Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Roger Daniels Interview
Narrator: Roger Daniels
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: November 18, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-droger-02-0004

<Begin Segment 4>

Q: Could you discuss the role of the Japanese American Citizens League? Like what its function was for the community and then how people, the Japanese American community perceived them. The kind of attitude that the JACL was taking toward this whole thing of impending fate.

RD: Well, this is a very complicated situation, and I have to talk about one or two things before I can really explain the way in which the JACL operated. First of all, you have to understand that no Japanese immigrant could become a citizen of the United States.


RD: They're the community spokesmen and leaders with no preparation, I mean, some of them, Masaoka was what, twenty-five, twenty-six, something like that. And I'm not not trying to put down how old are you, maybe your age, you know, I'm not trying to put down people twenty-five, twenty-six. But it's a strange, what? But it's one thing running your own show or doing this or doing that. It's another thing becoming the spokesman and the person responsible not only for yourself but for your parents, for old people, etcetera. It was a...

Q: Okay. That's kind of what I wanted.

RD: Yeah, but it'll take, it'll take some... I just have to get there.

Q: Yeah. Well, like what you said right now is good. I like that, I'd like you to repeat...

RD: Yeah. One way or another. That's where I was going and I'll get there eventually. Then we have to talk about the very, very vexed question and the very, very political question of how -- and some of your, some of the questions you gave me on the sheet, of course, indicate that you know what the issues are very clearly. But we have to get to the difference between reluctant compliance and enthusiastic compliance. Then you get to the point, well, gee whiz, I'm, I'm trapped into this business and here's that... that son of a bitch Yasui making trouble. So suddenly Yasui, so suddenly you go from reluctant compliance to enthusiastic compliance to badmouthing resistance like Yasui. Then later when it gets to some of, later when it gets to some of the draft resisters, or the left opposition, as I call them, who are doing so on principle, then you start calling them names 1ike fascist and traitors and this sort of thing. And it's not that they start out intending to do that, but the whole dynamics of that sort of situation, you go out on a limb, you're pushed out there. You take a stand you don't want to take. And none of these people wanted the relocation to happen, but they got identified with it. Then it's the question of then they start protecting themselves and then they stop being defensive because it's hard to be defensive, I mean, you take punches and you don't throw any. So then they begin punching back and some of it gets very, very ugly. And as you well know, there are people, you know, still complaining about who was or who was not an inu, and this sort of thing, and if you talk to some people, I don't know if you know what's his name in Chicago. The guy who has the NCJAR.

Q: Oh, Bill Hohri.

RD: Yeah, I don't know if you've ever heard Hohri go on, you know. But if you listen to people like Hohri, it's as if you know, the JACL planned and instigated the whole thing. And this is again, people tell me, "Oh, we Japanese are so awful; we always devour ourselves." Exactly the same kind of argument, the same kind of ugly vicious infighting is going on right now in the American Jewish community about the degree to which people did or did not react to the first information about the Holocaust. And if you read some of these polemics, you think somebody like Stephen Weiss who was a middlestream American Jewish leader, you read some pamphlets and 1isten to some speeches and it's almost as if they think that Weiss and not Hitler was the person who set up the death camps.

So that this is, this is what I call the, you know, the social dynamics of this kind of a situation because it's very hard, almost impossible to do what the JACL leaders tried to do. And on the one hand, you see, you get the typical JACL party line, was that, "Everything we did was absolutely perfect." Then you get the other extreme, Hohri and worse, there people who go worse than Hohri, who say that JACL was really responsible for the whole thing, each of which I think is essentially nonsensical.


Q: Let's talk about, maybe you can tell us about the JACL's role and the kinds of attitudes they were trying to espouse for the community after Pearl Harbor.

RD: Well the JACL -- and remember that it was the Japanese American Citizens League. No Issei could be a member of it because Issei were not citizens and were not allowed to become citizens by American law because they were Asians, and Asians couldn't be naturalized. Most of the leaders of the JACL were still very, very young, of course, they were at the best, their mid to late twenties or early thirties. The natural leaders of the community, the men of forty-five, fifty-five, sixty, were almost invariably aliens and most of the leaders had been picked up either on the night of Pearl Harbor or in the days thereafter and interned under a regular legal process, not relocation but interned because they were in law, enemy aliens. And at the same time, some German American aliens and some Italian American aliens were also being picked up, so we can't really argue that this was terribly discriminatory. But what this meant in hundreds of Issei households, later thousands of Issei households, was that the father was gone. The bank accounts were frozen because they were enemy aliens' money. The leaders of the community were gone, and the only working group was the JACL. These were citizens, they were not picked up early, and the JACL had some terrible problems. The basic problem was would they cooperate with the government, would they resist passively or would they resist actively? Now I think that active resistance is just, is just really out of the question. There were just over a hundred thousand people, there was no way they were gonna fight. And in addition, this is the '40s. That would've suicide, community suicide. The real choices were to either passively resist or passively comply, or to say, all right, if it's military necessity, we're good citizens, and we'll go, and we will cooperate, we will in fact, Uncle Sam, help you run this thing. We'll help you run the camps, we'll do this not only because we're good Americans, because this is, this will make it easier for our people who are going to be locked up, and this will maybe, they would say to themselves --

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.