27th Biennial JACL National Convention
Airport Hyatt Hotel, Los Angeles
August 10, 1982
See excerpts from “Mike Masaoka’s rebuttal to critics” on the Two-Disc DVD of Conscience and the Constitution. Order here.
I must say that I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to be here for a number of reasons and since this is the first time that I have been able to address the group formally, I want to take this opportunity to thank all you for your kindness during my recent illness.
Two years ago, I wanted to appear in San Francisco and to tell about some of the questions that were being raised, I wasn’t able to do so because I had an attack in June of that year. But somehow I felt that the story hadn’t been told the way I thought it ought to be told because at that time Bill Hosokawa’s classic JACL: In Quest of Justice had not been published. Unfortunately, however, during the Christmas holidays I had a second and third heart attack followed by double bypass operation. I say this not to be dramatic but to try to explain part of my motivation for being here today. The constraints of time and space have made it impossible for Bill [Hosokawa] to explain in detail all the questions that some of you may have been faced with over the past forty years or more about JACL. How we made our decisions? Why we made them? And, what we think were the results.
Now frankly, I’m prejudiced because I think that we made the kinds of judgments that you would have made if you were in our place. Not only that, but, as I look about me today, I would say that, in all honesty, most of our decisions, although they may not have been popular, have proved themselves in the crucible of history and finally, years have passed (and) in spite of all the criticism, we have not yet heard one viable alternative to the course which we took. If the proof is in the pudding, the very fact that we are here today, I think, is a testimony to the correctness of our positions.
Unfortunately, the years have gone on and those who helped make these decisions have passed on to their greater reward. Unfortunately, due to certain activities of the FBI, the Army and House Un-American Activities Committee, we do not have the records to document much of what we would like to say. But more importantly than that, we were so busy that we just couldn’t write about it. We could have, I suppose, written for posterity then done nothing. But we preferred to take the actions we thought were necessary. And that’s why we can’t document all that has gone before. There are those who say, quite frankly … “Why in the hell haven’t you told this story before?” The answer, I think, is relatively simple.
Up until quite recently–until the Watergate revelations, Abscams and other scandals involving certain government agencies, including the FBI and others–there are those who would tend to disbelieve some of the things which we would have to tell you and, perhaps, I can’t (and) I won’t tell you even today. And now that you know how some government operations are done and our history is distorted, then, perhaps, you can understand why some of the actions we took today may not look so good, and others which you never heard about look better than ever.
“A JAP’S A JAP”
But before I can really talk about what happened back in 1942, I think we have to look at it not from the perception of today, but in the light of what the conditions actually were on December 7, 1941 and thereafter.
Japan, the country of our ancestry, attacked the United States. The United States government began a program to build up a war psychology against the Japanese nation and they began to propagandize about … well, that we couldn’t be trusted. Then somehow, as General DeWitt said, “A Jap’s a Jap and no matter what you do with him and his citizenship, he still remains a Jap.” And that kind of atmosphere …We had no television. Golly, if I look now … what a ham like me and with television shown all over … we could have pointed the television camera on poor old ladies being dragged off to camp … and the little innocent children that were also in camps simply because of their ancestry. There wouldn’t have been any evacuation!
But we didn’t have that. We had no civil rights legislation on the books. For a hundred years since the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, Congress passed no bill recognizing the integrity of the human personality and the dignity of man. We had no Supreme Court cases talking about discrimination and segregation. We had no United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. And you could remember the blacks had their difficulties then. And to those of you who question why more wasn’t done. Why we didn’t stand up and do more on certain things, let me say we had over three million Jews in this country at that time and our government, as well as most of the people in the United States, know about the Holocaust. They were not, in the climate of those days, able to do very much. So, how could you expect a few of us in the central organization then called the JACL to take the kind of activity that, perhaps, you thought we ought to?
There is, of course, much I could say about this, but I want to say more about the attitude. We had an attitude then which allowed a colonel in the army of the United States, backed by a three-star general, who said that it you had one-sixteenth Japanese blood, you had to go to a concentration camp American-style. Hitler, in all his madness, said one-eighth Jewish blood and you had to go to a Jewish genocide camp. We had members of the Congress of the United States who wanted to castrate–to sterilize, if you will–the young men of Japanese ancestry so we wouldn’t “breed like rats.” We had several United States senators who proposed that we ought to be deported after the war to some island in the Pacific and then that Pacific Island should be blown up. I could go on and on and tell you more about this climate.
IVORY TOWER HISTORIANS
But, when you think back, those who are old enough to recall those dark and tragic days and remember the situation then, I think you will agree with me that all the historians in their ivory towers were never there. Or the people who want to write scenarios for books and scripts for plays, they weren’t there. We were! And this is the story I would like to tell you about.
Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because, after all, I was damned as a Moses of the Japanese people who led my people, if you will, out of the civilization of the cities and into wilderness camps where many died. This isn’t a very good stamp to be held on you. I’m here today because I remember that in certain camps they built little monuments to me then defecated and urinated on them. And that isn’t a pleasant feeling even after 40 years. But more importantly, I had a lot of friends, including my brothers, killed because they believed in the things I believed, and most of you, believed in. And with all of this background I want to tell you the story.
Where would we begin?
Well, there are those who seem to think that somehow Mr. [Saburo] Kido or I, alone in seclusion or together, made all the decisions you have heard about. The fact of the matter is that we never considered ourselves to be omnipotent. We tried to get the very best of advice we could but, after all, there was only one paid executive in the entire national organization. And we had two young girls who were active as secretaries. Saburo Kido, bless his soul, was our national president. He was an attorney. He had certain client obligations.
I was a young squirt from Utah — brash perhaps, maybe even a little arrogant in my ignorance of some of the problems. But nevertheless, I happened to be the only one at headquarters. And if you think that it is an easy job to try to think of the destiny of 110,000 people, let me assure that it wasn’t. And when you begin to talk about these decisions that I’m going to repeat a little later on, keep in mind that they were made by a youngster who had no experience in social work, practically no knowledge of the Japanese community, whose probably only asset may have been the fact I was so ignorant. If I knew any better, I’d never taken the job and certainly never tried to make the decisions that we did.
I’m not saying that all our decisions were correct. No one can! And no one could be correct under those circumstances. All I’m saying is this much: Every decision which we made, we made because we believed — we honestly and sincerely believed — was for the good of the great majority of those of Japanese ancestry here in the United States.
Accordingly, some people may have been hurt. Some people may challenge the way we look at things. But when you have the great responsibility — the awesome responsibility — of human lives in your hands, none of us can take that trying responsibility lightly.
So, Mr. Kido and I gathered around us a small group of Americans, who weren’t of Japanese ancestry, because Japanese Americans were so busy and they, like us, were so untrained or so inexperienced. This is national headquarters. Many in chapters under certain circumstances, developed and hired lobbyists or representatives on their own that time–such larger communities such as Los Angeles, Seattle and even San Francisco had secretaries who acted in the community. We can’t, of course, account for everything that happened in those days by someone who may or may not have been a member of the JACL. But certainly, I don’t think that you could blame everything in camp and elsewhere on the JACL simply because a member may have spoken out.
Those of you from San Francisco and the older people here will remember Annie Clo Watson–a remarkable lady–who was secretary of the International Institute in San Francisco. She was a professional social worker, a long time friend of the Japanese. We had Dr. Galen Fisher, a missionary in Japan at one time who came over and later worked for the Institute of Pacific Relations and then I think helped organize the Fair Play Committee. Then we had Dr. Monroe Deustch, provost of the University of California at Berkeley. We had Ruth and Henry Kingman, who worked at the YM and YWCA on the Berkeley campus. We had Lawrence Daze of the New York Times, the only man who had courage enough to write the right kind of story and have them printed. We had Chet Huntley, who was then with CBS, and who we were later told lost his job because he reported properly on what was happening here on the West Coast of the United States. To these people, we went almost daily for advice. And sometimes, instead of going directly to the commanders and government officials — because we soon learned they weren’t listening to us — we had to send others to speak on our behalf. These are the people who helped.
Now on legal problems we had Saburo Kido, an attorney, and a young friend by the name of Jim Purcell also an attorney, in San Francisco. And one of the remarkable tragedies of history is that the national ACLU — American Civil Liberties Union — decided that in times of crisis like this, even the Civil Liberties Union would not question the military. So the California branches of Northern and Southern California split. Wayne Collins headed the group in and around San Francisco. Al Wirin, as you know, represented the Southern California branch.
For some reason, Sab Kido went to Al Wirin for legal advice and help. This, of course, didn’t make us particularly favored with Wayne Collins. And Wayne Collins has criticized the JACL for many of the positions we have taken. He criticized me! But like so many that have criticized, he never spoke to me. I never met the man. And though I respected many of the things he did, I still remember that when the chips were down, we couldn’t be choosy about our friends. And Al Wirin was a friend then.
Well, there is much more, of course. I can talk about this phase of it, but some people keep saying, “Well Mike, what was your most harrowing experience in the early days of the war, aside from, of course, evacuation itself?”
MASAOKA, KIDO THREATENED BY FBI
There was tremendous pressure against Mr. Kido and me. I remember that after I was brought back from Little … rather North Platte, Nebraska, where I was incarcerated because I happened to be there on Pearl Harbor day. We were put into a little room — Mr. Kido and I — a very bare room. I’ll never forget! The agent in charge of the FBI in San Francisco, a fellow by the name of Mat Keefer, put Mr. Kido and me in room and he said, “You guys aren’t going to get out of this room alive unless you tell us certain things.”
Mr. Kido and I then protested our citizenship, but we were subjected to a tremendous amount of grilling. All way through our experiences, Mr. Kido and I were often not allowed to go together to meet with Army officials or with government officials. We would sit down and we would discuss certain propositions and what had to be done.
If the government changed their minds; we were the liars. They went ahead with their changed point of view. I could go on the specifics … some of the details and some of the decisions. But those people who ask … why didn’t we do something about all this? Frankly, I think we were misled and we were lulled into a false sense of security.
PRE-WAR CONTACT WITH GOV’T OFFICIALS
Long before Pearl Harbor — in August of 1941 — a man by the name of Munson, purportedly representing the State Department and White House, came out to the West Coast and he spent three days with Mr. Kido and me discussing the possibilities of war. In August, mind you, in 1941, and saying that the government wanted to protect all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast from any violence if there should be any kind of attack or declaration of war between the two countries. And for three days we worked over the country areas and city areas with him.
And when Pearl Harbor occurred, as you know, up and down the whole coast where you would expect violence after almost a century of racism and warmongering against those of us who happened to look like the Japanese enemy, there was no incident of violence except two in the city of Stockton and they involved Filipinos and Japanese Americans. Just imagine that! The whole states of California, Oregon and Washington — the entire United States, if you will — nothing happened and we thought, “Gee, the government is really looking after our rights” because, you remember, right after Pearl Harbor the Attorney General of the United States, Francis Biddle, went on the air and called out … called out for fair play, noting Japanese Americans were citizens of the United States and noting the fact also that our parents were aliens of no fault of their own, because they couldn’t become United States citizens. But they were exemplary citizens of their respective states and communities and they ought to be treated that way.
City officials up and down the West Coast, rose up and talked about what great citizens we were. I think a lot of you older people will remember how even the governor of this great state of California considered us such worthy citizens that he appeared at several of our meetings and told us if trouble should ever develop as it did, we needn’t worry because the people of the state of California were fair-minded and realized what great contributions our people had made to this state and to this nation.
Professor after professor of law throughout the United States talked about the integrity of citizenship. Boy, we believed it! So, perhaps, when the decision to evacuate was made … well, frankly, some of us didn’t believe it could happen to us. All kinds of programs were put out, but some of you may wonder what we tried to do to prevent the kind of removal and later … well, that’s another story.
But I’d like to say this … In the early days of the war, a number of us in the JACL got together. We looked over the situation and we decided that we were Americans. And in those days, the assimilation … in those days assimilation and not ethnic diversity was the public attitude, the spirit and objective. And we felt that if you are going to have any kind of country left for ourselves, our parents, our children, our children’s children, we had to prove our loyalty. And so today we are accused by some who say, “You were 200 per cent American.” That’s right! We were! Because we were working for something. And in that maelstrom, some people may have suffered. Unfortunately, that was a price we had to pay for what we finally got.
But time after time after time, we deliberately proved or tried to prove that we were just as American as anyone else. Even though we had a general out here who said, “A Jap’s a Jap.” Even though we had people in Washington who thought our young men should be sterilized. Even though we had people who were saying that if you had one-sixteenth Japanese blood, you’re a Jap and had to go to these camps.
Well, what did JACL try to do? First of all, let me talk about this thing that I hear so often, “JACL deliberately took over the leadership in the interim.” My God! A one-man professional organization? No one would want that responsibility!
What happened after Pearl Harbor? The Federal Bureau of Investigation already had individual dossiers on a great number of alien Japanese. These were picked up! These were the leaders … the first and second string leaders of almost every Japanese community up and down the Pacific Coast. So who was left? Who was left? We didn’t want it! But if you remember right after Pearl Harbor, the Treasury Department froze the accounts of all Japanese and Japanese Americans in the United States. And we had people beginning to starve. Who was going to speak up? There was no one but us.
And I remember my first call to Washington to call my old college professor, Senator Elbert Thomas, to tell this story. He said he would see what he could do about it. He talked to Mrs. Roosevelt and you’ll remember … and the Treasury Department liberalized its rules so we could get $100 a month with which to feed our respective families. And then you’ll remember. …well, the government took away the Japanese newspapers and in those days we had a great number of Issei who could only read Japanese. Who was going to tell these people of the plans of the government? Who was going to tell them about what other communities were doing in this period of travail? JACL — out of a one-man office — started putting out daily mimeographed news we sent to our various chapters to try to reproduce it and send it on free to our communities. Who was going to do this if it wasn’t the JACL? We didn’t want the job!
No matter what anyone tells you, Mr. Kido had no delusions of grandeur. And I certainly wished I were back at the University of Utah and not worrying about camps and so on.
Over and over again, when we met the people — the generals and the people from Washington — all of them would say, for your own protection, we’ve got to move you. And they said it was a matter of military necessity. Well, this is one of the great misunderstood items of the history of the Japanese and the JACL in this country. We never agreed to detention camps. Executive Order 9066 and implementing legislation passed by Congress had no words relating to detention camps. The Army itself by proposing a program of voluntary evacuation — leaving your homes on your own — indicated they had no plan for detention in this first instance. And I think that one reason why many of our friends and the church groups especially — that we thought would come to our side — came to our aid. I used to criticize them for insensitivity. As I look back now, perhaps, they, too, were misled. And we never conceived of detention camps.
MISLED BY GOV’T
And then we were misled, too, again on the matter of Tolan Hearings. We were told Congressman Tolan of California and his colleagues were coming out from the Congress of the United States to talk about our problem. So we prepared for this. But a few days earlier, the decision (to evacuate) was made and the Tolan Committee hearings were a joke. But the people in Washington, the people in government, the people in the Army, the newspapers and everyone else told us this was our chance to speak our minds. So … up and down the West Coast — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle — our regional chapters went up and presented the facts. They tried to make our case.
But even before that, JACL wrote petitions to the governors, to the members of Congress and to the President, all the officers, saying that we wanted the chance to prove our loyalty and we often wondered why … why, this government of ours, could treat German and Italian enemy aliens better than they did American citizens simply because you were of Japanese blood. And until you go through this history of those times — unless you remember again the horror of Evacuation and the great decisions — you just can’t understand why we made those decisions we did. And you might believe some of the stories you are hearing today.
I wish I could go into more and more of these stories. I think it is only fair to tell you that we were so desperate at one time that we wrote the commanding general — not DeWitt, because we knew he wouldn’t listen to us — but to general, I think that his name was Richardson. And we said, if you will not remove our parents and our families we will volunteer as suicide battalions to fight the Japanese enemy. I’ll never forget the answer we got from the Army, “The United States Army does not believe in hostages. The United States Army does not believe in segregated units except for Negroes.” They were called Negroes then; Blacks today. And No. 3, they could never assign Japanese Americans to fight in the Pacific because of problems with identification. So a little later on, what did we get?
But before that, let me say that the governor of this great state called a conference of some of us and he proposed that we go to our own little labor camps with our families. And then in the daytime we would work the farms and return at night. These little camps, the state of California was going to put up. Mr. Kido strongly opposed those suggestions on the part of the governor. I would say of the approximately 20 or 30 people there, less than a fifth of us were JACL leaders. Others, I didn’t know who some of them were. I wish the record was still available so that you could see from the very beginning we resisted this idea.
I say when people say JACL cooperated … yes, we cooperated in our removal because we were afraid of what would happen. After all, you people have seen what happens when the Army moves into a town in Lebanon today. You’ve seen what happens to people in Vietnam when the military moved in. If you were in our shoes and you were told that by the personal representative of the President of the United States; and Col. [Karl] Bendetsen disclosed this in a speech before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in May of 1942. And this is what is not reported by the historians and others.
Col. Bendetsen pointed out, and it was told to us much more in cruel detail, that the Army had two programs for removal of the Japanese. One, if you will cooperate then the Army and the government of the United States will do its best to make that movement as humane as possible. Two, if you don’t–and this is the thing to remember–the Army has a contingency plan to move you out within 12 or 24 hours or 48 hours.
What are you going to say in a situation like that?
You want people murdered on the streets? You want tanks to come in and destroy the little ghettoes that we have enjoyed? I think we had no alternative. Think about that!
Some people say, “Well, why didn’t you resist?” If you were responsible for 110,000 people who happen to look like you, and you had any humanity in your heart, would you want them to face the guns and tanks of an Army? Remember, in those days Japan was winning the war. Remember, in those days there was a real question of where our loyalty was.
Gee, I remember, so you can remember, those stories that used to say the Japanese had organized an Army of over 100,000 Japanese Americans in Mexico and that this young army was all trained to move up into California and the West Coast. Gee, with stories like that, what are you going to do?
And had we resisted, what would the American people have thought? At the time when America was losing the war, here was a group of people who claimed to be Americans causing disruptions of the war effort. An armored tank had to go in and slaughter these same people. What would you have done?
You know it’s an amazing thing … I heard so many people tell me, “Why didn’t you resist?” Well, we didn’t think we were going to camp in the first place. And let me remind you that six million Jews, who knew where they were going, went to their deaths in genocide camps in Europe.
What we did was not so strange in those terms. The difference, however, I think is we tried to get from our government, in advance, certain safeguards. I remember that one plan that was proposed to us that [since] our alien parents were enemy aliens, “Let’s put them into camps separate from the citizens.” Well, maybe JACL made a mistake here because all of the parents were relatively old and the children were young. But we said that if there’s got to be a movement into camps at some future time, we thought the family should be kept together. Did we make a mistake?
We said that our property should be protected. We pointed to the illustration of World War I, when the government established the alien property custodians and protected the properties of German aliens then. But they said, “You’re not going to be gone so long, Why do you have to have all these guarantees and so on?”
We kept pressing these things and unfortunately many of the things we thought we had secured in the promise were never given to us. You remember, matter of fact, that a lot of us were urged to evacuate voluntarily. What happened? Some of the groups, as they were traveling southward across southern Arizona and New Mexico, had their caravans stopped, trucks got upturned and people beaten up. We asked the government for protection for these people who wanted to leave voluntarily and the Army said, “No.”
So, since the Army wouldn’t assure safe passage we, in the JACL thought we ought at least give some kind of security to these voluntary evacuees. So we created what we thought was a very simple loyalty oath so that they could show, if they were stopped anywhere along the way, that they were American Citizens. And today, there are some of the people who look at the loyalty oath as an effort on our part to de-culturize the Japanese. If we wanted to do that, would we have stood up when the first group met for student relocation? Various Christian leaders were getting up and saying, “We can vouch for the loyalty of the Christian Japanese,” but they wouldn’t say anything about the Buddhists…
This organization that wasn’t supposed to represent the Japanese Americans was the only group who first stood up to say to these white faces who had missions in America for those from Japan that we said that if you’re Christian at all you will extend the same scholarship and other rights to the Buddhists, too. And once we told them, they all agreed and today it’s not even part of the record.
I could go on and say that in case after case, more than any group, the JACL stood up for the rights of the Buddhists.
Yes, oh, I forgot one great thing before evacuation you should know about. We proposed a hearing board system so that we could be cleared if necessary and if we weren’t cleared, then I suppose, we had to go off to jail. We look at the pattern of England–Great Britain. They had several thousand German and Italian aliens. Through a system of quick hearings, they were able to eliminate those who were dangerous and give freedom to those who were found not suspect.
We proposed this to the government of the United States and they turned us down. But, curious enough, later for enemy aliens in the camps, the government worked out three-man hearing boards. Enemy aliens who happened to be of Japanese ancestry had hearings. We, who were citizens, [and who] weren’t even charged with anything, we didn’t get any hearing at all!
And another thing that bothered us was when they were setting up some of these camps, they dreamed up these horrible programs that you would get so much a month — you could get so much for food. We pointed to the Geneva Convention and said, under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war were guaranteed minimum wages and minimum living standards and we felt that ought to be the least that we should give the Japanese and Japanese Americans.
Well, I could go all through this but I must ask for your understanding. I don’t have notes. I’m trying to remember over a period of 40 years and I’m doing the best that I can … Therefore, excuse me for incoherence, the illogic of some of the things I might have said and some discrepancies in time.
I do think it is important to point out the question of test cases that was one of the very early problems which we considered in the JACL.
You and I know that, as far as we are concerned, there are three cases — test cases — contesting the curfew, travel restriction and the evacuation itself.
The Korematsu case was the basic case on evacuation. Then, we had our good friend Min Yasui, and Gordon Hirabayashi [who] tested the travel [restrictions] and curfew.
You may wonder why they were the only one’s who were selected. Well, early in the war and right after these curfew arrangements were announced, you had to be in your homes, I think, by six or seven o’clock at night. And you had to stay there until six in the morning. You could never be more than five miles from your home without special permit.
Mr. Kido and I violated these every so often. The police would just simply pick us up and say, “Look, be good boys,” and they would drive us to the hotel where we were staying. Sometimes, we even said–and this is when we felt a little irresponsible, I must confess, when we felt the problems were getting too large for us–we went down to the police headquarters in San Francisco. We said we wanted to be a test case. They laughed at us. They put us on a paddy wagon, took us back to the Aki Hotel and said, “Be good boys, stay home and go to work tomorrow morning.”
This happened up and down the coast. And the only reason the three went to court was because–and I say this with all affection to my good friend Min [Yasui]–the government did not indict most of the people who violated the regulations. We had people in the Army Reserve. We had people who were already in the Army and we wanted them to be arrested so that we could have a good case. The Army picked Gordon Hirabayashi because he was a Quaker and conscientiously opposed to war. They arrested Min Yasui because, even though he was a reserve officer in the Army of the United States, he had worked for the consulate of Japan in Chicago. They picked Korematsu out because, for reasons of his own, he had some facial surgery done so he wouldn’t look Japanese. The Army picked these cases and they proceeded with them.
Now, there are those who say in trying to create some kind of friction between Mr. Yasui and I — you can see we don’t have a hang-up with some of these people who say that he and I had some choice moments. We may have but I don’t remember that. And if we did, we both had a job to do and a point of view to sell. My point of view which may have been distorted but certainly points out that maybe it was a publicity … you saw him up here I’m the paid propagandist but he [Yasui] shouts and makes a better show than I do. Well, nevertheless, when I said that here, you know, he might be seeking publicity and people shouldn’t do this. We were trying to prove to the government in order that we secure more for the people in the camps. I said we were opposed to this, at that time. Some people talk about correspondence that came between Min and me. I don’t remember that correspondence. Neither does Min.
And while we are on this subject, let me say this much, too, that there are those who look at some of the minutes reportedly of some of the JACL meetings … and this may be true. It was reported by most of your Japanese American press … that I had proposed slave labor camps–virtually what amounted to slave labor camps–for the Japanese Americans. My gosh! Tom Shimasaki was one of those who were at the meetings. And these people who wrote the stories never checked back. He doesn’t recall that particular incident. And he wrote to newspapers about a correction and none of the papers, including Japanese American newspapers, published that letter. Because Tom pointed out if I had made those kinds of recommendations, the council wouldn’t have stopped there. They would have strung me up, and I would have been the first Japanese American lynched in World War II. What do these people take us for?
I remember some of these things which they are reporting now. I think it was Governor … Chase Clark of Idaho and I was trying to report on the different suggestions he made. Somehow, in the minutes, there must have been a mistake or a page dropped or something else because, you know, even today when you try to put minutes together you’ve got confused language. That, I think, that any of you here in this room who know me but more importantly, know Kido. Walter Tsukamoto, Jimmy Sakamoto and all the rest of us, do you think … do you really think that we would send our people down the river? For what? Glory for ourselves, for the JACL, when we were trying to go out of business?
Just think about those things. I’ll never forget the … those awful days when the Army, for example, you girls remember — I shouldn’t raise these things but I was an innocent boy at that time — when the Army set up the temporary camps they forgot to provide, I think they called it Kotex in those days, for the girls, and the … well, we had to tell the Army. Who was there to tell besides the JACL?
Now, we in the JACL have never said that we represented all the Japanese people. We said we represented our members and those who believed in us. And, my fellow friends, if the people did not agree with us, why in the hell did they go along? Because, under those circumstances which they knew in those times which they understood, because they were there personally, they knew they had no other alternative.
Maybe later on in camp they said, “Gee, we didn’t have any violence …” We had too much to do, so they started conjuring up all these things. And they started to fashion up all kinds of stories what certain JACLers did to line their pockets from the problems of the Evacuation. There may have been some JACLers; there may have been others. There were a lot of white people who certainly made money out of our Evacuation, I wish some of these people who are critical of us go after some of these other people, too, because they weren’t under the pressures we were. And they were taking advantage of the situation to get rich. You and I know that!
But let me just say this, in all sincerity, because as I look back more than 40 years, we in the JACL did what we thought was best for the great majority of people. We did it even though sometimes the great majority of people, if they had a chance to vote, probably would never have approved. For example, now that the 442nd has made such a record, you’d be surprised how many people said they volunteered. My God, if they had volunteered in those quantities, we never needed any troops from Hawaii to supplement the interracial group. I was so naive that I told John McCloy, “You don’t have to ask the fellows from Hawaii. Ten thousand troops, no problem…” Well, less than 3000 volunteered from camp. Nevertheless out of that 3000 come the kind of inspiration and the kind of record that has made it possible for us to meet today.
There are those who say the renunciants, the No-No Boys … Oh, I gotta say this, excuse me. There are those who say George Inagaki and I figured out questions number 27 and 28 [of the Leave Clearance Questionnaire]. What poppycock! Even I know that alien Japanese couldn’t forswear all their allegiance to Japan. If they did, they’d been stateless people! How could you ask women to bear arms in those days? Those were questionable. And we were supposed to have suggested them.
As Bill Hosokawa documents this in his book, and I suggest you all read it because, if you read it, you’ll understand. You’ll be proud of what a little organization like JACL was able to do, not only for the Japanese in this country but for the people in Japan. All Asians have benefited from what we’ve done. Now, I think that all regions have benefited from what we have done. If it hadn’t been for the JACL, do you think you would have had the immigration amendment of 1965 that put all people from Asia on the same footing as Europeans? And I have many friends among the JACL who say, “Mike, you should never have given such immigration opportunities to Koreans and the Chinese.” Well, be that as it may…I think if you examine your heart, you will understand. Remember those days. Think back to the situation, and if you were too young, read the book.
Under those circumstances no group wanted to represent the Japanese. We did it by default because no one else would. The amazing part of it, and I say this without any discredit to our colleagues, our brothers and sisters in Canada. In Canada, we had a Japanese Canadian Citizens League and that folded up. We stood and took the abuse, and people like Saburo Kido and Doc Thomas T. Yatabe and others were beaten up in camps because they believed that they were doing what ought to be done.
And I say that if you judge the record on the basis of what is here now … what is now here, you think that we would be here today if we had told the Army where they ought to go? Do you think that we could stay here today and meet in a hall like this in California; have a senator and two congressmen elected from the state of California, if we had made the initial decision to reject and fight our own government and our own Army? Think about that!
Adapted from the transcript first printed in the Rafu Shimpo newspaper, February 17, 1983. Used with permission