishes to actor George Takei and the cast, creatives, and crew of the musical Allegiance, on the private performance today near Times Square to present the results of their three-week developmental lab to industry reps and investors. A successful production, they hope next year, holds the promise of drawing thousands of new eyes to the story of the draft resistance at Heart Mountain and the clash of ideas between cooperation and resistance.

New 42nd Street StudiosFor Japanese Americans the thing to watch will be the “book,” or the script of the show that connects the songs. Rewrites are reported through Twitter to be part of the lab. The final book will be scrutinized by those whose history would be appropriated for the stage: the Heart Mountain resisters, the Nisei war veterans, and the Japanese American Citizens League as embodied in the show by the real-life Mike Masaoka. They are among those who look for rewrites to cure some of the fundamental script issues that have been identified here and elsewhere. But for now, break a leg.

Cinema Asian America interview – ‘Conscience and the Constitution:’ Talking with Frank Abe

In support of our film being featured on Comcast XFINITY video-on-demand this month, Cinema Asian America curator Chi-hui Yang conducted this online interview for their TV Blog. I told him his questions were among the most thoughtful I’d ever been posed.  See what you think:

Interview: ‘Conscience and the Constitution’: Talking with Frank Abe

by Chi-hui Yang | May 2, 2013 at 2:44 AM

Cinema Asian America May lineupThe history of Japanese American internment is a complex one and reveals many deep contradiction and divisions both within America, and more specifically, the Japanese American community. You chose to focus on the latter in “Conscience and the Constitution” noting that in 1944, the draft resisters at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming “served two years in prison, and for the next fifty were written out of the popular history of Japanese America.” What were the stakes for you as a journalist, and a Japanese American when you decided to dig deep into this contested history?

FA: I never bought into the idea that Japanese America’s only response to this massive violation of constitutional rights was passive resignation – shikatagai, Japanese for “it can’t be helped” – or patriotic self-sacrifice as embodied by the Nisei soldiers and go for broke! But as a baby boomer born after the camps, if you asked, “gee, why didn’t you guys contest this?” you’d get a pat on the head and told that “you weren’t there, times were different, you can’t judge us with your Berkeley civil-rights activism of the Sixties.”

So when I first learned of the organized resistance at Heart Mountain, which incidentally was my father’s camp, I felt like I’d found a missing link. And the more we scripted out the story, the more we could see that it would shift the paradigm of Japanese American history and show that besides cooperation and collaboration, there was protest and resistance.

Here was a classic example of civil disobedience in the American 20th century, but it threatened the party line and the popular narrative of victimization. That made it critical to me as a journalist that we get the story right and tell it fairly, to document an unassailable case, and to get it into the marketplace with the legitimacy conferred by a presenter like PBS. It must have worked because none of the dismissive “old guard” really pushed back – well, maybe one, and he can be seen near the end of the film.

Most meaningful to me was that the film provided the historical context and framework through which the children of the resisters could finally understand what their fathers and mothers did. Many of these people my age had gone through life feeling vaguely uneasy about their fathers’ time in a federal penitentiary. When they saw that there was no community backlash to the film, and instead a large audience for the recovery of this untold story, they could see that their fathers were in fact principled people who acted in the best American tradition.

You’ve said that this film in many ways, would have been very difficult to make before the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, in which the US government gave reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned during WWII. Why?

FA: Because without an accepted foundation of verified fact, anything we put out there would have been too easily dismissed as opinion or hearsay. I was jolted into action to help kick-start the redress campaign when writer Frank Chin literally came to my door and said, “If you lose Japanese American history, you can kiss Japanese American art goodbye.” At that time in 1978 every attempt to raise the issue of injustice in the newspaper or on the radio was greeted with letters to the editor and callers on the air who would snarl, “yeah, but don’t forget these guys bombed Pearl Harbor,” or “don’t forget they were put in camp for their own protection.” Whenever Frank Emi spoke in classrooms he had to bring armloads of books and court cases to first prove the case against the camps before he could begin to talk about the Fair Play Committee. Frank Chin showed us that by staging events like the first Days of Remembrance in Seattle and Portland, we could use the media to get across the simple message that the camps were wrong, and that paved the way for the first redress bills in Congress.

While pursuing redress over the next ten years, we had to show a united front with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and others. We couldn’t muddy the argument by bringing up the cooperation of JACL leaders in the eviction from the West Coast and administration of the camps, or the resistance to the draft at Heart Mountain and other camps. Once we held the government accountable for redress in 1988, we were freed to turn to holding our own leaders accountable, a movement that climaxed with the events seen at the end of Conscience.

And are there still lingering histories of the internment which have not been told which future generations of filmmakers should uncover?

FA: It’s harder now with each passing year, but there needs to be an authoritative study of the false distinctions between loyalty and disloyalty that were forced upon us by the wartime government and internalized by our own community – the no-no’s, the renunciants and the expatriates. Whether by intent or incompetence, these expressions of dissent were driven by administrators who effectively created disloyalty, anger and alienation through the implementation of loyalty oaths and segregation of families based upon their answers.

“Conscience and the Constitution” was made more than a decade ago and you’ve remained very active in screening it and making it available in classrooms. How can we connect up the history you examine in the film, with current conversations and politics in the US?

FA: The unjust eviction and incarceration of Japanese Americans based solely on their race is the single largest precedent that inhibits the power of the federal executive to profile populations on the basis of race, ethnicity and religion. We saw that in play right after 9/11, when the knee-jerk hostility and calls for roundup of Arab Americans were tempered by the acknowledgment that America made this mistake after Pearl Harbor. As historian Eric Muller put it, our memory is a precious resource in the fight against racism and scapegoating, and it’s one to which we bear special witness.

On the cultural scene, the specific story we frame of the wartime JACL’s promotion of military service and its suppression of the Heart Mountain draft resistance has found unexpected life in actor George Takei’s legacy project, a musical called Allegiance. The show premiered last fall in San Diego with aspirations for a Broadway run, and while there are certain issues with the script, which is still in development, it has certainly kept this story in front of a national audience.

You’ve been deeply involved in Asian American culture and politics for more than three decades, as a journalist covering the community, as a founding member of the Asian American Theater Company, and as a filmmaker. What was the starting point for you and what excites you about Asian America today?

FA: Coming out of college my imagination was captured by the AIIIEEEEE! Boys: the band of young writers who first proclaimed there was such a thing as an Asian American sensibility and who proved it by recovering and republishing the works of John Okada, Louis Chu and others. It was an imaginative home I never knew I had, and the works of fiction, poetry, and theater that were created were rooted in our shared history and the excitement of rediscovering a buried past.

Today I can get annoyed by the fashionable notion in some places that we’ve moved past history, past the camps, that it’s all been said and done and we’ve moved on. Then I can get excited by the emergence of former editor Naomi Hirahara as a celebrated mystery writer who can slip in references to the Fair Play Committee; or more recently the Kaya Press translation of Lament in the Night, a gritty 1925 novella written in Japanese by an Issei who authentically captures the back alleys and bathhouses of LA’s Little Tokyo before the war in a way we’ve never seen before.

What are you working on now?

FA: We’re marketing a two-disc special edition DVD of Conscience with outtakes, extensions of the interviews and new featurettes, because there was so much great material we couldn’t fit into the hour-long film. It’s a useful resource for students to enable research of the primary interviews along with the rich database of documents we put online at PBS.org/Conscience . Next is an anthology of essays that examines the postwar resettlement of Japanese America and the world into which the resisters were thrust after serving their two years in prison. That’s another lingering history that’s not been well examined, and we’ll investigate it through the lens of writer John Okada and his foundational novel, “No-No Boy.”

Resisters honored on Fred Korematsu Day in San Francisco

Korematsu heroes graphicThe Heart Mountain resisters, under the heading of “Internment Dissenters,” will be among 16 individuals and groups honored in San Francisco this Sunday at the third annual Fred Korematsu Day celebration. Thanks to the organizers for linking to this site for information about the resisters and, for the short film to be screened at the event, thanks for using two of the stills from our film: the shot of Frank Emi in camp with grocer Kozie Sakai, and the iconic courtroom photo of the 63 resisters on trial in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education is a program of the Asian Law Caucus, which was co-founded by longtime supporter and civil rights lawyer Dale Minami. The event is this Sunday, January 27, 2:30-4:30pm, at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on 401 Van Ness Ave.

In what is billed as “a historic gathering of civil rights heroes and the descendants of heroes who have passed on,” the Nisei draft resisters are sixth on a list of 16 American civil rights heroes who organizers say have been long overlooked:

#6. INTERNMENT DISSENTERS: “No-Nos,” draft resisters and renunciants who challenged the WWII incarceration and mistreatment of Japanese Americans. ‘No-No’ Hiroshi Kashiwagi will represent this honoree group at the event.

The video to be shown is described as a 2-minute short produced by filmmaker Winnie Wong, who interviewed Hiroshi for it  She hopes to be able to share a Vimeo link at some point. The Institute’s Education Coordinator, Tim Huey, writes:

We are offering 2 free VIP tickets to each living member of our honoree groups. So, for those that are a Filipino WWII veteran, Japanese American WWII veteran, Internment Dissenter (draft resister, No-No, renunciant), or Dollar Store Striker that wish to attend, have them call us at 415-848-7737 to request complimentary tickets or email info@korematsuinstitute.org. At this point resister Jimi Yamaichi plans on coming, as well as No-No Jim Tanimoto. We’d love to have more dissenters attend if they are able.

Korematsu teaching kitThe 16 Heroes are all featured on an educational poster that is going into our teaching kits that are sent for free to educators across the country. We’ll be unveiling the poster at the event. More information on the teaching kits can be found on our website. Most of the materials can be downloaded for instant gratification, but for those desiring a physical kit, they simply have to fill out a basic online form to request them.

Tickets for the event are available for purchase. And again,  Japanese American draft resisters, renunciants, and no-no boys are among those who can get free VIP tickets.

Korematsu heroes program

In memoriam: Senator Daniel Inouye, who stood up for the resisters

Sen. Daniel Inouye was a highly-decorated combat veteran, the first Japanese American in Congress, and an icon in the Japanese American community — so people took notice when a decade ago he began to give interviews in which he compared the courage of the veterans to the courage of the Heart Mountain draft resisters for being willing to go to prison to stand up for their rights. Maybe he sensed, after the broadcast of our film and other works, that the time had come for the reconciliation long talked about between the veterans, the resisters and other camp dissenters.

He was big enough to recognize that, as he put it, “it took a lot of guts” for the resisters to stand up to their own government — and by saying so, he showed a lot of gut himself. 

I’m sorry to learn tonight that Mr. Inouye passed away today at the age of 88. In 2002, he was gracious enough to grant us an interview that is exclusive to our new DVD. Shot at Seattle Central Community College by our principal videographer, Phil Sturholm, producer Carol Hasegawa squeezed in two questions on our behalf at the end of her interview with him on the day’s Civil Liberties Celebration. In the good Senator’s memory tonight, here is the full featurette as it appears on our DVD:

Resisters in crossfire between veterans and “Allegiance”

Japanese American Veterans Association logoAs predicted, the use of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee to advance the plot of a new musical set in the camps is dredging up old misconceptions about the nature of the resistance. Submitted for your consideration: the second open letter about Allegiance that arrived today from the president of the Japanese American Veterans Association (download a printable PDF of “Setting the Record Straight: The Play ‘Allegiance'”).

We agreed with several of the concerns Gerald Yamada expressed in his first open letter of Sept. 10.  In this new letter he draws attention to what he calls “misleading” elements of the show, such as “misdirecting the blame away from government officials responsible for falsely imprisoning innocent persons” in the second act.

“The ‘light bulb’ revelation in the play that soldiers die in war does not make the 442nd RCT a suicide battalion,” he correctly notes, and concludes, “If the producers continue to try to convince audiences that Masaoka was a monster who duped Japanese Americans into serving in the 442nd RCT as a suicide battalion, the play is doomed to hit an iceberg of facts and history which do not support this.”

On the way to making these points based on facts and history, however, the writer buys into the same false distinctions between loyalty and disloyalty that were promoted by the JACL immediately after Pearl Harbor, and later codified and enforced by the administrators running the camps — false distinctions that incarcerees then internalized among themselves to divide volunteer from resister, draftee from renunciant, friend from foe. As the writer takes his verbal shots at the show’s belittlement of the veterans, he complains the show “over-romanticizes the story of the resisters.” The resisters suffer a kind of collateral damage, caught in this peculiar crossfire:

In the play, resisters are those who answer no to questions 27 and 28 and those who refused to be inducted, but they still appear to believe in America (emphasis added) … It would be unfair to conclude that all resisters wanted Japan to win the war … The important point is that the resisters were in the minority and that all those in that minority may not have been loyal to America as compared to all who volunteered to serve in the 442nd RCT.”

This regrettable but familiar innuendo drew a quick response from the friend who forwarded me the open letter:

“Why are folks still invoking the loyal/disloyal paradigm to discredit dissenters and resisters? That comment is a reminder of the racist labeling that government institutions like the Western Defense Command, the Department of Justice and the War Relocation Authority imposed on our community and used to silence dissent. Sadly, many Japanese Americans like victims of Stockholm Syndrome where the prisoner identifies with the goals of their powerful captors internalized and still use these stereotypical and divisive labels … (W)hy is it necessary to demonize the imprisoned Japanese American minority that had the “baka guts” to protest the injustice of their incarceration? … Isn’t it about time that we accept civil disobedience and dissent as a legitimate 100% American response to injustice?”

It’s unfortunate but like we said, the resisters get kicked around like this every so often. This time the dust-up is over a musical. Next year it will be something else.

Resisters at heart of new musical

Allegiance photoLike it or not, the history and legacy of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee is being dramatized and will be kicked around in the media for weeks and months to come. The vehicle for the uproar is a new musical with Broadway aspirations that appropriates the story of the resisters and puts them on stage against the Japanese American Citizens League and the real-life Mike Masaoka.

That’s the story first revealed to a national television audience by Conscience and the Constitution, and it informs the framework of Allegiance. Several years ago the songwriter and co-producer contacted us to ask for a copy of our film for a theater workshop. We obliged by sending a VHS tape, and heard nothing more until recently.

At Resisters.com we will always appreciate George Takei for his two decades of support for the Heart Mountain resisters — from his volunteering to read the part of Frank Emi at our first resisters homecoming / readers theater event in San Jose in 1992 (sadly but understandably losing him to a paying film gig), to his later lending his voice talents to our film to read the manifesto of Frank Emi and an editorial from James Omura. With his massive following and two-million Facebook friends, George is emerging as our lead advocate for getting mention of the resisters into the mass culture, as evidenced by this NPR interview over the Labor Day weekend where he expresses his admiration for the resisters and what he correctly characterizes as their “courageous and principled stand.”

While audiences may only remember the performances, musical arrangements and stagecraft, and whatever the intentions of the creative team, the risk of staging this material is that even as Japanese Americans appreciate this history being exposed to a wider audience, there are many ways for them to take offense at the way this one is told:

  • The JACL — Where our documentary lets Masaoka’s words and deeds speak for themselves, the musical puts Mike on stage as a living person, by name, and that’s a different animal. The emotional arc of the stage play sets up Mike as the villain of the piece. In early drafts, and in a YouTube video, “Mike Masaoka” is portrayed as a “scheming vaudevillian,” to use the words in the video caption.For all his rhetoric and bluster, Mike didn’t create the camps, or the draft, nor did he have the authority to stop the drafting of young men into the 442. The government did. JACLers are up in arms, though the organization so far has been silent.
  • The veterans — With the show appearing to champion those who resisted over those who enlisted or complied with the draft in camp, the stage was set for pushback. The first shot was fired by Charles Kobayashi and others in Sacramento in a letter reacting to a community preview: “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.” Another of Kobayashi’s complaints however is easily dismissed: artists have no obligation to “uplift the race,” as it were.
  • The resisters — I can only wonder what Frank Emi would say if he were still alive. The show in earlier drafts had the lead resister, called by the diminuitive “Frankie,” exhorting crowds in camp to resist, under a banner that proclaims “Resist!” Frank would tell you that is a conflation with the washo-washo cries at the Tule Lake Segregation Center. The draft resisters at Heart Mountain never publicly rallied or raised banners. That would have invited sure arrest, and confusing their methods with those of the Tule Lake no-no’s and renunciants was precisely the thing that Frank Emi insisted the group avoid. It’s not just a technicality.The Fair Play Committee was organized around a principle to which they hoped to attract support. Frank Emi made it clear they would not pressure anyone to join the Fair Play Committee or to resist the draft, in order to avoid a federal conspiracy or sedition charge. They studiously limited their activities to offering legal advice to those who asked for it, quietly posting fliers throughout camp, and holding public meetings in the mess hall. To show them rallying under a banner alters the fundamental nature of the Fair Play Committee’s stand. It feeds into the stereotype of “agitators” and “troublemakers” that has dogged the FPC for 70 years.

Murmuring about the content of Allegiance has simmered all summer, based on a series of community previews, clips on YouTube,  and a glimpse of an early version of the script, as reported last month by J.K. Yamamoto in the Rafu Shimpo.

The murmuring finally burst into the open today with release of this from the president of the Japanese American Veterans Association (you can download a PDF of the letter here).

Open Letter about “Allegiance”

The play “Allegiance” is scheduled to open in San Diego, CA, on September 19th.  The producers of the play have received criticism about a pre-opening version of the play and they may make some changes before opening.  However, we understand that they do not intend to change the play’s characterization of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Mike Masaoka, who was National JACL Secretary at the time Executive Order 9066 was issued, and the Nisei soldiers.  Thus, in our opinion, the play’s plot is objectionable in that it misleads the American public and is a disservice to the Japanese American community.  The comments in this letter are based on a review of a pre-opening version of the play.

The play tells how two groups showed their loyalty to the United States during World War II.  In telling their stories, the play pits those who volunteered to serve in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team against the”resisters” (aka “No-No boys” and draft resisters).  The play also implies that JACL and Masaoka colluded with the government in shaping various governmental policies.  These policies related to the forced evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry, Question 27 and Question 28 in the loyalty questionnaire, segregation of “resisters” in Tule Lake WRA camp, and misleading Japanese Americans into volunteering for military service.

First, the play gives the false impression to the American public that the evacuation and unjust imprisonment of persons of Japanese ancestry would not have happened but for the aid provided by JACL and Mike Masaoka.  In reality, JACL and Masaoka had no ability to influence Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Army to evacuate persons of Japanese ancestry from the western United States.  They should be applauded for their efforts to minimize the pain and harshness of the Executive Order’s implementation during a time of war hysteria and within a culture of hostile and deceitful governmental officials.

Moreover, the play makes no mention of the actions of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed Executive Order 9066, and LTG John DeWitt, who implemented Executive Order 9066.  These actions were later found to be the result of “prejudice, war hysteria, and lack of political leadership.”

Rather, the play would mislead the American public by attributing
unsubstantiated actions to Japanese American leaders who were attempting to bring reason to absolute chaos confronting the community.  The play appears to be pandering to the American public with the implicit message: “We don’t blame the government for what happened to us during World War II.  JACL and Masaoka did this to us.”

What happened to persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II was overt racial profiling. The lesson learned from that experience is that we must guard against racially motivated governmental policies.  This play, “Allegiance,” only serves to dilute or confuse the lesson that the American public should take away from the sacrifices and suffering of those who bore the unjust effects of Executive Order 9066.

Furthermore, there is no question that there was an angry division in 1943 within the Japanese American community between those who volunteered to serve and “resisters” on the matter of loyalty.  The play attempts to make the case that the “resisters” made the right choice and that those who volunteered were deceived by Masaoka and made the wrong choice.  By fueling this controversy, the play attempts to re-open old wounds and does a disservice to both groups.

Both choices were difficult and had permanent life-altering consequences. In hindsight, both groups should recognize that there was more than one way to show one’s loyalty.  Neither choice was the right one or the wrong one. Today, we should celebrate both groups for following their convictions rather than fueling this hostility by continuing to pit these two groups against each other.

Finally, the play uses fictional characters except for Mike Masaoka. The play assaults his good name and reputation by alleging his direct involvement in shaping the government’s controversial policies.  Let us hope that the play’s producers and investors can substantiate their apparent character assassination of Masaoka.  We will leave it to Mike Masaoka & Associates, a consulting firm that continues to do business in Washington, DC, to raise any challenges related to possibly malicious damage to its business reputation caused by “Allegiance.”

Sincerely,

Gerald Yamada
JAVA President

A couple of things are worth nothing about this letter. It signals we’re in for another round of confusing the resisters at Heart Mountain with the no-no’s at Tule Lake. The resisters were not “angrily divided” against the boys who served; they always said they made their choice and the volunteers made theirs. The resisters always recognized there was more than one way to show one’s loyalty; it was the veterans groups and JACL that took 60 or 70 years to come around. What’s notable is the degree to which the two letters above acknowledge the civil disobedience as a legitimate response.

Yamada’s challenge that the producers document their characterization of Masaoka was evidently anticipated by their reposting on their site of Mike’s 1942 and 1943 memoes to the WRA, the color scans of which were downloaded uncredited from our site, Resisters.com, along with several photos of Mike and the HTML code that William Hohri created for us for posting of the uncensored Lim Report. Having said that, and to show how many conflicting interests are at play, we do appreciate the link to our PBS. org site and to the DVD ordering page and hope they remain.

Previews for the show began last Friday. Opening night is Wednesday, September 19, and the all-important trade reviews will come in soon after that. More as this story develops.

Manzanar Committee apologizes for guest speaker Frank Chin

The bad boy of Asian American letters has done it again. The Manzanar Committee has discovered what the Organization of Chinese Americans and the Northwest Asian American Film Festival learned before them.

Frank Chin may make for a lousy guest, and I didn’t hear exactly what he said, but I think characterizing his legitimate points as “name-calling” diminishes what he had to say and the intelligence of their constituency:

The Manzanar Committee expresses their deepest apologies to those who were offended by remarks made by Frank Chin, one of the speakers at the 37th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.

Though the intention and focus clearly communicated to Chin in the Committee’s invitation was to focus on his central role with beginning the annual Day of Remembrance and being part of a Pan-Asian movement that supported redress as well as encouraging youth today to become more politically aware and informed, Chin departed from this intention when he resorted to name calling against the Japanese American Citizens League and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

These are views which may reflect those of Chin but not the Manzanar Committee.

Read the entire, indignant news release from the Manzanar Committee.