Tag Archives: Fair Play Committee

“Kiyoshi Okamoto and the Four Franks”

Tak Hoshizaki
Tak Hoshizaki at the “Standing on Principle” panel, July 6, 2013. Photo by Tracy Kumono Photography.

Tak Hoshizaki is one of the few surviving Heart Mountain resisters who continues to speak in public. At the Japanese American National Museum national conference on July 6, in a panel called “Standing on Principle,” Tak shared his first-hand account of the growing Fair Play Committee movement at Heart Mountain in 1944, and we thank him for allowing us to share it with you:

“KIYOSHI OKAMOTO AND THE FOUR FRANKS”

Kiyoshi Okamoto

“Fair play, fair play, civil rights, fair play” was what Kiyoshi Okamoto was saying as he talked to anyone who would listen in the cold, windy Wyoming concentration camp. Ten-thousand Japanese, most of them American citizens, held in a concentration camp in a desolate part of Wyoming, had little understanding of how their civil rights were violated. Kiyoshi was trying to tell the inmates that the United States government, their country, had wrongly imprisoned them. As he spoke to small groups, Kiyoshi called himself the “Fair Play Committee of One.”

In the winter of 1942-43, the Army came into Heart Mountain to recruit volunteers. This was the same time the infamous loyalty questionnaire with question 27 and 28 was being debated.

Frank Inouye

We now meet the first “Frank,” Frank Inouye. At the recruiting meeting, after the Army’s presentation, Inouye presented a manifesto demanding the U. S. government restore the rights of the men before drafting them. As a result, the Heart Mountain Congress of American Citizens was formed, represented by 2 people from each block. Inouye became the chairman. Before the Congress of American Citizens had time to develop, Inouye was able to leave the camp. With Inouye gone, the congress eventually evolved into the Fair Play Committee.

As a side note, Inouye later became a professor and an administrator at the University of Hawaii. He also was the main driving force who developed the University of Hawaii campus at Hilo. A few years ago, the University of Hawaii had a dedication and recognition for Frank Inouye’s efforts that brought about the existence of the Hilo branch. Frank Inouye passed away a few years ago.

Frank Emi

We now meet the second “Frank,” Frank Emi. Emi became one of the leaders of the Fair Play Committee. Emi played a major role in the Fair Play Committee conflicts with the camp administrators.

Emi at this time was married and had a family. He was not eligible for the draft. Again like Inouye, Emi also believed that before drafting the men, their full citizenship rights be restored.

The Fair Play Committee of One became the Fair Play Committee of Many. With Frank Inouye gone, the former members of the Congress of American Citizens joined together with Kiyoshi Okamoto, Frank Emi and others to form the Fair Play Committee. The Fair Play Committee began holding meetings, discussing the questionnaire and the draft. I attended a meeting and was surprised at the wall to wall attendance. The plan was to have our civil rights returned before we would serve. Also was surprised that I was not alone in my thinking of not answering the draft call.

By this time 1943-44, I was of draft age. When I entered the Pomona Assembly Center I was 16, not very good in history and English, understood very little of the Constitution of the United States let alone an understanding of civil rights. It was there in the Pomona Assembly Center as I listened to the older Nisei talk, I learned about how we should have contested “Evacuation” by legal action. How we were betrayed by “JACL.” The Japanese American Citizens League. Who were they? How did JACL have a role? I began to realize that something was wrong. When I heard of the financial losses of many families, and that families were broken apart by the arrest, removal and detention of their fathers, I realized more than ever, our removal was wrong. While in Pomona I wrote to my homeroom teacher at Belmont High School. The letter expressed my very bitter feelings of what had happened. She answered she was sorry that I felt so angry.

Now two years later, I had decided that I would not go if called. A few weeks later I received my draft notice. I did not appear for my physical. I continued to work at the camp engineering office. One of the nisei workers approached me and told me an administrator’s son was killed by the Japanese. The nisei worker suggested that I not work there anymore to ease the pain of his loss. I stopped working.

A few days later I was picked up early in the morning. There were 63 of us. The largest Selective Service trial on record. We hoped that the publicity of the trial would help in the return of our civil rights, release from camps and return to our homes, our neighborhood.

We, the 63, decided for a trial by a judge only. The idea was that with the war on, members selected for a jury would not be sympathetic to us. A big mistake. In his book Free to Die for Their Country, Eric Muller describes the presiding judge as a racist. Strike three. In the trial, failure to report for the draft was only considered. The fact that we were being drafted from a concentration camp was not brought up. Only that we had broken the Selective Service Act. We were found guilty and given a 3 year sentence to serve in a Federal Penitentiary.

The leaders of the Fair Play Committee were later arrested, found guilty of conspiracy to violate the Selective Service Act and sentenced to 4 years in the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. They appealed the sentence and won. They served about 18 months. In 1947, President Truman pardoned all the Nisei draft resisters. All of us, the Fair Play Committee members and the resisters, now had our full citizenship back. The records of our imprisonment erased. We were now regular citizens.

We all returned to civilian life, going back to school or going to work, putting aside our thoughts of these experience. Except for Emi. Frank Emi gave talks before groups and at various universities telling the story of the Fair Play Committee and the draft resistance at Heart Mountain. News media and the Japanese American community gave little note and eventually swept the story “under the rug,” giving little mention of the resistance. We were written out of the Japanese American history. Our story of draft resistance to regain our civil rights buried and forgotten.

I continued my education and was studying for my master’s degree at UCLA when the Korean Conflict started. I was young enough and soon found myself drafted and in the Army. I personally know of five other Heart Mountain resisters who like myself later served. The age limit was 28 so only the youngest of the resisters were still eligible for the draft. We had our civil rights returned, our families were now out of the concentration camps. As we stated as our stand during the trial, give back our civil rights and release our families and we will gladly serve.

The story of the Fair Play Committee was seldom if ever mentioned in the vernacular papers, let alone the regular press. The exploits of the 442 were broadly and repeatedly publicized and rightly so. The Fair Play Committee was now a forbidden topic. Swept under the rug. Written out of history. The resisters, we were the bad guys.

Frank Chin

We now meet the third “Frank.” Frank Chin, a Chinese American, an outspoken playwright, novelist, and writer. Chin apparently discovered / uncovered the story of the Fair Play Committee and the Heart Mountain draft resisters and wrote in his typical manner about the Fair Play Committee and the resisters. Chin obtained copies of reports and documents on Heart Mountain, those that were written by the administrators. Chin published “The Organized Resistance” in the annual special edition of the Rafu Shimpo in December of 1981. Chin wrote a very in-detail, documented history of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.

With this story, Chin was instrumental in bringing to light the resister story. Chin’s exposé answered the question put forth by the younger Japanese Americans, “Why didn’t you resist?” We did resist but our actions were never told. Chin has supported and written much on the resister’s story.

Frank Abe

Now we meet our fourth “Frank,” Frank Abe. Frank had also wondered, “Why didn’t you resist?” When Abe learned about the resisters, he set out on a long 20-year plus journey that culminated in the famous documentary film Conscience and the Constitution. He spent many hours tracking down and interviewing the surviving resisters. Abe’s question for the Japanese Americans now is, “Why did you turn your back on those who resisted?”

We are now meeting in Seattle, Frank Abe’s present home town. Thank you all for being here and for your kind attention. Kokoro kara.

Thanks again to Tak Hoshizaki for sharing his remarks. He’s been quoted in a few books about the resistance, but we hope he continues to write about the FPC in his own words.

Watch our film on Comcast video-on-demand through month of May

Comcast XFINITY logoWe’ve just learned that our film has been selected for national distribution through Comcast XFINITY’s video-on-demand service. Thanks to Chi-hui Yang, curator of the “Cinema Asian America” series, Comcast digital cable subscribers with On-Demand in select TV markets can watch Conscience and the Constitution for just $1.99 per view.

If you haven’t already seen Conscience, this is a limited opportunity, from today through May 31, to see it at home for a nominal fee. Please share the news with friends. Read more in the news release, with a list below of the TV markets where you can “demand” our film:

Conscience and the Constitution carried nationwide in May on Comcast video-on-demand

Award-winning documentary featured in “Cinema Asian America” series on Comcast XFINITY

To mark Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this May, XFINITY On Demand ‘s Cinema Asian America presents Frank Abe’s landmark documentary, Conscience and the Constitution.

Originally released in 2000, the film has become a vital part of the nation’s on-going conversation about race, citizenship and civil liberties – complex and fraught dynamics that have become even more urgent since September 11, 2001.

“With video-on-demand and Comcast’s national presence we can reach more viewers and give them a chance to learn more about the incarceration, at a nominal cost,” said Abe. “Thanks to series curator Chi-hui Yang for including our film among so many other outstanding offerings.”

From May 1 through May 31, Conscience and the Constitution is available to all Comcast digital cable subscribers with On-Demand for $1.99 per view.

Conscience and the Constitution examines the history of mass incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps during WWII, the majority of them US citizens. The film focuses on a group of 85 internees, who refused to be drafted to fight for the US military – an act of protest that resulted, not only in the largest trial for draft resistance in U.S. history, but also in ideological rifts within the Japanese American community that persist even today.

At a time when community leaders advocated for Japanese Americans to sign up for the armed forces to prove their loyalty to the U.S., the resisters refused to do so, knowing that they and their families had been stripped of their civil rights and incarcerated, solely on the basis of their race. The film examines the deep schisms that opened in the Japanese American community during the incarceration and which persist today.

That story also informs the plot of the new musical, Allegiance, which premiered last fall in San Diego and is currently back in development in a workshop lab in New York. “This cablecast of Conscience is timely, as audiences who’ve seen or heard about the musical can now check out the source material for themselves,” said Abe.

“Cinema Asian America” is the groundbreaking video-on-demand offering on Comcast featuring Asian American and Asian films and videos in a monthly, thematically-programmed format. The curated series brings together award-winning films fresh from the film festival circuit and classics which beg to be revisited.

To find Conscience and the Constitution through the Comcast digital cable menu, viewers should click on the “On Demand” button, then look under the “Movies” folder and select the “Movie Collections” subfolder to find “Cinema Asian America.”

Conscience and the Constitution is also available as a Two-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD, which can be ordered online for home use for $29.95 plus shipping by visiting Resisters.com/orders. For institutional rates, schools and libraries should contact Transit Media at www.transitmedia.net or (800) 343-5540.

Learn more about the film at Resisters.com, and see sample clips from the film at YouTube.com/ConscienceDVD.

Comcast TV Markets

Birmingham, AL
Dothan, AL

Huntsville, AL
Little Rock, AR

Tucson, AZ

Fresno, CA
Sacramento, CA
San Francisco, CA
Santa Barbara, CA

Colorado Springs, CO
Denver, CO

Hartford, CT

Washington DC

Ft. Myers, FL

Jacksonville, FL
Miami, FL
Orlando, FL
Panama City, FL
Pensacola, FL
Tallahassee, FL
Tampa, FL
West Palm Beach, FL

Atlanta, GA
Augusta, GA
Savannah, GA

Chicago, IL
Champaign, IL
Peoria, IL
Rockford, IL

Ft. Wayne, IN
Indianapolis, IN
South Bend, IN

Charleston, KY
Louisville, KY
Paducah, KY

Monroe, LA
New Orleans, LA
Shreveport, LA

Boston, MA
Springfield, MA

Detroit, MI

Kansas City, MO

Baltimore, MD
Salisbury, MD

Minneapolis, MN

Columbus, MS
Hattiesburg, MS
Jackson, MS

Albuquerque, NM

New York, NY

Youngstown, OH

Portland, OR

Harrisburg, PA
Johnstown, PA
Philadelphia, PA
Pittsburgh, PA
Wilkes-Barre, PA

Charleston, SC

Chattanooga, TN
Knoxville, TN
Memphis, TN
Nashville, TN
Tri-Cities, TN

El Paso, TX
Houston, TX

Salt Lake City, UT

Richmond, VA
Roanoke, VA

Seattle, WA
Spokane, WA

Wheeling, WV

Sharing the story at Asian American Studies conference

Staffing table at conferenceThanks to all those who stopped by our table at the 2013 Association for Asian American Studies conference in Seattle — especially those who took home our order card to recommend their college librarians acquire the new two-disc DVD of Conscience and the Constitution, for classroom use. It was incredibly validating to hear from so many professors over three days tell us of the success they’ve had in using the film in their courses. Not often one gets a chance to meet with the educators actually teaching the material, and it was rewarding to share the story of wartime resistance with so many students and scholars at once.

Thanks also to those who came to our Thursday afternoon panel, “Revisiting the Sites of Japanese American Wartime Incarceration.”

AAAS_panelOur presenters revisited the camps on three very different levels –  the physical, the emotional, and the imaginative. Brian Niiya described how the preservation of the physical site of the Honouliuli camp in Hawai’i expanded into a larger effort to modify the very narrative of Japanese American history in Hawai’i. Karen Inouye delved into the emotional heart of symbolic graduation ceremonies for Japanese American students removed from college after Pearl Harbor.

But it was the final piece from panel organizer Larry Hashima of California State University, Long Beach, that was most revelant to this blog about the resisters. hashimaLarry broke down the imaginative ways in which we construct narratives about the camp experience in his paper, “The Final Frontier Allegiance and Musically Remaking the Internment Narrative.” Larry examined the George Takei musical that debuted last fall in San Diego. He argued that by casting real-life JACL leader Mike Masaoka as “the key antagonist (if not outright villain)” of the musical, and by framing the Nisei veterans as “unwitting dupes volunteering for an unnecessary sacrifice,” the show engaged in “a radical reinterpretation of historical events” and “unchained” the story of camp from “the anchors of the established narrative” — anchors that are otherwise known as the facts.

He concluded that “while Allegiance may have attempted to ‘boldly go where no musical has gone before,'” it can also be viewed as a throwback to the bad old days when the common wisdom pitted the veterans against the resisters (“a false dichotomy,” Larry says), and Japanese Americans were understood only as victims.

Hashima is developing his ideas for a longer dissertation examining the development of common themes within fiction and film treatments of the camp story. We’ll keep an eye on his progress.

“Films of Remembrance” to feature DVD featurette

Floyd Mori at JACL apology ceremony
Floyd Mori at JACL apology ceremony

One of the featurettes on our new DVD, “The JACL Apologizes,” will screen in San Francisco Japantown on Monday, Feb. 18 as part of this year’s, “Films of Remembrance.”

It’s a one-day film series held in conjunction with the Bay Area Day of Remembrance, commemorating the 71st anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which set the wheels in motion to forcibly relocate some 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry into American concentration camps during World War II.  Our piece caps off the day’s program, which ends with this description:

5:30 p.m. “A Divided Community: Three Personal Stories of Resistance” (2012, 73 min.) This documentary by Momo Yashima highlights the struggles of three Japanese American World War II resisters — Yosh Kuromiya, Frank Emi and Mits Koshiyama — who challenged the U.S. government’s decision to draft Japanese Americans while they and their families were being held in America’s concentration camps.

Followed by “The JACL Apologizes” by Frank Abe, from the DVD “Conscience and the Constitution.”

The screenings are at Nihonmachi Little Friends, 1830 Sutter St. (near Buchanan) in San Francisco Japantown. The event is sponsored by the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium, the Nichi Bei Weekly and the National Japanese American Historical Society.  Free admission, though they’d welcome donations. Thanks to Kenji Taguma for including our piece in the series.

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

New year’s greetings from Resisters.com

Happy new year and best wishes for a busy 2013. Here is a relevant clip from our film that is one of the moments I look forward to whenever we screen it. It’s a scene that editor Lillian Benson found in the footage we gave her, and once we told her the mochi-pounding is a New Year’s tradition, she knew exactly where to place it. It’s a moment to pause and give the audience a chance to catch up on all the information they’ve absorbed that establishes the history, gets our characters into camp, and sets the table for the draft resistance to come. Composer Alan Koshiyama then added his touch, a new musical theme that we titled, “The Second Winter.” Enjoy.

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:

The James Omura centenary: 1912-2012

James Omura - Broadway High School photo
James Omura at Broadway High School, Seattle

One hundred years ago today, November 27, 1912, Utaka Matsumoto was born to a sawmill worker and his wife on Bainbridge Island, Washington. At age 6 his mother returned ill to Japan and he never saw her again. At age 13 he would take the name James Omura and leave home to work in the Alaskan salmon canneries. In this centenary year we recognize Omura as the Japanese American journalist most willing to take a stand — demanding of the Tolan Committee “Has the Gestapo come to America?,” editorializing against the draft resistance at Heart Mountain in “Let Us Not Be Rash,” and testifying decades later to the Bernstein Commission for redress.

Jimmie would always tell me that he didn’t expect to be remembered or recognized for his accomplishments until 50 years after his death. Then he would go on to complain about the lack of guts among the third-generation Sansei journalists, including, one had to assume, myself. But he seemed genuinely pleased to be awarded the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the then-fledgling Asian American Journalists Association, and we were fortunate to have recovered and told his story in our PBS film Conscience and the Constitution.

In this centenary year we may get word of publication of Jimmie’s memoirs, a work left incomplete by his passing in 1994 and painstakingly edited ever since by Professor Art Hansen under the working title, Nisei Naysayer: The Memoir of Militant Japanese American Journalist Jimmie Omura.

We were saddened to recently hear from Art of the passing of Jimmie’s second wife, Haruko Karen Omura, on September 4th at the age of 85, but we have been in touch with the two sons of Karen and Jimmie. The younger son Wayne is a writer, author of the book Movies and The Meaning of Life: The Most Profound Films in Cinematic History, available on Amazon. We asked Wayne for his reflections on this date:

On the Hundredth Anniversary of My Father’s Birth

Many fathers tell stories about their lives, and it is hard to know how much is true and how much is tall-tales.  It was only after my father retired that he became involved, once again, in politics, history, and journalism.  It was then that I began to suspect that those “tall-tales” might be true.

After his death, after seeing all that was written about him, all the many books in which his name appeared, I realized that those tall-tales were really “true-tales.”  I should have listened better and taken more interest as I was growing up.  But like all kids, we had our own lives to live, our own problems in the here and now. The past was history.  The words went in one ear and out the other.

A personal anecdote may be in order which displays my Dad’s character, as well as the most important principle he taught me.

While working after college as night-manager in a small grocery store, I had numerous physical confrontations with shoplifters.  My Mom (being a mother) thought it was reckless and stupid.  “Why risk your life and physical injury for a candy bar?” On a practical level she was right, but on an ethical level she was wrong.  My Dad’s response was an unusual outburst of anger. (He had mellowed a lot in his later years.)

“He should do what he thinks is right!” he shouted.

Whether an action is dangerous, unpopular, destroys your career and reputation, makes you an outcast in your own community and to your own people: You should always do what you think is right!  (Not just when the world is at peace and you are relatively safe.)

Wayne Omura
written on Thanksgiving Day 2012

If you knew Jimmie, or just share our admiration of him, consider this an open thread and please leave a comment below.

For this occasion here is a part of the extended interview with James Omura in which he describes his trial for conspiracy, as featured on Disc Two of our new DVD. Happy birthday, Jimmie. Your fighting spirit is deeply missed.

A Heart Mountain resister reacts to “Allegiance”

The following was written at the request of the Rafu Shimpo newspaper, and appears in today’s Oct. 24 edition:

Kirk and Spock in 1920s guise
“A Piece of the Action?” – parallel universe only looks like the real thing
© 1968 Paramount Pictures

There is an episode of Star Trek in which aliens build an entire culture around a book about Chicago mobsters of the 1920s. The aliens recreate the guns, the clothes and the lingo, but it’s just a guess based on what they see in the book. The new musical Allegiance, now playing at The Old Globe in San Diego, feels a little like that, with its creators studying books, photos and websites to come up with an alternate reality for the Japanese American incarceration – one that looks like the real thing but is governed by different rules.

In the parallel world of Allegiance, the sound of bullhorns herds inmates around, female arrivals are forced to strip to their underwear at gunpoint, and military guards bearing rifles fixed with bayonets roam inside the confines of camp on an apparently daily basis – shoving unruly inmates to the ground, firing warning shots into the air to restore order, and taking more deadly aim at, of all people, the Heart Mountain resisters who are the subject of our film.

An Issei is slapped into handcuffs the instant he answers no-no to the Leave Clearance questionnaire. When his son surges forward, a private turns his rifle on him (“Back up, Jap!”). When an outraged crowd rushes the gate, a guard fires a warning shot.

Sound like the loyalty registration you or your parents remember? Of course not, because it’s a perfectly imperfect duplicate of camp, like the Bizarro World of Superman comics. It’s the incarceration as if it takes place in a German POW camp. But Heart Mountain was an American concentration camp, not Stalag 17.

Cast of "Allegiance" horsing around with props
Turnaround is fair play for the cast of Allegiance during a break in performance, enacting in reverse the rifle and bayonet action of the show itself.
(Allegiance Facebook page)

By design, the rifles and bayonets have a visceral impact on audiences. The theatrical devices can be argued to provide an emotional shorthand for the unrelenting physical and spiritual oppression of camp, but audiences do not share a sufficient base of common knowledge about the camps to recognize the difference between fantasy and fact.

Yes, the family at the center of Allegiance is fictional, but what’s wrapped around that fiction is billed as the true story of the Japanese American experience, and that story firmly anchors itself in the non-fiction world by invoking Heart Mountain, the Heart Mountain resisters, the 442, the Japanese American Citizens League and its wartime leader, Mike Masaoka. The show establishes the terms by which it invites itself to be measured.

And in the real world that many readers of the Rafu still remember, the armed guards at War Relocation Authority camps were restricted to the towers on the periphery of camp, a few hundred yards from the barracks. The internal security police were not trusted with guns, for fear they’d hurt someone in a quarrel. Yet in the internal logic of this mirror universe, the “Frankie” character who leads the draft resistance is seen running in the dark of night and hiding as guard dogs – guard dogs! – bark in the distance. A Quaker nurse offers him a place to hide. Frankie urges those around him to “Run!,” two guards arrive and order him to “Freeze!,” and one fires a shot into the dark.

It’s a key plot point that leads to a central tragedy. And it’s utter hokum. There is no artistic license expansive enough to justify the portrayal of guards on foot chasing a Heart Mountain draft resister through camp in order to detain him AND SHOOTING AT HIM. Even using the thinly-veiled fiction of “Frankie,” the notion violates the basic facts and circumstances of camp. And for those who have seen the show, think about this: the consequence that results from the shooting is an impossibility that could only exist in the annals of a galaxy far, far away.

“Frankie” of course is modeled on the late Frank Emi of the Fair Play Committee. There was only one draft resistance at the camp named Heart Mountain, and only one resistance leader named Frank. We sent the above to Frank’s fellow Heart Mountain resister, Yosh Kuromiya, who retorts:

“The portrayal of Frank Emi running away and hiding is absurd. Frank Emi was never one to hide or run away. There weren’t any guard dogs or firearms used in Heart Mountain. Our resistance was completely above board and open. All the FPC meetings were open to the public. Even our bulletins were publicized.

“The impressions that are given in this script are totally misleading. The whole situation wasn’t violent and it was an open forum for people to speak openly.

“The implications in the portrayal are an insult to the FPC and resisters. Even the rationale of artistic license becomes questionable in the critical accuracy of our personal history and that of Japanese American history.”

If Frank Emi had anything to fear physically, says Yosh, it was not from the guards, but from fellow incarcerees:

“I recall being concerned for their safety because they were speaking so candidly. There were inu’s (informers) in the meetings but still there was nothing covert or hidden.”

As we showed you in Conscience and the Constitution, the resisters posted fliers, held meetings, and collected dues. When the first 63 were arrested for draft evasion, the FBI needed only to look up their barrack numbers and knock on their doors at dawn. When the FBI later sought the arrest of the FPC leaders for conspiracy, Guntaro Kubota had his bag packed and was washing dishes while waiting for them. In our new DVD, Frank Emi tells how he challenged the FBI’s right to search his barrack without a warrant. He didn’t need to run, and he never had to hide.

Isolated shootings near the fences at other camps, or the two fatalities in the Manzanar Riot, cannot be claimed as the basis for this invention. It is a knowing or unknowing mash-up of events at Manzanar and Tule Lake, or another tired conflation of the Heart Mountain draft resisters with the segregees and unhappy renunciants at Tule. The military entered only two of the ten WRA camps to control unrest, and not as a permanent occupation – a matter of hours at Manzanar and two-and-a-half months at Tule Lake.

Yes, photographs can be found of incarcerees under direct armed guard, but these are mostly of inmates building their barracks, harvesting crops outside the fence, or pushing back at the imposition of martial law at Tule Lake. The presence of armed guards inside the living areas of Heart Mountain was not a commonplace fact of life. If the show wants to convey Tule Lake-like conditions, it should do that story.

The risk here is the dumbing down of camp history in American popular culture. Should the show enter the literature of the Broadway theater, it will be performed in perpetuity by countless amateur and high school groups. Friends say oh don’t take this so seriously, it’s only an entertainment, it’s not a book or documentary, no one’s going to take it as fact. But some already have, according to at least one Yonsei attendee:

“I myself may be a victim of the show as a 4th generation JA – I don’t know much about the camps, but had assumed there were armed guards walking around camp pushing people around!”

Let’s say a revisionist created her own work of art that made out conditions in camp to be better than they were, with let’s say suburban tract homes, white picket fences, and no guard towers; we’d jump down her throat. By the same token, it weakens the integrity of the factual record if a popular work makes out the civilian administration of Heart Mountain to be more brutal than it was.

Our knowledge of the camps is hard-won through four decades of work by trained scholars like Roger Daniels and Art Hansen, self-taught researchers like Michi Weglyn and Aiko Herzig, and dozens more. Several were consulted for this piece. After knocking down revisionism spanning two generations, from Lillian Baker to Michelle Malkin, it seems a shame to sell our history short for the fame, fortune and fiction of a Broadway-style musical, or even the lure of making the camps and camp resistance better known.

Playwright Frank Chin proposes a simple answer to the problem of historical accuracy – just make the whole thing a flight of fancy:

“Set the play in the present: One day in year 2012 a group of young people walk into an empty and abandoned barn. One kid turns to another and says, ‘Hey! Let’s do a show!’

‘Yeah!’

‘In camp.’

‘Yeah.’”

Yeah, that would work, but that is not the premise of this show – and that is the problem audiences should recognize, even as they are swept up in the melodrama of the moment.

Veterans have often knocked the resisters by claiming they refused to pledge allegiance to the U.S. That was never true for Yosh Kuromiya and the Heart Mountain boys, but in this instance it can be said that Yosh is declining to pledge this particular Allegiance. “It is after all,” he writes, “a matter of conscience.”

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.