Rebuttal to ‘Right of Passage Is Factually Flawed’

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President Ronald Reagan signs the redress bill into law on Aug. 10, 1988. The Japanese American members of Congress were among those in attendance. (Ronald Reagan Library)

President Ronald Reagan signs the redress bill into law on Aug. 10, 1988. The Japanese American members of Congress were among those in attendance. (Ronald Reagan Library)

By SREESCANDA

As the writer and researcher for “Right of Passage,” I am compelled to offer the following rebuttal to Mr. Gerald Yamada’s review, “Right of Passage” is Factually Flawed” (Rafu Shimpo, Dec. 2, 2015). What are raised as “flaws” are quite clearly addressed onscreen with documented proof.

It IS ABSOLUTELY a mystery why President Reagan signed HR 442 because it is naïve to think that one of the most fiscally conservative Presidents would sign a nearly $1.6-billion spending bill on the basis of “an emotional connection” and/or a brief conversation in a limousine with a state governor.

Washington politics is a little more complicated and the film captures the intricate confluence of so many factors —lobbying, personal relationships, fiscal considerations, backroom deals, power shifts, political reality and blind luck — to get a bill passed and signed by any president.

Mr. Yamada asserts we did not adequately acknowledge Kazuo Masuda. The film begins and ends with a tribute to Kazuo Masuda, plus we attribute that it may have been ONE of the reasons that changed President Reagan’s mind.

Later in his article, Mr. Yamada writes we did not give the 442nd Regimental Combat Team due justice. Their contribution is acknowledged no less than nine times throughout the filmfrom naming the bill HR 442 to how they helped procure support in Congress, from speeches on the floor of the House, which, Rep. Barney Frank says, discredited any argument about the patriotism of Japanese Americans, to President Reagan’s acknowledgement when he signed the legislation.

Mr. Yamada asserts that we did not use interviews with Mr. Grant Ujifusa and Gov. Tom Kean — both are featured prominently in the film.

Mr. Yamada states Ujifusa’s strategy changed President Reagan’s mind. We examined about 10,000 documents from presidential libraries of Carter to Reagan, including the Mike Masaoka Collection, Edison Uno Papers, JACL minutes from 1942 on, NCRR documents, Aiko & Jack Herzig Collection, National Archives, Library of Congress and many, many more, like Ujifusa’s letters/writings/emails/articles. Plus, we conducted 32 interviews inside and out of the Beltway.

Everyone’s account of their participation was fact-checked and presented with documented evidence — which appears onscreen. We found no documented evidence Ujifusa was “the” guy who got the president to sign; rather, Ujifusa was “one of many.” True, Ujifusa wrote letters to the White House, but official seals indicate they reached no higher than upper-mid-level staffers. There is no proof any of his letters ever reached President Reagan.

With regard to June Masuda’s letter dated November 1987 (which was authored by Ujifusa according to multiple sources,) an internal memo shows that the White House knew about President Reagan’s participation in the 1945 ceremony as early as 1985 (shown onscreen). So the letter was no big revelation, even if it was delivered by Gov. Tom Kean.

Clearly President Reagan forgot about it because he credits Ms. Rose Ochi for reminding him about what he said after the 1945 ceremony. Documented proof is shown onscreen that Ochi was able to get to President Reagan’s personal counsel. There are several internal communications between President Reagan and his speechwriters mentioning Ochi’s letter, not the Ujifusa-authored Masuda letter.

Yes, Gov. Kean engaged President Reagan in a brief conversation between campaign stops in the limousine, but White House Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein (who is featured in the film) credits Sen. Alan Simpson (a personal friend of Reagan) for bringing up the camps with the president more than once. As deputy leader of the GOP, Sen. Simpson met with President Reagan twice a week. Duberstein is without argument a credible source — someone who had daily contact with President Reagan.

With regard to why President Reagan withdrew his veto:

(1) Rep. Frank (who is Ujifusa’s friend) says he threatened the White House that George Bush might lose the Asian American vote in California in 1988, and this was a reason why President Reagan withdrew his veto. There is no reason to question Rep. Frank’s integrity.

(2) Duberstein said President Reagan insisted on budgetary compromises … which were made. So, it was more than just an “emotional connection.”

(3) In a diary entry on Feb 9, days before he withdrew his veto, President Reagan writes about watching “Bad Day at Black Rock,” a mystery about a Japanese farmer who was incarcerated and whose son in the 442nd saves Spencer Tracy. President Reagan was a huge movie buff and Tracy fan —who is to say that did not soften his position?

(4) Gov. Kean states that you had to capture President Reagan’s heart AND mind — the former was accomplished by Gov. Kean, Sen. Simpson and the memory of his 1945 encounter with the Masudas; the latter by the budget compromises, political reality, his legacy, and Ken Duberstein’s assertion that the president believed in “redressing a wrong.”

We are not disputing that Duberstein and President Reagan called Ujifusa and Gov. Kean to inform them that the president was going to sign the bill, but that neither changes the trail of facts that preceded those calls nor conflicts with the timeline in the film. So, in the end, we don’t know if one or all of them contributed to President Reagan’s decision.

IT IS A MYSTERY — I’m sorry, but Mr. Yamada’s simplistic reasoning why Reagan signed the bill just does not hold water. Politics is a complex business.

Finally, as for the charge of the “unfair” representation of Mike Masaoka, we credit him as the brilliant strategist who masterminded the redress effort in Washington. But Masaoka was a complicated man who made controversial statements/decisions during World War II.

The “branding and stamping” reference is part of the minutes from a JACL meeting in 1942. It is unredacted and we procured it from the Mike Masaoka Collection in Salt Lake City, Utah. All the pages are presented onscreen, clearly showing he did in fact suggest it. He may have denied it 50 years later, but presented no evidence he was misquoted. He did not even redact it from his own papers in his own collection.

The documentary, we think, successfully captures the arduous journey of redress. Various people contributed in different ways at critical times. It was NOT WON by a HANDFUL.

I came into this project as an outsider who knew nothing of the internal community politics. I followed the document trail, including only those interviews/statements that could be authenticated with black-and-white proof unless the source (like Norm Mineta, Barney Frank, Mike Lowry, Ken Duberstein, Alan Simpson Jodie Bernstein, Angus Macbeth) was above reproach. Even then, I tried to support their assertions with documents.

I believe that “Right of Passage” is not factually flawed but sets the record straight about certain myths perpetuated as facts for the last 30 years. I am willing to stand behind my writing and research … and am happy to debate anyone on facts, not rumor and undocumented assertions.

Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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