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Conscience and the Constitution


"The only real test of loyalty as seen by most Americans that you can't refute and all that, was to shed, on the battlefield, blood, to show that it's the same with us of Japanese ancestry as with any other group."
--Mike Masaoka

Mike Masaoka tried to avert the mass expulsion by offering to have the Nisei form a "suicide battalion" to undertake the most dangerous missions, with their parents held in government camps as hostages to ensure the loyalty of the soldiers. The Army quickly rejected the idea.

As the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor approached, Masaoka called an emergency meeting of the JACL in Salt Lake City, and Masaoka steered the group to petition the government to reopen the draft to the Nisei. The government responded by accepting volunteers for a segregated combat team led by white officers, and Masaoka was the first to volunteer for it.

A year later, in January 1944, the War Department did reinstitute the draft for the Nisei in the camps, sparking dissent and, at Heart Mountain, the organization of the Fair Play Committee to protest for clarification of their rights. Camp administrators watched anxiously as the first draft orders reached Heart Mountain, but on the day the first group was called all 17 boarded the bus that took them to their pre-induction physicals. Then the trouble started.

Documents, Video and Audio Get RealPlayer 
Suicide Battalions
Mike Masaoka,"Final Report to JACL," 1944
Mike Masaoka in his own words.

original original

MIKE MASAOKA Speech to JACL National Convention,
Los Angeles, 1982
(31 seconds)
"And we said if you will not remove our parents and our families, we will volunteer as suicide battalions to fight the Japanese enemy. I'll never forget the answer we got from the Army: 'The United States Army does not believe in hostages. The United States Army does not believe in segregated units, except for Negroes.' They were called Negroes then, blacks today."
video video: 56k | DSL
JACL Emergency Meeting
Photo: JACL Emergency Meeting, November 17-24, 1942
Delegates at meeting to call for reopening the draft to Nisei

photo photo

Letter to government, January 15, 1943
Formal letter to government asking for Selective Service.

original original

Recruiting speech and Q&A (12 pages)
Prepared by War Dept. to explain Nisei volunteer program, these documents make the argument that camp inmates were responsible for accepting the terms of their incarceration. Notes and underlinings are those of Fair Play Committee vice-chair Paul Nakadate.

original original

Masaoka discusses proving loyalty through blood in this interview with the filmmaker.

audio audio text transcript
The first draftees report from Heart Mountain, March 3, 1944 (4 photos)
Photographed by Hikaru Iwasaki for the War Relocation Authority.

photos photos

PAUL TSUNEISHI with the viewpoint of an average draftee
44 seconds

"I was interned at Heart Mountain when I was 18 years old and I was 1-A in the draft. And I knew there was a resistance movement in the camp, but I was wanting to go into the service anyhow 'cause all my high school buddies back in California were in the service and I was corresponding with them. And so I knew that there was a Constitutional issue, I knew that there were resisters, but like most Nisei my age I wanted to serve and I wanted to be drafted. I really wanted to volunteer but my parents were dead set against it because I had two brothers already in the service. I wanted to serve; I was glad when I was drafted, I served."
video video: 56k | DSL


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