Sunday, May 12, 2002

Sixty years later, an apology to Japanese-American resisters - (Yahoo! News)

This was one of the most important, and nearly overlooked, headlines of this Mother's Day weekend. Mention of the internment of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast during World War II is still a touchy subject, avoided by most Americans (many are are completely unaware). This headline hits on a particularly difficult episode of that internment - one that has caused a rift within the Japanese-American community for sixty years.

To briefly summarize the conflict, despite being rounded up by the government, being evacuated to concentration camps, and having their civil rights stripped from them, the need for more soldiers to fight WWII led the U.S. government to draft Japanese-Americans from the camps. The "official" Japanese-American community outside the camps (led by the JACL) approved of this plan as means of showing that Japanese can be loyal American citizens.

Within the camps, however, the irony was too much to bear; being drafted out of a prison where one had lost their citizenship in order to fight in segregated units to preserve "democracy." To top it off, the draft papers received listed the young men as "hostile aliens." And so, a couple of thousand brave men resisted the draft.

Their point was not that they were unwilling to ever fight for this, their country, but that they would only do so once their full citizenship had been restored. They would not fight as "hostile aliens;" they would fight as Americans. About 300 men were tried on sedition charges and moved from the internment camps to Federal penitentiaries.

Shortly after the war they were all pardoned by Harry S Truman, but they were not welcomed back into their communities. Led by the JACL, the Japanese-Americans shunned the resisters. They found it hard to get work, their old friends and relatives refused to speak to them, and within their community they were still labeled as traitors, until just yesterday.

In a recent documentary I saw about this situation on KQED, the public television station here, one woman who left the camps as a teenager described her return to Southern California like this, "We came as if we were new immigrants to the city where I was born." Yesterday, her family was welcomed home.

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