By M.Y. MATSUOKA
July 22, 2012 marked the 68th anniversary of United States v. Masaaki Kuwabara, 56 F. Supp. 716 (N.D. Cal 1944), unique among the Nisei draft resistance cases of World War II, and a rare bright light in a dark period.
Judge Louis Earl Goodman championed the 27 young men from Tule Lake Segregation Center who refused to obey the draft until their rights as Americans were restored to them first, and dismissed the lawsuit on a due-process violation of the U.S. Constitution.
As the most senior member of the group, Judge Goodman asked fellow native Californian Masaaki Kuwabara, a fisherman from Terminal Island, to represent the younger men as lead defendant.
When the two appointed attorneys did not put up a proper defense, Judge Goodman went out of his way to help Mr. Kuwabara by hand-picking Blaine McGowan — a law school friend — to join the defense team. Mr. McGowan entered a motion to quash proceedings based on the government’s nullification of his client’s due-process rights as an American citizen.
Without directly describing him as a victim of federal anti-Japanese racism, Judge Goodman viewed the plight of Mr. Kuwabara in this light and ruled against the United States, which incarcerated the defendant in a U.S. concentration camp; categorized him a Class 4-C enemy alien; and then drafted him into military service.
In Judge Goodman’s words, “It does not follow that because the war power may allow the detention of defendant at Tulelake, the guarantees of the Bill of Rights and other constitutional provisions are abrogated by the existence of war …
“The defendant cannot be denied the protection of the guaranty of due process because of the war or danger to national security but only upon a valid declaration of martial law …
“It is shocking to the conscience that an American citizen be confined on the ground of disloyalty, and then, while so under duress and restraint, be compelled to serve in the armed forces, or be prosecuted for not yielding to such compulsion.”
After the victorious 27 were returned to Tule Lake Segregation Center from Eureka, grandmother Kazuko asked grandfather Masaaki about the case. He said simply that it turned out the way it should have. According to her recollection, the trial was a mere formality for my grandfather. Unlike the draft resisters from Heart Mountain and the other “projects,” he came away feeling vindicated for having confidence in the U.S. Constitution and for taking a stand against anti-Japanese discrimination.
At the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C., I found grandfather Masaaki’s Selective Service questionnaire, in which he answered Questions 27 and 28 “no” and “yes,” respectively. Technically speaking, he was not a “no-no boy.” (cf. “The Bamboo People” by Frank Chuman)
On the Internet, I discovered Judge Goodman’s law clerk, Eleanor Jackson Piel, was still alive — the sole surviving member of my grandfather’s “dream team.” The family signed a belated thank you card for the New York civil rights lawyer last year, and included this photo. She replied in this way:
“Dear friends, I was so pleased to hear from you at Christmas and relish memories of your case so many years ago. It was the only court case in the United States during that period favorable to the Japanese and I treasure its memory.”
Approximately 300 Japanese American draft resisters courageously challenged the unjust violation of their civil rights. They and the renunciants — branded “bad” and “disloyal” — were discredited as “troublemakers” by a hostile U.S. leadership and JACL.
To all who still endure the resentment of the Japanese American community for non-conformity as a draft resister, renunciant, or both — this article goes out to you.
Hopefully, you will view the case of the 27 Nisei draft resisters of conscience from Tule Lake as I do — a healing exemplar of human decency that came out of the otherwise bleak Japanese American draft resistance cases of World War II and the repressive Tule Lake Segregation Center.
The author (firstname.lastname@example.org) welcomes personal stories of Bismarck, Jerome, the Kibei, Santa Fe, Terminal Island, and Tule Lake. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.