Interrogating the memoir of a resister

BEYOND THE BETRAYAL: The Memoir of a World War II Japanese American Draft Resister of Conscience

By Yoshito Kuromiya, edited by Arthur A. Hansen (Louisville, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 2022, 234 pp. $34.95 hard cover)

Be sure to read the Endnotes to Yosh Kuromiya’s new posthumous memoir. They’re half the fun of reading this book.

We’re lucky to have “Beyond the Betrayal.” It’s the first and very likely only book-length manuscript from one of the 63 Nisei at Heart Mountain to stand in the largest mass trial for draft resistance in U.S. history. Of those in the Fair Play Committee, Yosh was always the most articulate and artistic, and his book reflects the thought and care he put into every turn of phrase.

Until now, we’ve never heard Yosh’s story from start to finish. It’s most compelling when Yosh shares his personal feelings about speaking up at the mess hall meetings of the FPC, enduring jail time with men he didn’t really know, going to trial in what he dubs “The Circus,” and navigating life with fellow inmates in a federal penitentiary. He writes of the emotional price he paid when after his sentencing he is dumped by his girlfriend from camp, someone who had previously supported his principled stand but becomes convinced by friends that his actions were a discredit to their people.

Being insightful, Yosh was also opinionated. This is where editor and Nichi Bei Weekly contributor Art Hansen in his Endnotes interrogates Yosh’s occasional hyperbole or misstatement. Where Yosh endorses the conspiracy theory that FDR knowingly allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor as a means of drawing the U.S. into war, Hansen supplies two pages of citations debunking the claim.

For factual accuracy, Hansen also called upon legal scholar Eric Muller to comb through the manuscript and make several corrections to points of history and law — what Hansen calls the “Muller critique.” Where Yosh faults the FPC steering committee for, in his view, neglecting to appeal the convictions of the rank-and-file resisters in the mass trail, Muller shows that unknown to Yosh two petitions were indeed filed.

This kind of dialogue over the facts of this history make a stand-alone reading of the Endnotes as engaging and informative as the memoir itself — a self-contained discourse on the finer points of the “loyalty questionnaire,” the draft, and other oft-misunderstood edicts handed down by the government.

Much credit is due to Yosh’s four daughters who worked on the manuscript and advocated for its publication. They made sure it did not remain, as Yosh came to view it, a self-published souvenir for family and friends.

It’s a compact volume and an easy read. Together with the recent publication of “Nisei Naysayer: The Memoir of Militant Japanese American Journalist Jimmie Omura (Asian America),” also brilliantly edited by Art Hansen, we’re seeing the filling of critical gaps in the story of the largest organized resistance to wartime incarceration.

“Beyond the Betrayal” is essential reading for students of incarceration history, and highly recommended for libraries and personal collections.

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