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Conscience and the Constitution

Who Writes History

"It's very important who writes history. History is usually written by the winners, and in the short term the JACL people, or people who believe in that point of view, the people who wanted to improve the image of the Japanese American people, in the short run they controlled the history."
--Professor Roger Daniels, University of Cincinnati

Two generations of Americans have grown to adulthood believing a single master narrative: that Japanese America endured the loss of all their rights, and three years in camp, with a mixture of passive resignation and patriotic sacrifice. For 50 years the story of organized resistance inside the camps had been written out of history. The Nisei soldiers were celebrated for securing the postwar acceptance and assimilation of the Japanese American community, while the resisters and their wives endured the scorn of their neighbors and were eventually forgotten.

With this broadcast the draft resistance at Heart Mountain is now accessible as an example of American civil disobedience in the 20th century -- yet inside Japanese America feelings of hostility and resentment against the resisters still run high. At the same time a national controversy was raised in late 2000 over a national memorial to Japanese American patriotism in World War II that included an excerpt from Mike Masaoka's 1940 "JACL Creed" -- evidence of an ongoing struggle over who would write the history of Japanese America's response to wartime incarceration.

In this section

On their return home, the resisters already had three strikes against them: a prison record, lingering prejudice against all Japanese Americans, and the scorn of their own community. Then it got worse: they were simply forgotten.

Looking Back
The master narrative of Japanese American incarceration history is reconsidered.

A 12-year effort by some JACL members to have the group apologize for its suppression of wartime resistance culminated in a heated vote on July 1, 2000.


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Copyright 2000 Frank Abe and ITVS. All Rights Reserved. MKM