Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gene Akutsu Interview
Narrator: Gene Akutsu
Interviewers: Larry Hashima (primary), Stephen Fugita (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 25, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-agene-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

GA: During the time that we were getting ready for our trial, the Heart Mountain folks had already gone through a number of 'em. And many of 'em had, or the committee that represented them and the lawyer that represented them said that they will go to the service provided you give me, my citizens the rights, and treat me as a citizen and I will go to the service. The thing was that they were all convicted of refusing to go to the draft and so they were all convicted and a number of 'em wound up spending, I think the earlier ones spent something about three years in the federal penitentiary, and there's a group of them that went, and each time they were convicted. And so as a citizen, I thought, "Well, they're going to convict me well, maybe I will take a different attitude that you've been treating me as a Japanese as an enemy alien. You haven't put me through due process of law so I guess I'm still an alien. Therefore, I'm going to say I'll take a stand as an alien: that you cannot draft me." And with that thoughts in my mind, I wrote up my, my presentation to the, to the jury...

LH: And this is because you didn't have a lawyer, correct? Because you did --

GA: Yes, I had no communication with my lawyer at all until after, after the trial, after being convicted, the doctor -- I mean the lawyer, I mean the attorney spoke up when the judge asked when I was to be sentenced, "Is your attorney available?" And he says, "I'm here." That was the one and only time he says, "I'm here," and as soon as that, I was convicted, he was gone. I never seen him after that. The trial... the trial portion when I went, of course, I'd never been in trouble before, so naturally I apologized to, I apologized to the judge and the jury and also told them that I might make mistakes in my trial 'cause I've never been into any court. Here again, it's not like nowadays where you see it on TV. In those days, you have to be an offender to be winding up in the court in front of a judge. And after I presented my case, before the judge sent the jury to their chambers, the judge said, "We're here not to judge how they've been treated, we are here strictly to judge whether he complied with the draft. Did he go or not? Now jury, you go into your chambers and come up with your verdict." Well, he all but says, "Choose him, make him guilty." That's about what it amounted to. So it took no more than five minutes, even less. No sooner they went in, sat down, they said, "Guilty," they came right back out. And when the judge asked for the verdict, naturally the, me not complying with the draft, they said I'm guilty. And so they shuffled me off over to the holding tank, what they refer to as where all the ones that were convicted were put in there, and one by one we went through our, what I refer to as a mock trial. It was kind of a...

LH: So even though you came up with a sort of unique defense to say that you weren't, that you weren't eligible for the draft because they treated you as an enemy alien, the judge threw that one out because he said...

GA: Right, they were strictly concerned with one thing, one and only one thing and that was, "Did he or didn't he comply with the draft? I don't want to hear anything else. Did he go or didn't he go?" And that was all the question they asked and that was everything and that's what we were convicted on. Now, I don't know what the other fellows said, 'cause I was not there. To this day, I don't know what most all the fellows... how they pleaded on their -- not pleaded but answered the questions 27 and 28 either. That's, that's individual, if they want to talk about it fine; if they don't want to but many of them didn't especially care to talk so to this day I don't know. So that was, that was the size of things about my trial or all the draft resister at that time. That they hadn't considered us for all the hardships and anything else that they, they put us through, but all they were concerned about one thing, and they meant to get us into that service. That was the idea.

Now, I don't know who pushed this into them or told them to but it was certainly... I was one of the first ones, now this is a kind of a questionable thing to say, but I had, I was the first one to be drafted and I just started to wonder. The people, the camp, the administration started, used to think that my brother was a troublemaker because he would go to complain about a lot of things going on within the camp, that the white people were doing. And he even went as far as, he threatened to write to Washington, D.C. to tell them the kind of treatment we'd been getting and so he was kind of a marked man. And certainly they must have thought that, well, this guy is going to raise heck and he must have a group behind him that, that will follow him, that he is a troublemaker. I thought, maybe could that be the reason why they picked on me? Maybe they picked my name one of the first ones to find out which way this little kid brother was going to go. And from there they'll find out if there's any more coming. Because by July when my brother's call came, the FBI was, I guess, was at his door before the greeting card came. Meaning they got it switched around so they came to take him to jail when they hadn't even called him for the draft so they hurriedly put him in the next call and they came to pick him up, and he wound up -- fortunately wound up coming to the same county jail with me so we spent some time together. Yeah. [Interruption] The people -- I don't think many of the people knew how the trial went, how it was run, but to discourage people, and maybe I ought to hold back, discouraged people from resisting, they made it hard for us.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.