WARTIME JACL LEADERS COLLABORATED
by FRANK ABE
June 7, 1990
Published in the Rafu Shimpo, Hokubei Mainichi, and International
According to a long-awaited research study commissioned
by the Japanese American Citizens League, wartime JACL'ers spied on their
neighbors on behalf of U.S. intelligence, made premature commitments to
the War Relocation Authority that compromised the best interests of the
community, and at least two prominent JACL leaders worked simultaneously
as employees of the WRA.
The report also documents JACL attacks on the personal
integrity of camp resisters, and acknowledges that JACL writers suppressed
mention of the resisters in postwar histories.
But those parts of the report may never be seen by
delegates to the JACL's 1990 National Convention in San Diego, for whom
the report was intended.
The narrative submitted by attorney and researcher
Deborah Lim of San Francisco is instead being recast by a JACL
presidential committee, reportedly to offset documentation seen as
damaging to the JACL's image. JACL directors referred all requests for
comment to President Cressey Nakagawa, who could not be reached after
"That's not acceptable," reacted former JACL
president Clifford Uyeda, who was told the sanitized version wouldn't be
released until one week before the convention, which begins June 17.
"They should just come out with Lim's report and let the membership
decide. There's already so much suspicion."
The study was mandated in 1988, prompted by a Seattle
JACL resolution that sought to heal a decades-old internal rift by
acknowledging the JACL's policy of wartime collaboration and seeking a
reconciliation with those the policy oppressed, such as the "no-no
boys" and draft resisters. Widespread disbelief greeted the idea that
the JACL owed an apology to anyone.
Lim's original report documents several points of
- That key JACL leaders were deeply involved in turning
over the names of Issei and Kibei community leaders to the FBI and
Office of Naval Intelligence before Pearl Harbor, and the names of
dissidents once inside camp, in the belief that by acting as
government informants they were being "constructive cooperators
for national defense."
The report names at least 8 JACL leaders and 3
emergency defense committees in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and
Seattle, as confirmed informants. None of those arrested after Pearl
Harbor was ever shown to have committed acts of espionage.
- That the National JACL directed its Northern
California chapters to go through Japanese directories and compile
lists of people who seemed to be "living beyond their means"
and to report rumors on their "attitudes of loyalty." The
report says the information gathering, conducted at the request of the
Office of Naval Intelligence, went "considerably beyond the
bounds" of the JACL's stated policy of answering government
inquiries only with the information at hand, and "did more
closely approximate a witchhunt."
- That after the removal of Issei heads of households,
the distress of their wives was exploited by dozens of corrupt Nisei,
mostly in the Imperial Valley, who legally owned the land and crops of
interned Issei farmers. Among those Nisei were some "who happened
to have been JACL members," according to the report.
- That in an effort to stave off impending evacuation,
wartime leader Mike Masaoka proposed what he himself called "a
volunteer 'suicide battalion' which would go anywhere to spearhead the
most dangerous missions," and whose loyalty would be ensured by
having the government hold their families and friends as
"hostages." The passage quoted appears in Masaoka's
"Final Report" to the JACL in 1944.
In a 1988 interview in Seattle, Masaoka said,
"I've been accused of trying to get suicide battalions. Do you
think I'd want my own brothers to go out and get killed?"
- That in the minutes of the JACL's March, 1942,
Special Emergency Meeting, Masaoka recommends "the Japanese be
branded and stamped and put under the supervision of the Federal
government," in order to appease the fears of Western governors
reluctant to allow Japanese American resettlement in their states. Lim
in her report says it's possible the "outrageous and
shocking" proposal was made instead by one of the governors, but
she notes Masaoka personally reviewed the minutes before their
republication in 1971, and made no correction.
Masaoka in 1988 denied ever recommended branding,
asking "Would I in front of other Japanese Americans dare to say
something like that?"
- That Masaoka and two other national officers crossed
the line from community advocates to actual employees of the War
Relocation Authority, working without pay and title in exchange for
freedom of movement.
The report cites three documents, including a 1942
memo to the WRA that the JACL leaders wrote on WRA letterhead, that
"forces us to conclude that Masaoka and (another officer) were
WRA employees acting as consultants on important issues such as how to
handle the Kibei and segregation."
Lim's report says Masaoka's offer of JACL
"cooperation with and subservience to the WRA" in another
letter was "particularly disturbing" for effectively
compromising the JACL's freedom to act in the best interests of the
Japanese American community "when a difference in point of view
or priorities arose." It says the blanket commitment to the WRA
came "at a fairly early point in time; certainly too early to
know what many of (the WRA's) policies would be and how the camps
would be structured."
In 1988, Masaoka admitted, "I may have trusted
the U.S. government too much in what they said to us," but added,
"We were trying to put out a certain face to the government ...
don't you think sometimes we had to write things we didn't always want
to write, as part of the price of getting better treatment?"
- That government analysts attributed the beatings of
JACL'ers inside camp, such as in the Manzanar riot of 1942, to the
JACL's own unpopularity for acting in the name of the community
without an elective mandate. Some have argued that camp dissenters
assaulted JACL'ers out of disloyalty to America and therefore deserve
- That the JACL regarded the answer of
"no-no" to the government's flawed Loyalty Oath as a strict
admission of disloyalty to the U.S., and a threat to the purity of the
JACL's record of loyalty, even though the camp director at Manzanar
recognized the "no" answer as an "outcry" of
protest from citizens who felt they'd been wronged.
- That the JACL urged charges of sedition against the
63 men at Heart Mountain who resisted being drafted from inside a
concentration camp until their constitutional rights were first
restored and their parents released from camp.
Lim's report says the JACL, through newspaper
editorials, attacked not only the actions but the character of the
Heart Mountain resisters, in one editorial alone branding the
resisters as "'slow witted,' 'warped minded,' 'wild eyed,'
The report quotes historian Roger Daniels' judgment
that all camp resistance "has been almost totally ignored and in
some instances deliberately suppressed by chroniclers of the Japanese
Americans. The JACL-WRA view has dominated the writing of the
evacuation's postwar history, thereby nicely illustrating E.H. Carr's
dictum that history is written by the winners."
According to the Hokubei Mainichi in 1988, the
report compiled in response to what's known as "Resolution 7"
was to have been distributed to all JACL chapters and published in the
JACL's house organ, Pacific Citizen, prior to the 1990 convention.
The report on Resolution 7 is set for a business session
on Wednesday morning, June 20th. A similar resolution aimed at
"community unity and healing," submitted by the JACL's Golden
Gate chapter, is expected to be brought up on June 21st.
Copyright © 1990 by Frank Abe. All rights reserved.
At the time of publication, Frank Abe was senior reporter for KIRO
Newsradio 71 in Seattle. He was the writer the JACL first approached to
compile the research report.
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