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Conscience and the Constitution

Article in Pacific Citizen

JACL National Council Approves Apology to Resisters of Conscience

By Martha Nakagawa
Assistant Editor
Pacific Citizen, July 7-13, 2000

Although JACL took a step towards healing a five decades old wound, it may have opened new ones when the national council voted to adopt a resolution recognizing and apologizing to the World War II Nisei resisters of conscience.

The debate, for the most part, split along generational lines with both sides giving impassioned arguments for and against the resolution. After using the full 20 minutes allotted to the issue, the national council passed the motion with 64 yeses, 32 nos and four split votes. The motion to adopt was made by David Masuo from the Alaska chapter and seconded by Steve Kono from the Puyallup Valley chapter.

Masuo, a Vietnam veteran, urged the national council to reconsider the negative image of the World War II resisters of conscience, saying he also fought alongside a medic, who "was a resister of the draft."

"Many things have been said about their (resisters') loyalty based mostly on hearsay and rumor," said Masuo. "Misinformation from the same government that claimed JAs were fifth columnists or spies, a government that interned families just because of their race cannot be one whose word we should take as gospel. Remember that it was the government that used the JACL to push their agenda and to make sure our elders were removed from the JACL and placed in prisons away from their families. The government has attempted to right its wrong. We must do the same."

But Don Wakida, a Nisei member of VFW Post 8499 and Fresno JACL chapter, said 13 Nisei VFW posts "vehemently oppose this resolution" and demanded an amendment if the resolution passed.

"My feeling is this: if you pass this resolution, I want you to put an amendment in there that you will apologize to every Nisei soldiers' family who died for our country," said Wakida. "Remember now, they went to war for us, not only for America, but for the Japanese and for the JACL people."

Sansei Brian Niiya, a member of the Honolulu JACL chapter, acknowledged that as someone who did not live through the camp experience, he may not fully grasp the reasons for the depth of the bitterness but felt that "this apology is the first step towards that reconciliation."

Niiya also felt that while this resolution dealt with events close to 60 years ago, it was really about the future of JACL. "I think this resolution is being closely watched from the outside as an indication of the future direction of the organization," said Niiya. "And I think whatever the outcome, it will come to symbolize the current state of JACL."

But there was still some confusion about the facts surrounding the resisters. Vernon Yoshioka of San Diego alleged that at the Topaz War Relocation Authority camp, it was resisters who had beaten up his father, Giichi Yoshioka, a founding member of the Eden Township JACL chapter. But when pressed for more information about who and what had been said that led Yoshioka to believe this, he could provide no names or details. In addition, he did not know what year his father had been beaten, although he guessed it was in 1943, which would place the incident a year before the Selective Service Act had been instituted for the Nisei men.

Upon the resolution's passage, a contingent of veterans stormed out and a heated debate ensued outside the conference room. Among the veterans was Tom Masamori, a longtime JACLer from Denver, who had ripped off his JACL name tag and stalked out of the room.

Later, during a break, Masamori, who had penned in "former JACL member" where his JACL name tag used to be, said he will most likely continue as a member.

"I was so angry that I took my tag off," said Masamori. "But well, I'm reconsidering it now. I've been with the JACL since 1946 so you don't just throw it away, but I just felt so angry that I did that just to show my immediate sentiments. But I will most likely remain a JACL member because I would have a voice then. If I vanish, then I will not have a voice."

Fred Hirasuna, 92, the oldest JACL member, was also disappointed that the R3 passed. "They had the right to object to the draft for civil rights but if they were truly sincere for that reason, they should have come out at evacuation time and said, ŚWe won't go,'" said Hirasuna. "I think the timing was bad that they waited for the draft before coming out. They should have come out before. That's my objection to that."

George "Horse" Yoshinaga, a columnist for the Rafu Shimpo newspaper, who referred to the resisters as "draft dodgers," felt the pro-resister camp had waged too strong of a campaign.

"I think the resolution was sort of, maybe conspiracy is too strong a word, but pre-ordained to pass," said Yoshinaga. "They campaigned and brainwashed people."

The emotional and divisive nature of the resolution was not lost on the JACL leadership, and reconciliation with the opposing side was a topic of discussion during the first national board meeting of the newly-elected national board members on Sunday, July 2. President Floyd Mori asked each board member to make a concerted one-on-one effort to mend the rifts.

John Tateishi, national executive director, said he expects some attrition in JACL membership in reaction to this resolution's passage but his biggest concern was the emotional impact this may have on the aging veterans.

"They did some difficult things in difficult times, as everyone did, but they need the past, the past is very important to them, and god knows I would never want to take that from them," said Tateishi. "I grew up always honoring the Nisei and the veterans, and I just feel badly for them that they feel we may have let them down. As I've said, I'm hoping that over time, this heals and that they will understand why that decision was made. Right or wrong, it was a decision that was the will of the national council."

Marvin Uratsu, president of the Military Intelligence Service Association of Northern California, was pleased with the adoption of R3.

"I'm glad this happened in the year 2000," said Uratsu, speaking from a personal perspective. "This is a good way to being the millennium...But I feel sympathy for those hurt by this, and I would offer a conciliatory hand to them as well. We should reconcile with one another and move forward."

Within the last two years, the MIS of Northern California, which is the largest Nisei MIS organization on the continental United States, along with Club 100 of Hawaii and the Washington D.C.-based Japanese American Veterans Association, had passed a resolution of reconciliation with the resisters of conscience. The Nikkei "Faith Intersect" group had also passed a resolution in April, asking for forgiveness from the resisters and urging JACL to do the same.

Gordon Hirabayashi, who was honored at the convention as one of three "Nikkei of the Biennium," was also encouraged to hear that R3 passed. During WWII, Hirabayashi had spent prison time with Poston and Amache resisters at the Catalina Federal Honor Camp following his protest of evacuation, and prison time with the Heart Mountain resisters at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary when he became a conscientious objector.

"I'm glad they did this," said Hirabayashi. "It's time they did this. We've all been educated that there are other ways to fight for your country so I think we've all learned from this experience."

Frank Emi, one of the leaders of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, said, "I think the step that JACL took is a step in the right direction as befits a civil rights organization," said Emi. "After all, they are in good company. The U.S. government did what they thought was right during the war and they apologized. And although JACL vilified the resisters for taking a principled and constitutional stand against injustice during the war, for them to acknowledge this now will not mar their image. It will only make the organization stronger."

Copyright 2000 Pacific Citizen. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.


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