MAY 22, 13:28 EDT

Film on Japanese-American Resisters

Associated Press Writer

Resistance leader Frank Emi
AP/Damian Dovarganes [29K]

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Frank Abe was studying the history of World War II in high school, he never understood how 120,000 Japanese-Americans let themselves be herded into internment camps and held for years without putting up a fight.

Now he knows the answer — some did resist.

They criticized the camps and then, when the government tried to induct them into the military, were prosecuted in the biggest draft resistance trial in U.S. history. Some spent years in prison, even as they were attacked as cowards and traitors by fellow Japanese-Americans.

Frank wants the world to know their untold story, which he says has been left out of most history books. He has made the first documentary film about the resisters, ``Conscience and the Constitution.''

``The story is about what price do you pay for taking a principled stand,'' says Abe, a third-generation Japanese-American who lives in Seattle. ``They spent an average of two years in federal prison and 50 years as pariahs in their own communities. They were written out of history until now.''

The one-hour documentary, financed in part by the San Francisco-based Independent Television Service, will be screened Tuesday at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival. It will be released early next year to public television stations nationwide.

The resisters' odyssey began after the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the U.S. government, fearing subversion, ordered Japanese-Americans on the West Coast into 10 internment camps.

Many were confined to tarpaper barracks in the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming. That first winter, temperatures plummeted to 30 degrees below zero, recalled Frank Emi, 83, a resistance leader who lives in San Gabriel outside Los Angeles.

Eventually the government asked all Japanese-Americans to volunteer for military service, and then imposed the draft in the camps.

Some 26,000 Japanese-Americans responded, feeling they had to prove their loyalty to America by risking their lives on the battlefield.

They formed the segregated 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team — the famed ``Go For Broke'' regiments — which saw action in Europe and the Pacific and became among the most decorated units in U.S. history.

But some internees were outraged. How could the government make Japanese-Americans fight for freedom overseas while they were denied it at home, they asked?

``To be sent off to kill in order to prove my loyalty to the very government that was holding us behind barbed wire I thought was very diabolical,'' said Yosh Kuromiya, 77, of Alhambra outside Los Angeles.

Kuromiya, Emi and others started organizing resistance.

In June 1944, some 63 resisters from Heart Mountain were put on trial in federal court in Cheyenne, Wyo., found guilty and sent to prison.

In October, Emi and six other resistance leaders were tried for conspiracy to counsel draft evasion. They, too, were convicted, and were sent to Leavenworth.

Emi said the resisters quickly won the respect of other inmates at Leavenworth by putting on an exhibition of judo, something many had never seen.

Eventually an appeals court overturned the leaders' convictions. And on Christmas Eve 1947, President Truman granted a pardon to all draft resisters — about 300, including those from other camps.

But to many Japanese-American veterans and others in the community, the resisters remained pariahs — and still are today, even though the government has apologized for the camps and paid at least $1.6 billion in reparations.

Several local chapters of the Japanese-American Citizens League recently adopted resolutions acknowledging the resisters' valor. But the national organization, based in San Francisco, remains divided.

At its annual meeting June 28, it plans to vote on a resolution supporting the resisters. Executive director John Tateishi said it is a golden opportunity to heal wounds that have festered for a half-century.

Abe, 48, who learned about the resisters from friends in the Japanese-American community in the 1980s, says it is time to present the other side of the story of the internment camps.

``Should the lesson of the camps be cooperation, collaboration and assimilation, which is the legacy my generation grew up with,'' he said, ``or should it be principled protest, civil disobedience, standing up for our rights as Americans?''


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