National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II


Washington, D.C. memorial that was dedicated in 2000. Organized and funded by the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, it is maintained and managed by the National Park Service.

The Memorial

The National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II is located on a 3/4 acre triangular site at the intersection of Louisiana Avenue, New Jersey Avenue, and D Street NW, just north of the U.S. Capitol. The central element of the memorial is a fourteen foot tall sculpture depicting two cranes breaking free of barbed wire. Surrounding the sculpture are ten stone panels, each engraved with the name of one of the War Relocation Authority-administered concentration camps, along with its peak population. To the right are three other stone panels that include text on the background of the wartime incarceration, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Further to the right is a reflecting pool that includes five stones. Opposite the pool are ten stone panels, seven containing quotes from key Japanese American historical figures, and three engraved with the names of Japanese Americans killed during World War II while serving in the U.S. military. The final element is a sixteen foot long tube shaped bell.

Davis Buckley, a Washington-based architect and consultant, designed the memorial, while Nina A. Akamu, a Sansei artist whose grandfather was among the Issei in Hawai'i who were interned, did the crane sculpture. The seven engraved quotes are by Japanese American elected officials Daniel Inouye, Robert Matsui, and Norman Mineta; Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan; and wartime Japanese American Citizens League leader Mike Masaoka. A national contest resulted in the selection of a poem by Akemi Dawn Matsumoto Ehrlich that was engraved by the names of over eight hundred Japanese Americans—along with non-Japanese Americans who served alongside Japanese Americans in the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team—who were killed in World War II military service. Paul Matisse, the grandson of Henri Matisse, designed the bell.

Background and Controversy

The memorial has its roots in the landmark 1987 exhibition A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. Inspired by the exhibition, the Go For Broke National Veterans Association incorporated in 1989 with the mission of building a national memorial to Japanese American veterans. The group gained the support of Senator Daniel Inouye and Congressman Norman Mineta, who introduced legislation (H.R. 271) in June 1991 to build such a memorial in Washington, D.C. However the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission ruled that the proposed memorial ran afoul of Commemorative Works Act rules prohibiting war memorials devoted to specific ethnic groups. Persistence by supporters led to the NCMAC agreeing to reconsider the ruling, hearing testimony in support on April 28, 1992. Subsequently, a compromise was reached: a memorial on federal land would be green lighted if it were not specifically devoted to Japanese American war veterans, but to general Japanese American patriotism during World War II. In October 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed Public Law 102–502 authorizing the new memorial "honoring the patriotism of Japanese Americans during World War II."

With the new scope, the memorial group reorganized, taking on a new name—the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF) and a new larger board headed by chairman Mo Marumoto—by the end of 1994. The board hired George Wakiji to serve as executive director; he was later succeeded by Cherry Y. Tsutsumida. Meanwhile a search for a suitable site led the board to request a site at Maryland and Independence Avenues in front of what would become the National Museum of the American Indian. However, stringent restrictions laid down by the National Park Service to preserve sight lines ended consideration of that site. Agreement was later reached on the D Street site by 1996, which came with an October 1999 deadline to come up with a design and funding.

In the meantime, Buckley worked on the design concept, holding focus group meetings in D.C., San Francisco, and Honolulu. A call for proposals for the centerpiece status drew twenty proposals, with the two finalists selected: the noted Nisei sculptor Ruth Asawa and Akumu, with the latter ultimately selected. Another team worked on the wording for the inscriptions. The Commission of Fine Arts approved the design concept in 1997 with relatively minor suggested revisions, which the foundation adopted. In October 1999, the foundation came back with the final proposed inscriptions, which the CFA approved.

Controversy soon erupted over the inclusion of the quote from Masaoka, an excerpt from the ultra patriotic "Japanese American Creed" that he had authored in 1940. Board members Rita Takahashi, Francis Sogi, and Kelly Kuwayama publicly objected to the quote, citing popular objections to the controversial Masaoka and the creed and also charging the board with irregularities in the decision making process that led to its inclusion. The dispute was covered extensively by the Japanese American press and was picked up by the mainstream press as well in articles in the San Francisco Examiner, Washington Times, and Seattle Times among others. The dissidents started the JAvoice.com website, which included background on Masaoka and the memorial controversy including a copy of the Lim Report, the JACL commissioned report on the organization's World War II actions that was later suppressed. In addition to calling for the removal of Masaoka's quote, JAvoice.com also called for resistance by Japanese Americans to be honored alongside the veterans. In the end, a petition calling for removal of the Masaoka quote was rejected by NPS Director Robert Stanton and CFA Chairman J. Carter Brown.

Despite the controversy, fund raising was successful, and the board raised the necessary $11.6 million from some 20,000 donors from around the country. Though most were small donations, there were several six figure gifts, topped by the $500,000 donated by George T. and Sakaye Aratani. The memorial foundation broke ground in 1999 and was dedicated at a ceremony on November 9, 2000. It was completed and opened to the public on June 29, 2001.[1]

Reaction and Current Status

Reaction to the memorial in both the Japanese American community and in the mainstream was mixed. Influenced by the Masaoka controversy, reaction to the memorial broke down along already existing divisions in the Japanese American community over the role of the JACL, draft resistance, and so-called "No-no boys." The memorial foundation put out a lavish coffee table book in 2001 that provided the official story of the memorial. Meanwhile, dissident board members Sogi and Kuwayama issued a pamphlet titled "Japanese Americans Disunited: How a Memorial to Unify the Japanese American Community Became a Symbol of Disunity." Cultural historian Kristin Ann Haas, who has authored the most extensive scholarly treatment of the memorial, writes that the it drew relatively little in the way of mainstream or scholarly attention. Perhaps the most notable mainstream assessment of it came from popular historian Stephen Ambrose, who wrote in a 1999 National Review article that "[w]e ought to redress the wrongs with apologies, congressional resolutions, exhibits in museums, passages in history textbooks—but not with monuments." Writing in the New York Times, Elaine Sciolino wrote that the "memorial to Japanese-Americans reflects a growing tendency to memorialize individual groups and raises questions about whether and how they should be remembered. Some critics say the carving of the nation into ever-thinner slices of hyphenated Americans divides rather than unites the country."[2]

In her Ph.D dissertation, Anne C. Wheeler writes that "the memorial forwards a particularly palatable memory narrative—one that emphasizes penance and sacrifice but elides scales of injustice, anger and historical messiness." In a similar vein, Haas also notes that the memorial "risks erasing the history of racial logic... that enabled the internment," though she also writes that it "is moving, even arresting."[3]

In 2002, ownership of the memorial was turned over to the federal government and assumed by the National Park Service, which maintains the site. The NJAMF continues to do educational programming and events at the memorial.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

National Japanese American Memorial Foundation website: http://njamf.com/index.html.

Daniels, Roger. The Japanese American Cases: The Rule of Law in Time of War. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2013.

Haas, Kristin Ann. Sacrificing Soldiers on the National Mall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II National Park Service site: https://www.nps.gov/places/japanese-american-memorial-to-patriotism-during-world-war-ii.htm.

Murray, Alice Yang. Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Patriotism, Perseverance, Posterity: The Story of the National Japanese American Memorial. Washington, D.C.: National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, 2001.

Sogi, Francis Y., and Yeiichi (Kelly) Kuwayama. "Japanese Americans Disunited: How a Memorial to Unify the Japanese American Community Became a Symbol of Disunity." 18 page pamphlet. [Washington, D.C., 2000].

Yamada, Kaori. "Conflicting Identities and Ideologies: A Rhetorical Analysis of the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II." M.A. thesis, University of Northern Iowa, 2010.

Wheeler, Anne C. "Contested Impressions: Visual Remembering of Japanese American Incarceration." Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 2015.

Footnotes

  1. Background on the memorial drawn from Patriotism, Perseverance, Posterity: The Story of the National Japanese American Memorial (Washington, D.C.: National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, 2001); Francis Y. Sogi and Yeiichi (Kelly) Kuwayama, Japanese Americans Disunited: How a Memorial to Unify the Japanese American Community Became a Symbol of Disunity, pamphlet, 18 pages, [Washington, DC, 2000]; Kristin Ann Haas, Sacrificing Soldiers on the National Mall ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012; and Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).
  2. Patriotism, Perseverance, Posterity; Sogi and Kuwayama, Japanese Americans Disunited; Haas, Sacrificing Soldiers on the National Mall, 137, Stephen Ambrose, , "A Terrible Idea: The Memorial to Japanese Americans," National Review, Nov. 22, 1999, cited in Anne C. Wheeler, "Contested Impressions: Visual Remembering of Japanese American Incarceration," (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 2015), 108; Elaine Sciolino, "Fighting for Space in Memorial Heaven," New York Times, June 28, 2001, accessed on Sept. 20, 2017 at http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/28/us/fighting-for-space-in-memorial-heaven.html.
  3. Wheeler, "Contested Impressions," 108; Haas, Sacrificing Soldiers on the National Mall, 161, 133.