Op-ed by high schooler based upon viewing of our film

An eventful Day of Remembrance just past. The Fresno Bee on Feb. 19 published an op-ed from 16-year old Marissa Honda, an insightful piece in which she speaks of her faith in her generation to remember the legacy of the draft resisters, in contrast to her older relatives who lived through those times:

I can tell by their shifty eyes and serious expressions that many of them still feel embarrassed by those who might have been seen as disloyal Americans. It is as if by supporting the resisters after 50 years, they still fear being labelled as disloyal Americans themselves.

It’s a remarkable piece, inspired in part from a viewing of our film. You can read “Japanese draft resisters deserve better,” as a 1MB PDF file to see how it looked in the paper. Renews one’s hope for the future.

Two law school journals examine the Japanese American draft cases

Two new law school journal articles examine the Japanese American draft cases.

Seattle University forum noticeThe most recent is by Seattle University Law Professor Lorraine Bannai. Its publication in the Seattle Journal for Social Justice is being marked with a Day of Remembrance event, “Honoring Courage: Remembering the Japanese American Internment” on Wednesday, February 15, at 5:00 p.m. in the second floor gallery of Sullivan Hall, 901 12th Avenue. The event is co-sponsored by the school’s Asian Pacific Islander Law Student Association. It’s free and open to the public.

“I’ve written an article, focusing on Fred Korematsu, Gene Akutsu, and Yosh Kuromiya for their resistance to the WWII internment. I drew from the Conscience and the Constitution website and film and am grateful for all of your work.

“To launch the issue of the Seattle Journal for Social Justice that the article will appear in, Seattle U. is hosting the event described in the attached. Gene will be speaking at the event. We very much would like to have members of the Japanese American community here to recognize the courage of those who were interned.

“Again, thank you for your work on the resisters’ cause, upon which I could draw.”
— Lori Bannai

The other article was published by our good friend Professor Eric Muller, in the Spring 2005 edition of Law and Contemporary Problems, a quarterly published by the Duke University School of Law. Never short for words, Eric is Special Editor of the entire issue devoted to “Judgments Judged and Wrongs Remembered: Examining the Japanese American Civil Liberties Cases On Their Sixtieth Anniversary.” The entire issue is worth reading and is posted online.

Eric’s article,”A Penny for Their Thoughts: Draft Resistance at the Poston Relocation Center,” adds to our knowledge of the inner workings of the Poston resistance and the different sentences handed to three different groups of Poston resisters, with exhaustive research into Richard Nishimoto’s diary, Community Analysis reports and letters from the project attorney.

In memoriam: George Kurasaki

George Kurasaki was one of those fellows we wished we could have known, one of the Heart Mountain boys who did not seek attention for himself.

When we were searching for resisters to interview for our film, he was among those who sent word back that they did not wish to be interviewed. But George finally did come out to join us. He came to the JACL apology ceremony to the resisters in San Francisco in 2002. We noted his presence there at the time, and now regret we didn’t follow up with him to learn more.

George passed away just after the new year. The San Jose Mercury-News recognized his life with a fine remembrance, “George Kurasaki, prankster on farm,” (requires subscription) in which we learn of his risking arrest for violating curfew and travel restrictions after Pearl Harbor in order to propose to his sweetheart, and of their getting married before eviction so they could stay together.

Forums in Los Angeles and San Francisco

Two educational forums are coming up in California this spring.

At the Japanese American National Museum, its affiliated National Center for the Preservation of Democracy is preparing to open this fall. Our full-color poster and ITVS Viewers Guide for Conscience and the Constitution will be on display at two Educator Preview workshops on April 21 and April 23 aimed at helping Southern California instructors, as one workshop promises, “capitalize on young people’s idealism while addressing their disengagement from civic institutions.”

Thanks to Teacher Programs Manager Allyson Nakamoto for including our materials on the resource tables, and for including our profiles and photos of Fair Play Committee members Ben Wakaye and Gloria Kubora, from our PBS Online site, in the activity cards for their forthcoming “Tool Kit” for teaching democracy and civic action, called “Fighting for Democracy.”

On June 2 logo for California Civil Liberties Public Education Programwill screen in San Francisco at the “Notice To All” symposium sponsored by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, a 4-day conference intended to acknowledge all the projects that program funded and get participants to help map out a course for its future.

Producer/director Frank Abe will also be speaking on a panel from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. titled “Dissidence: Resisters and Renunciants” that will also feature scholar Eric Muller, author of Free to Die For Their Country, and some first-person testimonies from Nisei who chose, under wartime duress, to protest by renouncing their U.S. citizenship. More details later as the schedule shapes up.

In memoriam: Fred Korematsu

Fred Korematsu photoWhile the world is focused today on the death of the Pope, we also mourn the passing of Fred Korematsu last Wednesday at his daughter’s home in Larkspur.

Thanks to Roger Daniels for passing on the obit in the New York Times.

In addition to his many public appearances on behalf of redress and his coram nobis case, Fred was a great supporter of the resisters, recognizing that they, like him, chose to use the courts as their wartime battlefield.

We last saw Fred at the JACL apology ceremony in San Francisco in 2002.

Our condolences to his wife Kathryn and their two children.

Screenings in Minnesota and Denver

Our film continues to provide different points of entry and different perspectives for audiences across the country this year. Just after screenings for the “Seattle Reads” program, two more programs have picked up our story: university students in Minnesota, and another humanities program in a town north of Denver:

St. Cloud State University logo“I am the co-advisor for a student organization called Asian Students in Action at St. Cloud State University. They are organizing a week-long on-campus event in April called Social Activism in Asian America. As part of the event, I wanted to show your film on April 21 for a campus wide audience… I thought your film was important in discussing not only the issue of what constitutes an American and what it means to be loyal, but also the difficulties of social activism especially when it creates a division within the community. Moreover, your film itself is a perfect example of social activism – the use of documentaries to educate people.”
— Dr. Kyoko Kishimoto, Assistant Professor, Department of Ethnic Studies

Estes Park Public Library logo“Just wanted to let you know that Conscience and the Constitution is a unit of a seven part series that the Estes Park Public Library Foundation will be presenting this summer. The Foundation has a We the People Grant from the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities that is titled “Pivotal Events in American Constitutional Hisotry: Their Impact on We the People.” The video will be presented on July 30th”
— Catherine K. Speer, Estes Park Public Library Foundation

Estes Park lies halfway between the cities of Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming, which should make for a very meaningful local presentation. Denver was the wartime home for James Omura’s Rocky Shimpo newspaper, and Cheyenne was the site for the federal conspiracy trial for Omura and the 7 leaders of the Fair Play Committee in 1944.

The screening is to be followed by a discussion, “The Story of Japanese-American Detention and Civil Disobedience,” led by Mrs. Lynn Young.

Capsule review: Seattle Times

The Seattle Times today published a capsule review of our film, in advance of our Saturday screening at the Seattle Public Library as part of the “Seattle Reads” program for Julie Otsuka’s 2002 novel, When the Emperor Was Divine.

Here is book critic Michael Upchurch’s take on our film:

First up is Frank Abe’s “Conscience and the Constitution” (2000), about a group of draft-age internees who refused to volunteer for military service or, later, to be drafted, until their and their families’ civil rights were restored. Abe, a former senior reporter for KIRO Newsradio and KIRO-TV, does a fine job of tracing how this draft-resistance arose, and how it became such a bitterly divisive issue within the Japanese-American community. The Japanese American Citizens League — which adapted more of a “my country right or wrong” attitude to internment and military service — was particularly harsh in its judgment of the draft resisters.

It would be more than 50 years before any reconciliation between the JACL and the draft resisters was effected. The eyewitnesses in this hourlong film are eloquent, wry and level-headed as they make their case about the constitutional principles at stake. Abe has done an admirable job of illuminating the issues behind the divisiveness. The film screens at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Abe will be present for a post-film discussion.

Screenings in Seattle and Bellevue

Two upcoming screenings in the Seattle area are tied to two regional reading programs, both centered on Julie Otsuka’s 2002 novella, When the Emperor Was Divine.

Seattle Public LibraryThe Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library is having us screen in the citys’ new world-class Downtown Library, in the Microsoft Auditorium, on Saturday afternoon, March 26, 2005, at 2:00 p.m. This one is part of “Reading Across the Map,” a multi-year project to foster reading and discussion of works by authors from diverse cultures and ethnicities. Joining us for the post-film discussion will be Gene Akutsu, Minidoka resister and brother of the late Jim Akutsu,who is featured in our film.

Bellevue Community College logoWe will be also be screening CONSCIENCE with a post-screening talk on the evening of March 22 at the Bellevue Regional Library, east of Seattle at 1111 – 110th Avenue NE, Meeting Room 1, in Bellevue. It’s part of a faculty seminar and campus-wide programming, again tied to a discussion of the Otuska book as a common text, sponsored by Bellevue Community College with funding from the National Endowment for the HumanIties. Gene Akutsu will also be joining us for this.

Both screenings are free and open to the public.

William Hohri questions legality of drafting Japanese Americans from camp

For the past several months, writer William Hohri has been developing the theory that it was illegal under the Selective Service Act of 1940 for the U.S. government to draft young Japanese American inmates while in the custody of the War Relocation Authority.

He published his argument in the January 2005 issue of The Objector, in an article titled, “Free Us Before You Draft Us.” He writes, “Someone was violating the law. And it was not the resisters. It’s about time we recognized this.”

William shares with us a talk for today that he says for one reason or another was undelivered:

Day of Remembrance – UC Santa Barbara – 2005

For the purposes of this talk, I’d like to change “Day of Remembrance” to “Day of Reconsideration.” Of course, we have already reconsidered the name of the camps from “Relocation Center” to “internment camp” or “concentration camp” or “prison camp.” I would like us to reconsider the military conscription of young men from the camps. Was it legal? Was military service via the draft an act of patriotism by the draftee or an act of illegality by our government?

In entry 5 of the IV-F classification section of the Selective Service Act of 1940, one reads this requirement, (I quote) “Is being retained in the custody of criminal jurisdiction or other civil authority.” (End of quote.) [emphasis mine] Were we internees “being retained in the custody of . . . other civil authority”? If we were, we should have been classified IV-F, as unsuited for military service. We were, instead, classified I-A, as suited to take subsequent steps, including the physical examination, to be accepted or rejected for military service. Most of the draft resisters resisted by refusing to take their physical exams.

Well, had we been retained in the custody of civil authority? The first place I looked for my answer was in my dog-eared, nth Xeroxed copy of The Evacuated People: A Quantitative Description, written by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the War Relocation Authority.

Section one begins with, (I quote) “Some 120,313 persons of Japanese descent came under the custody of the War Relocation Authority between May 8, 1942 (the date the Colorado River Relocation Center opened) and March 20, 1946 (the date Tule Lake closed).” (End of quote) So according to our government, the War Relocation Authority, had served as “other civil authority” that had held us in its custody. Hence, the draft age men should have been classified IV-F and not been draft eligible until they were no longer being held in camp and were living in free America.

Of course, the definition for this custody resides in Executive Order 9066 plus one of two Public Proclamations. Why the Public Proclamations? Well, if you read E.O.9066 carefully, you will notice that it only seems to order exclusion. The powers of the President of the United States delegates the power (I quote) “to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.” (End of quote)

Note that the main verbal expression is “may be excluded.” This is followed by legally undefined subordinate verbs, “to enter, remain in, or leave.” Of course, we remember E.O. 9066 by remembering it on or near the date of its being signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. But the subordinate verbs are implemented and legally defined in two Public Proclamations, number 8 and WD-1. WD-1 seems to be the most precise and does implement “to enter,” “remain in,” and “leave.” (Note: proclamation 8 applied to camps within the jurisdiction of the Western Defense Command, while WD-1 applied to camps further inland in the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas.) These proclamations were published several months later in August and October of 1942.

[Please note in advance of the following quotation that “War Relocation Project Areas” is the term used for “camp sites.”]

Paragraph b of WD-1 states, “All persons of Japanese ancestry . . . are required to remain within the bounds of said War Relocation Project Areas are required to remain within the bounds of said War Relocation Project Areas at all times unless specifically authorized to leave . . . .”

Thus, when E.O.9066 is combined with these proclamations, the relocation centers become detention camps. And the inmates of the camps are being held in the custody of the U.S. government and their young men should have been classified IV-F.

So, on this Day of Reconsideration, we should reconsider what it meant when 315 draft resisters tried to challenge the propriety of conscripting young men into military service after forcing them, with their families, into detention camps. They were charged with committing an illegality and punished accordingly. This is how most of us felt for the last 60 years. But they were, in fact, not violating the Selective Service Act of 1940. It was our government that was committing the illegality.

Review: “Born in the USA” by Frank Chin

cover of Born in the USAMy review of Frank Chin’s book on the resistance, Born in the USA, is now published in the special “A Tribute to Miné Okubo” issue of Amerasia Journal, Volume 30:2, 2004. It is available for $13 per issue plus tax and $4 handling from: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 3230 Campbell Hall, Box 951546, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1546. For more information, call (310) 825-2968, e-mail [email protected] or visit the center’s Web site.

By special permission, you can also read it here:

A story told in Born in the USA has journalists James Omura and Larry Tajiri prowling the hills of pre-war San Francisco late at night, dreaming about which of them would write “The Great Nisei Novel.” It would be an epic that spanned the immigration of their Issei parents and the appearance of the second-generation Nisei as a new breed of American.

Little did they know how war with Japan would soon interrupt that social progress and place them on opposite sides of Japanese America’s response to expulsion and incarceration: whether to cooperate or resist.

Read the rest of the review. I would love to hear your response to the review or the book itself. Just use the Contact Us link above or leave a Comment below.

The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration

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