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Conscience and the Constitution


"Therefore, we members of the Fair Play Committee hereby refuse to go to the physical examination or to the induction, if or when we are called, in order to contest the issue."
--Frank Emi, Fair Play Committee Bulletin #3, 1944

When the government in 1944 announced it would draft the Nisei in camp, many answered the call and even welcomed it -- but for others it presented one last chance to protest their continued incarceration and loss of rights. Within a week, a Fair Play Committee was organized at the camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. It received editorial support from a journalist in Denver, James Omura. In early March, at a packed mess hall meeting attended by 400, the Fair Play Committee crossed the line from protest to resistance with the key phrase quoted above and young men soon failed to appear for their pre-induction physicals.

The government and the JACL cracked down, but despite that, one of every nine young men drafted at Heart Mountain refused induction. On June 12, 1944, 63 resisters from Heart Mountain stood trial at the Federal Courthouse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for draft evasion. The men were found guilty and sentenced to three years in a federal penitentiary. Twenty-two more later resisted, bringing the total from Heart Mountain to 85.

The government then tried the seven leaders of the Fair Play Committee and journalist James Omura for conspiracy to counsel draft evasion. The jury convicted the resistance leaders but acquitted Omura on the First Amendment freedom of the press. On Christmas, 1945, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver threw out the convictions of the FPC leaders, ruling their jury improperly ignored civil disobedience as a defense. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal from the resisters in the mass trial; and they served more than two years and were released in 1946. On Christmas 1947, President Truman pardoned all wartime draft resisters, including Nisei resisters from all the camps.

In this section

"We Hereby Refuse . . ."
From a lone protest to rallies attracting 400, the Fair Play Committee kept in touch with followers through bulletins posted throughout camp.

Rocky Shimpo
Read the editorials that got journalist James Omura arrested for conspiracy to counsel draft evasion along with the resistance leaders.

The government, the JACL, and even the ACLU joined to suppress the growing draft resistance at Heart Mountain. It took interrogations, public denunciations and finally arrests to break the movement.

Mass Trial of 63
It was billed as the largest mass trial in Wyoming history, and remains the largest trial for draft resistance in U.S. history. The headlines called them "Japs on Trial."

Conspiracy Trial
After getting convictions of the young draft resisters, the government went after the leaders of the Fair Play Committee and the journalist who backed them. They were tried in the same federal courthouse in Cheyenne as the 63 resisters.

Letters from Prison
The resisters did hard time at federal penitentiaries at Leavenworth, Kansas and McNeil Island, Washington. Their families were imprisoned in Wyoming. Their letters "home" were censored.


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