ITVS PRESENTS FRANK ABE’S CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION
To Air on PBS on Thursday, November 30, 2000 at 10:00 p.m. (check local listings)
Untold Story of Japanese Americans Imprisoned For Resisting Draft During World War II
(SAN FRANCISCO) — Long before the civil rights marches of the 1960s, another group of young Americans fought for their basic rights as U.S. citizens. CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION is the first television program to tell the complete story of the largest organized resistance to wartime incarceration — the Japanese Americans who, during World War II, resisted the draft and refused to fight for the government that was imprisoning them. An ITVS presentation, CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION is produced by Frank Abe, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. The program will be broadcast on PBS Thursday, November 30th at 10 p.m. (check local listings).
The resisters portrayed in CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION — living contradictions to the myth that all Japanese Americans passively complied with government edicts — were willing to fight for their country, but not until the government restored their rights as U.S. citizens and released their families from the camps. Prosecuted by the government as criminals and ostracized as traitors by Japanese American leaders and veterans, these principled protesters served two years in prison and were written out of the popular history of Japanese America for the next 50 years. CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION delves into the heart of the Japanese American conscience and into a controversy that divides many in the community even today.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor shocked the United States and plunged the nation into war. Despite being warned there was no military necessity, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the mass removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast into ten American-style concentration camps — both the Issei, first-generation immigrants who were barred from U.S. citizenship, and their children, the Nisei, born in this country as U. S. citizens.
Stepping forward to speak for the besieged minority was the only national organization of its kind: the Japanese American Citizens League, formed in 1930 from groups of professionals eager to prove their Americanism. Led by national field secretary Mike Masaoka, the JACL, anxious to prove its members were not like the Japanese enemy, urged compliance with the government in exchange for humane treatment. Once the expulsion was complete, Masaoka urged the U.S. government to draft young Nisei out of the camps so they could, in his words, “spill their blood for America” and further prove their loyalty.
When an Army drive for volunteers from the camps fell short, the government instituted the draft. Many answered the call, but for others, it was the last chance to protest their continued incarceration. An engineer named Kiyoshi Okamoto, who called himself the Fair Play Committee of One, began to teach a young grocer named Frank Emi about the Constitution and Bill of Rights. With Okamoto as chair, the Fair Play Committee typed bulletins, held meetings, and elected officers. A Denver journalist, James Omura, editor of the Rocky Shimpo newspaper, threw a lifeline to the resisters through his columns.
When buses came to Heart Mountain and other camps to take inductees to their draft physicals, several failed to show up. Resistance began to spread. The JACL and others branded the resisters as “agitators” and “troublemakers.” The FBI picked up the Heart Mountain resisters and transported them — one out of nine refused induction — to county jails.
One week after D-Day, at the Federal Courthouse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, 63 resisters from Heart Mountain stood trial for draft evasion. The trial took two weeks; the men were found guilty and sentenced to three years in a federal penitentiary. Half were sent to Leavenworth, Kansas; the rest to McNeil Island, Washington. Twenty-two more later resisted, bringing the total from Heart Mountain to 85.
CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION then examines the case of seven resistance leaders, including Frank Emi (who as the married father of two young children was not even eligible for the draft), and James Omura, who were arrested and put on trial for conspiracy to counsel draft evasion. The leaders were found guilty and sentenced to prison, but Omura was acquitted by virtue of the First Amendment.
Inside prison Frank Emi and others put on judo exhibitions, marking the first time inmates had ever seen the martial art of weaponless self-defense. “The other prisoners were really wide-eyed and surprised and they gave us a round of applause,” says Emi. “And we always felt that this was one reason we were left alone.”
On Christmas, 1945, the U.S. Court of Appeals threw out the convictions of the seven Fair Play Committee leaders. It ruled their jury improperly ignored civil disobedience as a defense. Frank Emi and the others were given a new suit, $25.00, and a train ticket home. However, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the draft resisters themselves; they served more than two years and were released in 1946. On Christmas 1947, President Truman pardoned all wartime draft resisters. Finally, in 1988, the U.S. government admitted the expulsion and incarceration were wrong and apologized, awarding symbolic compensation of $20,000 to each internee.
Pardoned and apologized to by the U.S. government, the resisters have had a harder time within their own community. The JACL only recently apologized at a meeting this July in Monterey, California, after taking votes in previous years declining to do so. Feelings of resentment and hostility against the resisters still run high.
“The story is about the price you pay for taking a principled stand,” says filmmaker Frank Abe, a third-generation Japanese American who lives in Seattle. “It’s also about two responses to injustice: collaboration or resistance. The resisters committed an act of civil disobedience to try to clarify the rights of all Japanese Americans. Yet they not only spent two years in prison, they spent 50 years as pariahs in our own community. With this broadcast I hope they will finally be able to take their place in our nation’s history.”
- FRANK EMI — a 25-year-old grocer and pharmacy student from Los Angeles who in camp became a leader of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. After the war, he worked as a postal clerk. Today at 84 he continues to teach at the Hollywood Judo Dojo in Los Angeles and speak in public about the resistance.
- JAMES OMURA (deceased) — editor of the Rocky Shimpo newspaper in Denver and a lone voice of protest against both the incarceration and the leadership of the JACL. His editorials in support of the Fair Play Committee landed him in court alongside the resisters. After the war he was hounded from job to job by fellow Nisei and left journalism, instead becoming a respected landscape contractor in Denver. He passed away in 1994.
- MITS KOSHIYAMA — was 19 and had just graduated from high school inside camp when he became one of the original 63 Heart Mountain resisters. After the war he and his brother grew and sold flowers, and worked as the landscape gardener at Willow Glen High School in San Jose.
- DAVE KAWAMOTO (deceased) — one of the original 63 Heart Mountain resisters. An NCAA wrestling champion at San Jose State University, he was posthumously awarded the business degree he was one semester short of receiving when the expulsion occurred. After prison he went into civil service and a fruit-selling business with his brother.
- YOSH KUROMIYA — an art major whose sketches inside camp appear in the program, he was one of the original 63 resisters. After the war he became a licensed landscape architect. He now lives in Alhambra.
- GLORIA KUBOTA — Wife of Fair Play Committee founder Guntaro Kubota, and once the group’s typist. She still lives in Saratoga, California.
- GRACE KUBOTA YBARRA — Daughter of Gloria and Guntaro Kubota, raised in Heart Mountain camp. She is now a family law attorney in San Jose, California.
- JIM AKUTSU (deceased) — Resister from Minidoka, Idaho, and the model for the main character in John Okada’s 1957 novel about a draft resister, No-No Boy. He passed away in Seattle in 1998.
- PAUL TSUNEISHI — Former Heart Mountain draftee who later, as a JACL district governor from Southern California, sought to reconcile the Japanese American community with the resisters.
- TAK HOSHIZAKI — Heart Mountain resister who served his sentence but later answered the call when drafted for the Korean War. He later earned a Ph.D. in plant physiology and did research for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory developing systems for growing food in outer space. He now lives in Los Angeles.
- MIKE MASAOKA (deceased) — At 25, he was a college speech teacher from Salt Lake City named National Field Secretary and spokesman of the JACL to lead the organization through the war. The government used him as their liaison with the entire Japanese American population inside camp. In 1952 he helped win citizenship for the Issei. In the 1970s he left JACL to become a Washington, D.C. lobbyist, often representing the government of Japan. He passed away in 1991.
- BILL HOSOKAWA — Editor of the Heart Mountain Sentinel he was placed by the government in a newspaper career at the Des Moines Register just before reinstitution of the draft. He later became editorial page editor of the Denver Post, author of such JACL histories as Nisei: The Quiet Americans and JACL: In Quest of Justice, and biographer of Mike Masaoka.
- CLIFFORD UYEDA — Former national president of the JACL and founder of the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco.
- SGT. BEN KUROKI — First Nisei war hero and Nebraska native, he toured Heart Mountain in a government effort to promote the draft and was later subpoenaed as a potential witness in the conspiracy trial of the Fair Play Committee leaders. He later went into journalism and edited newspapers in Nebraska, suburban Mighigan, and Southern California. He still lives in Camarillo, California.
- ROGER DANIELS — Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati. He is an immigration historian and one of the leading experts on the Japanese American incarceration experience as author of Concentration Camps, U.S.A. Justice on Trial, and other works.
- MICHI WEGLYN (deceased) — Historian and author of Years of Infamy, the first work by a Japanese American based on declassified government documents in the National Archives. She passed away in New York City in 1999.
- ART HANSEN — Professor of History at California State University, Fullerton, and director of its Oral History Program and Japanese American Project. His editing of James Omura’s unpublished memoir, Nisei Naysayer, is being submitted to Stanford University Press.
- ANDY NOGUCHI — President of Florin, California JACL chapter near Sacramento- who led movement for JACL to apologize to the resisters.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER
Frank Abe, a third-generation Japanese American, grew up being told that his parents’ generation had passively submitted to the wholesale denial of their rights during World War II in order to prove their loyalty.
The early question of his generation, “Why didn’t you resist?,” was usually answered by a pat on the head and an admonition against applying the values of today to events of the past.
Later as a journalist, Abe was astonished to learn that the area where he grew up, the Santa Clara Valley in Northern California, was once the home of many who later resisted the draft at Heart Mountain. Any mention of an organized resistance had been left out of the books he had read by the unofficial keepers of Japanese American history.
Feeling he had been misled, Abe sought out stories of the resisters and felt compelled to share them. He wrote an article for a community paper reclaiming the resistance as part of his heritage. Thus began the ten-year journey to the film “Conscience and the Constitution.”
After interviewing as many of the survivors of the resistance at Heart Mountain as he could, and investigating their stories, Abe feels the question for Japanese Americans is not “Why didn’t you resist,” but “Why did you turn your backs on those who resisted?”
Abe, a former reporter for KIRO News in Seattle, Washington, won numerous awards during his reporting career and served as a National Vice-President of the Asian American Journalists Association. Currently Abe serves as a media producer and spokesman for the King County Transportation Department in Seattle. From 1994 to 1996, Abe was Communications Director and spokesman for former King County Executive Gary Locke, now Governor of Washington.
Abe directs the Conscience and the Constitution Media Project, whose mission is to use television and new technologies to bring the story of Japanese American incarceration to the general public. For the campaign to redress the wrongs of the camps, Abe helped create and produce the first DAYS OF REMEMBRANCE in Seattle and Portland in 1978 and 1979. To continue the campaign he helped form the National Council for Japanese American Redress in Seattle in 1979, which lobbied for a redress bill and later sued the government for reparations.
With the American Friends Service Committee he helped direct a series of symposiums, “Japanese America: Contemporary Perspectives on the Internment.” The efforts of Abe and others built the momentum that led ten years later to the passage of the federal Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
With a B.A. in theater directing from the University of California at Santa Cruz and training from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Abe (with Frank Chin) was a founding member of the Asian American Theater Workshop (now Theater Company) in San Francisco. He was featured as an internment camp leader in John Korty’s 1976 NBC-TV movie “Farewell to Manzanar.”
Abe’s own father was interned at Heart Mountain. Only recently did he learn that his father donated $2 to the Fair Play Committee and subscribed to the Rocky Shimpo newspaper where James Omura’s editorials appeared.
Unique in American public television, the Independent Television Service (ITVS) was established by Congress to fund and present programs that “involve creative risks and address the needs of underserved audiences, especially children and minorities,” while granting artistic control to independent producers. ITVS has funded more than 375 programs for public television since its inception in 1991. Critically-acclaimed ITVS programs include THE FARMER’S WIFE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FORGOTTEN FIRES, Emmy Award winners GIRLS LIKE US and NOBODY’S BUSINESS, the Peabody Award-winning documentaries TRAVIS, A HEALTHY BABY GIRL and THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE, and duPont Award winners TAKEN IN: THE LIVES OF AMERICA’S FOSTER CHILDREN and STRUGGLES IN STEEL: A STORY OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN STEELWORKERS. For information contact ITVS at 51 Federal St., First Floor, San Francisco, CA 94107; E-mail: [email protected] or visit the ITVS web site at www.itvs.org.
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