Committee of Nine (Topaz)


The Committee of Nine at Topaz formed in 1943 and represented Issei opposition to loyalty question number 28 of the Loyalty Questionnaire because it forced them to renounce their Japanese citizenship, the only citizenship they were allowed by law, in order to declare loyalty to the United States. Racial restrictions for citizenship did not permit Issei the right to naturalize no matter how long they lived in the United States or how Americanized they became until the Immigration Act of 1952 ended racial prerequisites for naturalized citizenship. If Issei renounced their Japanese citizenship, they would be stateless. Issei were successful in their efforts, and were able to register using a form with the title of "Questionnaire" instead of "Application for Leave" and a revised question 28 that did not ask them to renounce their Japanese citizenship.

The committee was democratically selected. The combined effort of drafting a petition to address their concerns and camp-wide organized refusal to comply with registration was extremely effective in getting the administration's attention, both at the camp and at the national level.

The Committee of Nine wrote: "We, the Japanese nationals, residents of Topaz, do hereby resolve absolutely not to answer question 28 in WRA Form 126, Revised. We, therefore, request the proper authority to delete the whole question No. 28. Signed, Japanese National Residents of Topaz."[1] Issei at Manzanar drafted an alternative: "Are you sympathetic to the United States of America and do you agree to faithfully defend the United States from any and all attacks of foreign enemies on our domestic shores?" Issei at Topaz wanted a stronger statement of loyalty to the U.S., including the opportunity to express the fact that they had been loyal to the U.S. for a long time.

On February 12, 1943, Issei received word that an alternative version of the loyalty question had been prepared and approved by the War Department. It read: "Will you swear to abide by the laws of the United States and take no action which would in any way interfere with the war effort of the United States?" The Committee of Nine was still not happy with the alternative but it was better than facing the possibility of losing their only citizenship in an attempt to express loyalty to the United States.

The Committee of Nine at Topaz followed by asking to have the title of the form changed. Filling out a form titled "Application for Leave Clearance," particularly in a program touted as a demonstration of loyalty and an opportunity to contribute to the war effort concerned Issei who either intended to return to Japan after the war, or who feared that the U.S. government might summarily deport all Issei to Japan after the war. They did not want it to appear as if they had requested this questionnaire in an effort to prevent retaliation against them in Japan. Charles Ernst agreed to rename the form simply "Questionnaire." [2] The organized efforts of Issei to affect change and achieve a more tolerable registration form was successful and inspired the Kibei and Nisei in camp to organize in an effort to restore their citizenship rights before registering, an effort which was not ultimately successful as administrators at all levels of government insisted that Nisei/Kibei must first register and demonstrate a strong positive response to the voluntary recruitment of Nisei for military service before meaningful progress could be made toward restoring Nisei citizenship rights.

For More Information

Lyon, Cherstin. Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.

Footnotes

  1. Russell A. Bankson, "Registration at Topaz," RG 210, Field Basic Documentation, Central Utah, Project Reports division, reel 6, NARA, 22. See also, FBI, "Summary of Information: War Relocation Authority and Japanese Relocation Centers," (August 2, 1945), RG 65, box 84, folder 62-69030.
  2. "Summary of Information: War Relocation Authority and Japanese Relocation Centers"; Bankson, 36-37.