By J.K. YAMAMOTO, RAFU STAFF WRITER
The “Power of Words” resolution that was passed at last year’s JACL National Convention in Chicago was revisited at this year’s convention, held over the weekend at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel.
At issue was a draft handbook that the resolution’s authors said did not reflect the “Power of Words” goal — “to truthfully explain the Japanese American community’s mistreatment (during World War II) while discouraging use of misleading euphemisms created by the U.S. government.”
The original resolution, which passed in 2010 by an 80-to-2 vote of the JACL National Council, stated that the preferred terms are “American concentration camps,” “incarceration camps” and “illegal detention centers” rather than terms like “relocation centers,” “assembly centers” or “internment camps.”
By a vote of 55-17 with one split vote and three abstentions, the National Council on Friday passed an emergency resolution to “accurately implement” the 2010 resolution.
Andy Noguchi of Florin JACL and other “Power of Words” advocates introduced the emergency resolution after seeing the draft handbook created by JACL’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Power of Words and National Education Committee and distributed to JACL districts and chapters in May.
“The draft handbook … surprisingly does not recommend use of the explicit terms listed in the 2010 Power of Words Resolution of ‘American concentration camps, incarceration camps, illegal detention centers’ but instead recommends the terms ‘assembly center’ and ‘relocation camp’ (in quotation marks) though these terms were specifically discouraged by the original Power of Words resolution,” the emergency resolution says.
Referring to the American Jewish Committee’s discomfort with the use of “concentration camps” because of its association with the Holocaust, the emergency resolution says, “Japanese Americans must define for themselves their own experience and terminology used about their World War II incarceration, including ‘American concentration camps, incarceration camps, illegal detention centers,’ though always being willing to listen to the opinion of their friends outside of the Japanese American community.”
Stating that “there is still time for the JACL to accurately and fully implement the original 2010 Power of Words resolution through a more accurate, polished, and useful handbook,” the resolution calls for the following steps:
• “American concentration camps, incarceration camps, illegal detention centers” are to be “clearly recommended” in the handbook;
• “Assembly center” and “relocation camp,” whether in quotation marks or not, are to be omitted from the recommendations in the handbook;
• A new draft of the handbook is to be submitted for final acceptance by the National Council at the 2012 convention in Seattle;
• To secure “additional help and expertise,” the implementing committees are to be “opened up to fuller participation by additional capable JACL volunteers who wish to assist,” and are to “consult with other major interested Japanese American community organizations for their input, and confer with respected historians, academicians, and writers knowledgeable about the Japanese American experience.”
“The next step, as I understand it, is for JACL President David Kawamoto to appoint an Ad Hoc Committee to work on the draft handbook and implementation plan,” Noguchi said. “Dawn Rego of the Seattle Chapter, who brought the ‘Power of Words’ forward in 2010, and I have talked briefly to David and offered to co-chair a committee to complete the work and recruit a national committee of capable volunteers.”
Ron Katsuyama, JACL’s national vice president of public affairs and a member of the Dayton (Ohio) Chapter, was among those who spoke against the emergency resolution. He explained, “I was in the discussions concerning the original ‘Power of Words’ resolution, and we came to a compromise regarding the use of ‘American concentration camps.’ It was to be used with quotations and was to be among three of the alternative phrases in place of the euphemistic ‘internment camps’ … The resolution that passed was one that I opposed because the use of ‘American concentration camps’ would be without quotations and be among the recommended terms.”
While acknowledging that President Franklin Roosevelt used the term “concentration camps” when discussing Japanese American internment, Katsuyama said, “That was before the discovery of the Nazi death camps. Having grown up with the knowledge of the horrors of those events, with the descriptor ‘concentration camps’ associated with that information, people of my generation and perhaps many younger people as well automatically make that association.
“So I would be very reluctant to use ‘American concentration camps’ unless it’s for a very specific purpose under a very specific context … Artists might use it, a scholar might entitle a book using the phrase, but that’s very different from the indiscriminate use without quotations and without an explanation. I think that if done indiscriminately it could really prevent useful dialogue and also could be an affront and be offensive to many in the American Jewish community.”
The National Council also voted to support the preservation of Honouliuli in Hawaii by the U.S. Department of the Interior as one of the sites where Japanese Americans were confined during World War II. Trisha Nakamura of Honolulu JACL said the project is important because there is a widespread belief that no Japanese Americans were detained in Hawaii.
The National Council rejected a proposal by the Pacific Northwest District Council to amend JACL’s bylaws to place Pacific Citizen staff under the direct supervision of the national director. Currently, the National Board is responsible for hiring and firing the newspaper’s editor/general manager.