by Allan deSouza
May 18-25, 2000
NOT ANOTHER CAMP DOC? For those who might think that they’ve seen it all before, that-yawn-the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is an issue that’s been done to death, get those neurons sparking again with this incendiary documentary by Seattle-based broadcast journalist Frank Abe.
There’s no pulling at heartstrings or brow-beating here. There’s no need to, the material speaks for itself. As the narrator says, “the only hardship that mattered was their loss of freedom, based solely on their race.” Through interviews, home movies and government film, and after an introductory overview of the events leading up to internment, Conscience and the Constitution tells the story of the Fair Play Committee, the 85 Japanese Americans who refused to be drafted out of the camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming in 1944.
It wasn’t that they weren’t patriotic: they wanted their country to first restore their rights as citizens and release their families from camp. Not only were these men prosecuted by the government as criminals and served prison time for their stand, but they were ostracized from their own community as traitors. For the next 50 years they were written out of the “official” history of Japanese Americans.
Is it over? Hardly. The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), whose collaboration with the FBI and prevailing public opinion against the resisters is here revealed, as recently as 1999 rejected a motion for apology. Guaranteed to raise controversy, this documentary really is a case of conscience and constitution no longer being swept under the carpet.