Tag Archives: WW2 incarceration

Variety rips “Allegiance,” says what National JACL does not

Variety logoLike the Los Angeles Times before it, the trade newspaper Variety has just posted what can only be described as a thumbs-down review of the new musical inspired by the clash of ideas between the Heart Mountain draft resisters who are the subject of our film, and the wartime Japanese American Citizens League:

“(W)hile the personal material lands, the political stuff lacks nuance and weight in “Allegiance.” Despite a handsome production and talent to spare, the writing would need considerable toughening up to withstand Broadway’s harsh glare …

“The sloganeering libretto … portrays both points of view as more or less reasonable until a last-minute, cheaply manipulative flip-flop tells us, out of left field, exactly what to think. In so doing, “Allegiance” comes dangerously close to branding every member of the honored 442nd regiment as fools and dupes, though the scribes don’t even seem to realize the thematic impact of their clumsy 11th hour reveal …

“(The songwriter) does seem to have played the “Les Miserables” cast album plenty …”

The Variety piece is important as it is the first objective industry review and will shape expectations among those in New York. And reviewer Bob Verini picks up on the same point raised in last month’s open letter from the Japanese American Veterans Association, in which President Gerald Yamada wrote:

“The play attempts to make the case that … those who volunteered were deceived by Masaoka and made the wrong choice.”

The JAVA letter and the Variety and Times reviews stand in sharp contrast to the Sept. 21st statement from the present-day Japanese American Citizens League. Given the show’s deriding of JACL’s wartime collaboration, its caricature of “Mike Masaoka” and its positioning of him as the antagonist of the piece, you would expect JACL to issue a ringing defense of itself and “they called me Moses” Masaoka.

Has JACL repudiated the legacy of Mike Masaoka?

Whether through lack of knowledge, a lack of interest, a desire not to offend, or a desire to distance itself from its past, National JACL issued a measured statement that labors to address a wide array of stakeholders and constituencies, and is calibrated to offend none of them.  (Download a printable PDF of the JACL statement.) As we’ve said, for some it will be enough that a musical brings the subject of the camps to a new audience, and it’s there that JACL finds a toehold on which to actually commend the production.

JACL officers with George Takei
National and local JACL officers with actor George Takei, on the Sept. 19 opening night of “Allegiance.” Photo: National JACL

But the statement goes on to neither confront its past or stick up for the legacy of its defining wartime leadership. Where the statement tip-toes towards criticism of the show, the repeated use of the passive voice allows the organization to avoid taking a clear and identifiable stand:

“As the confinement of the community lengthened with no access to due process, there was heated disagreement on the best response to the injustices perpetrated by the government …

“Although veterans and resisters are represented in the musical by fictional characters, it is unfortunate that writers have used Mike Masaoka’s name to represent those who promoted Americanism, and portray them in a negative light …

“Allegiance portrays the experiences of a single family at Heart Mountain, and focuses on one perspective of JACL and Mike Masaoka. Concerns remain that the musical pieces together different elements of Masaoka’s contributions during the period, and lacks the historical context to give audiences a broader sense of the external role of the government, press, politicians, military advisers, and others.”

Mike of course was the very face of the JACL’s brand of  Americanism, the author of the JACL Creed and the man who sang the praises of America, so it should come as no surprise that he is named to represent that. We named him in our film. But what is perhaps most significant in the statement is the absence of any rebuttal to the show’s climactic message that “Masaoka” somehow duped the protagonist, played by Mr. Takei, about the nature of the 442, “Go For Broke,” and the consequences of patriotic self-sacrifice — a disturbing message as pointed out by JAVA and Variety.

As Prof. Art Hansen pointed out over a gin martini on Friday, the JACL was unpopular before the war and in the first year of camp, as evidenced by the beating of JACLer Fred Tayama that led to the riot at Manzanar. On our DVD, Frank Emi recalls the pre-war JACL as”sort of an elite social club of lawyers and rich businessmen, things like that.”

But the group’s reputation turned around when Mike tied his star to the notion of restoring the draft for the Nisei as a first step toward the restoration of all their rights. That resonated with the thousands of young men who were itching for the chance to prove themselves, and JACL’s popularity was cemented as the dominant Japanese American political and social organization for the life of the Nisei generation, which sadly is fading into time.

The opening of the draft to the Nisei was as much a part of Mike’s legacy as his initial accommodations regarding the eviction, and for the modern-day JACL to fail to vigorously defend that is an omission that signals a sea change in the organization, whether intentional or not.

To be sure, it can’t be easy staffing a national organization that must bridge the gap between what we used to call the “old guard” and the younger members the group needs to attract and keep in order to survive — to try to function as a modern civil rights organization while lugging the history of a predecessor who waived Japanese American rights at the time when we needed them the most.

Next up: a review of the text (and subtext) of Allegiance, as frozen for the San Diego production, that expands upon the “lack of historical context” cited by JACL.

A new look for Resisters.com

You’ll notice a new look and feel for Resisters.com. Call it Resisters.com 2.0. You can now post your own comments on these pages, as well as subscribe to email news updates about the resisters in real time.

Use the subscription form in the right sidebar, or the RSS link, and share posts on your Facebook page. The feed fulfills a long-ago request by Kenji Taguma that we have a means of quickly sharing news about the resisters. It’s not quite the magazine of Asian American literary and cultural criticism that Frank Chin insists we must have, but it’s the best I can manage for now.

I promise the posts will be newsworthy and will continue to uncover discoveries about the largest resistance to the WW2 incarceration of Japanese Americans. After 70 years interest in the camps has never been stronger. The difference is that over the past decade, with our film and now the new DVD, the paradigm for that history has widened to include the camp resistance and the JACL collaboration as part of our basic common knowledge alongside the 442, the MIS, and others.

Please leave a comment below to let us know how you like the new site, which uses the sturdier WordPress platform rather than the hand-coded site that we held together with Dreamweaver.

If there is page from the old Resisters.com site you miss and would like to see restored, leave a comment and we will repost it. We’ll soon be adding videos and links to new research, along with catching up with old news updates, reviews, and anything else you’d like to see or hear.

“The Power of Words” 2.0

Mako Nakagawa and Andy Noguchi
Mako Nakagawa of Seattle and Andy Noguchi of Florin, CA, shortly after the JACL National Convention adopted their revised handbook

As producer/director of Conscience and the Constitution, I finally signed on late this week as a community supporter for the revised “Power of Words” handbook.

I never understood why this was still an issue seething within the Japanese American Citizens League. In the film we freely refer to the camps as “American concentration camps” and point out, “Even the President called them concentration camps.” PBS approved the script and aired the film in 2000. I thought the issue of terminology was settled long ago.

The JACL National Convention came to town this weekend, so I finally had a chance to hear first-hand what the fuss was about. For whatever reason, the first version of the JACL’s handbook — the underlying purpose of which was to assert the legitimacy of using the term “concentration camps” — buried reference to the correct language. Instead, it incredibly and meekly recommended relocation camps — in quotation marks, as in wink-wink, nod-nod “relocation camps” –as the term to promote. Talk about a step backward. Activists from Seattle and Florin, CA, went ape, and spent the past year trying to rewrite it. That there was even opposition to their campaign inside JACL, is telling.

Early yesterday morning at around 8:00 am at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue, the activists finally succeeded, and national JACL unanimously ratified the Power of Words 2.0 handbook.

Still, I wondered, why the need for a handbook? Lillian Baker is gone. “Concentration camps” as the proper name was established more than 30 years ago with the state landmark at Manzanar, with the titles of groundbreaking books by Roger Daniels and Michi Weglyn, and with four previous handbooks by Roger, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, Jim Hirabayashi, Sue Embrey, and the granddaddy of camp-euphemism-rejecting papers, “The American Concentration Camps:  A Cover-up Through Euphemistic Terminology,” by Ray Okamura.

From the follow-up workshop, it seems the real value of having a national organization like JACL coalesce behind a simple statement of fact lies with work still be done by the National Park Service and other agencies that will be erecting monuments and landmarks to the camps, or to use the new term of art, confinement sites.  At places like Tule Lake and elsewhere, there will always be neighbors and revisionist historians who will want to turn back the clock and soften the truth, and agency staff need verifiable facts, documentation, and unified community support to get their wordings cast in bronze.

Seventy years after the fact it’s still a fight, so congratulations to all those who persisted on behalf of the power of words this weekend.

Author’s booth at the 2012 JACL National Convention

JACL convention logoLook for me in the author’s booth in the exhibit area for the 2012 JACL National Convention, which comes to town this weekend at the Bellevue Hyatt.

I’ll be at the table both Friday and Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

We’ll have the new Two-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD on sale for a special convention discount. Looking forward to meeting delegates who wander by and sharing the story of the Heart Mountain resisters. Thanks to convention  chair Elaine Akagi for making the arrangements.

Top 10 Iconic Japanese American Photos

Wyoming courtroom Koji Steven Sakai on the 8Asians.com blog places the courtroom photo of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee number five on his list of the “Top 10 Iconic Japanese American Photos” of all time, ahead of the 442 and behind another local icon, the photo of Fumiko Hayashida holding her daughter Natalie while being evicted from their home on Bainbridge Island.