NPS GETTING HEAT FOR JAPANESE AMERICAN NATIONAL MEMORIAL CONTROVERSY OVER INSCRIPTIONS RAGES ON
Rita Takahashi (firstname.lastname@example.org; 510-849-3544)
JAvoice.com: Committee for a Fair and Accurate Japanese American Memorial (email@example.com)
9 June 2000
The National Park Service (NPS) is under fire again, this time for its controversial decision involving the Japanese American national memorial located in Washington, D.C.. Long before the NPS approved the inscriptions submitted by the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF), the NPS was acutely aware of the furor. Hundreds of letters poured into the office of John Parsons, NPS's Associate for Lands, Resources, and Planning, National Capitol Region, protesting the inclusion of a "creed" written by Mike Masaoka.
A nationwide grassroots movement sprouted immediately, and persons of diverse backgrounds from across the country stepped forward out of grave concern. They believe the NPS made the wrong decision without full review and scrutiny of the inscriptions. As a result, what was approved contained many errors, inaccurate and misleading statements, and inappropriate text. To make the NPS accountable for its lack of oversight, more than 600 people have signed a resolution to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, Bruce Babbitt. It asks that he "fully investigate the NPS to ensure that it has fulfilled its duties, obligations, and mandates."
At front and center of the controversy is a "quotation" written by Mike Masaoka, which was changed for the memorial inscription. It says: "I am proud that I am an American of Japanese ancestry. I believe in this nation's institutions, ideals, and traditions; I glory in her heritage; I boast of her history; I trust in her future." Many take exception to this quotation because it ignores the historical legacy of discrimination and oppression, and in fact, celebrates the history. Further, the quotation is controversial because of the person and organizational positions behind them.
To many, Mike Masaoka represents the position of caving in to, going along with, and supporting government, despite discrimination, oppression, and violation of civil and constitutional rights. During the critical early war years, Masaoka was the national secretary and field executive for the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). On 1 September 1941, he officially assumed the position and remained until 22 June 1943.
While employed by JACL during World War II, he and the organization made decisions that made the Japanese American community angry, especially because they claimed (before government officials) to represent the community. Among the most controversial stands they took was to "constructively cooperate" with the government with respect to any policy they meted out, including banishing persons of Japanese ancestry from west coast states, restricting their movement, discriminating against them, and forcing them into U.S. concentration camps. They also advocated lending assistance to the government by providing them with intelligence information. Further, they submitted policy and program recommendations to federal authorities. Each are addressed here.
"Constructive Cooperation" with Government:
In Masaoka's own words, the JACL National Council, in March 1942, voted unanimously to "'constructively cooperate' with the government and urging all Japanese Americans to do likewise . . ." (p. 66). According to Masaoka, this decision followed consideration that "This cooperation would be our contribution to the war effort and proof of the Americanism of the Japanese American." (Masaoka, p. 64)
Ruth McKee, who wrote "History of W.R.A. [War Relocation Authority]: Pearl Harbor to June 30, 1944," indicated that JACL leaders went to the military authorities in February 1942 ". . . saying in effect: 'If it is for the common good, then we will go voluntarily.'" (McKee, cited in Takahashi, p. 16).
In stark contrast, Joe Kurihara, who eventually became one of the protest leaders at Manzanar concentration camp, said he "felt sick" when he heard of the meeting Masaoka and JACL leaders had with the military authorities. "These boys claiming to be the leaders of the Nisei were a bunch of spineless Americans. Here I decided to fight them and crush them in whatever camp I happened to find them. I vowed that they would never again be permitted to disgrace the name of the Nisei as long as I was about" (Dorothy Swaine Thomas and Richard S. Nishimoto (1946), p. 368 and cited in Takahashi, p. 17). Such feelings of anger still exist today, fifty-eight years later.
Information to Government:
It is an undisputed fact that JACL provided information to the government, including to intelligence agencies. In Mike Masaoka's report to JACL, he said: "JACL did cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Naval Intelligence, and other agencies by furnishing them with all the information which we might have had at our disposal regarding the suspects the agencies questioned us about. This is the duty of every American." (Masaoka, pp. 43-44)
Various JACL chapters adopted their own approach to providing this information to government. One chapter, in an attachment to a letter to Attorney General Biddle, said "We shall investigate and turn over to authorities all who by word or act consort with the enemies." (Imperial County Citizens Welfare Committee, cited in Takahashi, p. 82).
Recommendations to Government:
Masaoka explicitly states that the JACL did make policy recommendation to the government. In his own report, after talking about the anti-Japanese sentiments, Masaoka said, ". . . we were searching about for some means of stemming the tide. Two ideas which we seriously considered at that time illustrate to what extremes we Japanese Americans were willing to go to safeguard our homes and associations" (Masaoka, p. 53). He explained the two ideas for suicide battalions and hostages and unpaid labor:
One was to form a volunteer "suicide battalion" which would go anywhere to spearhead the most dangerous missions. To assure the skeptics that the members of the "suicide battalion" would remain loyal, if such guarantees were necessary to quell the objections of the professional agitators of the west, the families and friends of the volunteers would place themselves in the hands of the government as "hostages". When this idea was informally discussed with the high military official, we were informed that it was not the practice of the government to require "hostages" or to sponsor such "suicide battalions".
The other plan was to operate all Japanese and Japanese American farms for the benefit solely of the government. In essence it was suggested that all farms owned and/or operated by persons with Japanese blood would raise as many crops as possible for the "Food for Victory" program, under direction of the county agricultural supervisors of the Department of Agriculture. After the necessary expenses of buying the seed, planting, growing, harvesting, and marketing, plus the costs of reasonable living, were deducted, all profits would be given to the government. Informal surveys indicated that labor would resent such practices as being unfair to non-Japanese competitors and smacking of socialism. To offset this argument, it was then suggested that all profits be used to buy war bonds which would be kept in government custody until after victory was won.
Both of the above suggestions received considerable support among the Japanese Americans who were informally polled on the subject matters but the President's fateful Executive Order was issued before much came of them. (Masaoka, pp. 53-54)
Addressing his and JACL efforts, Masaoka said that "for the records," they were not asking for "favors or privileges, only the same opportunity as others to serve America, for a 'Chinaman's chance' to prove our loyalty instead of prejudgment without trial or hearing." (Masaoka, p. 32)
The purpose of this article is not to criticize an organization or one of its leaders. Rather, it is to present the facts and documents that pinpoint some reasons why a nationwide controversy broke out over the inscriptions, and why, after fifty-eight years, the feelings and memories are alive and well. Historical experiences - and feelings associated with them - have not and will not die.
JAvoice.com: Committee for a Fair and Accurate Memorial hopes the memorial will send a strong message to future generations that everyone must be vigilant about civil and constitutional rights. We must not convey a message that it is acceptable to cooperate with unconstitutional policies and discriminatory actions toward any individual or group. All must stand firmly on principles of equity and justice for all.
Masaoka, Mike (22 April 1944). Final Report to the "National Board Members, National Council Members, Active Associate Members, Sponsors, Friends, and Supporters of the National Japanese American Citizens League." Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Takahashi, Rita Cates (September 1980). Comparative administration and management of five War Relocation Authority camps. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.
Thomas, Dorothy Swaine and Nishimoto, Richard S. (1946). The spoilage. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.