Frank Emi’s challenge to JACL at the apology ceremony

delivered at the JACL Resisters Ceremony
Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California

May 11, 2002

The controversial issue of an apology by the JACL to the resisters of conscience has been around since the 1980s and after weathering some opposition from various quarters, the apology resolution was passed by a substantial majority in July 2000.

Frank Emi speaking at JACL apology ceremony
Frank Emi at the JACL apology ceremony

I wish to thank the following JACL chapters that sponsored that resolution: Florin, Sequoia, Golden Gate, Honolulu, Seattle, Portland, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest District Council.

Also special thanks to Mike Kaku and Andy Noguchi for their dedication and hard work on this project.

This ceremony is especially meaningful to me as I was one of the organizers of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee (FPC) which legally challenged the constitutionality of drafting inmates from the concentration camps and thus raised the ire of the wartime JACL leaders and bore the brunt of their vicious attacks.

They even went so far as to say that the FPC leaders should be charged with sedition, a very serious crime, one which even the government did not invoke.

When the appellate court reversed the convictions of the FPC leaders, the court in rendering their opinion, said, in part, “But to counsel merely refusal is not made criminal by the act. One with innocent motives, who honestly believes a law is unconstitutional and therefore not obligatory, may well counsel that the law shall not be obeyed; that its command shall be resisted until a court shall have held it valid, but this is not knowingly counseling, stealthily and by guile, to evade its command.”

In 1947, when President Truman issued a presidential pardon to the draft resisters, the head of the president’s amnesty board, Owen J. Roberts, former associate justice of the Supreme Court, issued a special report regarding the Japanese Americans who had been convicted of violation of the Selective Service Act.

In this report the board commented on the dilemma of the Nisei who resisted the draft. It said, in part: “Closely analogous to conscientious objectors, and yet not within the fair interpretation of the phrase, were a smaller, though not inconsequential number of Americans of Japanese ancestry, who were removed in the early stages of the war from their homes in defense coastal areas and placed in war relocation centers. Although we recognized the urgent necessities of military defense, we fully appreciate the nature of their feelings and their reactions to orders from local Selective Service Boards.”

The government showed more understanding of the Nisei draft resisters than some of our wartime JACL leaders.

I have always felt they went overboard with their accomodationist policies.

In recent months, the Sacramento Nisei VFW Post 8985 and Sus Satow, a member of the organization, has sent news articles opposing this ceremony and
enticed other Nisei VFW posts to join in their protest. That is their prerogative but their articles were replete with misinformation, errors of facts and outright fabrications.

For example, they keep repeating the same old tale that the resisters intimidated, harassed and beat up men who volunteered or responded to the draft. I can assure you that nothing like that took place at Heart Mountain where the only organized draft resistance took place.

They also continue to accuse the draft resisters of beating JACL leaders in some camps in 1943. The fallacy of that statement is there was no draft for internees in operation at that time so there were no draft resisters. Selective Service applicable to Nisei in camps was not implemented until January 1944.

These are just a couple of the untrue statements included in their news articles published in various JA newspapers.

Also, there were some very strange statements made by veterans of Post 8985. For example, in one of their articles, they stated that the Nisei military played a key role in bringing the civil rights issue to the forefront. Really! Wasn’t it the African Americans that started the civil rights movement of the sixties.

Here is another one. The Sansei commander of Post 8985 wrote in an article in the Pacific Citizen that it was due to the Nisei soldiers that the Japanese Americans were released from the internment camps. Apparently he never heard of the Mitsuye Endo case on the internment which was successfully argued in the United States Supreme Court and the Court ruled that internment of U.S. citizens was unconstitutional and ordered that the internees be released.

These self serving statements, misinformation, deliberate fabrications of facts and their mindless opposition to this ceremony only tends to discredit Post 8985 in the eyes of the public. I hope they will use better judgment in the future.

To give you an idea of how some non-Japanese veterans of World War II reacted to the internees’ draft resistance story, I would like to briefly cite two incidents.

The first event took place during the redress and reparations movement when a reporter from the L.A. Times interviewed me about our draft resistance struggle at Heart Mountain. My story was headlined on the front page of the Metro Section of the Times and about 8 a.m. on the morning my story broke, the first call I received was from a gentleman who identified himself as a retired U.S. Navy veteran. He said that he had fought the Japanese in the Pacific, fought in the Korean Conflict and had been to Italy where he had met the 442nd Regimental Combat Team whom he praised very highly. Well, by this time, I thought the crap was really going to hit the fan. Then he really surprised me. He congratulated me for fighting for our rights as American citizens and thanked me for the stand that we took. He said that he would have done the same thing if he were in our shoes. After a long conversation about our internment experience and the ongoing redress movement, he promised to write congress in support of the redress bill and said he would get some of his Navy buddies to also support it. He later sent me copies of letters he had sent.

Another interesting event took place at a draft resisters’ panel discussion in Oakland, hosted by Dr. Clifford Uyeda, former president of national JACL. During the audience participation period, a Caucasian gentleman stood up and said he was a World War II veteran. He said he was in Europe fighting for democracy and when he found out that Japanese Americans were denied the very democratic principles he was fighting for, this made him very angry and disappointed. He congratulated us for the stand we took. He was very emotional and his voice began to shake towards the end of his statements. The audience broke into a very loud spontaneous applause. It was very moving.

In closing, I wish to extend my appreciation to the JACL for sponsoring this ceremony. As a civil rights organization, I believe it is a step in the right direction.

Having said that, I think it would be entirely appropriate for JACL to go one step further and hold a similar program directed towards the Japanese American community for the excesses committed by wartime JACL leaders, such as acting as informants for the government causing many innocent people to suffer as recorded in the Lim Report.

I believe such action would finally put to rest JACL’s unholy ghosts of the past and would be a worthy way to start the 21st century.

The United States government apologized for their wartime excesses. Can JACL do less?

Thank you.

See Frank Emi’s closing remarks at the JACL apology ceremony:

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The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration