Seattle Plan


Plan for individual monetary compensation for Japanese Americans and others who had been displaced by federal decree during World War II. Developed in the 1970s by the Seattle Evacuation Redress Committee (SERC), a group affiliated with the Seattle Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the plan was arguably the first full plan for individual reparations. Despite strong public support, the Seattle Plan was voted down by members of the national JACL's National Committee for Redress (NCR) in favor of a plan to form a study commission that was ultimately approved by Congress. Congressman Mike Lowry of Washington introduced legislation in 1979 that included many of the key elements of the Seattle Plan, but that bill died in committee.

Origins and Elements

The plan came as a result of several years of research by Boeing engineer Henry Miyatake, a Nisei who had been a teenager incarcerated at Minidoka during World War II. When the Seattle chapter of the JACL put out a call for volunteers to lead their redress efforts in the summer of 1973, Miyatake volunteered. By the end of 1973, he had a the outlines of the Seattle Plan in place.

The core elements were (a) reparations for all individuals of any ethnic background forcibly displaced by the government during World War II; (b) further reparations for those who were confined based on the number of days in confinement; and (c) a "tax-checkoff" or "Bootstrap Concept" scenario for funding the reparations. In the initial version of the plan, the set reparations amount was $5,000, which was based on "recent court awards to persons subjected to unjustified imprisonment."[1] But in addition to this set amount, the plan also called for an additional amount to those who were also incarcerated, in part to make up for lost wages or business income. The initial plan called for $10 per person per day of incarceration, that figure coming from amount the federal government paid American soldiers who had been held as prisoners of war. The reparations would go not just to Japanese Americans but to those of German or Italian descent, Aleuts, and Japanese Latin Americans.[2]

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the Seattle Plan was the method of funding the reparations. Japanese Americans would be given the option of designating their federal taxes for a trust fund set up by the Internal Revenue Service. From this fund, eligible former inmates would be paid in order of age. SERC analysts calculated that all former inmates could be paid off in around seven years using this plan. Miyatake's concepts were refined by SERC members Shosuke Sasaki and Chuck Kato, with the former coming up with the provision that the federal government would be responsible for identifying those eligible for reparations. Also added later was a provision for an educational fund made up of any unclaimed money. Sasaki was also the main author of the first written summary of the Seattle Plan in 1975, titled "An Appeal for Action to Obtain Redress for the World War II Evacuation and Imprisonment of Japanese Americans," which was sent to all JACL chapters. SERC members made numerous community presentations in the mid 1970s, gaining support and raising money. Though reaction from the local JACL was initially mixed, the Seattle chapter and the Northwest Regional District Council eventually came to support the Seattle Plan.

The Fate of the Plan

Those who supported the plan liked its simplicity and the innovation of the tax-checkoff plan which would circumvent appropriations battles and which would make it seem as if Japanese Americans were paying themselves. In addition to those who opposed individual reparations in general (as opposed to plans that included an educational fund or "block grants" such as the Columbia Basin Plan), others disliked the $10 per day provision, since those who left the camps early for college or for military service would get less than "troublemakers" who remained in camp. Others pointed out that "voluntary evacuees"—those who left the West Coast on their own in anticipation of exclusion—would get nothing under the provisions of the plan.[3]

Community debates over the plan and about redress and reparations in general came to a head in 1979, when members of the JACL's National Committee for Redress (NCR) met with the Japanese American congressional delegation who advised against any sort of direct reparations legislation such as the Seattle Plan and instead advocated a study commission that would investigate the forced removal and incarceration as a first step. In the spring of 1979, the NCR voted to support the study commission plan by a 4–2 vote, the opposing votes coming from Miyatake and from Ron Mamiya, also of Seattle. Legislation forming the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) would be passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law a year later.

Prior to his election in 1978, Miyatake had obtained a pledge from candidate Mike Lowry to support a redress bill if elected. Keeping his promise, Lowry introduced "The World War II Japanese-American Human Rights Violation Redress Act" (HR 5977) on Nov. 28, 1979. Including the broad outlines of the Seattle Plan, the bill called for reparations of $15,000 plus $15 per day incarcerated. Because it was deemed much more difficult to pass, the tax-checkoff provision was scrapped. Not supported by any of the Nikkei congressional delegation, the Lowry bill died in committee. Eventually, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, based on the recommendations of the CWRIC, was signed into law, providing individual reparations of $20,000 per surviving Japanese American excludee/inmate and a governmental apology.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Maki, Mitchell T., Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold. Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. Forewords Robert T. Matsui and Roger Daniels. Urbana: Univeristy of Illinois Press, 1999.

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

Shimabukuro, Robert Sadamu. Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.

Shosuke Sasaki Collection, Densho Digital Respository. http://ddr.densho.org/ddr/densho/274/.

Footnotes

  1. Shosuke Sasaki, Mike Nakata, Henry Miyatake, and Evacuation Redress Committee, Seattle JACL, "An Appeal for Action to Obtain Redress for the World War II Evacuation and Imprisonment of Japanese Americans," November 19, 1975, in Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro's Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 119–24. Other accounts—including Shimabukuro's—state that the figure comes from the amount federal agencies pay individuals to evacuate for construction projects. See Shimabukuro, Born in Seattle, p. 18, and Lesley Matsuhira, "JACL Redress Committee Faces 'Complex' Problem," International Examiner, July 1976, p. 6.
  2. Miyatake had worked in Alaska for the Civil Aeronautics Administration in the 1950s and had learned about the wartime expulsion of the Aleuts at that time, influencing his inclusion of the other groups. See Henry Miyatake Interview III, Segments 4 and 5, Interviewed by Tom Ikeda, September 21, 1999, Densho Visual History Collection, accessed on September 10, 2013 at http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-mhenry-03-0004 and http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-mhenry-03-0005.
  3. Shimabukuro, Born in Seattle, 18; Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 294; Margaret Kawasaki, "Looking at the 'Darker Sides of History,'" International Examiner, May 1980, 15.