Urges Healing in Resisters Issue
Religious Groups Accept Blame,
Call on JACL to Apologize to Resisters of Conscience
by KENJI G. TAGUMA
Seeing the need for community healing in a long-standing rift, a group of religious leaders surprisingly proffered a resolution urging, among other things, that the Japanese American Citizens League offer an apology for not recognizing World War II resisters of conscience during. The group also recognized the interfaith communitys own role in the division, and offered to take proactive steps to facilitate healing.
The resolution was presented by Rev. Lloyd Wake during the Interfaith Dialogue session at the end of the Nikkei 2000 Conference April 30 in San Francisco.
Rev. Wake, who authored the resolution with input from others, said that the resolution which was also approved and signed by individual participants of the Interfaith Dialogue will be forwarded to the JACL. The interfaith resolution, Wake noted, was written to support the efforts of those in the JACL who are trying to pass a resolution of apology a subject of heated debate within the organization at the JACL National Convention in late June-early July.
"We heard that at the (JACL) Convention something was going to be done," said Wake. "We felt some statement of support should come from the religious community."
The interfaith resolution also noted that the religious community shares some responsibility "for perpetuating the wound," and is "in need of forgiveness." "Were not without blame," said Wake.
It also commends the action of some JACL members and veterans groups to actively work for healing wounds, such as the Military Intelligence Service Association of Northern California, Hawaii Japanese American veterans groups, and the Japanese American Veterans Association in Washington, D.C. "It was not enough just to talk about human rights," stated Wake, referring to the topic of his presentation at the Interfaith Dialogue. "We needed some concrete expression, some action."
History of Division
Nisei resisters of conscience refused to be drafted from behind barbed wire until their citizenship rights were restored and their families released from concentration camps. Their stand on constitutional principle, however, was met with community ostracism by many veterans and especially by leaders of the JACL.
The division between the JACL, veterans, and Nisei resisters of conscience or Nisei draft resisters, as they are commonly referred to is deep. Many Nisei veterans, as well as wartime JACL leaders and their followers, had denounced the resisters as "cowardly" or "deluded." The ostracism of the resisters was so deep that some of them have not publicly acknowledged their own stand, even though younger civil rights activists herald the position they took during such turbulent times. The history of the Nisei draft resisters has surfaced only in recent years, as earlier Japanese American history books written with a JACL slant did not mention the resisters.
Recent efforts within from within the organization, however, brought the issue into the national spotlight again.
Movement for Apology
Last May, the Northern California-Western Nevada-Pacific District Council of the JACL passed a resolution asking the National JACL to "recognize the Japanese American resisters of conscience...proffer an apology for not recognizing...their principled stand, and honor them at an appropriate public ceremony."
The National JACL board passed the resolution, pending unanimous ratification by the organizations eight district councils. When the Central California District Council rejected the resolution, it was essentially killed. The issue is expected to resurface at the JACLs national convention in Monterey, as a new resolution has been submitted for consideration. While the focus of the new resolution has been changed to present a "clearer and stronger" civil rights perspective, the conclusions are the same, said Florin JACL President Andy Noguchi, a principal author of the original resolution. Four JACL chapters Sequoia, Golden Gate, Honolulu and Florin as well as the Pacific Northwest District Council have signed on as co-sponsors of the revised JACL resolution.
According to NCWNP District Council Director Patty Wada, the Resolutions Committee will review resolutions this week. Once approved for meeting all requirements, they are scheduled to be sent to JACL delegates the week of May 15.
Reaction to Interfaith Resolution
The Interfaith Dialogue resolution was welcomed by Mits Koshiyama, a member of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee and a Nisei draft resister. "Im very happy this is happening," said Koshiyama, a San Jose resident who attended the Interfaith Dialogue.
Koshiyama recalls that during the war, his local Christian church and other religious institutions stood by idly while Japanese Americans were victimized and sent to concentration camps. This evokes some mild anger for him. "I used to go to the church all the time," remembers Koshiyama, who attended a Christian church in Mountain View before the war. "I was very disappointed that the church didnt stand up for our constitutional rights then. They had a moral obligation to stand up against racism."
Although he said that after the war he had lost some faith in the Christian church, he gives the religious groups a lot of credit for acknowledging their mistakes and offering the interfaith apology.
"This resolution is important in healing the wounds of World War II," said Koshiyama. "I think it will have a positive influence on the JACL resolution." Mention of the JACL brings back bitter memories for Koshiyama. "They were against anyone who tried to speak up for constitutional rights. I personally feel that the JACL was wrong."
But while Koshiyama carries some painful memories of the community ostracism, he also recognizes that times are changing.
"I believe that...the public perception of dissidents has changed," he said.
"If the JACL offers an apology, I think its a worthwhile goal." Marvin Uratsu, president of the Military Intelligence Service Association of Northern California, has been an instrumental force in community healing. He has continuously spoken for the need to respect the resisters stand, and his organization even presented a commendation to resisters of conscience for standing for their rights.
"Its time for us to get together and move forward," said Uratsu, who attended the Interfaith Dialogue and had input on the interfaith resolution. "If theres anything we should be fighting, we should be fighting what the government did," added Uratsu, an MIS veteran. "We shouldnt be fighting each other. We should be fighting the root cause that caused the split. "We should work towards the healing process," declared Uratsu. "It is my personal hope to heal split...and move forward in this new millennium." The interfaith resolution was encouraging for Andy Noguchi, the Florin JACL president and a driving force behind the JACL resolution. "I think its encouraging that theres interest from different parts of the Japanese American community (for) reconciliation," expressed Noguchi. "It lends some weight to finally passing this type of measure." Noguchi is confident that the new JACL resolution will get some positive results.
"I think theres a lot of sentiment for it, as people understand what the intent of the resolution is," he added. "More and more people are becoming supportive (of the resisters)."
Although National JACL President Helen Kawagoe could not be reached for comment, in an earlier interview with the Nichi Bei Times, she said a presentation by the resisters at the convention should be welcomed. "I would like to see that (the resisters) are invited at come and state their case before the resolution is (voted upon)," Kawagoe stated. "However it goes, up or down, but give them a forum to share their side of the story." In the earlier interview, Kawagoe declined to commit support for the resolution, but did express some agreement with the resisters stand. "Personally...Im torn because I had brothers in the service too," she said.
"But as I see it, they (resisters) had their rights, and I support them now." The religious groups also hope the ultimate goal of reconciliation will overshadow the deep schism in the community, and point to the JACL to take action.
"We hope the JACL will be a help towards healing," mused Wake.
Updated: May 12, 2000