Conscience and the Constitution

Nichi Bei Times, April 12, 2002 

The JACL Image and the Resisters of Conscience Ceremony 

y Fred Oshima
Nichi Bei Times Columnist

In this day and age, just what kind of an image does the Japanese American Citizens League portray to the Nikkei community today? 

Better known as just “JACL” to the man on the street, the venerable league is back in the limelight again. Year in and year out, since their inception in 1929, they’ve been the most visible and widely held, if not the most respected JA organization in the country.

Originally established as a civil and human rights entity during the trying depression year to look after the secular interest for their Nihonmachi, JACL is still best remembered for their post-war string of historic, landmark legislative triumphs in Washington for the Japanese Americans. 

By their spirited make-up, they still continue to command heightened attention and are always on the brink of something grand or controversial. And at this point, much is happening. Today JACL is led by a new wave -- a young breed of ultra-liberal activists with strong divisive opinions, that makes for penetrating publishing and to the fourth estate vernaculars -- they always make for interesting reading materials -- providing crisp journalism copies for the readers. Grist for the mill, so to speak, and its sells newspaper. 

This time, JACL’s headline features the highly contentious WWII draft resisters issue. The center of this boiling explosive question deals with JACL’s ill-advised proclamation to officially sponsor a public ceremony to recognize and honor — and get this, to formally “apologize” — to the “resisters of conscience” for their personal stand in the wartime internment centers. This incredible event is scheduled for May 11 at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco’s Japantown. 

Actually this proverbial, bloated can of unagi (eels) exploded during the last 2000 National JACL Biennial Convention in Monterey -- when the shocking resolution was boldly introduced by the left-wing element of the organization. They managed to cleverly maneuver and swiftly railroad the bill through the stunned council session -- catching the opposition off-guard and triggering an instant emotional repercussion with rippling anger in the convention hotel lobby. 

It’s nothing more than a classic case of Monday Morning Quarterback rhetoric by the young “experts” -- born after the evacuation -- just second guessing JACL’s illustrious record and history. Like “why didn’t JACL challenge -- protest, march and fight Lt. Gen. John L. ‘Jap-is-a-Jap’ DeWitt’s Western Defense Command -- instead of meekly acquiescing and parading into the camp?” 

Yet ironically, this Monterey meeting -- held in this famed picture postcard Blue Pacific resort city -- is hailed as one of the artistically best gatherings ever, if not the best. But now it will be notoriously remembered as the incendiary planted confab that split the delegates’ gut wide-open -- right down the middle and into the tank. Hara-kiri! An unfortunate, inexcusable movement -- tarnishing this reputable conservative oriented group, that’s facing a moment-of-truth -- perhaps never to fully recover. “A kiss of death!” 

For the record, we have no problems with the dissatisfied dissenters. As a citizen, that’s their constitutional given rights to pick and choose in what they personally believe in. But for them to be agreeable, by accepting to be placed on a holy pedestal and accept an “apology” -- well that’s something of a stretch. How inappropriate, disrespectful and insulting can it get. The Nisei veterans have a right to be upset and madder than hell with the JACL’s so-called “politically correct” leadership! 

And how soon we forget! If the Japanese Americans -- admiringly labeled as the “Model Minority” and “The Quiet Americans” -- enjoy a very unique and unprecedented amount of admiration and esteem from their fellow Americans today -- it’s really for one single reason. The extraordinary, brilliant battlefield accomplishments garnered by the Nisei soldiers.

This did not happen by accident -- but by some shrewd design and careful calculated planning. To counter and offset the evacuees’ darkest hours after December 7 visionaries Mike Masaoka and JACL came up with a daring, effective public relations gimmick -- selling the Pentagon brass on the idea of forming an all-Nisei Army fighting unit, that eventually became the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In this goodwill venture, they were joined by the Hawaii’s “Go For Broke” 100th Infantry Battalion and by the unheralded Military Intelligence Service (MIS) — the invaluable linguistic “Secret Weapon” of the South Pacific jungle warfare. 

This PR program was for the express purpose to showcase and prove the loyalty of this much-maligned, suspicions ethnic group. It was to dramatically demonstrate at that time to a paranoid, war-struck nation and in this instance to a confused and perplexed people — who couldn’t quite figure out these inscrutable “enemy” looking inmates, fresh out of the “Made in America” barbed-wire concentration camps. 

The rest of course is academic. Their magnificent record-setting wartime performance that tragically includes some 830 JA heroes, who gave their lives -- the supreme sacrifice is gloriously etched in marble form the Pacific to the Atlantic. And need we be reminded that the eminently successful JACL spearheaded the $20,000 legislative redress campaign with a presidential regret, which was only made possible by these brave warriors and nobody else! The “resisters,” we assume, were recipient of this twenty grand reparation too! 

It certainly won’t hurt them and some of the defiant ungrateful JACLers, who naively complain and whine about being on the short end of the stick, to seriously think again -- show some sense of appreciation, with realistic conventional wisdom. 

Leave well enough alone. You have nothing to gain with this ill-defined issue creating irresponsible friction -- driving a damaging wedge with the irritated veteran organization in particular and justifiably so. The reputation and JACL’s future is on the line and price of consequence can be costly!

As for the JACL image today? 

If nothing else, the thorny public apology ceremony to embarrass the old JACL regime and salute the resisters won’t help at all. And their stagnant, declining membership program is down to 20,000 and guess what? In spite of the recession, like a bunch of drunken bureaucrats, they raised their dues substantially to keep up with their reckless fiscal spending spree -- rather than tightening their belt an extra notch -- prudently cutting back and putting a temporary hold on some of their programs, until the soft economy turns around. 

It’s interesting to note, that the majority of their members is still made-up with aging second generations who still acts as financial angel to the equally strapped financial league. 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. 

So with that kind of a questionable image today -- why should a Sansei, Yonsei, and Gosei join JACL? 

President Floyd Mori and his urbane sidekick John Tateishi, national executive director, needless to say, have some daunting cultivation and challenging sales job ahead. More than just a routine backyard fence-mending chore! 

Fred Oshima writes from Salinas, Calif. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Times. 

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Updated: May 7, 2002