STORIES OF RESISTANCE: A centennial of civil liberties and American patriotism


This year is the centennial of a remarkable year for civil liberties in American history. In 1913, Harriet Tubman (the Moses of her people and abolitionist heroine of the Underground Railroad, who led slaves in the south to freedom in the north) died, and Rosa Parks (civil rights activist who challenged the segregated public bus system in Montgomery, Ala.) was born.

In 1913, Judge Louis Goodman graduated from UC Berkeley, and Masaaki Kuwabara was born in Southern California: Two men who stepped up to the plate to protest prejudice against the Japanese race in the USA — specifically, the conscription of Japanese Americans detained in concentration centers during the Second World War.

July 22 will mark the 69th 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 Goodman championed the 27 young men from the 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 eldest member of the group, 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, Goodman went out of his way to help Kuwabara by handpicking Blaine McGowan — a law school friend — to join the defense team. 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, Goodman viewed the plight of 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 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, Calif., 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 (“loyalty”) 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 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, 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.

M.Y. Matsuoka ( writes from Southern California, and welcomes personal stories of Bismark, N.D.; Jerome, Ark.; the Kibei; Santa Fe; Terminal Island and Tule Lake. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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