JACL apology to draft resisters


On May 11, 2002, Floyd Mori, national president of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) delivered a formal apology to the draft "resisters of conscience" in a public ceremony recognizing the Nisei draft resisters for their conscientious stand against racism and their unconstitutional treatment during the war. During the war, the JACL had demonized the resisters and supported the strongest penalties against them both formally through criminal prosecution and informally through community pressure. Instead of challenging the government, the wartime JACL requested a full restoration of the draft in 1942, despite the fact that Nisei were confined without due process, and urged all Nikkei to accept the draft when it was restored in 1944 and embrace wartime policies of forced removal and confinement as a sign of their patriotism and loyalty. The success of the redress movement had changed the political landscape by the end of the 1980s, and opened up opportunities for more honest conversations about what Frank Emi called the "JACLs unholy ghosts of the past."[1] Approximately three hundred people attend the 2002 ceremony, which was held in the San Francisco Japanese American Community and Cultural Center and watched as each individual resister of conscience who attended was recognized and honored for his bravery and willingness to stand against injustice in his own way.

Efforts to move the JACL to the point of both recognizing wartime dissidents and apologizing for the JACL's wartime excesses of what some called overly zealous patriotism took years and ended in certain compromises. The Lim Report, originally commissioned by the JACL in 1989 to investigate the organization's history and published in 1990, exposed much of the JACL's history of supporting governmental policies and embracing the very policies that stripped Nisei of their citizenship rights rather than defending them or the constitutional rights of all Japanese Americans. The JACL made every effort to suppress the report, but individuals sympathetic to the author, Deborah K. Lim, and to the resisters made informal copies and circulated the full report themselves. Some members of the JACL had already called for a formal recognition of wartime dissidents in 1988. The Seattle Chapter of the JACL proposed a resolution that would have recognized the courage of the draft resisters in ways that were similar to the sacrifices of those who died in battle. In 1990, delegates at the JACL national convention in San Diego voted to adopt the resolution. Some veterans called the resolution sacrilege while JACL members of the Northern California-Western Nevada-Pacific district (NCWNP) argued that the resolution did not go far enough. They wanted the JACL to honor resisters by calling them "Resisters of Conscience" and to do so at a public ceremony. Their renewed call for an apology baffled some who thought the issue had already been put to rest with the adoption of the resolution in 1990. Some resisters, particularly Frank Emi said the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee never asked for an apology. Other resisters agreed. In an effort to mediate the differences, Twila Tomita wrote in 1999: "Wartime JACL leaders denounced [the resisters] as 'cowardly' or 'deluded.'" But in 1999, Tomita said, "The resisters stand as a model of how to deal with the infringement of civil rights." He argued that the JACL of the new millennium should hold up the resisters as a model for future generations. The context had changed. In 2000, the JACL agreed formally, and in 2002 the resisters were formally honored and recognized as civil rights heroes.[2] The apology that was delivered in 2002, Frank Emi criticized, was merely a first step in a process that he argued should end in a formal JACL apology to all Japanese Americans for its wartime excesses, that had caused "many innocent people to suffer." Emi ended his speech asking: "The United States government apologized for their wartime excesses. Can the JACL do less?"

Authored by Cherstin M. Lyon, California State University, San Bernardino

For More Information

Abe, Frank. Resisters.com website.

"Frank Emi's Challenge to JACL at the Apology Ceremony." Resisters.com.

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

Footnotes

  1. Frank Emi remarks, May 11, 2002, available at http://resisters.com/learn-more/jacl/frank-emis-challenge-to-jacl-at-the-apology-ceremony/.
  2. Twila Tomita, "Reexamining the Resisters' Resolution," Pacific Citizen, July 2-8, 1999.