Conscience and the Constitution

Letter to the Editor
Nichi Bei Times, May 1, 2002 

Commander's Column

by Loren M. Ishii

As I write this month's column, the much highly-debated "Apology to the Draft Resisters" ceremony will be taking place May 11 at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco.

Recent articles within the various Japanese American periodicals - to include
the Nichi Bei Times, Pacific Citizen and Rafu Shimpo - have turned increasingly bitter and ugly, with supporters of the Nisei veterans, as well as the draft resisters, throwing barbs and insults at each other. It almost reminds me of the stories I heard about in 1942 and 1943, as the Nisei veterans were going off to war, and a similar state of hostility existing at that time.

After this month's newsletter, I will not be publishing any further articles condemning the draft resisters. Nisei VFW Post 8985, being the first of what would later turn out to be 14 Nisei VFW Posts, took the lead role in fighting the JACL's formal apology ceremony. A total of 19 Nisei veterans' organizations, representing over 4,500 veterans, voiced their resolute and unyielding opposition to the apology ceremony; however, it fell on deaf ears, as no one in the JACL attempted to moderate or broker an agreement which would have been acceptable to both the veterans and their supporters or the draft resisters and their supporters. I fault the JACL for this.

With the apology ceremony, it was a win or lose situation for either camp; one side had to eat dirt, while the other side reveled in it's victory.

So, was there a big victor in this whole, sad episode?

I don't think so. The draft resisters got the apology they had been seeking for so many years from the JACL, but it is not from the JACLers from their generation. Rather, it is from today's JACL, heavily populated by Sansei and Yonsei, who never experienced the internment experience. I hope they realize at what cost they achieved their "hollow" victory.

For the veterans, I realize it is a tough pill to swallow; the slap in the face and insult they feel. But once the apology has been extended, we will all have to live with it and go forward. As a Nisei VFW Post, we will continue to honor requests for our support, from the same organizations and groups as before.

As for the JACL, they will have to look at any long-term damage to the organization as a result of conducting such a highly publicized one-sided ceremony. Rather than trying to be the "one" voice for the Japanese American community, they stood lamely by, while a bitter, divisive and controversial issue festered, permeated and boiled over.

As Fred Oshima, Nichi Bei Times columnist, stated in the April 12, 2002, issue of the Nichi Bei Times, "JACL has also deviated from their basic mission of taking care of their own people. Instead they're trying to be everything to everybody in the broad Asian community - spreading themselves thinner than a crepe pancake."

Now comes the time for me and the newsletter to go silent and let the healing process begin...

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Updated: May 7, 2002