Conscience and the Constitution

Rambler's Nemesis
by William Hohri

Rafu Shimpo
November 30, 2002

"A Timely Discussion"

Since September 2002, I have been attempting to organize book parties in Little Tokyo for two different titles on JA draft resistance that occurred in the camps during WW2: Resistance: Challenging America's Wartime Internment of Japanese-Americans and A Matter of Conscience: Essays on the World War II Heart Mountain Draft Resistance Movement.  I have experienced reluctance by two potential hosts, both Japanese-American institutions, because the books' topic was "controversial."  

(I finally did succeed with Reikai's Kitchen, in Little Tokyo Towers at 455 E. Third Street.  The book party will be held on Saturday, January 11, 2003, 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  Reikai's Kitchen was all business, period.  Three cheers!  It will be a no host luncheon with the authors, followed by comments and questions.  The public is invited.)





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It may be timely to discuss a key question regarding the Selective Service Act of 1940.  A critical question was: what draft classification should have been applied to young men who were in the custody of the War Relocation Authority?  

This question has two parts.  The first is: were we in the custody of the War Relocation Authority?  For an official and authoritative source, we can look at page 2 of The Evacuated People: A Quantitative Description, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1946:  

"Some 120,313 persons of Japanese descent came under the custody of the War Relocation Authority . . ."

Given that we were in the custody of a civil authority, we now look at the second part: the Selective Service Act of 1940.  In its section of classification, paragraph 346 states:

      "Class of IV-F; Physically, mentally, or morally unfit.

            a. In Class IV-F shall be placed any registrant who:

                  5. Is being retained in the custody of any court of criminal
                  jurisdiction or other civil authority.
"  [emphasis in original]

As we have seen, the War Relocation Authority was "other civil authority," and we were in its custody.

Therefore, under the meaning of the Selective Service Act of 1940, we, who were inmates of the WRA-run camps and were otherwise eligible for the draft, should have been classified IV-F.  We would have to be released from custody of the WRA before we could be classified as suitable for military service.

So why do some of us feel uncomfortable with the Nisei draft resisters who challenged the justice of being drafted from their detention in the WRA camps?  Unfortunately, the major voice of the Nisei during the internment period, the JACL's newspaper, Pacific Citizen, spoke harshly against the draft resistance and draft resisters.  It characterized the resistance as "sedition" or rebellion against the government, a step away from treason.  It also misnamed the draft resisters as "draft dodgers" and accused them of retarding "the eventual full restoration to Japanese Americans of the privileges of freedom."  These serious, though flawed, accusations may have influenced many of us.  

But the Pacific Citizen had it wrong.  It was not the draft resisters who were undermining the laws of our government and denying JAs of their freedom.  It was our government.  In failing to apply the IV-F classification to the JA inmates of the camps, our government violated the Selective Service Act of 1940.  Of course, this violation of the Act was just another part of our government's broader violations of our Constitution and other laws.

I am delighted the draft resisters took the stand they did, even though the price of imprisonment was very high.  Among their slogans was: free us before you draft us.  They had it exactly right.

I don't think this argument will change the hearts of those who detest the draft resisters.  But it might serve to persuade the two institutions to reconsider their reluctance and host their book parties for these titles and their authors.

© 2002 by William Hohri. Reprinted by permission of the author. You can contact William Hohri at 25840 Viana Ave. #B, Lomita, CA 90717, (310)530-4917, e-mail:


Updated: December 2, 2002