Conscience and the Constitution: A Review

Frozen Glory blog
by Eddie Chern
Thursday, September 22, 2011

DVD coverI was in elementary school when I first heard of the internment of Japanese Americans into concentration camps. As I grew older and read more of this tragic event in US History, I’ve learned this internment was just the beginning of the story. Would you believe that there were Japanese Americans who actually favored the camps? And would you believe that the US government tried to draft Japanese Americans into the War after taking their civil rights from them? Would you believe there were token Japanese Americans who fought against other Japanese Americans? All of this (and then some) was explored brilliantly in Frank Abe’s Conscience and the Constitution.

Conscience and the Constitution plays like a thriller even though it’s a documentary. There are enemies and there are heroes. The enemies were the United States government and white tokenism under the traitorous JACL*. The heroes were simple hard-working Japanese Americans known as the Heart Mountain Resisters who were pulled into extraordinary circumstances and came out triumphant, yet at a costly price. What did they want? Well, they would fight in the War (thereby no longer resisting the draft), so long as their rights were restored. That’s obviously fair. The government had the temerity to draft them after taking their property from them. But the government refused to restore their Constitutional rights, and so they were shunned and imprisoned. They were deemed “fascists” and “traitors” (by both European Americans and token Asian Americans) for not giving into the draft. But the Resisters did more than just resist the unfair draft; their resistance and civil disobedience helped define the Constitution of the United States, and it helped define what it means to be Asian American in America. Their only crime was their race. Conscience and the Constitution is a fast-moving documentary and should be required viewing for anybody interested in race matters and US history. It is well-made, heart-breaking, and informative. For those of you interested in doing group studies on this documentary, you should be happy to know there is a second DVD filled with about two hours of extra features. You’ll know that dissent (or civil disobedience) is one of the highest forms of patriotism after viewing Conscience and the Constitution.

* – It should be noted that the JACL has since apologized to the Resisters.

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The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration