Kenji Taguma: “Groundbreaking Lim Report Available Online”

Groundbreaking Lim Report Available Online

Study Saying Wartime JACL Leaders Collaborated Can Be Found on Two Websites
By Kenji G. Taguma
Nichi Bei Times, Saturday, July 1, 2000

Following a decade of surreptitious circulation — which saw bootlegged copies distributed across the country — the groundbreaking publication came to be known as the “Lim Report” has become available on the Internet at two Websites: and “For Japanese America, the ‘Lim Report’ is probably one of the most significant documents to reach the Internet in recent months,” said historian William Hohri, who is largely responsible for the online publication of the “Lim Report.”

The 95-page report was written in 1989-90 by Bay Area attorney Deborah Lim, who was contracted by the Japanese American Citizens League to conduct research in order to describe the activities of the organization before and during World War II.

Key Findings

The original “Lim Report” documented several controversial points, as pointed out in a 1990 article by journalist Frank Abe:

  • That key JACL leaders were deeply involved in turning over the names of Issei and Kibei community leaders to the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence before Pearl Harbor.
  • That the National JACL directed its Northern California chapters to go through Japanese directories and compile lists of people who seemed to be “living beyond their means” and to report rumors on their “attitudes of loyalty.”
  • That wartime leader Mike Masaoka proposed what he himself called a “volunteer ‘suicide battalion’ which would go anywhere to spearhead the most dangerous missions,” and whose loyalty would be ensured by having the government hold their families and friends as “hostages.”
  • That in the minutes of the JACL’s March, 1942 Special Emergency Meeting, Masaoka recommends “the Japanese be branded and stamped and put under the supervision of the Federal government.” Lim in her report does say that it’s possible the “outrageous and shocking” proposal was made instead by one of the Western governors, but she notes Masaoka personally reviewed the minutes prior to their republication in 1971, and made no correction. In 1988 Masaoka denied ever recommending branding.
  • That Masaoka and two other national JACL officers became actual employees of the War Relocation Authority, working without pay and title in exchange for freedom of movement.
  • That government analysts attributed the beatings of JACL’ers inside camp to the JACL’s own unpopularity for acting in the name of the community without an elective mandate.
  • That the JACL regarded the answer of “no-no” to the government’s flawed “Loyalty Oath” as a strict admission of disloyalty to the U.S., and a threat to the JACL’s own record of loyalty, even though the camp director at Manzanar recognized the “no” answer as an “outcry” of protest from citizens who felt they’d been wronged.
  • That the JACL urged charges of sedition against the 63 men at Heart Mountain who resisted being drafted from inside a concentration camp until their constitutional rights were first restored and their parents released from camp.
History of the Report

In 1988 at the 30th biennial JACL national convention in Seattle, the Seattle chapter attempted to pass Resolution 7, which asked the JACL to offer an apology to community members who “were injured by persons acting individually and in the name of the JACL.”

The resolution was never enacted, but a substitute motion was enacted to refer the resolution to a special Presidential Select Committee for a thorough study and documentation.

For her research, Lim was directed to and used primary documents including: the Pacific Citizen, the JACL’s newspaper; 15 file boxes of the JACL Archives; minutes of special meetings of the JACL; the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley; the Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study at the Bancroft Library; the Merritt Collection at UCLA; the National Archives in Washington, D.C.; and other sources including microfilm and oral history tapes. She also read and used several published works on Japanese American history, including books and articles in journals. Lim also spoke to 28 people during the course of her research.

She completed the first version of her report, 95 pages, towards the end of 1989 and submitted it to the Presidential Select Committee. The committee made some amendments, and asked Lim to make additions, notes Hohri. An expanded 154-page version of the report was sent to the Select Committee in the spring of 1990, Hohri said.

After Lim’s report was ready to be reproduced for delegates who would be attending the 1990 JACL National Convention in San Diego, the report took an odd, and unexpected, turn, notes Hohri.

“Instead, the chairman of the Presidential Select Committee, Cressey Nakagawa, with help from the staff of the JACL, wrote his ‘interpretation’ of Lim’s report,” says Hohri.

Of the 48 topics listed in Lim’s original table of contents, the official 28-page report only contains nine of them, Hohri notes. “It became the official version of this study,” said Hohri. Nakagawa, and JACL National Director John Tateishi, could not be reached for comment.

Four years later at its 1994 National Convention in Salt Lake City, the JACL agreed to distribute copies of the 154-page version to the assembled delegates.

Almost as soon as it was published, however, the “Lim Report” was photo copied and distributed informally. The road to online publication of the report, however, is a process that took several years, notes Hohri. “In 1994, at the request of Deborah Lim, I worked on converting her report into a book,” he told the Nichi Bei Times. “While the book project did not achieve publication for reasons I cannot explain, the 95-page report remained on my computer.

“A group of us began wondering and then asking Lim if she would agree to our posting her report on a Website,” Hohri continued. “This took a while to get resolved positively (and) I undertook the task of converting the text in HTML (hypertext mark-up language), including the endnotes.”

Reaction to Report

The availability of the report is monumental, says University of Colorado ethnic studies Professor Lane Hirabayashi.

“I personally could never understand why the JACL commissioned the ‘Lim Report’ and then decided not to circulate it,” Hirabayashi told the Nichi Bei Times, noting that the organization “drafted and circulated a watered-down summary” instead. “Japanese Americans should definitely read this important study, so it’s great that it is available ‘online.’”

Hirabayashi, himself a noted researcher of Japanese American history, praised Lim’s analysis of numerous documents in different archives. Hirabayashi’s sentiments were echoed by Sacramento historian Wayne Maeda, who has taught in the Ethnic Studies Department at California State University, Sacramento for three decades.

“While there have been pirated copies of the Lim report circulating for a number of years, now anyone who wants to see the ‘Lim Report’ has access to it and can make a judgment for themselves,” said Maeda, who is currently writing a history of the Japanese American community in Sacramento. “They have something else beside the self-censored report that was released by the National JACL.”

The original “Lim Report” is valuable in that it covers important topics omitted from the 28-page summary, says Hohri.

“Unfortunately, the League’s leadership decided against publishing her report, and in its place drafted a 28-page summary that ignored most of its striking revelations…,” Hohri said. “The (original) report is rich with detail and thoroughly documented with citations.”

The Presidential Select Committee, which did not approve the 154-page version of the report, apparently disagreed.

“The researcher drew too many conclusions, and we found that objectionable because it was not her role to draw conclusions,” Homer Yasui, the former governor of the JACL’s Pacific Northwest District Council, told the Pacific Citizen.

Yasui is a younger brother of the late Minoru Yasui, who challenged wartime curfew orders.

Homer Yasui served on the Presidential Select Committee along with Nakagawa, Toru Ishiyama, Lillian Kimura and Marilyn Hall Patel. The report comes at a critical point in Japanese American history, when the validity of inscriptions by Mike Masaoka on the National Japanese American “Memorial to Patriotism” are being questioned by community activists, scholars and people across the country.

The timeliness is also amplified as a controversial resolution apologizing to Nisei draft resisters is being considered at the JACL National Convention this weekend.

Maeda sees an opportunity to openly discuss and analyze wartime issues that have divided the Japanese American community for decades. “If we are to move ahead the JA community must confront the past honestly and fully,” he said.

Frank Abe and the Pacific Citizen contributed to this report.

Reprinted by permission.

The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration

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