REVIEW: “Interrogating the memoir of a resister”

book coverReview of BEYOND THE BETRAYAL: The Memoir of a World War II Japanese American Draft Resister of Conscience by Yoshito Kuromiya, edited by Arthur A. Hansen. University Press of Colorado. 234 pages. Hardcover, $34.95.

Reviewed by Frank Abe
Nichi Bei Weekly
July 21-August 3, 2022

Be sure to read the Endnotes to Yosh Kuromiya’s new posthumous memoir. They’re half the fun of reading this book.

We’re lucky to have Beyond the Betrayal. It’s the first and very likely only book-length manuscript from one of the 63 Nisei at Heart Mountain to stand in the largest mass trial for draft resistance in U.S. history. Of those in the Fair Play Committee, Yosh was always the most articulate and artistic, and his book reflects the thought and care he put into every turn of phrase.

Until now, we’ve never heard Yosh’s story from start to finish. It’s most compelling when Yosh shares his personal feelings about speaking up at the mess hall meetings of the FPC, enduring jail time with men he didn’t really know, going to trial in what he dubs “The Circus,” and navigating life with fellow inmates in a federal penitentiary. He writes of the emotional price he paid when after his sentencing he is dumped by his girlfriend from camp, someone who’d previously supported his principled stand but becomes convinced by friends that his actions were a discredit to their people.

Being insightful, Yosh was also opinionated. This is where editor and Nichi Bei contributor Art Hansen in his Endnotes interrogates Yosh’s occasional hyperbole or misstatement. Where Yosh endorses the conspiracy theory that FDR knowingly allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor as a means of drawing the U.S. into war, Hansen supplies two pages of citations debunking the claim.

For factual accuracy, Art also called upon legal scholar Eric Muller to comb through the manuscript and make several corrections to points of history and law – what Art calls the “Muller critique.” Where Yosh faults the FPC steering committee for, in his view, neglecting to appeal the convictions of the rank-and-file resisters in the mass trail, Eric shows that unknown to Yosh two petitions were indeed filed.

This kind of dialogue over the facts of this history make a stand-alone reading of the Endnotes as engaging and informative as the memoir itself – a self-contained discourse on the finer points of the loyalty questionnaire, the draft, and other oft-misunderstood edicts handed down by the government.

Much credit is due to Yosh’s four daughters who worked on the manuscript and advocated for its publication. They made sure it did not remain, as Yosh came to view it, a self-published souvenir for family and friends.

It’s a compact volume and an easy read. Together with the recent publication of Nisei Naysayer: The Memoir of Militant Japanese American Journalist James Omura, also brilliantly edited by Art Hansen, we’re seeing the filling of critical gaps in the story of the largest organized resistance to wartime incarceration. Beyond the Betrayal is essential reading for students of incarceration history, and highly recommended for libraries and personal collections.

book review

For the Nichi Bei Café livestream on July 14, I spoke with editor Art Hansen about the resurgence of interest in camp resistance and his approach to vetting Yosh’s manuscript for publication. Watch it here:

At the University Press of Colorado website, you can download the books’sTable of Contents and a sample chapter.

More from the publisher: Beyond the Betrayal is a lyrically written memoir by Yoshito Kuromiya (1923–2018), a Nisei member of the Fair Play Committee (FPC), which was organized at the Heart Mountain concentration camp. The first book-length account by a Nisei World War II draft resister, this work presents an insider’s perspective on the FPC and the infamous trial condemning its members’ efforts. It offers not only a beautifully written account of an important moment in US history but also a rare acknowledgment of dissension within the resistance movement, both between the young men who went to prison and their older leaders and also among the young men themselves. Kuromiya’s narrative is enriched by contributions from Frank Chin, Eric L. Muller, and Lawson Fusao Inada.

Of the 300 Japanese Americans who resisted the military draft on the grounds that the US government had deprived them of their fundamental rights as US citizens, Kuromiya alone has produced an autobiographical volume that explores the short- and long-term causes and consequences of this fateful wartime decision. In his exquisitely written and powerfully documented testament he speaks truth to power, making evident why he is eminently qualified to convey the plight of the Nisei draft resisters. He perceptively reframes the wartime and postwar experiences of the larger Japanese American community, commonly said to have suffered in the spirit of shikata ga nai—enduring that which cannot be changed—and emerged with dignity.

Beyond the Betrayal makes abundantly clear that the unjustly imprisoned Nisei could and did exercise their patriotism even when they refused to serve in the military in the name of civil liberties and social justice. Kuromiya’s account, initially privately circulated only to family and friends, is an invaluable and insightful addition to the Nikkei historical record.

And finally, here’s a key clip from our raw interview with Yosh for Conscience and the Constitution:

The difference between “no-no boys” and draft resisters

It’s common in books and articles to see the term “no-no boy” conflated with the Nisei draft resisters of WW2. These are two seperate and distinct groups. A quick primer:

text from loyalty questionnaireNo-no boys” were among the 12,000 from all ten camps who answered “no” or refused to answer the final two questions on a notoriously misleading government questionnaire in early 1943. This led to their removal from camp and transfer under an administrative process to a War Relocation Authority Segregation Center established as a kind of penal colony at Tule Lake.

courtroom photoDraft resisters were the roughly 315 young men from all ten camps who in general answered “yes” or a qualified “yes” to the questionnaire but who, a year later in 1944, refused to be drafted from inside an American concentration camp until their rights were first restored and their families freed to return home. All but 22 were criminally convicted in U.S. District Court of violating the Selective Service Act. The older men were sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas; the younger ones were sent to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary south of Seattle.

text from loyalty questionnaire

What blurs this distinction is the title of John Okada’s 1957 novel. It’s titled No-No Boy but it’s clearly about a protagonist who refuses the draft at Minidoka and serves two years at McNeil Island before arriving on a bus back in Seattle at the start of the novel. Despite the book’s title, he’s a draft resister, not a no-no boy.

Please keep these distinctions in mind when writing about this history.

New Educators Guide for “WE HEREBY REFUSE,” with online historical timeline

Educators Guide cover
Click on the image to open the new Educators Guide for WE HEREBY REFUSE

Just in time for the NCORE Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education this Friday in Portland, we are pleased to launch publication of the Educators Guide for We Hereby Refuse.

Produced for the Wing Luke Museum of Seattle, this free online guide is suitable for teachers in grades 6-12. Continue reading New Educators Guide for “WE HEREBY REFUSE,” with online historical timeline

Interview: “Betrayed”

Starting today and for the month of May you can watch director Rory Banyard’s new film on Minidoka, Betrayed:  Surviving an American Concentration Camp, on select local PBS stations and the PBS app.

Frank Abe in filmI want to thank Rory for calling me in to talk about the Munson Report, the wartime JACL, growing up Sansei, and other stuff.  Continue reading Interview: “Betrayed”

AKCHO Award for outstanding original research

Many thanks to AKCHO: The Association of King County Historical Organizations for honoring our book with the Virginia Marie Folkins Award for Outstanding Historical Publication. It’s our first juried award and it’s especially meaningful as the Folkens Award recognizes works that demonstrate “outstanding original research.”
Continue reading AKCHO Award for outstanding original research

Interview: “(Nearly) Everything I Know about the Creative Process I Learned at Cowell College”

Alumni Week logoIt’s been nearly fifty years since I graduated from Cowell College at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1973. Organizers of the Class of ’72 reunion asked me to take part in their Alumni Week events and I will be glad to catch up with old friends.
Continue reading Interview: “(Nearly) Everything I Know about the Creative Process I Learned at Cowell College”

A season of professional development workshops

February was certainly a month dominated by speaking engagements around the Day of Remembrance and the 80th anniversary of the signing of EO 9066. My schedule for this spring and summer is lining up to be a season of professional development workshops to train the trainers, both educators and lawyers.
Continue reading A season of professional development workshops

National Day of Remembrance tops February events

As the month for the annual Day of Remembrance, February is always the busiest time of year for speaking requests. This year being the 80th anniversary of EO 9066, A friend counted 33 DOR events nationwide. I have nine on the books myself, a personal record, including four on February 19th.
Continue reading National Day of Remembrance tops February events

The North American Post interview

In Seattle, the North American Post is the successor to the prewar Hokubei Jiji newspaper that Fuyo Tanagi helped edit, before she wrote the letter protesting the drafting of Nisei boys from camp for the Mothers Society of Minidoka. So it is an honor to be interviewed by Elaine Ikoma Ko in this wide-ranging exchange on No-No Boy, John Okada and We Hereby Refuse for the cover of the current issue of the Post.

Read the interview in the North American Post here.
Continue reading The North American Post interview

The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration

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