Resisters Challenge JACL to Further Examine Wartime Role
Nichi Bei Times, May 14, 2002
By KENJI G. TAGUMA
Nichi Bei Times
SAN FRANCISCO — As he walked onstage to receive recognition for a stand he took close to 60 years ago, Susumu Yenokida asked for the microphone for an impromptu speech.
“There’s a letter up here, ‘dream,'” said Yenokida of Galt, Calif., referring to an inscription on the wall of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, where some 400 people had gathered May 11 for the historic occasion. “Never would I ever dream that I would be here today, 60 years ago.”
The landmark Japanese American Citizens League ceremony to recognize Nisei draft resisters of World War II, and apologize to them for not recognizing their stand sooner, included many such poignant moments.
Other emotional moments included when Dan Kubo, son of Amache concentration camp resister Yoshi Kubo, pointed towards the ceiling upon receiving the recognition onstage by the JACL — a gesture to his late father. Shortly thereafter, he pointed to a throng of family members gathered in tribute to the late family patriarch.
Some 315 resisters challeged the U.S. government draft during World War II, most of them serving federal prison terms. President Harry Truman subsequently pardoned them in 1947.
For the resisters — who said they would gladly fight for the country if their families were released from concentration camps and their citizenship rights were restored — the ceremony was vindication. JACL leaders and others had ostracized the resisters over the years, calling them cowards and even saying they should be tried for sedition.
“That hurts when you have your own mankind turn their backs to you, and they don’t want anything to do with you. And instead of a resister, call you a draft evader,” said 76-year-old Seattle resident Gene Akutsu, who resisted the draft out of the Minidoka, Idaho concentration camp. “Our sincere feeling was that we have to be treated right, we want our citizenship rights back, then we would comply.”
“They said ‘fight for your home.’ (But) we didn’t have a home — the government took that away and put us into camps,” reflected Joe Norikane, 80, of Pleasant Hill, Calif. “So I said that I’m not going to die for a concentration camp.”
Harry Yoshikawa of Gardena, Calif. agreed.
tripped of our citizenship rights,” said Yoshikawa, 79. “For them to say ‘fight for your country,’ I couldn’t accept that.”
Resisters Issue Challenge
Two speakers on behalf of the resisters, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee member Yosh Kuromiya and FPC leader Frank Emi, seized the opportunity to raise eyebrows with a challenge for even deeper self-reflection by the JACL.
“The terms patriotism and loyalty have been bandied about by this organization to justify its many self-promoting programs and image-enhancing efforts in its quest for political empowerment and status as a civil rights organization,” said Kuromiya, of Alhambra, Calif. “Yet its credibility and acceptance as such remains under a cloud of distrust, haunted by the betrayals of its predecessors who acted under the guise of patriotism.”
The Fair Play Committee beganwhat became the largest organized resistance to internment within the concentration camps. Some 85 resisters from Heart Mountain were tried and sentenced to prison terms.
“Hopefully, this ceremony is the first step in resolving this second great injustice perpetrated on Japanese America,” Kuromiya added. “Only through the clear and honest understanding of the true essence of loyalty and patriotism and an acknowledgment of the unfortunate distortion of those terms…can we rid Japanese America of this cancerous blight which victimizes the victims, and has divided our community for over half a century.
“Only then can the JACL hope to proceed on a clear and unencumbered path as a bona-fide civil rights organization.”
Emi, who took to the stage to a standing ovation, issued a stern challenge to the JACL.
“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,'” said Emi, referring to the JACL-commissioned report that documented questionable actions by some JACL leaders.
“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,” Emi, 85, concluded. “The United States government apologized for their wartime excesses. Can the JACL do less?”
After the program, Emi expressed regret that late Nisei journalist Jimmie Omura, who supported the FPC through editorials in the Rocky Shimpo newspaper, was not mentioned. Omura, who was tried for conspiracy with the FPC leaders, was so ostracized by the JACL that he lived for decades in a self-imposed exile.
“They really owe him an apology because they really pounded him,” said Emi.
Past Florin JACL President Andy Noguchi, who emceed the resisters ceremony and served as co-chair of the organizing committee, mentioned that both the resisters and veterans provided a wealth of role odels.
“My 13-year-old daughter Annie has many role models to choose from,” said Noguchi, a Sansei from Sacramento. “She has my father, among the courageous Nisei veterans who chose to serve in the MIS (Military Intelligence Service), the 442nd (Regimental Combat Team) and the 100th (Battalion). She also has many of the local resisters we’ve met over the years…who chose to stand up for the Constitution and went to federal prison for their beliefs.”
Noguchi spearheaded the passing of a resolution at the 2000 JACL National Convention in Monterey, Calif. The resolution, which called for a public ceremony, and the ceremony itself was met with bitter opposition, primarily from Nisei veterans who opposed an apology.
Retired Rev. Lloyd Wake, who led interfaith efforts for reconciliation on the issue during the Nikkei 2000 conference, called for healing in the wake of already turbulent times.
“Some of us, having been the recipients of an apology from our own government, are grateful of the opportunity to do likewise in apologizing to those who in the past have been hurt or pushed to the margins of our community,” said Wake, in his invocation. “For the sake of past and future generations, may each of us today, because of this celebration, be empowered to continue the process of healing that our community, our nation, and our world needs so deeply.”
The ceremony and apology was met with adamant opposition from various Nisei veteran groups, as witnessed by letters in the Nikkei press.
“Many of my fellow veterans have labeled the draft resistrs as ‘cowards’ and ‘traitors,'” added Inouye. “I however feel the resisters were brave and patriotic.”
Inouye, who urged that the community collectively make a commitment to healing wartime wounds, ended with a warning and hope for the future.
“If we let angry feelings live and fester, an atmosphere of hate shall permeate for generations that follow us,” he said. “Sadly such discord would ultimately lead to the divide and downfall of our community. So it is my sincere hope that this ceremony would mark the beginning of a new era of unity for Americans of Japanese ancestry.”
Marvin Uratsu, the president of the Military Intelligence Service Association of Northern California, also spoke in support of reconciliation.
“Let us remember that it was the failure of our government that caused this controversy among us in the first place,” said Uratsu, an MIS veteran from El Cerrito. “And so I ask why should we continue to hurt each other over what the government did to us.
“I believe reconciliation is a personal matter and people have to reach reconciliation one individual at a time,” said Uratsu. “And so, I say ‘let there be reconciliation and let it begin with me.'”
While several Nisei veteran groups boycotted the ceremony, among the audience members were a handful of Nisei veterans, including MIS veteran Sukeo “Skeets” Oji. He had been vocally against the apology, even quitting his membership in the JACL at one point, but altered his viewpoint once he obtained a better understanding of the issue.
“When they first passed the resolution I got real upset about it,” said Oji, 84. “I slowly changed my thinking. I understand the position of the JACL now.
“The ceremony was appropriate as far as the JACL was concerned,” said Oji, of Walnut Creek, Calif. “As long as they let people know that the apology comes from the JACL and not other groups. You won’t find anyone to apologize from the vet side.”
Oji said he supports community reconciliation
“We all recognize what the resisters did,” said Oji. “They took their stand, we took our stand.”
National JACL President Floyd Mori had a brother who died in combat during World War II. Yet despite the loss, he has come to understand the stand the resisters took, and the JACL’s obligation to apologize.
“At that time, we did not recognize and we neglected to respect the right of protest and civil disobedience expressed by some who were in the camps,” said Mori. “This neglect has caused many years of mental and social anguish…”
Mori, who spent time talking and listening to the concerns of Nisei veterans opposed to the resolution and ceremony, also spent time last summer at a conference in Wyoming focused on the resisters.
“Today’s ceremony is a clear recognition that JACL neglected to support the resisters of conscience in their protest against injustice,” said Mori. “JACL offers a sincere apology for the painful experiences and memories caused by that neglect.”
Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose), the ceremony’s keynote speaker, said the ceremony was “a long time coming.”
The son of an MIS veteran, Honda recognized that there was “more than one way to respond” to a situation that was “completely out of control.”
“We as Japanese Americans must come together to recognize there were legitimate and fundamental reasons to resist the draft as a matter of conscience,” Honda said.
Some 24 Nisei resisters — including four who came last-minute — were honored by the JACL with plaques. They included:
- From the Heart Mountain concentration camp: Frank Emi, Takashi Hoshizaki, George Ishikawa, the late David Kawamoto (represented by widow Toshiko Kawamoto), Mits Koshiyama, the late Guntaro Kubota (represented by widow Gloria Kubota), George Kurasaki, Yosh Kuromiya, Halley Minoura, Bob Nagahara, George Nozawa and James Uyeda.
- Amache: the late Thomas Kawasaki (represented by daughter Joyce Emiko Kawamoto), the late Yoshi Kubo (represented by son Dan Kubo), Joe Norikane, Noboru Taguma, Terry Uyemoto, Harry Yoshikawa and Susumu Yenokida and his late brother Menoru.
- Minidoka: Gene Akutsu, who represented himself and his late brother, Jim Akutsu.
- Topaz: Ken Yoshida.
- Jerome: Joe Yamakido
Yamakido showed up unexpectedly with his daughter. He said he was arrested for violating the initial curfew orders, being caught by police while hitch hiking to Fresno from the Los Angeles area, looking for employment.
He later resisted the draft from behind barbed wire at the Jerome, Arkansas concentration camp.
“I just refused to go,” said Yamakido, 80, currently in Half Moon Bay, Calif. “I told them I’d go if I was given the same rights as the white man. But I’m not given the same rights as the white man so I refused to go.
Yamakido said he lost 50 pounds awaiting trial in the city jail.
He said the ceremony “puts a closure to everything,” and he can now forgive the JACL. Yamakido publicly thanked the veterans for “making life better” for his children.
Koshiyama was surprised to see some of his fellow Heart Mountain resisters show up. “They have never come to any meetings,” he said, noting the effects of past ostracism of resisters. “This apology has really opened the door to those kind of people.”
Koshiyama noted the remarks at the ceremony by Nisei veterans were positive, and that resisters were never against the veterans. He also said the resisters never asked for an apology, but were happy to receive one
Koshiyama had three brothers who served in the military, including one in the MIS. Some resisters, like Takashi Hoshizaki, served in the Korean War.
“We were out, we had all our rights back, and we were full U.S. citizens,” said Hoshizaki, 76, of Los Angeles, noting the different situation.
“This event could not have happened 10 years ago,” said Frank Abe of Seattle. “I think it’s an amazing reversal from where we’ve been. You have to look at the leadership, both Andy Noguchi and Floyd Mori and (JACL Executive Director) John Tateishi.”
Wayne Maeda, who has taught ethnic studies for over 30 years at California State University, Sacramento, sees the reconciliation as a good first step.
“I think it’s the beginning of different groups coming together,” said Maeda, who curated a Sacramento region Japanese American history exhibit in 1992, one of the first to highlight the resisters” story. “If the JACL wants to survive, it’s good that they began the reconciliation process. It’s only the beginning, but it’s a start.”
Sansei activist Karen Kai, who was part of the Fred Korematsu coram nobis legal team that helped overturn his wartime conviction, agrees.
“I think it’s a really important step for the community, and particularly for JACL,” said Kai, of San Francisco. “It’s very important for people to see and understand the different responses that people have. We’re not monolithic…There are different responses and it’s valid to have them.”
Abe said his jaw dropped when Emi suggested the unfinished business of the JACL.
“To take that next step would be for the organization to actually repudiate the leadership of the JACL in World War II, and I don’t think they’ll be able to do that,” said Abe. “(But) they put the broader issue squarely on the table. Now it remains to be seen whether the organization is able to deal with that.”