RABBIT RAMBLINGS: A question of loyalty and ‘Conscience’

It is a wonderful thing that my friend, Frank Abe, took the time and effort to expand on his very good documentary, “Conscience and the Constitution” (originally released in 2000). He has produced a two-disc Collectors’ Edition DVD, and because we now have the technology to add material, Abe’s story of the draft resisters during the Japanese American incarceration camps in WWII is a vital part of our heritage. With this expanded version of the documentary, we now have a larger, deeper, more meaningful take on this history.

Conscience and the Constitution

It takes perseverance and dedication to raise the money and put in the work to create such a project, so I thank Abe for completing this significant task. He also brings the story to the present, with footage of events like the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) apology to the resisters, expanded interviews with many of the resisters and historians, and importantly, more on the story of JACL collaboration with the government during that period.

Upon reflection, I think that it was a great misfortune for the Japanese American community that we were stuck with Mike Masaoka, the leader of the JACL, as the official spokesperson for our community at the time of the evacuation. It is most interesting to listen to him in an interview conducted by Abe for radio in which Abe, as a reporter, asks him pointed questions about his role and that of the JACL during that period.

First of all, Masaoka insists that he and the others didn’t want the leadership position at the time, and that they didn’t quite realize what they were doing. He reiterates that he could have walked away from that position but he stuck it out for a long time because he believed that he was helping the community, and that a lot of good came out of his positions. “I was responsible for the larger group,” he says, and so it involved an amount of kowtowing. He again and again tells of the abuse that he has endured for his role during the war.

Now, I know that Masaoka was a very smart man and writer, a natural leader who had the gift of oratory. He was a very young and ignorant person when he came to the West Coast JA communities, and so he didn’t know us or our history. So, I don’t fault him for thinking that cooperation was necessary to help avoid really harsh treatment. But I also can’t help feeling that Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy singled Masaoka out as “our boy,” the person who would be easily manipulated for the government’s purposes.

Masaoka, in some of the interviews, implies that he wasn’t free to express his true feelings and hints at some coercion in writing some of his memos, having to say things that he didn’t really mean. For instance, in his memo where he says that the JACL was unalterably opposed to any test cases, he said that he felt that he couldn’t urge cooperation and also take a stand on urging attacks on the government in way of lawsuits.

All in all, Masaoka’s fall back position was that the vast majority of the JA community remained “loyal,” and that proves that his efforts were the right way to go. To me, that says that he had little idea of the damage that the community sustained because of reduction of the issues to just one: one was either loyal or disloyal. And this is a great tragedy.

I also wonder if all this information has much meaning for the current JA population. Most young people of Japanese descent probably do not have much knowledge or memory of the camp period, and so they can’t understand why the loyalty questions, the draft resisters, and role of the JACL during the camp period still carry such an emotional charge for us remaining Nisei. Well, feelings of betrayal and the price that many paid for taking principled stands will never be forgotten, and so some of us will carry these realizations to our graves. The lingering effects of that tragedy are still in us, and I imagine they’re embedded in all of us.

You can order a copy of the DVD at www.resisters.com, and contact orders@resisters.com. Schools can purchase orders through Transit Media at (800) 343-5540.

Chizu Omori is the co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She writes from San Francisco, and can be reached by e-mail at chizuomori@earthlink.net. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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