By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
At the 50th JACL National Convention, held in Salt Lake City, a “Resolution of the National Council of the Japanese American Citizens League Relating to Recognition of and Apology to Tule Lake Resisters” was amended and adopted on Aug. 3.
Resolution 3 (R-3) was sponsored by the Pacific Northwest District Council, represented by Governor Chip Larouche and Stanley Shikuma; and by the Northern California-Western Nevada-Pacific District Council, represented by Governor Carol Kawase and Haruka Roudebush.
R-3 was controversial because it addresses divisions in the Japanese American community that have persisted since the World War II incarceration as a result of the government’s “loyalty questionnaire.”
Question 27 asked if Nisei men were willing to serve on combat duty wherever ordered and asked everyone else if they would be willing to serve in other ways. Question 28 asked if individuals would swear unqualified allegiance to the U.S. and forswear any form of allegiance to Japan’s emperor.
Those two questions created confusion and divided families and friends. Many Issei, who were barred from U.S. citizenship, initially feared they would become stateless if they answered “yes” to 28 (the question was later rephrased). Many Nisei were insulted by the question, which implied that they had been loyal to the emperor.
Those who answered “no” to both questions or refused to answer, regardless of their reasons, were sent to Tule Lake, one of the 10 War Relocation Authority camps, which was then designated a “segregation center.” The JACL, which had urged incarcerees to demonstrate their loyalty by cooperating with the government, concurred with the segregation of the “loyal” and “disloyal.”
To protest their confinement, many renounced their U.S. citizenship and chose “repatriation” to Japan, even though they were not born there.
The resolution states that the Tule Lake resisters “had a right to protest and dissent, as guaranteed by the Constitution” and that 12,000 men, women and children were labeled as “disloyal.” “This stigma of ‘disloyalty’ and being branded as ‘no-no’s’ persists to the present day — tragically, even carried forward to succeeding generations.”
Filmmaker and psychotherapist Satsuki Ina, who was born at Tule Lake, was among the speakers during the discussion. She later commented, “For me, the passage of the JACL resolution to apologize to the Tule Lake resisters is not so much a personal issue. My parents answered ‘no’ to the loyalty questionnaire and out of despair, eventually renounced their American citizenship. They suffered from the stigma of being labeled ‘disloyal’ by the JACL, but they are gone now so the apology doesn’t have much meaning at a personal level.
“However, the resolution, in spite of some of the face-saving language, is significant for the JACL as an organization and the community it represents. As a long-time member of the Florin Chapter of the JACL, I am hopeful now that the organization itself will be able to honestly examine its own history and bring into alignment its commitment to protect and promote civil liberties, including the right to protest injustice.”
Prior to the convention, an open letter from the families of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui urged passage of the resolution. They noted that the JACL initially opposed the three men’s legal challenge to the constitutionality of the incarceration, but now regards them as civil rights heroes. Karen Korematsu, Fred’s daughter, was among those who addressed the delegates.
The letter, which was also signed by the legal teams who reopened the three men’s Supreme Court cases in the 1980s, read, in part: “We recognize the value in acknowledging and preserving for posterity all aspects of the struggle – good and bad – and the importance of publicly recognizing and honoring the different ways the community opposed the government actions, including the protest by the Tule Lake resisters.”
The resolution was also supported by Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, which stated,
“All those at Tule Lake were painted with a broad brush: they were the ‘disloyals,’ the ‘bad ones from Tule Lake.’ NCRR believes that there is much healing and redemption that needs to occur at this time to allow the community to let go of these government-caused scars and deep feelings of recrimination. The JACL was also painted with such a broad brush. NCRR hopes that the greater community will soon be able to better understand the role and actions of the JACL during and after the war.”
In 2000, the JACL National Council voted to apologize to 315 Nisei “resisters of conscience.” Unlike those sent to Tule Lake, these resisters responded to the draft by saying that they were willing to serve in the military, but only if their rights as U.S. citizens were restored first. Although they were found guilty of resisting the draft and sent to jail, they were pardoned after the war by President Harry Truman. There was opposition to the apology from Nisei veterans’ groups.
The JACL, which had opposed the draft resisters’ position during the war, held an apology ceremony in San Francisco in 2002. The program included a video message from Sen. Daniel Inouye, a decorated veteran of the 100th/442nd, who said that he could understand the decision that the resisters made. Heart Mountain resister Frank Emi stated that he had no quarrel with those who chose to serve.
For the Tule Lake resolution, the sticking point was the fact that many of the men in the segregation center became openly pro-Japan and some physically attacked JACL leaders.
In an op-ed, speaking for himself, Japanese American Veterans Association President Gerald Yamada wrote, “Rather than continuing to claim they were ‘victims’ of JACL actions so that they can rid themselves of the shame that their pro-Japan views and activities caused themselves and family members, the pro-Japan activists need to assume the responsibility for their activities and decisions, accept the consequences of their actions, and move on … This resolution, whether the delegates to the National Convention accept or reject it, can only serve to widen the divide that has long existed in our community.”
“A resolution that proposes to bring about healing and reconciliation should not cause tension and division among members of our JACL organization,” said Marcia Hashimoto of the Watsonville-Santa Cruz Chapter. “This resolution … has brought concerns about apologizing to a group that was pro-Japan, renounced their U.S. citizenship, brutally beat up our young JACL leaders, threatened our Nisei and Kibei committed to serving with the 100th/442nd RCT and the MIS, and called fellow incarcerees ‘inu’ — dog — for not joining them in voting ‘No’ on the loyalty questionnaire as a block or going after camp leaders.
“Our JACL President Saburo Kido, incarcerated in Poston, was brutally beaten twice; Henry Izumizaki of Watsonville and incarcerated in Poston II left camp at night to report for service with the U.S. Army to avoid the possibility of being beaten up by the ‘No-No’ pro-Japan group; Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s Issei father, incarcerated in Manzanar and who spoke fluent English, was called ‘inu’ because he would not vote ‘no’ as a block; and my father, Masao George Hoshiyama, a Kibei incarcerated at Amache, was called ‘inu’ because he was pro-America and would not join the resisters in beating up the JACL and camp leaders.
“This issue of a Resolution of Apology is complicated because of the effects of the war on each incarceree. The Watsonville-Santa Cruz Chapter urges delegates to vote ‘No’ on this resolution. If this resolution is in the spirit of reconciliation and unity, it needs to be more balanced and honor and recognize the hardships and contributions of our Nisei veterans, all incarcerees, and JACL leaders.”
Hashimoto also quoted a letter from 442nd veteran Lawson Sakai: “Yes, an apology is in order, but it should be from the ‘protestors,’ apologizing to the Nisei volunteers in 1943 who chose to served their country … over 800 young men who willingly gave their lives to preserve the lives of all Americans of Japanese ancestry, including the ‘protestors.’
“The pro-Japan ‘protestors’ chose to go to Japan, but why didn’t they stay there? They realized their mistake, and came back to enjoy the freedom of the USA, made possible by the heroic actions of the Nisei volunteers. And, they gladly accepted citizenship in the USA, and accepted reparations from the United States.”
Mas Hashimoto, Marcia’s husband and a member of the same chapter, also addressed the delegates, saying, “We complied with the military evacuation order in order to prove our loyalty. We did not wish to be branded as traitors or saboteurs. And, our concern was also for the welfare of the elderly Issei, the children, and young mothers. Therefore, we cooperated with the U.S. Army and evacuation authorities.
“In December 1942, decisions were made on the policies and procedures which included cooperating with the governmental authorities — shikata ga nai and to gaman. Over 90 percent of the incarcerees voted ‘Yes, Yes’ to the loyalty questionnaire in support of the JACL …
“During those turbulent war years, the Japanese American Creed, written by Mike Masaoka, kept us focused on who we truly are — ‘Better Americans in a Greater America.’ It served us well in the post-war era, too.
“Mike Masaoka campaigned for the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. While still in basic training, he envisioned a veterans’ organization after the war — now the Go For Broke National Education Center — and a memorial after the war to those incarcerated and to Nisei soldiers — the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in Washington, D.C.
“Today, the Nikkei nation is held in the highest esteem with the press, political leaders, fellow civil rights organizations, social media, scholars, historians, and others. All that is subject to change with the passage of R-3.”
“Prior to the convention, the resolution faced some opposition within the Northern California Western Nevada Pacific District, primarily from individuals who did not feel that an apology should be issued to individuals in the camps who had participated in violence and intimidation against JACL leaders and members in the camps,” recalled Roudebush. “There was concern that the resolution’s language was overly inclusive of these individuals.
“In addition, those opposed attempted to raise additional opposition by invoking the patriotism and sacrifices made by our Nisei veterans to serve our country in the war. We certainly can’t ignore the veterans’ contributions, made in part to prove the loyalty of the Japanese American community to the United States, but claiming that giving an apology to those segregated at Tule Lake based on their alleged disloyalty is contrary to the contributions of the veterans is an oversimplification of the circumstances and varied nuances that led to many individuals and families either remaining at or transferring to Tule Lake during the war.
“Ultimately in the course of the floor debates, these issues were addressed in the amendments that included language to acknowledge the contributions of the Nisei veterans and clarifying the JACL’s apology is not necessarily directed toward individuals who acted in violence against JACL members.
“The apology itself is not necessarily meant as an indictment against the JACL’s wartime leadership, who we can recognize as having acted with the best interests and safety of the Japanese American community in mind, but instead to heal the divide created in the community by external forces and government actions and policies.
“In order for the JACL to maintain its credibility in its civil rights advocacy work, it’s important that we can acknowledge and understand our organization’s own shortcomings and failure to uphold our own community’s civil right to express dissent in the past, and to recognize how the principle of loyalty was weaponized by the U.S. government to divide us.
“In a post-9/11 context, our community has also seen how the same arguments for the prioritization of public safety and national security that were used against us during WWII can be subverted by policy and government authorities to erode our civil liberties and to target minority communities through the Patriot Act and profiling of the Arab and Muslim American communities.
“My personal involvement with this resolution was based not only on the hope for reconciliation between the JACL and Tuleans, but also for the JACL to reconcile with its own past, to bring our organization closer to our underlying values and mission to advocate for the civil rights of all into the future.”
According to Paul Uyehara of Philadelphia JACL, who served as an intermediary between the two sides, the proponents added this amendment:
“In the face of wartime hysteria, suspicion, and discrimination against those of Japanese descent, the national JACL adopted a strategy of cooperation with the government, emphasizing patriotism and outward loyalty to the United States, including support for the Nisei who served in the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service, and other units of the United States armed forces with great valor and personal sacrifice.”
The opposition meeting produced two amendments:
“JACL’s strategy sought to mitigate the harm to the Japanese American community from discriminatory government policies, and later served — along with the historic legacy of the Nisei veterans — as a foundation for successful advocacy on behalf of that community and others, including redress.”
“The War Relocation Authority, Army, and incarcerees themselves used repressive violence against detainees, and extremist elements among the incarcerees violently attacked those they suspected of being informants, including some JACL leaders, pro-government individuals, and communists … Among the incarcerated were a group that aligned with Japan and against the U.S. armed forces during the war.”
Two words, shown in boldface, were also added:
“These resisters, taken from all ten WRA camps and imprisoned at the Tule Lake Segregation Center, had a right to protest and dissent peacefully, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and in keeping with the JACL Constitution.”
“In the spirit of reconciliation and community unity, a sincere apology is offered to those imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center for non-violent acts of resistance and dissent, who suffered shame and stigma during and after the war due to the JACL’s attitudes and treatment towards individuals unfairly labeled ‘disloyal.’”
“The vote on R-3 was overwhelmingly favorable after these amendments were made,” Uyehara said.
In addition to the apology itself, it was resolved that the National Council:
“Commits itself to encouraging all chapters to gain a greater understanding of the issues surrounding the imprisonment, mistreatment, and resistance of Japanese Americans sent to Tule Lake Segregation Center …
“Authorizes the National Education Committee to include the narrative of the Tule Lake Segregation Center in an updated edition of the JACL Curriculum Guide in both printed and online formats and to include this narrative as one element of the syllabus for future JACL Teacher Training Workshops …
“Will recognize Tule Lake resisters at an appropriate public ceremony during the 2020-2021 biennium.”