Resolution of Apology to Tule Lake Resisters Is a No-No Win for JACL

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By GERALD H. YAMADA

At the Japanese American Citizens League National Convention that will soon convene in Salt Lake City, one of the resolution to be considered is “R-3 – A Resolution of the National Council of the Japanese American Citizens League Relating to Recognition of and Apology to Tule Lake Resisters.”

The resolution is premised in part on the assertion that the loyalty questionnaire was “ambiguous and easily misconstrued.” The resolution, if approved by the National Council, would direct JACL to apologize to “all those imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center for acts of resistance and dissent, who suffered shame and stigma during and after the war due to the JACL’s attitudes and treatment towards individuals unfairly labeled ‘disloyal’.”

The resolution reopens the deep divide within the Japanese American community between those who affirmed their allegiance to the United States and those who were sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center. If JACL were to approve the resolution, JACL would be affirming that those who were sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center were justified in their views and actions.

The resolution demands closer scrutiny because it is fatally flawed by failing to address four questions.

First, how was the loyalty questionnaire “ambiguous and easily misconstrued”? I am assuming that the resolution is referring to Question 28. The sponsors do not appear to have an understanding of how the questionnaire was administered. To determine who could serve, the War Department and War Relocation Authority (WRA) initially administered a questionnaire to all draft eligible men. Questions 28 was the last and key question. Question 28 asked if you would forswear allegiance to the Japanese Emperor.

A “no” answer to Question 28 eliminated any consideration for voluntary military service. According the report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (aka “Redress Commission Report”), of the 78,000 who filled out the questionnaire, 5,300 answered “no” to Question 28 (or 6.8%), and 72,700 answered “yes” to Question 28 (or 93.2%).

When the questionnaire was later administered to other internees (women and Issei) to determine who could be eligible to participate in a work release program, there were two versions of Question 28 used. Japanese Americans such as my parents were asked: “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese Emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?” Non-citizens (Issei) such as my grandparents were asked: “Will you swear to abide by the laws of the United States and to take no action which would in any way interfere with the war effort of the United States?”

Anyone who answered “no” to Question 28 was given the opportunity for a hearing to explain the answer or change the answer. A written transcript was taken at the hearing, and a copy can be found in the individual’s WRA file at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The WRA files for my paternal grandparents (initially sent to Tule Lake) and maternal grandparents (initially sent to Jerome) show that their questionnaires included the version of Question 28 for Issei.

Question 28 may have been offensive to some, but the wording of the Nisei and Issei versions appear to be clear and concise, and the resolution does not address which version is ambiguous or how it could be misconstrued as to its intent.

Second, how did JACL’s attitude and treatment towards those imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center cause them to suffer shame and stigma during and after the war? No foundation is given in the resolution to support this claim. It would appear that whatever anger, shame, and stigma felt during and after the war by those imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center or any label of “disloyalty” was self-inflicted.

As discussed in the Redress Commission Report, Question 28 forced each evacuee to make the choice between keeping faith in America by answering “yes” and expressing a betrayal of America’s promises by answering “no.” Those who answered “no” were sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center, where they likely experienced bitterness, anger, and a “deepening sense of loss and frustration.”

They were sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center as a direct result of their expressed pro-Japan views or activities or their decision to answer “no” to Question 28 and not as a result of JACL actions.

Third, who are the resisters imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center that JACL should apologize to? The Redress Commission’s Report states that 18,422 evacuees were imprisoned at the Tule Lake Segregation Center between September 1943 and May 1944 and that this group was largely composed of those who had requested repatriation or expatriation (39%), those who answered “no” to Question 28 or refused to answer (26%), and family members of someone who was segregated (31%).

The Redress Commission Report states that from the beginning of its existence, the Tule Lake Segregation Center was dominated by a “strongly militant pro-Japan faction” known as “resegregationists” who preferred the Japanese way of life, advocated for the renunciation of U.S. citizenship, spread news of Japanese victories, and used coercive tactics to terrorize the camp.

My uncle and his family and his parents were initially sent to Tule Lake. His WRA file shows that he answered “no” to Question 28, and the transcript of his hearing on his answer discloses that he answered “no” because pro-Japan members at Tule Lake threatened bodily harm to his young son and his parents if he answered “yes” to Question 28.

He petitioned at the hearing to change his answer from “no” to “yes.” He was allowed to do so, and he and his family and parents were moved by the WRA to Topaz.

Since the resolution acknowledges that JACL has already apologized to the 315 Nisei draft resisters in 2002, this new apology would appear to be primarily for the benefit of the other Tule Lake Segregation Center evacuees who held pro-Japan views, renounced their U.S. citizenship, asked to return to Japan, or answered “no” to Question 28 as identified in the Redress Commission Report.

Fourth, what is JACL apologizing for? It is beyond question that all evacuees suffered as result of Executive Order 9066 and that the government illegally restricted the constitutional rights of ++all++ those who were imprisoned under the authority of EO 9066. But, what makes those who were imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center different from those imprisoned at the other WRA camps? As noted by the Redress Commission Report, the Tule Lake Segregation Center was dominated by a “strongly militant pro-Japan faction.”

It would appear that the sponsors of the resolution are asking JACL to apologize to the “militant pro-Japan faction” imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center for their “acts of resistance and dissent,” which the Redress Commission Report characterized as pro-Japan activities, such as unwillingness to accept Question 28, engaging in coercive tactics terrorizing the other evacuees to maintain their dominance, or engaging in demonstrations to celebrate Japanese victories.

Although there still are remaining issues associated with the treatment of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II that should be addressed by JACL, this is not one of them.

The proposed resolution is an attempt to rewrite the history of the motives and activities of those imprisoned in the Tule Lake Segregation Center. The resolution does not provide a foundation to justify why those imprisoned at the Tule Lake Segregation Center deserve an apology from JACL for whatever anger, shame, or stigma that may have resulted from their pro-Japan activities, coercive tactics, or their decision to answer “no” to Question 28.

Rather than continuing to claim they were “victims” of JACL actions so that they can rid themselves of the shame that their pro-Japan views and activities caused themselves and family members, the pro-Japan activists need to assume the responsibility for their activities and decisions, accept the consequences of their actions, and move on.

Perhaps they should be the ones to apologize to their family members who unfortunately followed them into the Tule Lake Segregation Center and to those who suffered from their “bullying” tactics.

This resolution, whether the delegates to the National Convention accept or reject it, can only serve to widen the divide that has long existed in our community.

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Gerald Yamada is president and past pro bono general counsel of the Japanese American Veterans Association; past part-time executive director and pro bono general counsel to the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation; governor, Japanese American National Museum; national coordinator and chief strategist for the National Japanese Heritage Coalition, which created the legislative initiative authorizing the Japanese American Confinement Sites Program; founder and current treasurer for the National Japanese American Political Action Committee; and a past D.C. JACL chapter president. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the organizations with whom he is or has been associated, or of The Rafu Shimpo.

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