Conscience and the Constitution

An Introduction to The Lim Report
by William Hohri

 

The first National Convention of the Japanese-American Citizens League was convened in 1930 in Seattle. The term "National" was probably a little wishful inasmuch as most Japanese-Americans had settled on the West Coast. The hyphen was removed from "Japanese-American" to make "Japanese" an adjective to "American." A year earlier the JACL had emerged from several local organizations, such as: the American Loyalty Leagues in and around San Francisco, the Progressive Citizens Leagues in Seattle and Portland, and the Japanese American Citizens Association in Los Angeles. It members were primarily Nisei, second generation Japanese-Americans, who were young, largely unmarried and looking.1 They were also interested in promoting their Americanism. A revealing item of contention at its formation was the use of "Japanese" in the original "Japanese-American Citizens League." Some of the leaders were opposed to its use. From the list of predecessor organizations, only the Japanese American Citizens Association had "Japanese" in its name. Over the course of its history, especially during the Second World War, the League was concerned over the issue of loyalty. Fifty-eight years later, in August 1988, the League, larger and more experienced and mature, was again gathered in Seattle for a regularly scheduled biennial National Convention. It was at this convention that "The Lim Report" was conceived. Like some conceptions, this one may have been unintended.

The 1988 National Convention and Resolution No. 7

During this convention, a break occurred when, on August 10, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which was to grant $20,000 in compensatory redress to each survivor of America's Second World War program of the mass exclusion and detention2 of 125,0003 Japanese-Americans.4 Coupled to this compensation was an apology to the victims by our government for its wartime behavior. The enactment marked the fulfillment of a decade-long effort by the League and others5 to redress their grievances for the most massive failure of the United States Constitution in protecting the rights of its citizens and residents. Many members of the League were invited to witness this signing and took their leave from the convention and flew from Seattle to Washington for the ceremony in the Old Executive Office Building. While the euphoria and exchanged congratulations of this extraordinary event were irrepressible, business remained to be conducted upon their return within the National Council, the legislative session of the National Convention. The Seattle Chapter introduced a resolution which asked the League to offer an apology for the injuries it had inflicted on Japanese-Americans during this wartime trauma.

It was called Resolution No. 7:

WHEREAS, the US of A this year has made a significant and symbolic gesture of serving to begin the healing process of deeply felt injuries caused by the gross injustice perpetrated against Americans of Japanese ancestry in 1942 with the mass incarceration of those people in detention camps by the passing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1987 [sic];

WHEREAS, in the Civil Liberties Act the President and Congress recognizes [sic] and apologizes [sic] for the injury, injustice and pain endured by over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry;

WHEREAS, in the time of uncertainty, stress and social upheaval, a handful of persons had thrust upon them overwhelming responsibilities, without benefit of reflective time, proper delegation of authority nor institutional support;

WHEREAS, a number of Japanese Americans were not only victims of the racist events of 1942 but further were the victims of their own fellow oppressed internees within the confines of particular detention/concentration camps;6

WHEREAS, in times of duress not all persons act with noble and honorable instincts, though everyone in the concentration camps were all victims;

WHEREAS, JACL recognizes that pain and resentment remains in the hearts of a number of our fellow citizens of Japanese ancestry and with the bitterness still unresolved -- reference is to the "NO-NO BOYS";7

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the JACL recognize that a number of our community citizens were injured by persons acting individually and in the name of the JACL and that the JACL apologizes for their injuries, pain and injustice born [sic] by them;

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the JACL will do everything in its power to go forth to heal these wounds and to reach out to all of our community to encourage all to endeavor for the benefit of each of us.8

The resolution was not enacted. A substitute motion was enacted "to refer the Resolution [No. 7] to a special Presidential Select Committee9 for a thorough study with all appropriate documentation; and that the report be presented to the 1990 National Council."10 The idea here was to give the delegates an objective presentation of the facts, so that, fully informed, they could deliberate and vote on this matter. While the intent was forthright and the research and report well executed, the end result, as we soon shall see, was unfortunate.

In June 1989, Deborah Lim, an attorney and instructor of Asian Studies at San Francisco State University, was contracted by the JACL to perform the study and write the report. The JACL gave Lim an outline of topics to be covered:

I. JACL: Pre-Evacuation (1941 - Spring 1942)

A. The activities and relationships with governmental agencies before 12/7/41.

B. Response to declaration of war with Japan.

C. Response to various military orders, curfew.

D. The decision to cooperate with evacuation.

E. Actions initiated in community.

II. Internment Period (1942-1945)

A. JACL position on legal test cases.

B. Relationship with War Relocation Authority and other governmental agencies.

C. JACL activities in camps.

D. Position and actions on Loyalty Oath.

E. Position and actions on Resisters and the WRA Segregation process.11

You will notice that the Table of Contents of her report follows this outline.

She was given these questions to examine:

1. What were the policies and positions taken by the JACL in response to the military and government actions relative to the curfew, evacuation, and detention of Japanese Americans?

2. What actions did the JACL take to implement its policies prior to and during the internment?

3. What impact did the JACL's actions have upon the Japanese American community?12

She was directed to and used primary documents including: bound volumes of the JACL's newspaper, Pacific Citizen; 15 file boxes of the JACL Archives; Minutes of special meetings of the JACL; the Bancroft Library, University of California; the Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study or JERS files, also at the Bancroft Library; the Merritt Collection, University of California, Los Angeles; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; and other sources including microfilm and oral history tapes.

She read and used several published works that covered these topics, including: Roger Daniels, Concentration Camps: North America; Richard Drinnon, Keeper of Concentration Camps: Dillon S. Myer and American Racism; Milton Eisenhower, The President Is Calling; Bill Hosokawa, JACL: In Quest of Justice; Peter Irons, Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases; Douglas Nelson, Heart Mountain: The History of an American Concentration Camp; Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians; Jacobus ten-Broek, Edward Barnhart, Floyd Matson, Prejudice, War and the Constitution; Dorothy S. Thomas, Richard Nishimoto, The Spoilage; and Michi Weglyn, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps.

In addition, she used articles in journals, including: Amerasia Journal, Journalism History, and Pacific Historical Review.

During her research she talked with the following persons: Frank Abe, Arthur Barnett, Ernest Besig, Prof. Shirley Castelnuovo, Frank Chin, Prof. Richard Drinnon, Frank Emi, Prof. Arthur Hansen, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, Prof. Gordon Hirabayashi, Lane Hirabayashi, Harry Honda, Bill Hosokawa, Yuji Ichioka, Prof. Peter Irons, Fred Korematsu, Mits Koshiyama, Mike Masaoka, Raymond Okamura, James Omura, Prof. Peter Suzuki, Prof. Rita Takahashi, Togo Tanaka, Harry Ueno, Clifford Uyeda, Michi Weglyn, and Karl Yoneda.13 Several of these persons were familiar with the documents she was researching and were aware of their potential to severely threaten the good name of the League.

She completed the first version of her report of 95 pages towards the end of 1989 and submitted it to the Select Committee. The Committee made amendments and asked her to make additions. She made these and submitted an expanded, 154-page version to the Select Committee in the spring of 1990.

An Odd Turn and "The Lim Report"

At this point, her report took an odd, but not entirely unexpected, turn. Her report was ready to be reproduced and submitted to the delegates who would be attending the 1990 National Convention which was to be held in San Diego. Instead, the chairman of the Presidential Select Committee, Cressey Nakagawa, with help from the staff of the JACL, wrote his "interpretation" of Lim's report. It became the official version of this study. Judging from its content, Nakagawa seemed to have gone out of his way to ignore most of Lim's findings. You will note that there are 48 topics in the report's Table of Contents. The official, 28-page version contains only nine of these. Its 28 pages of text rely heavily on Ronald Takaki's Strangers from a Different Shore, a text not used by Lim. The first eight pages discuss the pre-war history of Japanese-Americans and the JACL. As can be seen by the outline of topics described above, this was not a topic Lim was asked to study. This left 20 pages to distill a 154-page report. The end result is a severely abbreviated and sanitized account of the JACL's pre-war and wartime activities. His account excludes Lim's findings of the JACL's relationship to the Office of Naval Intelligence and Federal Bureau of Investigation and the JACL's informant activities. Nakagawa characterizes the JACL's role during the turmoil of the uprooting and banishment of Japanese-Americans as being largely a facilitator of the "evacuation" and provider of social services, without a word about the organization's efforts to assume power in the administration of the detention camps and to influence the formation of policy by governmental agencies. When the official version gets into the loyalty issue and draft resistance, it once again uses Takaki's book, a secondary source of dubious accuracy. (For example, Takaki gives draft registration as one of two reasons for the "loyalty" questionnaire's emergence in 1943. But Selective Service had been suspended in June 1942 for Japanese-Americans and would not be reinstated until January 1944. The questionnaire was used to find candidates for an all-volunteer combat unit.)14

Towards the end of his official version, Nakagawa writes:

Based upon its findings, the Presidential Select Committee concludes and recommends that the National Council of the JACL appropriately acknowledges that those so-called draft resisters[,] who clearly professed their loyalty to America and were otherwise willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States but for the deprivation of their constitutional rights by internment in America's concentration camps, were honorable and loyal Americans who fought for the same constitutional rights as those Japanese American men who were then in active service in the defense of this country.

This recommendation was implemented by the 1990 National Council's enactment of Resolution No. 13, a substitute for Resolution No. 7:

Now therefore be it resolved that the JACL recognize that those Japanese American draft resisters of World War II, who declared their loyalty to their country, but who were also dedicated to the principle of defending their civil rights, were willing to make significant sacrifices to uphold their beliefs of patriotism in a different form from those who sacrificed their lives on the battlefields; and that they, too, deserve a place of honor and respect in the history of Americans of Japanese ancestry.15

The narrowness of this substitute stands in striking contrast to the 1988-proposed resolve "that the JACL recognize that a number of our community citizens were injured by persons acting individually and in the name of the JACL and that the JACL apologizes for their injuries, pain and injustice . . ."16 While topic IIE2 of Lim's study does describe the harsh opposition of the JACL to draft resistance, it is, after all, but one of her report's 48 topics.

Almost immediately after Lim had finished it, her report, the original 95-page version, began life as "The Lim Report" and was copied and distributed informally as though it were samizdat in some communist country. (It is this version which has been placed on the Internet.) Four years later, at its 1994 National Convention at Salt Lake City, the JACL finally agreed to distribute copies of the 154-page version to its assembled delegates. The Convention itself, however, took no action on the issue.

In April 2000, the League seems to have decided to stop making copies of the report available. So the report's availability shortly thereafter is fortuitous. It may of course be read on this website. Printouts can be made for each section, from IA to IIE. Sections IC and ID are printed as one, as are sections IIC and IID.

Go to The Lim Report table of contents.

End Notes

(1) Because of a 1924 law which excluded Japanese immigration, the wartime Japanese-American population was divided by age as well as citizenship into three main groups and one subgroup. The Issei are the immigrant group of first generation J-As. The Nisei are the second generation, native-born offspring of the Issei. The first syllable of these names correspond to the first syllable of Japanese numerals: Ichi, Ni, San, . . . Thus, the third generation are Sansei. And so on. An important subgroup of the Nisei are those who were sent to Japan as children to receive their early education there and returned to America: the Kibei. Because of this education, the Kibei tended to be far more Japanese than the Nisei in both language and outlook.
(2) The widely used term for this is "evacuation," which was one of several official euphemisms devised by the War Relocation Authority, the bureaucracy than administered the camps, in order to mask the true nature of the camps. Japanese-Americans were excluded from wide areas of the West Coast and southern Arizona. And they were held in detention camps, for which "relocation center" was the official euphemism.
(3) The figure of 125,000 includes the 5,000 or so persons who "voluntarily" left the exclusion zone before such movement was banned. While not detained, they were excluded. The reader should also be advised that around 110,000 persons were involved in the actual expulsion from the West Coast and Arizona. Another 10,000 or so were added to the population of those detained through births, parole from Dept. of Justice camps, and other sources.
(4) I hyphenate "Japanese-Americans," while most do not. The unhyphenated usage was implemented by the JACL to designate U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry and meant not to include the first generation of Japanese-Americans who were born in Japan. I use the hyphen to include the first generation.
(5) The others were significant. The National Council for Japanese American Redress supported the first redress bill introduced in Congress and then launched a class action lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court. The National Coalition for Redress/Reparations mounted a vigorous grass roots campaign. Others organized in Seattle, Chicago, and New York.
(6) Much of the victimization commenced before Pearl Harbor and intensified after in the period before mass exclusion and detention commenced.
(7) "NO-NO BOYS" probably refers to those who responded negatively to two "loyalty" questions. The questions were number 27 and 28 in the Leave Clearance Form, known as the "loyalty questionnaire." "BOYS" makes it incorrectly gender exclusive; both males and females answered negatively. Moreover, only the second of the two questions, question 28, determined loyalty-disloyalty. The expression may also refer to draft resisters. "No-No Boy" is the title of a novel by John Okada. It is about a draft resister who faced social ostracism after he returned to his home in Seattle. The novel makes no reference to the "loyalty questions." The reference is unfortunately ambiguous.
(8) "Report of the Presidential Select Committee on Resolution No. 7 to the JACL National Council," June 17-22, 1990, 31st Biennial Convention, JACL, JACL Archives. This is identified subsequently as "Report."
(9) The members of this committee were: Cressey Nakagawa, who served as the committee's chairman; Taoru Ishiyama; Lillian Kimura; Marilyn Hall Patel; and Homer Yasui.
(10) Report.
(11) Report and memorandum from Bill Yoshino, executive director, JACL, to Deborah Lim, June 6, 1989.
(12) Ibid.
(13) Deborah Lim "Research Paper in Response to the JACL's Resolution #7," the 154-page version of "The Lim Report," JACL Archives.
(14) "Report of the Presidential Select Committee."
(15) The Pacific Citizen, August 31, 1990.
(16) "Report."

© 2002 by William Hohri

Go to The Lim Report table of contents.

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Updated: June 24, 2000