By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
“Conscience and the Constitution,” the documentary on the only organized draft resistance movement to come out of a U.S. concentration camp during World War II, has been re-issued as a two-disc DVD set with two hours of additional footage and interviews.
When “Conscience” first came out in 2000, it uncovered the untold story of the seven Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee leaders and the 85 Heart Mountain inmates who refused to serve in the U.S. military until their rights as U.S. citizens were restored and their families released from camp.
For taking this stand, the leaders and draft resisters were sentenced to federal penitentiaries and vilified by wartime JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) leaders.
Producer Frank Abe did an excellent job of expanding upon the draft resistance story by providing extended interviews, previously unseen photographs and new footage that developed after the documentary had been made.
The one flaw is including reference to the Tule Lake Segregation Center without offering viewers background on this camp and its relationship with wartime JACL.
But the brief Tule Lake portion should not take away from the strength of the new DVDs, which includes highlights from the 2002 national JACL ceremony held to issue an apology to the resisters for not recognizing their stand during the war.
Additional footage of note not contained in the original documentary include an interview with Isamu Sam Horino, a Fair Play Committee leader who, along with Kiyoshi Okamoto, had been plucked out of Heart Mountain temporarily by the government and sent to Tule Lake as an effort to break the Heart Mountain resistance movement; a short excerpt by Sen. Daniel Inouye on his thoughts about the draft resisters; and actor Mako explaining the “Song of Cheyenne.”
It would have also been nice to hear about Kozie Sakai, who like Art Emi, had worked behind the scenes of the resistance movement, but Abe plays tribute to him by including him in an audience shot.
The expanded interviews are an important bonus. Viewers get a better idea of the courage and difficulties encountered by James Omura, the lone journalist who dared to testify before the Tolan Committee in opposition to the government’s plan to forcibly remove Japanese Americans from the West Coast and who opposed wartime JACL’s policy of government compliance.
Omura’s expanded segment has him recollecting his first encounter with Mike Masaoka, JACL’s controversial wartime director; the strange way he received the Fair Play Committee’s manifesto from a hakujin named Sylvia Toshiyuki; and the difficulties he encountered in trying to hold down a job after his court trial.
Army Air Corps gunner Ben Kuroki’s expanded interview is compelling, and Abe should be credited for skillfully eliciting such sensitive comments from Kuroki. The segment shows a reflective man who isn’t afraid to admit that he has regrets for denouncing the draft resisters during the war.
Esteemed scholars Roger Daniels and Art Hansen put everything in historical context in their extended interviews. While their comments are based on rigorous research, they may nonetheless raise some hackles among hardline JACLers.
The best and most controversial part of the DVD is the additional footage of wartime JACL leader Masaoka. Abe includes a 19-minute radio interview he did with Masaoka in 1988, when Abe was a radio news reporter. Abe asks the hard-hitting questions, has documentation to back up everything and gives Masaoka no wiggle room. It is an extraordinary interview, and Masaoka’s answers are revealing.
Another Masaoka segment includes video footage from a 1982 National JACL conference. In both the radio and video segments, Masaoka spends most of his time defending his wartime policies, an indication that JACL’s wartime activities won’t stand the test of time.
The most controversial section is the segment titled “Mike Masaoka on the Heart Mountain resisters.” Here, Masaoka is at his arrogant best, and the danger is that those who aren’t aware of Masaoka’s penchant for bending the truth may take what he says as fact.
During this entire segment Masaoka talks as if JACL had the ultimate power to tell the government and the Army what to do. Here are excerpts of what Masaoka says:
“In the case of the renunciants and no-no boys, when their cases came up before the government, JACL was among those who said, ‘Look, we think the circumstances were so bad that if they don’t want to be deported, don’t force them into it. If they want to say they renounced under duress or simply to be with their parents, accept that as being under duress. Give them back their citizenship.’ That’s why, even though 7,000 renounced, I think less than 500 were actually deported.
“If JACL had wanted to be vindictive or mean about the matter, every one of those or the great majority could have been deported, and I don’t think Selective Service, and I don’t think the Army of the United States would have granted, through President (Harry) Truman, amnesty to those who didn’t go into the service.”
Now, it’s possible that JACL urged President Truman to grant amnesty to the Heart Mountain draft resisters, but when Truman issued a presidential pardon — not amnesty — he pardoned hundreds of Americans from all ethnic backgrounds who had refused to serve in the military during the war. The Japanese Americans were a small part of that list and they included Japanese Americans from all the WRA camps and from Hawaii, not just from Heart Mountain.
Regarding the renunciants, Masaoka, for one, has his numbers wrong. It was closer to 6,000, rather than 7,000 who had renounced, and according to Michi Weglyn’s book, “Years of Infamy,” by February 1946, 1,116 renunciants and 1,767 U.S. citizens (all minors except for 49) were sent to Japan.
Additionally, Tetsujiro “Tex” Nakamura had approached wartime National JACL President Saburo Kido for support in the Tule Lake renunciant cases but was turned down. This is confirmed in 1946 National JACL Convention minutes, uncovered by researcher Barbara Takei.
That same 1946 minutes have JACL delegates debating whether special identification cards should be issued to former Tule Lake inmates. It was ultimately voted down, but not before JACLers agreed to prohibit former Tule Lake inmates from becoming JACL members.
Another truth is that JACL had no power over deciding whether to have the renunciants deported or not. And even if JACL had insisted on having the renunciants deported, it is doubtful that JACL could have overturned the court victories won by attorney Wayne Collins.
The JACL never assisted Collins, Nakamura and the Tule Lake Defense Fund in restoring the citizenship of the renunciants, which required filing more than 10,000 affidavits and took until 1968 to resolve.
And since Collins is not alive to counter Masaoka’s video segment, the following is a quote from Collins from Weglyn’s book (Weglyn dedicates her book to Collins): “They’re a bunch of jackals who did nothing to aid the victims of the vicious renunciation program. The JACL pretended to be the spokesman for all Japanese Americans but they wouldn’t stand up for their people. They didn’t speak up for the Issei. They led their people like a bunch of goddam doves to the concentration camps.”
Digital preservation of the film was made possible by support from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.