RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Dear JAVA, where is your sense of compassion and understanding?

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bioline_Chizu Omori

Some of you probably know that the Japanese American Citizens League made a historic move at their last convention, which was held earlier this summer. They presented a resolution of apology to the Tule Lake resisters, which was passed overwhelmingly, by over 80 percent of the delegates, an indication of the sentiments of most of the delegates. This is a matter that has been hanging over the head of the organization for something like 70 years.

I never thought I would see this day, so I learned of this vote with a sigh of relief. I know that it involved hard work by people, and some are arguing that the proposal was tarnished by last minute amendments. And yes, some tough language was added. But if we are to believe the words of the leaders of the current JACL, this proposal is not the end of the discussion, but a beginning, laying the groundwork for more talk and education about the issues and the history. It is complex and I’m sure many are mystified by the fierce debate. I fervently hope that this will be the case, and that a serious airing, starting with the “Lim Report,” begins quickly.

Then, another party joins the fight and comes up with a stinging rebuke of the JACL for even taking this matter up. On Sept. 17, the Japanese American Veterans Association sent a letter to JACL president Jeffrey Moy stating: The resolution is 1. “vague and overly broad …” 2. “a betrayal of the American values embraced by the Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. military … and is divisive.” 3. “is a shameful and unwarranted demeaning of the legacy forged by the valor and loyalty of the Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. … military during World War II” … and (the community) has benefited and will continue to benefit from that legacy.

The letter goes on to praise the role that Mike Masaoka played in establishing the 442nd, allowing the men who served as proof of loyalty to the U.S. The letter also notes that veterans played a major role in Japanese Americans winning redress in 1988. It ends with a denunciation of the resolution as a shameful and unwarranted demeaning of the legacy forged by the valor and loyalty of those who served.

There is no arguing that the men who served in the military were valiant and brave, and suffered casualty rates unmatched by any other battalion. I honor them all for their sacrifices. My own uncle served, and one cousin was a resister. JAVA certainly has the right to speak its mind and criticize. But I am wondering: Just what does it hope to accomplish by denouncing the JACL for its efforts to heal our community? Does JAVA want to maintain and insist that its version of the story is the only correct and acceptable one forever? To me, the arguments in their letter sound like tired old tropes put forward a long time ago, repeated and embellished over the years in order to punish certain segments of our community. It also sounds as though they aim to remain as the sole arbiter of our story, maintaining that they “saved” us.

It is as though these particular men, JAVA’s leaders, have lived in a bubble, unpenetrated by years of research and scholarship, untouched by family stories that reveal a much more complicated and layered history of our incarceration. Some 30,000 men served, and I know that not all of the veterans feel as JAVA does. At the bottom, it is the U.S. government, under the leadership of men like President Franklin Roosevelt, that damaged the community so badly, that even today, it remains somewhat crippled and divided.

The categories of “loyal” and “disloyal” were completely fabricated categories that the government created, forever stamping and labeling some of us as though we weren’t “good Americans.” I was labeled “disloyal” at the age of 13 because my father signed papers of repatriation.

If we try to imagine what life was like for many of us at the time of incarceration, there was great uncertainty and suffering because we were uprooted and crammed into barracks in the middle of deserts, and understandably, many were really angry about our treatment. We were a proud people and that anger spilled over into defiance and outright hatred for the government that had forced us into captivity and had caused so many to lose the work of a lifetime.

For the young men who were JACL leaders at the time, it was a time when they were put in positions that allowed for power within the community. Some seized that power with eagerness, and broadly cooperated with governmental agencies. These leaders were not accepted by a large part of the community, and so friction and clashes developed. (I’m not telling you anything new). I do know of one plot to assassinate one such leader that was fortunately diverted by the cool head of one of the group. He told me the story.

What I would mainly like to say to JAVA: Where is your sense of compassion and understanding of the many contingencies that faced our people? Must we carry the fights of the past into the future? Hard choices had to be made, and there were no completely right or wrong decisions. These divisions were created by the government, and most of us were stuck in the middle. Before the war, we had our squabbles like any other community, but the camp experience highlighted and sharpened them to a degree that there were beatings and open clashes. I know. I lived through many of them.

So, I say to JAVA, I like you guys, I honor your esprit de corps and the examples that you set many years ago, but you might ease up on your fellow brothers and sisters and extend an understanding hand. There is so much more to say, but I have to stop here. I hope we can talk in the future.

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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