Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: Michi Weglyn Interview
Narrator: Michi Weglyn
Interviewers: Frank Abe (primary); Frank Chin (secondary)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 20, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-wmichi-01

[Ed. note: Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

FA: Michi, tell me about registration.

MW: Registration. That is a generic term we used to explain that forced act on the part of the government which made young men -- well, actually, the adults who were seventeen years and older -- declare their loyalty, their unqualified loyalty to the United States.

FA: What was, what was the leave clearance questionnaire?

MW: Leave clearance questionnaire... well, here we had an insistence of the WRA wanting to use this army drive to get volunteers for, to enlist in the army. And the WRA decided, "Well, we'd like to be able to expedite the release of those who we feel are loyal so that they could help in the war effort in industry or on the farm, on the railroads, etcetera." And that is the reason the WRA questionnaire was entitled "Leave clearance," which gave -- at that particular point in history considering that the army was there to try to get volunteers, the fact that the WRA was getting people to sign all these answers to a very long questionnaire. And the heading implied that the intention in part was to get the internees to leave camp, was very intimidating. Because they had just gotten settled in camp. For instance, at Manzanar they had that terrible riot. It was far too soon after that riot, for instance. And the same thing happened in Poston where they had a near riot. It lasted for a couple of weeks and the army was nearly called in. And so it was timed very badly because the people misunderstood this heading: "leave clearance," as meaning, "Now we are getting ready to have you go out into the community." And they weren't ready. It was a very hostile, hostile outside. And they had no desire, being penniless, to want to...

FA: How many, just, can you just describe for me the questionnaire for leave clearance? How many questions were there on the questionnaire?

MW: Oh, I just know that there... was it twenty-seven, twenty-eight, maybe it ended at thirty. I cannot guarantee you that, but yes.

FA: There were certainly two key questions. What was question twenty-seven?

MW: Twenty-seven asked whether you were willing to fight for the United States wherever ordered.

FA: What was question, what was question twenty-eight?

MW: Twenty-eight asked whether you forswear any allegiance to the emperor of Japan and you will swear, and that you do swear unqualified allegiance to the United States.

FA: What was the dilemma posed by these two questions to the, for the, to the Issei?

FA: Well, to the Issei it was clear-cut because they said, "This is ridiculous. They deny us U.S. citizenship and at the same time they are asking us to renounce our allegiance to the emperor." That meant that should the war be successfully won by the Japanese, these people would be people without a country because of the fact that they had renounced the emperor at one point. So it was terrifying for them to have to put down in writing that, "We do forswear allegiance to the emperor." And they had no other citizenship.

FA: Could you tell me -- I dropped my notepad -- tell me, what was the dilemma for the Issei on giving this question twenty-seven and twenty-eight?

MW: Twenty-seven and twenty-eight. Well...

FA: What was the dilemma for the Issei?

MW: For the Issei actually it was simpler than for the Nisei. It was clear-cut because they were confronted with this question: "Do you forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor, and swear unqualified allegiance to the U.S.?" What a stupid question. Because they were denied U.S. citizenship and how can they forswear allegiance to the emperor, when that, the possibility of let's say at that point, many Issei were rooting for their country and there was a possibility that Japan might win the war and it would be catastrophic if they would sign a paper saying that, "We forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor." Their country, their leader.

FA: So what was the dilemma that these two questions posed for the Nisei?

MW: Well, for the Nisei, the two questions posed many, many questions. One, well, the Kibei were very quick to see through that same question which troubled the Issei because they said, "This is tricky." It's as though, let's say a German American were asked, "Do you forswear allegiance to Hitler and swear unqualified allegiance to the United States?" It implied that you indeed had a prior allegiance to Hitler. That puts a person in a ridiculous situation. And to tell you the truth -- oh, let me first answer your question fully in which you asked how did the two questions bring conflict to the Nisei. The Nisei were not in any mood at that point, in a concentration camp, to volunteer their services to go and fight their brothers or possibly their cousins in Japan. So they qualified their answers saying that, "We're very happy to fight but we would prefer to fight in Europe, not in Japan. Not wherever we are sent."

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FA: How did... in the book you also talk about how the, how the questionnaire, coming after evacuation, coming after the round-up of the Issei was just insult upon insult. Can you, can you elaborate on that?

FC: What was the first insult?

MW: Huh?

FC: What was the first insult?

MW: The first insult, of course, was to become instantly impoverished. Because you had to give up your home, give up your possessions, give up your long-term relationship with friends and neighbors and carry a couple of suitcases and wander into the desert and live under the most extreme conditions. Of course, the army did take care that the "Japs" would be made to suffer. They chose the worst places, the hellholes that are to be found in this beautiful United States.

Secondly, they were settled. I mean, they did their best. They felt that perhaps because of their Japanese upbringing they felt that we must atone for what the Japanese did, the sneak attack. There was so much propaganda that was anti-Japanese. And the Japanese people as a community were made to feel as though they were every bit as guilty for having a Japanese face as the enemy. So that of course those of us who were inculcated with the Japanese way of thinking felt that well, this is the least we can do to show our patriotism by obeying the government. Perhaps they have a good reason. They had their reason: military necessity, as though the coast were about to be attacked. Well, how do we know? They said only those who had the facts, who know exactly what is happening know what is best for us. So, that was another factor.

Then, of course, they find out that it wasn't the community that they were promised. They had initially been promised that they were going to be moved inland and they could form their own community and live in a democratic fashion. They were shocked to see that they were surrounded by barbed wires and guard towers. And at that point they realized that they weren't trusted at all. That they had used very... they had actually lied to them. And it was a matter of their becoming akin to prisoners of war. They were colonized in a sense and they were deprived of all their constitutionally promised freedoms. But many of them took it philosophically and they decided to make the best of it. They tried to make their living conditions more comfortable by building furniture, chairs, tables, beds. Making partitions in barracks, but out of nothing. They tried to scrounge for cut off lumbers. You know, leftover lumbers and scraps and they, egg boxes and whatever. And it was quite extraordinary what people were able to create out of nothing. But they became aware of the fact that their overseers were really not having their best interests at heart. That the food, for instance, the meat, the eggs, the sugar, which were supposed to go to the mess halls, were being diverted to the black market. There were some of the administrators who were exploiting their position to haul away what was rightfully the evacuees'. And they were selling the sugar and meat, whatever they could, on the black market. And that, of course, became very apparent when there was a crash. This automobile owned by one of the officials, I believe, in Manzanar, was in an accident and there it became apparent that his truck was loaded with this material that he was trying to deliver to the black market.

And of course people like Harry Ueno, the Manzanar martyr who worked in the mess hall, was quite aware of what was going on for quite some time. He wasn't able to prove it, but he made a big thing of it. This was beginning to be more than suspicious. And he organized a union, and to make a long story short, this union monitored what was coming in. And they noticed that in certain mess halls they -- especially the ones which were used by some of the bigwigs within the Japanese American communities, some of the JACL leaders who were not very popular, had made themselves even more unpopular by making sure that to please their mess halls -- were getting the sugar and the eggs and the meat. And Harry Ueno made a big stink and of course the administration, which was a part of this overall scheme, struck back at Harry Ueno. Especially when this mob decided to do something about the fact that the administration had picked up Harry on a trumped-up charge that he had beaten or killed... somebody had been killed. And of course the administration immediately decided that it must be Harry Ueno because he's a "troublemaker."

FC: You're saying the administration, the WRA camp directors, were corrupt and involved in profiteering, black market profiteering?

MW: Oh yes, some of them, indeed. I don't know, would you like names? [Laughs]

FA: Sure.

MW: Well, I can only name one or two, so I don't think it's...

FA: So in this, in this climate -- well, let's finish the Manzanar. Fred Tayama was beaten up at Manzanar, Harry Ueno was arrested. How did the community respond to the arrest of Harry Ueno for the beating of Fred Tayama?

MW: Well, there was a huge meeting. I think Joe Kurihara had a great deal to, to say about the fact that it's not fair that Harry Ueno should have been taken away to the county jail. And they had a mass meeting. A huge assemblage of Manzanar people just made a big demonstration saying that Harry should be brought back into camp, that he should have a fair trial by his peers. And so Harry was brought into camp, brought back into camp, and he was placed in jail. But the public was not satisfied that he should be left in jail, they wanted him free. And as a result there was one evening this demonstration... to tell you the truth, I cannot remember the facts, you know.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FA: In this climate, there was a riot at Manzanar, betrayal after betrayal, lied to. Why did the government institute this questionnaire for leave clearance?

MW: Well, as I told you, leave clearance was the idea of the WRA. As for the recruitment of volunteers, that was the Provost Marshal General, the War Department's idea. I, of course, have my own personal theory as to why this questionnaire was instituted. Because I have come across documents which show that the military, U.S. War Department was enormously impressed with the stoicism of the Japanese soldier. There is a description of this strafing of an American ship and these Japanese prisoners were cool. They went to the aid of American GI, the sailors, who were wounded, who were hysterical, who were terrified of this continuous strafing. And the Japanese soldiers who were prisoners actually, but they took it with no fear, no obvious fear of the fact that the ship was being strafed continuously and they were more than eager to help the wounded American sailors. And they said, "This is an incredible demonstration of the Japanese spirit, the yamato damashi upbringing." And there was something about the Japanese that is remarkable.

And my own theory is that they, although they turned down Mike Masaoka's initial proposal that the Nisei become a suicide unit, with their parents as hostages, I believe that after that first year of war when we were really losing a good part of the Pacific war, 'til Midway, we were going downhill. And the War Department felt that, "We ought to take advantage, we ought to exploit this remarkable stoicism, this esprit de corps, the yamato damashi spirit of the Japanese," of course, they didn't know the difference between an American, a Japanese American and those, our cousins there, our relatives in Japan. Of course, we were brought up pretty much in the same manner. We were instilled with a great deal of stoicism. And we were told of how the Japanese soldiers would walk for thirty miles with, on a lunch of a rice ball with an umeboshi inside. And so we were never allowed to complain about the food we were served because our parents would immediately say, "Think about how the Japanese soldiers are sacrificing themselves, and you have the nerve to complain about food when they can walk 30 miles on just a rice bowl, a ball."

FC: Given this misconception, the stereotype, army, that the government had, what did the government, army propose?

MW: The army proposed that we ought, there are a lot of Japanese Americans which comprise good manpower, going to waste in the concentration camps. And we ought to sort out, at least sort out the sheeps from the goats. We can't trust them all. But we should at least try to get volunteers initially. We cannot trust them to the extent that we institute selective service. After all, they, they'd all been given 4-C status, draft status and so, which was the equivalent of "enemy alien." The Japanese American citizen was considered an alien. And so it was embarrassing to the military that like a few weeks before they instituted the drive for volunteers, they suddenly changed the 4-C to 1-A. And that created a great deal of dissention and suspicion among the Japanese Americans. They said, "My God, right after Pearl Harbor they fired all the Japanese Kibei who had volunteered or who had been already inducted." There were five thousand Japanese Americans who were already in the army and many of them had been moved inland and been given wooden guns, and they were given kitchen duty. And the Kibeis were fired; they weren't to be trusted. And so the whole thing smelled. They saw through it. They said, "This is not legitimate. This stinks. This really does not make sense."

They had sent a team from the War Department, actually from the Provost Marshal General's office, and there was a sergeant who was the head and there were maybe three Caucasians. They always had one Nisei. And they were sent to Washington to get a crash training on the "Japanese mind." They had to study, day after day after day, about why the camp had been established, why it was necessary that it must be maintained. They wanted them to be able to fully explain to the camp audience the hard questions that may be thrown at them. But the end, they were told, that, "You are not to respond with your own theory if any questions are thrown at you that you don't know anything about."

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FA: We were talking about the army recruiting teams. Let's take it from the point of view of the people, the Nisei in camp. What was the reaction of the Nisei in camp to the army recruiting teams coming in?

MW: Well, initially, they saw the notice in the newspaper and they said, "Hmm, more propaganda." But when they saw that the meeting were to be attended, they, in some of the camps, like Heart Mountain, there was no attendance. They simply didn't show up. They were having their own meetings. Each camp reacted differently; the Minidoka camp, there was a project director by the name of Stafford and he had been clever enough to have meetings prior to the appearance of the army team. And he had made sure that the Issei leaders of the community would all be told the nature of the visit of the army team. So the Issei were able to transmit, in an authoritative way, the reason why they were coming for volunteers. And so of course they, they outshone the other camps. I think there were three hundred who volunteered from that camp as compared to Heart Mountain where thirty-seven, I think, volunteered. So... well, for instance Heart Mountain, they, they had many, many meetings. But these were meetings that were generally called by the young men who were very perplexed.

As a matter of fact -- this may be my going off the subject -- but I have come across documents which show that the War Department deliberately and knowingly wanted the questionnaires to be complex. It is my theory now, after having written Years of Infamy, that the ultimate and the key goal in imposing this ridiculous registration of having people declare whether they were loyal or disloyal was to be able to justify the fact that they had spent so much tax dollars on those camps unnecessarily. These were innocent people. They needed to create a whole lot of "disloyals" to be able to tell Congress that, "We were justified." "Hey, we ended up with so many thousands of 'disloyals' and we were right to have established those camps."

So in a nutshell, this was very, very much in the back of the mind of War Department officials who realized that after all, after they started winning the war, after the Battle of Midway, and they had a feeling that, "The Japanese Americans aren't really that dangerous, but we've got to save face. We can't just say, 'Let's close the camps up. We made a mistake, we're sorry, you may go home now.'" Which would've been the decent thing to do. As a matter of fact, Dillon Myer had already in 1943 suggested that -- and I think McCloy thought that well, it did make some sense, but of course FDR was not, in no mood to admit that such a huge mistake had been made. And, you know, McCloy and Knox and Stimson, those people in power, the military simply were not going to capitulate and say, "We have... we have been, we've had a chance to sort out the 'loyals' from the 'disloyals' and now the rest can return to their home community." And of course that was the genesis, the beginnings of the resisters.

But that is my theory now, that it was really a stupid questionnaire and don't think that the people in the War Department didn't realize that it was very perplexed, perplexing, a rather stupid questionnaire in that there is that document in which McCloy and DeWitt are discussing, and there's a transcript that has been left over. And they are saying, "Wow, it's really happening." Those people in Gila, 60 percent -- or was it 70 percent -- have refused to declare their allegiance to U.S. and the mothers and fathers are being urged by some of the men, just a group of men, I think there were like seventeen, or no more than twenty-three --


<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FA: Let's talk about the "loyalty oath," questions twenty-seven and twenty-eight. How fair was it for the government to ask the Nisei about their loyalty? How fair was that? Was it fair?

MW: Utterly unfair. How would you like to be asked, "Are you loyal or disloyal?" I mean, have you ever thought about it? McCarthy. That was the beginning of McCarthyism. He got to the point where he said, "We can't trust the teachers, the professors in the United States. We must get a loyalty oath from each and every one of them." It's a stupid, stupid way, because there is no way you can determine loyalty or disloyalty unless you go and bomb a bridge. That means you're disloyal. But if you think, "Oh God, I'd like to bomb that bridge, I mean, my worst enemy... oh maybe Clinton is about to go over that bridge, you know, it'd be awfully good if some guy would plant a bomb just before he goes over the bridge." Well, the fact that he thinks about it does not make him disloyal. And it, there is no way for one to determine such a thing as loyalty or disloyalty because it depends on what culture you're from. Within the Japanese culture, as in many Asian cultures, loyalty usually begins within the family. The family. You owe your loyalty to your parents. And if you're the eldest son you know where your loyalty lies.

FA: Let me stop you. Can you again tell me, make this distinction for me, between thought and deed. Loyalty, thinking something disloyal or committing a disloyal act. Can you determine loyalty or disloyalty based on a questionnaire?

MW: No. There's no way you can determine loyalty or disloyalty based on a questionnaire because it depends on who has written out that questionnaire; how the questions are slanted. And as I have told you previously, that questionnaire wanted to know exactly what relatives do you have in Japan and what are their positions. I mean, are they a member of the military and what position do they hold? And it very much depended on whether you, who was being asked whether you're loyal or disloyal as to whether you had possibly an uncle who was an admiral in the Japanese navy. That meant, "Oh, here we've got somebody terribly important. We've got to use him for trading purposes."

FC: So the questionnaire actually asked...

MW: Every one of them.

FC: Asked, do you have members of your family in the Japanese military?

MW: Uh-huh, oh yes. I found that out from Sho Onodera. I said, "Why was your mother taken?" Usually it's the father who is taken. He said, "Well, my mother's brother is an admiral."

FA: Michi, who do you think wrote questions twenty-even and twenty-eight?

MW: Well, of course, I think Frank Chin was very perceptive in tying it to something that he picked up as a, as a loyalty pledge among the Seattle group. I think it was... was it Frank Sakamoto?

FA: It was Jimmy Sakamoto.

MW: Jimmy Sakamoto, who wanted to make sure that his Seattle group would not, group's loyalty would not be impugned. And he selected a day or two in which all the members of the JACL were to come to the office and pledge their loyalty to the United States. Unqualified loyalty. And the wording, I must say, is remarkably similar to the "loyalty question" that was ultimately used in twenty-seven and twenty-eight. So I haven't studied it carefully, but I remember that did impress me.

FA: Some people have speculated John Hall wrote...

MW: Oh, John Hall. I've spoken to John Hall because I suspected that even the Hawaiian Japanese were given this questionnaire. John Hall is pretty old. He's still, well, he may be dead now but at the time I called him he was still practicing in Boston and he said that, "I cannot recall for sure, but I do believe that the questionnaire was not used in Hawaii." He said, "I cannot swear to it."

FA: Some have speculated that Karl Bendetsen wrote the two questions.

MW: No. No, I don't think so. Well, I mean, I don't know.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FA: I want to go back to the impact in camp on the Nisei of getting the "loyalty questionnaire." What was the effect on the families, inside the families? You write about this so well in the book.

MW: Oh, my goodness. It varied from family to family. It all must have depended on how old you were. If you were the oldest son, your loyalty belonged first to the family. You must take care of your mother and father, get them reestablished once again. After all, they're totally impoverished now. How are they going to get started on the outside? So that his mother and father would say, "You aren't going to volunteer, are you? Abandon us?" So that's an instance where it had nothing to do with loyalty or disloyalty. He had an obligation first to his family. Then there were those who wanted to get the hell out of camp and they figured, "Okay, I'll take a chance at being shot at. Maybe the $10,000, I think it was $10,000 insurance, might help. I mean, if I don't come back, at least it'll help my parents get started." So some of them ended up like mercenaries. Figured, "We'll get our freedom one way but maybe get shot at and never come back. But it'll be worth it. My parents could use the $10,000." But it was, it was gut-wrenching because there were at that time families with many children. They had large families then. There were like four sons, five sons. That wasn't unusual. Some, some would feel that their brothers were traitors, there was terrible conflict within a family.

I started to tell the story of, in Gila, where the mothers were urged by about eighteen or so leaders within Gila to threaten to commit suicide. And so all the mothers got together and they announced the fact that, "If our sons dare to volunteer," that they would commit suicide. So I think 70 percent did not volunteer. So the army, the Pentagon heard about it and they sent the FBI in. They picked up the Issei who were agitating and encouraging the mothers to say that they're gonna commit suicide. And once these men, the Issei -- and there were about a dozen and a half Nisei involved, too, they were picked up and summarily put in jail. Some were sent to Bismarck or... that, that brings me to another concept of mine. I do believe that the Provost Marshal General's office, which was part of the War Department, was most eager to get as much Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship so that we would have a good reason to get rid of them. "Send them back to China -- Japan. Just the way we were able, we succeeded so well in sending the Chinese back to China, and we should do the same with the Japanese." And the justification they had was that, "Once they renounce, we have every reason, we have the right to deport them." And it is my gut feeling and I think that other researchers will eventually learn that that also was the ultimate goal of the military: to make as many disloyals as possible so that we would not only be able to justify the establishment of all these multi-million, multi-billion dollar camps, but that we would then be able to get rid of a whole lot of unwanted Japs.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FA: You spoke about the effort to get volunteers from the camps. How successful was the effort to get volunteers, Nisei volunteers for the army?

MW: Terrible. It was simply devastating to the extent that the Provost Marshal General's office, which was the top police of the military arm, they gloated, they said, "Ho, ho, ho." You know, the Provost Marshal General's office's job is to establish concentration camps. And they said, "Wow, we had good reason to build those camps. You see, those Japs can't be trusted." And there was this statement by somebody, I forget now, somebody said, "Yeah, but listen. They're spilling blood over there on the other side. They're good soldiers." And the Provost Marshal General's office said, "Well, they may be spilling blood, they may be trying to prove their loyalty, but once they get back, and once they're out of uniform, how can we tell the difference? I mean, if they're in uniform we can assume that they're loyal, but once they're out of uniform, how can we trust them?" And that was the attitude within the military; that the average person is not aware of. We feel that we have proven by spilling blood on the battlefield that forevermore, people will honor that enormous demonstration of loyalty. But within the Provost Marshal General's office they said, "You know, we did find an awful lot of disloyals. They did not volunteer. They all, so many of them, qualified their answers or answered 'no-no.' Because of that, I think we ought to establish a file for future generations so that when it comes to people in foreign service, let's say, no Japanese American should be considered for foreign service until we allow them first to examine their wartime record," so that was the suspicion throughout.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FA: I want to go, we'll go to that demonstration in a minute. Two more questions about the "loyalty oath." What have you found -- after this is all over, after the registration is completed -- what was discovered about the need for replying to the "loyalty oath"?

MW: What was discovered?

FA: Was, did the, did the Issei and Nisei have to answer questions twenty-seven and twenty-eight?

MW: Of course not. Because the War Department itself decided on February the 23rd that it's not compulsory. It should not be compulsory. Yet -- I will never understand, I suppose it's like anything else -- the project directors wanted to outdo each other. And it is laughable, but at Tule Lake, Project Director Best, he knew very well about the army announcement that it was not compulsory, but he was so angry at this organized resistance which spread from block... well, first it started as barracks, barrack number 23, barrack number 24, barrack number 25. Then it became blocks. And the organization was absolutely incredible, so that entire barracks would know that if the internal security should come in the middle of the night to pick up supposed ringleaders, that So-and-so should immediately go to the mess hall and start ringing that bell. And that meant that everybody should jump out of bed and surround that barrack. And of course the two or three internal security guys were so intimidated by just a mob that they simply couldn't get to the ringleaders. Of course, the ringleaders changed their beds. They never hid, they didn't stay in their apartment. They had friends who would allow them to sleep in their bed once night, or another night they would change. So that Tule Lake group had it incredibly organized to the extent that many of them had their bags packed. The leaders all knew that sooner or later they'll get caught, they'll get caught, so they had their bags packed. But when they were caught and they were sent off in the back of a truck, everybody came out to give them a rousing send-off and they were proclaimed martyrs. [Laughs] So yeah, that guy Best, Project Director Best, had the nerve to make so many disloyals. He would send people to places like Bismarck. Bismarck is the last stop to Japan, or Santa Fe, that's the last stop before Japan. And he kept sending these "troublemakers" out 'til April 6th. And you know that the registration began around February the 11th. So you can imagine the number of people he was able to get rid of.

FC: What camp, at what camp was the registration form first introduced?

MW: I think the registration was first introduced at Tule Lake. And Mr. Best went from mess hall to mess hall to personally announce the fact that, "There's going to be this registration and that each one of you is obliged to go and register." Well, Tule Lake, after all, they had quite a number of Kibei there and they had their own mind. And they just said, "There's something fishy about this," and they just decided that, "No, not our mess -- not our block. We just will as a block refuse to go." And that spread to the next block, you see. And they finally sent in the army with trucks, and they picked up the men. I mean, they would go to, like, Block 23 and they would grab the men. I mean, they would go into the homes and grab those young men and put them on the back of the car and I mean, I must say, it makes me cry every time I think of it. But their little sisters, their brothers, would just hang onto their seventeen-year-old, or eighteen-year-old, nineteen-year old-brothers. They couldn't stand seeing these armed troops hauling their brothers away, and they just clung to them. And they just -- it was tragic. But that, of course, intensified.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

FC: Would you describe the... a Nisei, someone picks up the questionnaire, what do they see?

MW: They see too many questions. It's very intrusive.


FA: Michi, can you just describe physically what people saw when they looked at the leave clearance questionnaire?

MW: Are you talking about leave clearance or the military? The leave clearance?

FC: These were the same.

MW: Actually, yeah, it was titled differently, but... okay, ask...

FA: Can you describe what a Nisei would see when he looked at, first looked at the leave clearance questionnaire?

MW: Well, first, of course, "leave clearance," which nobody in their right mind would even think of wanting to be cleared for leave. Certainly when they were trying to organize, reorganize this totally discombobulated life and so that was totally intimidating. "Leave clearance, forget it.. That's not something I want." And then they saw all these very intrusive questions about what newspapers you read, what schools you attended, do you have brothers and sisters in the military, do you have people who are serving in the military in Japan.

FA: And at the bottom of the questionnaire, what did they see?

MW: They said if you... failure to answer these questions would make a fine of $10,000 or twenty years in jail mandatory. That is, that is totally awesome.

FC: And was this a genuine, were these penalties genuine?

MW: So it said. So it said.

FA: But later, did, what did camp directors later find out about whether this questionnaire was compulsory?

MW: Well, the War Department itself on February the 23rd -- remember the registration started around the 11th -- on the 23rd they said it is not compulsory. That notice was sent around to the project directors, but the project directors had all been so eager and gung-ho about establishing the "best record" for their camp, that they didn't want to know about that, and they kept on persecuting these young men who simply refused to cooperate.

FA: Were the internees ever told that failure to fill the questionnaire out was... were the internees ever told that filling out the questionnaire was compulsory?

MW: Was compulsory?

FA: Were they ever told, were they ever told it was not compulsory?

MW: No, not even Dillon Myer, it was his job to say, "Hey guys, I know you're trying to get these fellows to volunteer for the army, but the War Department says it's not compulsory," and it was his responsibility to remind the project directors that they were pushing it unnecessarily.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

FA: Is there any lasting effect from segregation?

MW: Oh, it's horrendous. Of course, I don't think you can appreciate it unless you were involved as a member of the family. To have ended up let's say in Tule Lake, Tule Lake was ultimately chosen as the segregation center, the highest-security camp for "troublemakers." And so there is a stigma attached to the fact that you did spend your war years in Tule Lake. Immediately people associate that with, "Oh, you're from that troublemaking family." So generally they do not talk about this aspect of Tule Lake. Nobody has ever written me a letter saying, "Oh, your chapter on Tule Lake was absolutely so insightful," except Raymond Okamura's wife. I'll never forget. She wrote me a letter saying, "I just finished reading Years of Infamy and I'm crying." She said, "Finally I understand why, and the reason all those things happened in Tule Lake and ultimately why we had to get up so early in the morning to do those wasshoi wasshoi exercise. I never understood any of it as a young person. And our whole family were so torn apart by that. We never were able to establish ourselves as a normal family, and so to have it all clarified in my mind is truly a wonderful thing." And I cherish that letter.

FA: Just define for me, Michi, what is segregation?

MW: Segregation was, again, a plan. Actually, I must make a long story short because it started out with a senator who was asked to make an investigation of all the camps. Chandler, remember? Happy Chandler. He did a quick, like a two-day stint at every camp. He rode around the camp, and he became an authority as to what was going on at every camp just because he happened to make a stop there. He had to make a report. His report was that, "I think this, the trouble which has erupted in these various camps is a result of the disloyals becoming disenchanted. I think that if we were to separate the bad eggs from the good eggs, that everything would settle down." And consequently this "loyalty questionnaire" was imposed. When the "loyalty questionnaire" was imposed it was not explained to them right off the bat that the purpose of it was, is that, "We are planning to separate the loyal from the disloyal." That was never uttered. Only the social scientists were... you know, one social scientist was assigned to every camp. And they couldn't understand this crazy questionnaire. They said, "It doesn't make sense. You cannot ever fathom one's loyalty on the basis of a set of questions. That is an impossible feat. And to crucify these people with these questions in order to... are you going to try to brand these people disloyals on the basis of these stupid questions?" And there was in Manzanar a bunch of administrators also who said, "This is like witchcraft. This is... this questionnaire really needs to be thrown into the trash heap. It is, it just doesn't make sense." And so, of course, the Japanese Americans weren't that sophisticated at that point. They took it all so literally and they wanted to cooperate with the government, when the government knew very well that their aim was to be able to separate those that they can send back to Japan, and they would love to have as many as possible renounce their citizenship. Which was another thing that happened during the registration drive. Some people said, "Oh no, we are not going to sign on a piece of paper. I would rather repatriate to Japan where we can take tyranny unalloyed."

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

FA: Let me move ahead to the draft.

MW: Okay.

FA: In the book, you cite Mike Masaoka lobbying for the Nisei right to volunteer. What did Mike Masaoka say?

MW: I've no idea... his statement, his verbatim statement.

FA: Yeah, "The Nisei protestation of loyalty was so much hogwash, we had to have a demonstration in blood." What was the reaction to the average Nisei to this line of reasoning?

MW: But, of course, he got that from the War Department. The War Department told him, told Mike Masaoka -- and he was the consultant to the War Department -- and the War Department said that, "All this protestation of loyalty is something you cannot trust. It's hogwash and that really the only way they can prove their loyalty is to spill blood." And apparently Mr. Masaoka felt that this was key to securing their future in the United States. That we must be able to demonstrate as a people that we deserved to be treated as first-class citizens by proving ourselves. And consequently... I'm sorry but I forgot exactly what you were trying... oh, Mike Masaoka.

FA: What is, what was the reaction of the average Nisei to this line of reasoning that we had to prove our loyalty to America by spilling blood?

MW: No. Of course, you have those who were brought up in the traditional, Japanese tradition. What I mean to say is that there were those we were inculcated with the Japanese spirit, the yamato damashi spirit which inculcated in one that one's duty to country comes first. Our country right or wrong. And to those people who felt very strongly that this is indeed our country right or wrong, they were willing to volunteer and to spill blood.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

FC: What is the standing of the people segregated to Tule Lake in the Japanese American society? Are they respected? Are they proud of it? Do they respect themselves? What is the effect on Japanese American morale?

MW: It's very difficult to find Tule Lakers who really have that much curiosity. I wonder sometimes whether it's that they don't want to speak about it. It is so fascinating to me and I would think that it would be to, to a real Tulean to say, "My cousin was in that stockade." And do you know that we had six tanks that guarded that compound of Tule Lake? They held their exercises daily, showing their might. Can you imagine a concentration camp in Europe that had six tanks guarding it? It's almost unbelievable. And I would love to run into a Tule Laker who would explain to me how it felt to see tanks right outside the gate. And to think that this was free America, liberty and justice for all. And to know that you were surrounded not only by this escape-proof gate, wired fence, but you had the advantage also of huge armament. You know, personnel carriers and all that.

Yes, I don't understand the Tuleans. They do not want to look into their past. They don't want to come across their fathers' names, apparently, or their brothers' names. I have lots and lots of names and I think to myself, "Oh my gosh, I hope the son or daughter doesn't look at this. It would be embarrassing." Because as in every camp, you had those who were collaborating with the camp commandant, and there was a lot of that sort of thing in Tule Lake. To the extent that Mr. Nomo, who headed up the, that canteen, he was murdered and to this day that murder is unsolved.

But yes, there has never been a dialogue within the Tulean community as you have among the Fair Play Committee of Heart Mountain, they get together and they share stories and you learn new things about Tamesa, about Inouye. And you want to know, "Are they still alive?" It's fascinating to go deeper and deeper into what really happened and truly you will, there's nothing like going to the archives because then you find out, oh, So-and-so from Block so-and-so was in cahoots with Best? I mean, I can't believe it. But, you know, that sort of thing is fascinating.

FC: The popular belief is that Japanese America itself asked the government to restore the draft to give them the opportunity to sacrifice, prove their sacrifice in blood, to prove their loyalty. Did the Japanese Americans want the draft more than they wanted the rest of their civil rights?

MW: Well, you know very well that that was the genesis of the, one of the genesis of the Manzanar riot. They had a meeting of the, of the camp representatives and the one, and there were a couple of JACL leaders who represented Manzanar. And apparently it meant a great deal to that organization that selective service be instituted. Not voluntary enlistment. I have a document dated March 1942 that was right after Executive Order 9066 was issued, that was February 19th and around March the 5th there's a document saying, "We ought to find out just how many draft-age Japanese Americans are in camp." So apparently already the army was thinking in terms of the possibility of using that manpower. After all, they saw those Japanese myths.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

FA: Okay, let me ask you this, Michi. There was a meeting -- as Frank says. What do you, what did that meeting lead to at Manzanar?

MW: Well, unfortunately, word got out that, I think it was Fred Tayama had very vehemently demanded that the selective service be restored to Japanese Americans within the camps. And the reaction in Manzanar and other camps was, "What? They want to raid a concentration... you know, concentration camps for bodies, I mean, to be shot at?" I mean, it didn't make sense to the average young person of nineteen, twenty, and to the parents certainly. After all, these were, you know, these were gently-reared young sons on whom they depended for their future. And to end up in a camp like that, in a God-forsaken place, and then they want to come raid our...

FC: Describe your camp.

MW: Yeah, the three camp. Pardon?

FC: Describe your camp, Gila.

FA: Yeah, what was the reaction in Gila to...

FC: What was your reaction, I mean, your reaction to life in Gila?

MW: I was too young. No, because I told Frank that was... I was a hard-working farm girl and I was liberated and I didn't have to work that hard in camp.

FC: So you were used to the rough life.

MW: Yeah, I was a child slave labor. [Smiles] So I had it easy in camp.

FC: How old were you in camp?

MW: I was fifteen when I went in.

FA: Michi, what, how did the word of the JACL, Fred Tayama, calling for the draft, hit the Issei? You began to talk about that.

MW: You know, that's too hard a question because it's too complex. I have to cite one after the other because each family was different.


FA: What was the reaction in Heart Mountain from what you've seen in the documents? What was the reaction at Heart Mountain?

MW: I think I told you earlier that they refused to go to these meetings sponsored by the army team. They stood them up, and they held their own private meetings here and there. And they couldn't make heads or tails of this questionnaire. And so eventually when they did meet with the, when they did go to the larger meeting, they asked very hard questions which the, these army... the teams were in no position to answer such questions as, "Can you restore our constitutional rights first? We'll be happy to go. Will you allow our parents to go back to their homes first? In which case we will be very happy to go. We would serve happily if we could be dispersed into various units like other U.S. citizens. We do not want to be treated in an apartheid fashion where we would end up as blacks." You know, the Jim Crow units.

FA: It would be a "Jap Crow" unit.

MW: "Jap Crow."

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

FA: Michi, what have you found -- the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, what do you, how do you regard their accomplishment, what they did?

MW: Well, first of all, you have to give this group an enormous amount of credit because you have to understand -- and it's very difficult for most people to understand -- that these young men, some of them were only seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. Of course, we had people like Frank Emi who didn't have to get involved because he was married and had two children. He was one of the older ones. But when you think of how young they were and that they, they were bright. I would say that they were bright. If they had been ordinary Joe Blows, or people like me -- I went to camp at fifteen, I was so naive. It's unbelievable, it's truly unbelievable for me to believe that somebody seventeen, eighteen, let's say three years older than me, had enough courage. And he had an understanding of the Constitution to the degree that he would say, "Oh, this is utterly, utterly against everything I've been taught. The Constitution promises liberty and justice, and it does not... the Bill of Rights protects us. We in no way have been protected by it. We have been deprived of all our rights, shorn of it." And for a young person to think that deeply, and I'm shocked at this late date that there are those of us who are in our seventies, eighties who still can't understand how important it is to know what your Constitution stands for. And that in an emergency like that it is supposed to protect us. But that these old fogies say, "Oh, those whipper-snappers. They didn't really understand what they were doing. They probably just followed the crowd."

But, you know, I've gotten to know quite a number of them, and I am so impressed. I cannot throw away a letter they write me because it is a letter of such fervor. They are able to articulate in a way that the average person does not even bother to. They understand the significance of what they had done and the fact that to this day they are so proud of it and they would do it again. And they tell of their brothers who fought in the Pacific or who served in Europe and the fact that they all understood. And I think that is marvelous; that you can go against your entire family at that early age and believe even though the government, they were threatening to fine them, what was it? Ten thousand dollars or twenty thousand dollars and so many years in jail. It was a horrific fine that they were threatened with. Who knows? It was a time when they could have easily been shot and nobody would have had much pity for them. But they believed that strongly in the righteousness of their cause that we have no right in a democratic America to have concentration camps for U.S. citizens who are guaranteed their inalienable rights in the Constitution. And they truly believed what they had been taught. I was taught all that myself. But I just thought of it like when I had to memorize Lincoln's Gettysburg address. It was just words to me. And the Civil War did not hit me in a way it does now that I have become a little bit more knowledgeable of what a gory, gory war it was of brother against brother.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

FA: Tell me about, tell me about Mits Koshiyama.

MW: Oh Mits, well, he's extraordinary because he was very young. I believe he was around eighteen. And he to this day will write letters which are so eloquent. I learn every time I receive a letter from Mits. And I wish I myself could write such letters which is full of fervor and it's not that he's trying to justify what he did but he cannot understand why the average person who is able to appreciate an apology that is issued by the President of the United States, that they think is the greatest thing, when President Bush apologized and we had, we were put away in camps.

FA: If it's any comfort, Michi, I save all your letters, too, and they're full of fervor and passions. I can't dare to throw them away, and I will always save them. Tell me about Frank Emi.

FC: Does Frank Emi write to you? Has he written to you?

MW: Frank writes me from time to time. He prefers calling me because we love to share secrets of how to stay young.

FA: Well, it works. God, you guys have a great secret, 'cause you both have, of anyone. Tell me about Frank Emi, his resistance and his character.

MW: Oh, Frank was incredible during those years in Heart Mountain. I loved to read and re-read these bulletins which he authored. I wish I could write that well now. But, my goodness, I would love to frame some of them. I would love to emblazon them forevermore in bronze.

FA: Why? Why are they so good?

MW: Because what he is saying to the people in Heart Mountain is that, "We have been impoverished. We have been utterly deprived of everything we have worked for our whole life. Our parents came here and they struggled and struggled through the Depression. They brought us up and they had come to a point where they thought they were going to be able to have a comfortable future. And now this is all threatened by this unconstitutional internment and that we must begin to become more conscious of our rights that are guaranteed under the Constitution. Never, never give up your rights under the Constitution, and that we are being asked to do too much. We have been asked to give up too much, and this is a moment when we must make a stand. We will not obey an illegal order." That reminds me of Nuremberg.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

FA: Heart Mountain had the only organized resistance of the ten concentration camps, one of the largest organized resistance, anyway. Why do you think that was?

MW: Well, I suppose it was because Mr. Inouye, Frank Inouye...

FC: No, Okamoto...

FA: No, Frank Inouye and Kiyoshi Okamoto.

MW: Kiyoshi Okamoto. Inouye started it.

FA: Yeah, Frank Inouye.

MW: You want to start again?

FA: Why do you think Heart Mountain had the largest organized resistance?

MW: Well, of course, I have not investigated the Poston resistance. I know that one hundred and one resisters there were given a $1 fine by Judge Ling. I am wondering if a Chinese judge could have been living at that time. You have your doubts. Well, anyway... Heart Mountain. Resistance at Heart Mountain began at the time of registration. Mr. Inouye, a Hawaiian, and generally the Hawaiians, as Mr. Dillon Myer used to say, are the "troublemakers." He was very conscious of his rights because he had been brought up in a more equal society. Which reminds me of Mr., Senator Inouye, who I had the privilege of meeting a couple of months ago. And he said that he visited Rohwer. When he saw the people confined there he decided, "I don't think I would have volunteered. I would not have wanted to volunteer if my parents and I had been locked up. Those people were there."

So, back to Heart Mountain. This consciousness had been instilled during the registration, no, a year later. January 1944 you get selective service instituted. That really got them boiling. "How dare they? I mean, it's one thing to volunteer, but you cannot force us to do something that is illegal." And they considered it unconstitutional and illegal and wrongheaded and they were not going to abide by an order which they did not respect. They would prefer to go to jail. And can you imagine, young fellows making such hard decisions? I cannot get over it.

FC: To your knowledge... you describe Frank Emi having the guts and the eloquence to write these bulletins and to openly declare that, "If we are called, we will not accept the order." Any other camp, any other camp have a Frank Emi? A combination of charisma and eloquence and... that could draw the people together.

MW: I don't think there was another camp that produced a Frank Emi. I know at Amache there was a small group, but they didn't have the organization. Heart Mountain, the Heart Mountain resisters wanted to make it an all-camp revolt. It did not succeed. But you're right about Frank Emi. There, Frank Emi was alone. Of course, on the outside we had a James Omura, the Thomas Paine of Nikkei journalism. Yes, I would compare Frank Emi in camp to James Omura outside of camp.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

FA: Tell me about James Omura, just briefly, your opinion of James Omura.

MW: He was a man ahead of his time. I do, I do envy the enormous insight he had without even having the advantage of a college education, to see through these government edicts. Whereas you had the Ph.Ds and the academic types who should have known better, who had studied the Constitution backwards and forwards. But you needed a James Omura. A simple unassuming person who was suspicious of, you know, these braggadocio types who stuck themselves ahead of others and assumed leadership when he felt that the leadership demanded true leading of the people to a restoration of rights that was being shorn. And that was Omura's terrible, terrible dilemma. He was a nobody. He knew that he was just a journalist, but he had a terrible, terribly refined and sensitive conscience. And he felt that we need leadership. We've got to stop this. We can, we can still stop it if we would all get together. But he was a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

FA: Would you say that Frank Emi provided leadership at Heart Mountain?

MW: Oh, indeed he did. Yes, because, well, you know. You've seen the bulletins.

FA: Did you include Jimmie Omura in your book?

MW: Jimmie Omura... you see, I have to explain that when I wrote my book I had so much material. And what I wanted to do was to break new ground. I wanted to be able to cover areas which had not been touched upon. Oh, I was so intimidated when it came to Heart Mountain because Douglas Nelson had his book published. Prior to that, Roger Daniels had his book published, Concentration Camps U.S.A., in which he quotes quite a bit from his student Douglas Nelson. And I thought, "Oh my gosh, here's an area where I need so much research but I could never do justice to it as Douglas Nelson has done. I would not be breaking new ground." I had written a footnote saying that since this area has been covered by Roger Daniels and Douglas Nelson so carefully, I prefer not to tread on areas that have been so scrupulously researched. Well, darn it, it happened that my editor -- and it was partly my fault because I should have kept track of everything that she had excised as being a little too much -- and it wasn't until the book had come out that I realized, oh, that particular footnote crediting Nelson and Daniels had been excised.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

FA: Did the Japanese American community, did the Japanese American leadership embrace the Fair Play Committee at Heart Mountain at the time, or not?

MW: I cannot say that they embraced the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. However, in Heart Mountain, the block leaders were mostly Issei. And the block leaders were very sympathetic with the Heart Mountain resisters, especially Mr. Tsuneishi, Paul Tsuneishi's father, who spoke both English and Japanese. And he would try to transmit to the Japanese community what exactly, what the Fair Play Committee was trying to accomplish. And I believe that's one of the reasons why the Issei do not hold against the Fair Play Committee the kind of animus that we still find extant among the veterans and the elderly. Well, I suppose those who belonged to the JACL and believed that it was our first priority to share blood -- to shed blood on the battlefield, and that you were a coward if you didn't. And that it destroys our image by having that record of ending up in a penitentiary. So Mr. Tsuneishi smoothed things over really...

FA: Has the community, has the Japanese American community today accepted the Heart Mountain resisters?

MW: As far as I'm concerned -- now, of course, you know very well that there are the detractors, but I believe that they may end up like the ronins, that they had a hard choice to make, and there are going to be generations who succeed us who are going to hold up this group as the Jews are now holding up some groups of Jews who really fought against the concentration camps. And more and more stories are emerging and in the same light, several generations from now, these Heart Mountain resisters are going to become legendary figures and they are going to be proudly pointed to as having been young people who would not put up with what the government, what our community leaders felt was best for us.

FA: That's how you feel and that's how I feel. But for someone who doesn't know this whole story, Michi, is there a division in the Japanese American community today?

MW: Well, you know there is a division. I do believe that it's based on their being a bit too lazy to go to the National Archives to do a little bit of research. You find out the truth. It is -- there is nothing, nothing like primary documents of the period. Not an interpretation of the document but you must read the documents. And it will just blow your mind to think that, oh, these young people in this camp had the courage to organize and to fight the great United States.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1998, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.