RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Hoping for an apology

bioline_Chizu Omori

By the time this column is published, the 2019 Japanese American Citizens League National Convention will be just underway, so I write this not knowing what happened. I am concerned about the proposed resolution asking the organization to issue an apology to all Japanese Americans who were hurt and injured in various ways by individuals acting in the name of the JACL during the World War II incarceration.

I have seen a draft of the resolution and don’t have the ultimate document in hand, so I can’t be absolutely sure about all of its provisions, but I think the ideas behind this resolution are right in spirit and intentions. I hope that it will have passed, for such a vote will help to resolve long-term issues and conflicts that have undermined and plagued our community for all the years since the war’s end in 1945. I would welcome it with a big smile. Of course, it may have failed.

I have never been a member of the JACL. My family was hostile to the organization and my association with William Hohri and Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga and my work with them made me very aware of JACL’s history. Nevertheless, I worked with JACL members in Seattle for Redress, and they were tireless in efforts to see the legislation passed. I formed a close friendship with Henry Miyatake, one of the architects of Redress, and I remember him saying at one point, “We did this to ourselves.” I think he was referring to the JACL’s role in advising Dillon Myer and the War Relocation Authority, and Mike Masaoka’s firm belief in the “Americanization” of our community, which meant total acceptance of all government policies, whatever the costs.

I recently reread William Hohri’s 2002 introduction to “The Lim Report,” a report that was commissioned by the JACL to examine its history. I found out that the first time a resolution asking that the JACL apologize to those persons who were hurt by its actions was introduced by the Seattle JACL chapter at the 1988 convention. Called Resolution No. 7, its eight clauses lay it out. Clause No. 7: “Now, therefore, be it resolved that the JACL recognize that a number of our community citizens were injured by persons acting individually and in the name of the JACL and that the JACL apologizes for their injuries, pain and injustice born by them.”

The last clause says: “Further be it resolved that the JACL will do everything in its power to go forth to heal these wounds and to reach out to all of our community to encourage all to endeavor for the benefit of each of us.” This did not pass, but it did result in the appointment of a special Presidential Select Committee to “study” the issues, and this committee hired lawyer Deborah Lim to conduct the study. Her work resulted in the “Lim Report,” which has its own peculiar and interesting history.

The JACL did pass a resolution issuing an apology to the draft resisters, which was commemorated in a public ceremony in San Francisco in 2002, but the apology to the wider community, as far as I know, was never again addressed until now. I realize that these battles go way back, and that there are those who will never compromise or change their minds on these issues. And then there are so many who have no understanding of the history and are probably mystified and not inclined to devote the time and work that it would take to understand them.

But to me, the ultimate blow that the government inflicted on our community during the war is the huge divide created by setting up categories like “pro-Japan” and “disloyal,” and this was done with the emphatic help of JACL leadership. The punishment meted out to those who were legitimately protesting our incarceration and who subsequently were labeled “disloyal” was severe and life altering.

Honest discussions have been hard to come by. Isn’t it time that we had some? We need to come to a better understanding of what the government did to us, and I would really like to have these discussions before I’m dead.

If anyone wants to read the “Lim Report” and the introduction, e-mail me, and I’ll send it to you.

Chizu Omori, of Oakland, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at chizuomori@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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