Nearly two decades after passing a resolution addressing its past skeletons, a national Japanese American organization is once again set to confront its controversial actions during the war.
The National Council of the Japanese American Citizens League plans to discuss a resolution to apologize to the Tule Lake resisters at the 50th JACL National Convention to be held in Salt Lake City starting Aug. 1.
An ad hoc committee of JACL members co-chaired by National JACL Board Member Haruka Roudebush and Stanley Shikuma of Seattle’s chapter, introduced the resolution for consideration before the civil rights organization’s national council after the Rafu Shimpo published Yukio Kawaratani’s letter Jan. 18 calling for an apology. Kawaratani wrote that the JACL was “in strong opposition to 12,000 Tule Lake inmates,” and sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center following the Wartime Relocation Authority’s administration of a so-called “loyalty questionnaire.”
Referencing a 2000 JACL apology to the draft resisters — who protested the military draft based upon constitutional principles, yet faced ostracism by JACL leaders — Kawaratani said the civil rights organization should apologize to the Tule Lake resisters as well.
The resolution calls on the civil rights organization to sincerely apologize “in the spirit of reconciliation and community unity,” to all of those imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center “for 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 …’”
Various chapters, organizations and individuals expressed support for the resolution. According to Shikuma, the resolution was endorsed unanimously by his Pacific Northwest District as well as by a majority of the Northern California-Western Nevada-Pacific District, along with chapters and individuals from across the country. In addition to members within the JACL, the Manzanar Committee in Los Angeles, the children of Minoru Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu, along with the coram nobis legal teams of the three Nisei men who challenged the wartime incarceration, and other individuals, expressed their support for the resolution.
“More than 12,000 Japanese American dissidents refused to cooperate with the misguided, incompetently-administered wartime loyalty questionnaire, and the government punished them with segregation and repression at Tule Lake and demonized them as ‘disloyal,’” Barbara Takei, an activist who has spent two decades on the segregation history at the Tule Lake Segregation Center, said in an e-mail.
The Tule Lake resisters were segregated from other concentration camps to the Northern Californian camp for being “No-Nos” or inmates who had refused to respond to the so-called “loyalty questionnaire’s” questions 27 and 28 with unqualified “yes” answers. Of the 12,000 Nikkei who were “No-Nos” more than 5,000 became renunciants after renouncing their American citizenship. The renunciants would eventually regain their U.S. citizenship largely through the efforts of attorney Wayne M. Collins after the war.
The coram nobis legal team and the Yasui, Hirabayashi and Korematsu families noted that while the JACL eventually supported the three men’s Supreme Court challenges to the constitutionality of the incarceration, eventually getting the federal courts to vacate their convictions in the 1980s, the “No-Nos” and draft resisters were “criticized and maligned by the JACL for their different, but principled, stands in opposition to the government’s incarceration program.”
With the JACL’s 2000 apology to the draft resisters in mind, the letter from the coram nobis attorneys and the children of the supreme court litigants called for an apology to the Tule Lake resisters, stating the so-called loyalty questionnaire was “abominable, subjecting a people whose government had already incarcerated them solely because of their ethnicity to the humiliation of being baselessly accused of divided and therefore questionable loyalty to America. Resistance to the Questionnaire resulted in thousands of Japanese Americans being unjustly branded as ‘disloyal’ and the creation of the brutal Tule Lake Segregation Center, a monstrous miscarriage of justice. Today, as a community, we must recognize these resisters’ courage and principled conviction in refusing to answer ‘yes’ to questions #27 and #28, or to qualify their answers, knowing that their actions would likely subject them to further governmental retaliation and oppression.”
For 96-year-old Hiroshi Kashiwagi, both a renunciant and a “no-no,” the apology is welcome news. “I am pleased that the JACL is considering an apology resolution toward Tule Lake resisters and what happened to all Japanese will be considered,” he said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly.
“Some may oppose the resolution — that’s OK. It’s their right.”
Many also recognized the need for an apology to unite Japanese Americans to denounce the U.S. government’s current policy of family separation and incarceration of undocumented immigrants seeking asylum.
“There hasn’t been an accurate and fair, open and honest dialogue and opportunity to actually process through this issue and it’s been 76 years,” Michael Ishii, a former president of the New York chapter of the JACL and grandson of one of the JACL’s founders James Sakamoto, told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a phone interview. “This issue cannot continue to separate us, because what’s going on in this country right now is egregious. The cruelty and the schadenfreude of this administration to treat people in a manner that’s so familiar to our community, is just unacceptable and there’s a role for our community to play at this moment, which is to come together and speak as a unified voice against such atrocious oppressive policies … We can’t effectively do that if we haven’t unified our own house.”
The resolution, however, also saw opposition, notably from members of the Northern California-Western Nevada-Pacific District. Since the release of the final resolution, Greg Marutani, the San Francisco chapter’s delegate to the convention, told the Nichi Bei Weekly the chapter is planning to vote against the resolution unless it is amended. Inquiries to clarify what those amendments would be remained unanswered at press time.
Members of the Watsonville-Santa Cruz chapter expressed their opposition to the resolution. Mas Hashimoto, in a statement to his chapter said the attacks JACL leaders faced in camp by “’No-Nos’ and the pro-Japan groups.”
“Anyone who seemingly cooperated with the War Relocation Authority was suspect and threatened by the pro-Japan groups. We lived in fear! Not from the U.S. government but from the pro-Japan groups,” said the former Poston concentration camp inmate. “When the pro-Japan and No-Nos were sent to Tule Lake, we were happy. There was peace in the camps, and we got on with winning the war.”
Hashimoto rhetorically asked, “who, among you, is going to apologize to our families who were threatened and beaten up?”
Similarly, Gerald Yamada, a past president and pro bono general counsel of the Japanese American Veterans Association, in a statement forwarded to the Nichi Bei Weekly by Hashimoto, contested the “loyalty questionnaire’s” ambiguity, citing the U.S. government had revised the questionnaire’s question 28, which asked Issei to foreswear any loyalty to Japan when they were unable to gain U.S. citizenship, potentially leaving them stateless. He went on to further question how the JACL was responsible for the resisters being sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center and the ensuing shame and stigma the resisters faced after the war. Yamada noted that the JACL had already apologized for the draft resisters in 2000 and that the new apology would mainly benefit “the other Tule Lake Segregation Center evacuees who held pro-Japan views.”
Yamada accused the resolution of attempting to “rewrite” history. “Rather than continuing to claim they were ‘victims’ of JACL actions, they need to assume the responsibility for their activities and decisions, accept the consequences of their actions, and move on,” he said. “Perhaps, they should be the ones to apologize to their family members who unfortunately followed them into the Tule Lake Segregation Center.”
Anti-JACL sentiments were particularly strong during the war because of the JACL’s collaboration with the U.S. government in the mass exclusion and incarceration of the Japanese American population, according to Arthur Hansen, professor emeritus of history and Asian American studies at California State University, Fullerton.
“This situation, along with the persisting alliance of JACL leaders in the camps with camp administrators promoting policies that favored Nisei as against Issei and, most especially Kibei, led to direct acts of violence and social shaming of JACL leaders in virtually all of the camps by resistance leaders and groups,” Hansen said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Because the JACL’s actions, which included reckless informing to intelligence agencies on selected Nikkei, sparked the retaliation by resisters, what the resisters did, though not ‘humane,’ was certainly understandable under the circumstances.”
Kashiwagi concurred. “There was cause and effect — good reasons for the violent reactions and the antipathy toward the JACL — violence was done by only a few,” he said. “I was a resister but my enemy was the government — I didn’t go around chasing after JACLers with a 2 x 4 and I didn’t disparage the JACL, not openly anyway. So there’s no need for me to apologize and actually no need to expect an apology from anyone.”
Roudebush recognized there would be opposition, but remained confident.
“It’s pretty much what I expected, given my understanding of the feelings of certain members of the JACL National Council,” Roudebush told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Overall, I think we wouldn’t have really moved forward in the first place unless we thought that the sort of climate within the JACL National Council was going to be overall receptive to the resolution. And so I still maintain the impression that it is a good time for us to try to get this passed in the National Council.”
Shikuma added it was time to address the long-time issue that has festered within the Japanese American community. “I really feel that it’s time to address it in a way that will enable us to move forward in a more understanding and, hopefully, united way,” Shikuma told the Nichi Bei Weekly via phone. “I’m absolutely certain that we can pass this if we wait another 10 years because everyone who was alive then would be dead. There would be no one left to object, but I don’t think that’s fair to either side.”
Carol Kawase, governor of the Northern California-Western Nevada-Pacific District, told the Nichi Bei Weekly via e-mail the resolution is a “complex and controversial issue” and urged delegates to the National Convention to do their own research and analyze both sides of the discussion.