Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim Akutsu Interview
Narrator: Jim Akutsu
Interviewer: Art Hansen
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 9 and 12, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-ajim-01-0040

<Begin Segment 40>

AH: You were in contact with both Frank Emi and Jimmie Omura, and I've gotten some -- I went over to Denver -- and I got some correspondence. And I wonder if I could take a moment to get you to clarify what this might have been all about. This, this letter, short letter from you, is dated June 27, 1944, and you write: "Dear Mr. Omura, thank you very much for answering my letter. From what I hear, you are on the spot, too. Well, now since I uncovered that letter I sent you, my draft business, I was told it was a mistake, but I'm not sure of it. To protect the writers of the letter, I think it was just called a mistake. Well now, I'm now accused of taking government property, so the FBI told me. He was accusing me for taking the letter, somebody sensing the foul play, as a great favor left a copy, not the original, at my place. By the time I got such a copy, just about everybody else knew about it but me, so somebody wise me up. Could I be accused of taking government property? May I have your answer? Thanks." And I couldn't understand what you were referring to.

JA: That's right. You know the documents that I had, like the letter from Stafford to my board? Yeah, that's another thing, I stole government property.

AH: I see, so that's what they were accusing you of.

JA: Yes.

AH: Oh, okay, so it's that letter that they're making reference to.

JA: That letter and whatever, that somebody slipped under my door.

AH: This is what Mr. Omura answered, and I want you to kinda to comment about what your feelings were when you received this letter back. He writes to you on July 10, 1944, so you're still at Minidoka at that time. He said: "My dear Mr. Akutsu. I have your second letter of June 27, 1944, and in regards to your inquiry as to my opinion as to whether you could be charged with removing government property, I have the following observations to make. The position of American citizens of Japanese lineal descent since the outbreak of hostilities between the Japanese Emperor and the United States on December 7, 1941 has been a most precarious one in regards to civil rights and constitutional procedures. This is particularly noted in the manner in which the military summarily evacuated approximately 120,000 persons of Japanese descent, the great majority of whom were citizens from the Pacific coast and bundled them off to war borne relocation centers in the interior. The policy of the War Relocation Authority which has been charged with the responsibility of caring for the evacuees have not, in my opinion, reflected a democratic or humane process. Your case is merely one further example of this autocratic rule of the WRA, it's an example of wielding the big stick which was greatly responsible in my particular case in bringing about my removal as English editor of the Rocky Shimpo. It was the WRA pressure, particularly in the person of Harry Tarvin of the Denver office, and I believe the appointed personnel at Heart Mountain that affected the decision arrived at by the Office of the Alien Property Custodian in Washington. I am positively acquainted with Mr. Tarvin's activities and representations to Washington on this matter. Can you be accused of stealing government property? A person of Japanese ancestry can be accused of almost anything and the manufactured hysteria of hatred toward all things Japanese at present would revolve to his detriment regardless of his innocence and non-complicity. I view the charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on this point as a cover-up to remove the bad taste resulting from the public discovery of the WRA action in your case. It is my opinion that your case should be cited to higher authorities. As an example of the degree to which WRA officialdom is exercising questionable authority. In respect to your attitude on selective service, I'm somewhat doubtful as to what concrete end can be achieved by refusal to report for pre-induction examination. Of course, I greatly sympathize with you and with all Nisei who are in a similar position. However, you would be merely jeopardizing your own personal position and liberty by refusing to report. In times of war, I feel that the extent we can go is to file a protest but to comply with requirements however much we may resent their imposition. In this connection, the reason for my support of the Fair Play Committee at Heart Mountain was for the principle involved of bringing a test case on the constitutional implication contained in such an action. The leaders of the Fair Play Committee themselves held small hope for a favorable decision and for that reason prepared to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States for a decision even before the boys actually refused to report for pre-induction examination. The purpose, as I gather it was to secure a clear-cut legal decision of constitutional rights and obligations of suspended citizens. I am not at all acquainted with your personal thoughts on serving in the United States and would like to have you explain in greater details the various factors which prompt you to determine to refuse to report. Of course, I'm quite familiar with the various facets of this problem as concerns the individual Nisei but I would like to have your expression here. Perhaps I could help you somehow in this connection. Certainly, I would hate to see you get into unnecessary difficulties though I do not know you personally. In the same manner I would hate to see any Nisei, friend or foe, or neutrals, get themselves into similar straits which has already been demonstrated by others who have preceded you in this matter. It is morally proper to inject a test case, but a futile and stubborn stand against immobile legal barriers seems to me a useless and tragic procedure. I do not want you to interpret my opinions above as a condemnation or criticism of your attitude. The fault is not with you or others who feel in the same manner, but with the application of democratic ideals to citizens of Japanese extraction, or rather the failure to apply the principles of democracy to us. The cause lies in the system, in the people, and in the authorities who are charged with enforcement of the high and noble ideals to which we are all heirs. You are dedicating your personal liberty for a principle, and I cannot help but admire all individuals who place principles above personal security and personal desires despite the obvious hopelessness of the cause. But it's only by concerted action that a bad system or a bad law could be remedied. And I am most doubtful that in the case of the Nisei, any remedy can be achieved during the period of this global conflict. It's too much to contend against the tide of public hysteria and racial hate and distrust. With all good wishes. James Omura." Now, you receive this letter, it's a two-page letter, it's quite thoughtful and it's got a lot of different dimensions to it. When you got the letter, did you think to yourself, "You're absolutely wrong, Mr. Omura, I feel like I'm being chastised by you," or how did you feel?

JA: No, I didn't feel anything of that nature. My thought was very simple. I'm going to put the monkey on the government's back. "You did this, now you undo it," very simple. And the 4-C says no military obligation, I'm following what the government put me... I'm just following them. I'm not resisting, I'm following, that's the difference between Heart Mountain and me, is that I'm... "You did it, okay, fine, you do to straighten whatever out."

AH: You're accommodating what they did and acting on it, and they're resisting what they did. Right?

JA: Yeah.

AH: In other words, you're taking them at their face value that you're a non-citizen?

JA: Yes.

AH: If you're declared 4-C?

JA: Yes.

AH: Right, okay, and then acting on that. So, your position with Mr. Omura and Frank Emi and the others of the Heart Mountain thing, was that you regarded them as allies who were taking a different approach to the same kind of problem that was put upon you?

JA: Right, only I make it easier, put it on the government's back. They did it, they undo it.

AH: Did this response and the response of Frank Emi at all make you think more deeply about your own position?

JA: No, no deep... I mean this was it. There's no other way as I could see. You put it on the govern-, they did it so you put it on their back, whatever they're going to do, they're gonna undo it.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.