Pacific Citizen, May 17- June 6, 2002
Historic Apology Marks First Step in
Reconciliation Between JACL and Resisters of Conscience
By MARTHA NAKAGAWA
SAN FRANCISCO. An apology was made and a challenge posed.
After more than a decade of bitter internal debate, the JACL held a public
ceremony on May 11 to apologize to the Nisei resisters of conscience, a
of men who refused to serve in the U.S. military during World War II until
the civil rights of Japanese Americans were restored and their families
released from U.S. concentration camps. Because this stand defied JACL's
wartime policy of proving loyalty through military service, JACL's
leaders actively opposed the resisters and often vilified them in the
of the Pacific Citizen.
The May 11 event, which was held at the Japanese Cultural & Community
of Northern California, attracted an estimated 350 people.
"Today's ceremony is a clear recognition that JACL neglected to
resisters of conscience in their protest against injustice," said
JACL President Floyd Mori, who at one point became emotional. "In
this resolution at our last convention, JACL offers a sincere apology for
painful experiences and memories caused by this neglect. I know that words
cannot sufficiently restore that which was lost nor erase the suffering
has occurred. But it is my hope that we can all share in a sense of pride
honor for having been here today. May all of us remember these events as a
lesson that will improve our understanding and increase our resolve to
forgive and move to the next stage in our lives."
Mori, who lost an older brother during WWII, experienced first hand the
sorrows of war, but he also took issue with those who continue to accuse
resisters as being "cowards, troublemakers and hooligans" who evaded
"We recognize those who were guided by the moral dictates of their
to protest injustice," he said. "We do not condone any of the physical
mental harassment that was perpetrated by some who called themselves
resisters nor does today's ceremony apply to them."
At the same time, Mori did not forget the contributions of the Nisei
soldiers. "For those who served in the Armed Forces, we are proud of the
legacy that they left us. We honor them today as we have in many local and
national events in the past. Their service and valor is in large measure
responsible for the positive image that we in the Japanese American
are blessed with today."
Drawing parallels to the terrorist acts of today, Mori exhorted Japanese
America to mend the rifts from more than six decades ago, saying that the
consequences of not reconciling were too great.
"May we as individuals and as an organization strive to develop
and its accompanying virtue of compassion. The terrorists of today cannot
find it within themselves to express compassion in any form. The legacy of
wrongs in the past have festered into the horrible blisters of terrorism
we witness today. May we learn from their folly in reasoning. Let us leave
any wrongs that have occurred in the past where they belong and from where
can learn. Then let us bring in the future looking through a more selfless
set of eyes that seek for understanding and a heart that has the capacity
expressing compassion to our fellow men and women."
The May 11 event fulfilled the mandate of a resolution passed at the 2000
JACL biennium national convention, which called for JACL to offer "an
for not acknowledging the resisters' stand of protesting the denial of
constitutional rights, and for the pain and bitterness this caused." But
resolution not only called for a public ceremony but also for the
of a public education effort.
It was on this point of public education that the two speakers
the resisters challenged the JACL to take the next step by discussing more
openly JACL's WWII policies not only towards the resisters but towards
camp dissidents in general.
Frank Emi, one of the leaders of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, a
group that initiated the only organized draft resistance movement within
10 War Relocation Authority camps, thanked the JACL for passing the
resolution but also challenged the organization to confront its wartime
activities, particularly that which had been uncovered in what is now
referred to as the Lim Report. The Lim Report was compiled by attorney
Deborah Lim, who had been hired by JACL to research the
wartime history at the time the debate to apologize to the resisters had
"I wish to extend my appreciation to the JACL for sponsoring this
said Emi, who was welcomed with a standing ovation. "As a civil rights
organization, I believe it is a step in the right direction. Having said
that I think it would be entirely appropriate for JACL to go one step further
hold a similar program directed towards the Japanese American community
the excesses committed by wartime JACL leaders such as acting as
for the government, causing many innocent people to suffer as recorded in
Lim Report. I believe such action would finally put to rest JACL's
ghosts of the past and would be a worthy way to start the 21st century.
United States government apologized for their wartime excesses. Can JACL
Emi also refuted the errors and misinformation being printed recently as
commentaries and letters to the editor in various Nikkei newspapers.
"They keep repeating the same old tale that the resisters intimidated,
harassed and beat up men who volunteered or responded to the draft,"
Emi. "I can assure you that nothing like that took place at Heart
where the only organized draft resistance took place. They also continue
accuse the draft resisters of beating JACL leaders in some camps in 1943.
fallacy of that statement is there was no draft for internees in
at that time so there were no draft resisters. Selective Service
applicable to Nisei in camps was not implemented until January 1944."
Yosh Kuromiya, another Heart Mountain FPC member, voiced similar sentiment
saying that this ceremony should be viewed as an opportunity for JACL to
discuss the many ways that Nikkei camp dissidents expressed loyalty and
of country other than through military service.
"What occurred in the past that is yet to be addressed is the further
victimization of Japanese America by a certain faction within the
itself, who joined errant government agencies to persecute those who
opposed its accomodationist policies," said Kuromiya. "Hopefully
ceremony will mark the first step in resolving this second great injustice
perpetrated on Japanese America. Only a clear and honest understanding of
true essence of loyalty and patriotism and acknowledgement of the
distortion of those terms, no matter how well intentioned, can rid
America of this cancerous blight which victimizes the victim and has
our community for over half a century. Only then can JACL hope to proceed
a clear and unencumbered path as a bonafide civil rights organization."
Whether JACL will take up the challenge as brought forth by the two Heart
Mountain FPC speakers or whether the organization will view this as a
chapter remains to be seen. But in an ironic twist, JACL will be honoring
wartime JACL leaders, the same leaders who called for the government to
charge the Heart Mountain FPC leaders with sedition, at JACL's
national biennium convention in Las Vegas.
When asked whether this tribute to JACL's wartime leaders was a direct
response to the resisters' ceremony, National Executive Director John
Tateishi said, "I think it's a response to put a positive look on the
organization by some people who were concerned about the divisiveness of
resolution issue. It wasn't a direct response to try to push in the face
what this is all about but more to say, 'Look, these were really
decisions made in really awful times and these people who were the leaders
the JACL have never been recognized by the organization, and if we're
to be recognizing others, then certainly, as an organization for which
had contributed so much, we ought to recognize them.' That was the
behind the sponsorship by the Sacramento chapter to put on that Friday
"The tribute, sponsored by the Sacramento chapter, is I think something
people felt needed to be done," said National JACL President Floyd Mori.
think it's very appropriate. I don't think it has any relationship to
resisters at all."
Both Mori and Tateishi expressed hope that dialogue regarding the various
stands taken during WWII would continue.
"We've completed our responsibility in terms of the ceremony," said
Mori. "But in terms of the issues that are with us, I'm sure there'll be
continued dialogue, and I'm hoping that this is an opening to bringing a
more understanding to all of the situations that existed during the war.
resisters have been sort of brushed aside in the past but it is part of
history that people should understand, that courage comes in many forms
the resisters have shown that."
"I hope it's a step for us to open the platform and discuss what
during the war years," said Tateishi. "I don't know if it (ceremony)
relieves us of all the responsibilities of the organization during the war
but I think in all honesty, this is one of the major issues that we had to
put behind us by facing it honestly. I think we did. And I know there's
to be other issues that are going to come up, things like the informants
all of that. But I've looked at that issue really thoroughly in the days
I was the director of the redress campaign and informants were on all
of that issue, so I think as far as JACL is concerned this is a major step
out of the past and towards the future. But we'll never put the camp
issue to rest."
Sen. Inouye's Message
One of the goals of the May 11 ceremony was to mend the rift between the
and the resisters. Because many of the vocal JACL critics of the resisters
happen to be Nisei veterans, JACL requested a message of reconciliation
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Medal of Honor WWII 442nd Regimental Combat
veteran who lost an arm in battle. Inouye voiced his regrets that he could
not attend the ceremony personally due to legislative responsibilities
at the request of Tateishi, sent a videotaped message.
In the videotape, Inouye said: "I believe the time has come to bridge
chasm between the Nisei veterans of World War II and the resisters from
internment camps. Together we must make a personal commitment to healing
wounds from that sad episode in our collective history.
"If we are to flourish and thrive as a community in this nation, we must
that painful part of our past behind us. I have many friends on both sides
the veterans versus resisters debate. It saddens me that harsh feelings
exist between the veterans and the resisters. I'm especially troubled
people have harbored these bitter feelings for 60 years. We must keep in
that the volunteers and the resisters had the same goal in mind: to
our country that it was wrong to imprison Americans of Japanese ancestry.
"Some young men answered the call to military service to make this
they did so with honor and with great courage. Some young men chose to
their point by resisting the government's order to report for the draft.
too were honorable and courageous. They should not be faulted for
the government's orders, given the government's actual treatment of
Americans during the war.
"Many of my fellow veterans have labeled the draft resisters as 'cowards'
and 'traitors.' I however feel the resisters were brave and patriotic.
personally believe it took a tremendous amount of courage and love of
to stand up and say 'I will not take an oath to defend my country until
family and I are treated as equal and worthy citizens.'
"I'm proud that our nation apologized for and rectified this mistake
the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The actions and sacrifices of the
resisters, internees and their loved ones paved the way for this national
apology. Our great nation has vowed to learn from this past and move on to
brighter future. I hope the time has come that we, as members of the
Japanese American community, can likewise put the past behind us and move forward
"If we let angry feelings live and fester, an atmosphere of hate shall
permeate for generations that follow us. Sadly such discord would
lead to the divide and downfall of our community. So it is my sincere hope
that this ceremony would mark the beginning of a new era of unity for
Americans of Japanese ancestry. Aloha."
Like Inouye, Marshall Sumida, a Military Intelligence Service veteran and
JACL member for more than 50 years, said the ceremony was "long overdue."
Sumida, also a VFW member, referred to men such as Frank Emi as "men of
principle" and regretted that the other VFW Nisei veterans, who have
been condemning the resisters in various Nikkei newspapers, had not
Warren Tsuneishi, a JACLer and MIS veteran who flew in from Washington
to speak at the ceremony, said he was aware that this issue was
among the veterans but speaking as a JACL member, Tsuneishi said "of
the JACL should apologize, they need to apologize to heal that wound."
Marvin Uratsu, another MISer, said, "Why continue to hurt each other for
the government did to us? Let there be reconciliation, and let it begin
Fred Korematsu, a recipient of the Medal of Freedom who had challenged the
government by violating evacuation during WWII, said, "I'm glad the
giving the resisters this blessing. I think what the resisters did is
and it should be known."
Korematsu's wife Kathryn said it was important for them to attend the
because "Fred has received support from the resisters in the past and it
important for us to give back that support."
U.S. Congressman Mike Honda, the keynote speaker of the event, aptly
it up when he said, "The importance of this public ceremony is that it
to heal the rift between the national JACL and the resisters of conscience
recognizing that there were in fact more than one way to respond to this
situation that was completely out of control."
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Updated: May 7, 2002