Article in Rafu Shimpo and Asian Week
JACL Votes To Apologize to Nisei Resisters of World War II
Leaders work to heal wounds after debate and reunify organization
By Sam Chu Lin
When hundreds of members of the Japanese American Citizens League wrapped up their national convention in Monterey, California this past weekend, many of the people left with haunting questions on their minds. What is the future of the JACL? What storm clouds are gathering over this organization? The delegates had voted on sixteen resolutions, two in particular that had generated plenty of debate and emotion. An emergency resolution calling for continued support to fight for redress for Japanese Latin Americans was defeated. In contrast, the most controversial resolution, which gave recognition and an apology to the Nisei Resisters of Conscience of World War II, was adopted.
When they saw the voting placards go up in the air in a show of approval, some older members stormed out of the room vowing to end their memberships. The vote was clearly drawn on generation lines. Old wounds were opened.
David Masuo, a Vietnam veteran from the Alaska chapter, told the delegates he had fought for the right to resist when he was in Vietnam and that he had worked along side a medic, a conscientious objector, who had earned two silver stars. He argued during World War II, 315 Japanese American men, in violation of their Constitutional right to protest, had been wrongfully imprisoned and that the leadership of the JACL "did not provide support and counsel to them during a time of emotional crisis."
"Many things have been said about their loyalty based on hearsay and rumor," Masuo continued on. "Misinformation from the same government that claimed JAs were 5th columnists or spies. Remember it was the government that used the JACL to push their agenda and make sure our elders were removed from the JACL and placed in prisons away from their families. The government has tried to right its wrongs, and we must do the same."
In contrast, those voting against the apology felt that there was no need for such action since the government was responsible and has already apologized. Some veterans felt approval of the resolution was an insult to their sacrifices and to their patriotism.
"Although it may upset people," George Yoshinaga of Los Angeles commented, "I refer to them (the resisters) as 'draft dodgers.' If they were fighting for their Constitutional rights, why did they not refuse to go to camp? Where would we be today if all of us refused to serve our country?" Don Wakida, a veteran and a member of the Fresno chapter of the JACL, also spoke in opposition to the resolution.
"I represent 13 Nisei posts in California," Wakida declared. "We are the 100th Battalion / 4-4-2nd Regimental Team and the MIS, and we vehemently oppose this resolution! We feel the resistors have the right to resist (but there is no need for an apology.) If you pass this resolution, I want you to put an amendment in there that you will apologize to every Nisei family whose sons died for our country. Remember they went to war for us, not only for America, but for the Japanese and the JACL people."
Brian Niiya, a member of the Hawaiian JACL chapter, recognized the generation gap in his remarks and called for peace between the two sides.
"In many cases, when Nisei want to talk about how those born after the war were not there, that we don't understand --- and in some respects that's true, especially with this issue," commented Niiya. "We don't understand why there are these depths of bitterness? Why is there this great divide between Japanese Americans in the community, specifically between the resistors and the JACL? We don't understand after 55 years, why can't there be some reconciliation. And we feel this apology is a first step towards that reconciliation."
Vernon Yoshioka of San Diego told the audience he and his family were interned during the war.
"I believe that this resolution is an affront to the memory of those who stood up for what they believed and had the courage to act in the best interest of our Japanese American community in a time of great danger and turmoil," he said. "I do not believe the people who are asking for an apology are really sincere or truly principled when I look back at their cowardly actions."
The apology may serve as a first step in the healing process, but the JACL leadership is fearful it may be a slow and agonizing first step.
Floyd Mori of Sandy, Utah, new president of the JACL, reflected, "The Nisei including the veterans gave us what we have today. I am concerned. I want to do what I can in my position to reconcile the differences."
"The body did pass the resolution and we have to abide by that; however, I am going to spend a lot of my time meeting the veterans' groups and seeing what we can do to meliorate some of the negative feelings that are there. We've got do something more positive and aggressive to recognize and maintain the feelings of the veterans."
John Tateishi, JACL National Executive Director, anticipated the apology was going to pass and he is anticipating there is much work ahead to complete the healing process.
"I think it's going to take a year to see what kind of attrition takes place, not by the passing of the Nisei now, which we are seeing now in our membership loss, but more by those who refuse to renew their membership," Tateishi commented. "A number of them have told me that is what's going to happen if this resolution passed. Within six months, we'll see what the pattern looks like."
Regarding the resolution to help deposed Japanese American railroad workers and Japanese Latin Americans and its defeat, Tateishi offered a defense for the JACL.
"Redress would not have happened for Japanese Americans without the JACL," he said. "We launched that campaign.
"The fact that this resolution did not pass doesn't in my mind reflect a lack of concern, and it doesn't mean we're not going to be involved in it. The JACL has always been committed to redress, and I can tell you as long as I am director, we will be working on that bill. We will be pushing it on the Hill. We did not pass that resolution, but we will still fight for the Bresaro Bill. The lawmakers will understand that. The one thing we cannot do is break promises, to ask for more money. In Washington, credibility is all you have."
In other action, the JACL adopted a resolution supporting the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism and all the names including former JACL leader Mike Masaoka on the inscriptions. The body condemned the racial profiling and discrimination against Dr. Wen Ho Lee and urged that he be given due process and equal protection under the law. The JACL delegates also passed resolutions supporting the confirmation of Congressman Norman Mineta for United States Secretary of Commerce and Bill Lann Lee's appointment as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. The delegates adopted a resolution reaffirming support of Hawaiian sovereignty and self-determination and adopted a resolution opposing all efforts to amend the First Amendment, which would reduce the separation of church and state.
In other business, the JACL delegates voted to support a resolution calling on Congress to improve Federal laws to fight Hate Crimes and another resolution that opposes the placement of a baseball stadium and adjacent to Philadelphia's Chinatown.
Summary of Voting: Resolutions
Res. 1. Federal Recognition of Native Hawaiians - Adopted
Res. 2. Filipino Veterans Benefits - Adopted
Res. 3. Nisei Resisters of Conscience - Adopted
Res. 4. Religious Freedom for Minorities - Adopted
Res. 5 Bill Lann Lee Nomination - Adopted
Res. 6 35th Biennial Council Resolutions - Adopted by Consent
Res. 7 Jim Miyazaki Posthumous Recognition - Adopted by Consent
Res. 8 Policies Regarding Relations Between the National Organization and Local Chapters - Rejected by Committee
SUMMARY OF VOTING: EMERGENCY RESOLUTIONS
ER.1 Continue Efforts to Enhance Federal Enforcement of Hate Crimes - Adopted
ER 2 Handgun Safety - Rejected by Committee
ER 3 Support for Former Congressman Mineta's Confirmation for United States of Commerce - Adopted as Amended.
ER 4 Continued Support for the Unfinished Business of Redress for Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans through the Wartime Parity and Justice Act of 2000 - Defeated
ER 5 Condemn the Racial Profiling & Discrimination Against Dr. Wen Ho Lee and Urge that Dr. Lee be Given Due Process and Equal Protection Before the Law - Adopted.
ER 6 Oppose the Placement of a Baseball Stadium in and adjacent to Philadelphia Chinatown and Endorse the Stadium Out of Chinatown Coalition - Ad opted.
ER 7 Support the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism and Endorse the Approved Quotations - Adopted.
ER 8 Commend the actions of the Nisei veterans who Served their Country during World War II and who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor - Adopted.