book cover

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:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.