VOX POPULI: ‘No-No Boys’ and Renunciants Revisit Pain of Stigma from World War II

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Panelists discussed the turmoil in the camps caused by the loyalty questionnaire.

By RICHARD KATSUDA

The Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California-sponsored forum on October 27, 2012, “70 Years Since E09066: ‘No-No Boys’ and Renunciants – Loyal or Disloyal?” generated great public interest with a turn-away crowd at the event held at the Torrance Katy Geissert Civic Center Library.

The “no-no boys” and renunciants at Tule Lake protested the indignity and injustice of having to answer a “loyalty questionnaire” while incarcerated during WWII. The federal government excluded Japanese Americans from the West Coast in 1942, claiming “military necessity,” based on their assumption that some Japanese Americans would commit sabotage or espionage against the U.S., denying them due process under the constitutional principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

The government’s assumption came despite intelligence reports from the FBI, Army, and Navy, as well as a specially commissioned State Department report by Curtis Munson — all concluding that Japanese Americans posed no security threat to the United States.

During the entire course of the war, there was not one documented act of espionage or sabotage by any person of Japanese ancestry during the war.

At the end of 1942, the federal government decided to establish a volunteer combat team of Nisei soldiers. In February 1943, government officials created a loyalty test, initially for males of military age, but expanded to include all persons of Japanese ancestry 17 years old and older.  Questions 27 and 28 of what became known as the “loyalty questionnaire” proved to cause tremendous dissension and tension among the inmates.

Question 27:  Are you willing to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

Question 28:  Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese emperor or any other foreign government, power or organization?

The complexities and duress of having to answer such questions while behind barbed wire were not taken into consideration, and Japanese Americans were forced to reduce their frustrations and confusion to a simple “yes” or “no” response to the questions. Government officials decided that a “yes” response to Question 28 indicated loyalty and a “no” response indicated disloyalty to the U.S. Women, the elderly, and resident aliens were not expected to serve in the armed forces yet were required to answer Question 27.

Why did many people answer “no” to Question 28? Some felt anger that their government would even dare ask them that question, especially after it had denied them any due process of law.  Japanese immigrants (Issei) were prohibited from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens and answering “yes” to Question 28 would mean that they could lose their Japanese citizenship, leaving them as stateless people.

Some thought a “yes” response suggested that the respondent had prior loyalty to Japan, thinking that to “forswear” allegiance to the Japanese emperor meant that he or she had had loyalty to the emperor in the first place. Many feared that those responding “no-no” to Questions 27 and 28 would be sent to a separate camp. Some answered “no-no” because their parents had done so, and they felt they needed to in order to keep their family together.

Those who answered “no-no” to Questions 27 and 28 became known as “no-no boys,” and they were indeed sent to a separate camp — they were locked up in the Tule Lake Segregation Center. At Tule Lake, many renounced their U.S. citizenship and became known as renunciants. The circumstances of why those people renounced their citizenship also created turmoil among the inmates at Tule Lake, and many people felt that the government manipulated the renunciations.

Japanese Americans were forced to answer these questions and suffer all the pain that they brought. Within the confines of a concentration camp, they began to question themselves and others. They began to feel intense hostilities toward those who, for whatever reasons, felt they needed to answer “no” to Question 28. Finger-pointing and scapegoating were rampant. Japanese Americans could not confront the federal government that had created this mess, so they began to blame those who answered “no” for their predicament.

Roy Sakamoto, president of the JAHSSC, explained that many still confuse the war resisters with the “no-no boys.” Sakamoto said, “The vast majority of the war resisters answered the questions ‘yes-yes’ but refused to report for military service as a protest against their unjust incarceration. They were willing to serve in the military once constitutional rights were restored for themselves and their families.

Richard Katsuda, moderator and chair of the program, stated, “The ‘no-no boys,’ or ‘no-nos,’ and the renunciants have had to endure the stigma of being labeled ‘disloyal’ and ‘troublemakers’ for 70 years, and the purpose of the forum was to allow no-nos and renunciants to tell their stories in order to finally bring redemption and healing for those individuals and for the community.

Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a writer, poet, and actor who was a “no-no boy,” shared his experiences and also read his poems “Radio Station KOBY” and “A Meeting at Tule Lake.” Kashiwagi actually refused to answer the loyalty questions but was classified as “no-no,” stating that he resented his citizenship being questioned and being unjustly incarcerated. Because of the stigma attached to the “no-no boys,” Kashiwagi didn’t talk about the no-no issue after the war. At the forum, he stated that he felt that none of the Japanese American inmates were disloyal and that the government was responsible for creating the situation that caused inmates to blame each other for their predicament.

Bill Nishimura, who was in his 20s when he was incarcerated at Poston III (Arizona), Tule Lake, Santa Fe (New Mexico), and Crystal City (Texas), also refused to answer the loyalty questions. Nishimura was being recruited for the Military Intelligence Service but felt manipulated by the government. He later renounced his citizenship because he didn’t like being deprived of his civil rights. With the help of attorney Wayne Collins and Tetsujiro Nakamura, Nishimura regained his citizenship after 20 years.

Grace Hata was 10 years old when the FBI picked up her father on Dec. 7, 1941. The family was incarcerated at Manzanar but was sent to Tule Lake because her older brother replied “no-no” to the loyalty questions. They wanted to return to Gardena, where her father had run a restaurant. But, instead, her family was forced to repatriate to Japan, and she recounted how her family struggled to get any food or housing amid the devastation after the war. Hata was especially upset that her parents lost their business and never recovered financially, and that her family “disintegrated.”

Ernie Jane Nishii was a young girl of four when her family was incarcerated at Tule Lake. She said that her father had replied “no-no” to the loyalty questions because he didn’t want to “shoot at his brothers in Japan.” Her father, a judo instructor and civic leader, was considered a “potential troublemaker” and was imprisoned at the Tule Lake stockade for several months.

On Dec. 8, the JAHSSC held follow-up focus groups with forum attendees who wanted to more deeply probe the issues regarding the “no-no boys” and renunciants.

Art Ogami, who was 20 when incarcerated at Manzanar, was chounan (the eldest son) in his family and thus felt the responsibility to keep his family together. He answered “yes” to being inducted into the military but not as a volunteer. His mother later had him change his response to “no.” Keeping family togetherness foremost in his mind, Ogami replied “no” to Question 28. He had also renounced his citizenship in Manzanar to keep his family intact.

Ogami joined the Hoshi Dan, which was a group made up largely of Kibei Nisei, Japanese Americans born in the U.S. but raised in Japan. Because of their dual backgrounds, they felt an affinity toward both the U.S. and Japan. As many of them felt betrayed and disowned by the U.S. government, they formed the Hoshi Dan to protest their incarceration and to prepare to return to Japan.

Many of the Hoshi Dan’s activities took on a militaristic, pro-Japan character, which created another element of tension and confusion in Tule Lake. Kashiwagi had earlier referred to what he considered “the pro-Japan fanatics,” but he concluded that the government was responsible for all of the turmoil at Tule Lake. “It’s certain to me that it was the government that did this to us. I don’t feel anyone was disloyal. We were protesting, even the pro-Japan people.”

Ogami regained his citizenship in 1952.

Yosh Nishimoto was 12 when he left Tule Lake, which he remembers as a “world unto itself.” He recalled the often-violent fights in the mess hall and inmates being fractured into groups, with people asking him, “Which group are you with?” Nishimoto said he felt that inmates made sure they were on some “team.” He remembers Tule Lake as a bilingual society, with many expressing their natural affinity toward the land of their childhood and ancestry. His father was in his 40s and had a very difficult time resettling after the war. Nishimoto recalled that, with everything that happened during the war, his father was depressed for a long time.

George Matsumoto was only 17 when he was sent to Manzanar. He answered “no-no” because he was classified as 4-C (enemy alien) by the military. Matsumoto said that if draft-age men were classified 1-A, it would not have caused as much dissension in the camp. His family was split up for two years between Manzanar and Tule Lake because family members answered the questions differently. Matsumoto felt that he was too young at the time to understand the impact his answers would have on his life.

Yukio Kawaratani was only 11 when first sent to camp. He grew up during the Depression and saw his family lose everything when the war started. Kawaratani came from a family of 11with two older Kibei brothers. The answers to the loyalty questions by his parents and his older siblings were influenced by their alien (Issei) status and the military draft. The family members’ answers and their later actions split the family up.

He felt the renunciants renounced because of anger in the camp and reflected civil protest and disobedience, not disloyalty. His father and some siblings were sent to Department of Justice camps for their participation in protest groups.

Keiji Yata was only 14 when sent to Heart Mountain. His parents answered the questions “yes-yes.” Yata went to work in Montana for the railroad during summers. When he turned 18, he registered as a “no-no” in January 1945. Instead of being transferred to Tule Lake, Yata was classified as 4-C (enemy alien). As the war wound down, he realized he would not be able to find work unless he joined the Army. In August 1945, he wrote a letter to the Selective Service, asking them to reconsider his answers.  He was reclassified 1-A and allowed to join the Army after the war.

Other focus group participants were born post-war but shared how their families were impacted by the wartime experience. Their families’ answers to the loyalty questions ranged from “yes-yes to “no-no.” Many Issei wanted to return to Japan after the war and pressured younger family members to do so, too.  Some parents renounced their citizenship and went to Japan, later returning to the U.S. after their citizenship was restored.

Many of the younger participants stated that they would have protested if they had been incarcerated and probably would have been no-nos. Their families’ experiences were similar to the experiences of the no-nos who participated in the forum and focus-group sessions: different answers split families up both physically and emotionally; many felt a sense of shame for their incarceration and their being branded as “troublemakers” and would not talk about their experiences until late in life; their wartime treatment by the government impacted the rest of their lives.

The forum and focus group discussions enabled no-nos and renunciants to look back on the 70 years since the loyalty questionnaire and tell their stories. Perhaps these events will inspire others to share stories that they have kept bottled up for all these years because of a sense of shame or anger. Perhaps this will help to bring real understanding and healing in the Japanese American community and will restore a sense of dignity to those who have been called “disloyal” for all these years.

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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