Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: Paul Tsuneishi Interview
Narrator: Paul Tsuneishi
Interviewers: Frank Abe (primary); Frank Chin (secondary)
Location: Heart Mountain, Wyoming
Date: May 19, 1995
Densho ID: denshovh-tpaul-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FC: The JACL and the resisters, will the JACL ever do the right thing or will it go under?

PT: My feeling about the JACL as a longtime member and person who was on the first national redress committee for JACL back in the '70s, I've been a JACL member, I've been chapter president, district council member, member of the national board. My feeling is that JACL must rid itself of its old mentality that honors people that were there at the beginning who believe the JACL's credo: "Greater Americans in a Greater America," was essentially code word for, "whiter than white." It's that kind of mentality that JACL must lose and I was not going to renew my membership this year until I met some younger members of the board, of the council that I'm in, the Pacific Southwest District Council. I talked to them in November and I asked them what they were going to do about the resisters, and I was assured that it would be no problem, within the Pacific Southwest District Council, to bring the matter up. They felt that JACL would finally honor its resolution of 1990 at the San Diego convention, when they said that there were other ways of showing apology, other than cooperating with the government, and following its leader, who was then -- and for the record, was a member of army's K-2 intelligence. And he was a gentlemen, who, along with the preponderance of the JACL leadership, said that we must cooperate with the government, we must go into the camps. And he had the gall to write a book that said, "They call me Moses." Well, the Moses I know of the Old Testament took his people out of slavery and into freedom. This Moses led us into captivity in the concentration camps, and it's that mentality that we must lose. As I said, I was not going to renew my membership, but the younger membership of my district honored their commitment to the resisters at the January 5th meeting when the chapters of that district, which represents about 25 percent of the national membership of JACL, issued an apology to the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee and the resisters of conscience.

If we're going to be a viable civil rights organization by the year 2000, we have to overturn that old mentality and follow the leadership of those people who will honor a commitment to those people who were my age when I was here at Heart Mountain, when I was ninteen years old, 1-A in the draft, I went voluntarily into the service. Those other young men honored their conscience and the Constitution. And this is something that always comes up in time of war, and it's time for us to close the chapter on that dark part of our Japanese American history, and help our organization lead us into a multicultural, multiracial society that honors the individual and conscience.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1995, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FC: What do you think would happen if the JACL said, "We were wrong in 1942 and we apologize to Japanese America, and we apologize to the resisters for ostracizing them from community"? What do you think Japanese America would do?

PT: Well, I don't know what Japanese America would do, but the Japanese American citizenship would have a position of honored leadership within the Japanese American community that they've never had. They never had the totality of the support of the Japanese American community and that's why there was so much resistance to the Japanese American citizenship within the camps during World War II, because they created that resistance by their role.

FC: Tell us again, just say that you were a, you were an internee at Heart Mountain.

PT: Yes.

FC: "I was interned at Heart Mountain from," wherever you came from.

PT: Yes, I was eighteen, 1-A in the draft, student at Pasadena Junior College when I was interned, first at the Pomona Assembly Center and then here at Heart Mountain for two years. And I was a part of the young men, young men and young people, all of those who had to answer that loyalty oath. At that time I didn't have any problem, because I was thoroughly American, my values were white. And I didn't want, I did want to go into the army and join my three brothers. All four of us ended up in the MIS, Military Intelligence Service, and I served my country for two years and, after the war.

FC: Okay, you had misquoted the slogan, "Better Americans for a Greater America." [Ed. note: the slogan is "For Better Americans in a Greater America"] Can you back up and say, "The JACL motto was..."

PT: Sure.


PT: The JACL motto is: "Better Americans in a Greater America."


<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1995, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

PT: In 1981, when there was a commission hearings around the country as a predecessor of the redress bill itself, I talked to my Issei, immigrant father and I said, "Pop, you've got to tell your story about being in the camps, and what it what it meant to be here at Heart Mountain." And he wrote a two-page essay in which he said in partly, he said, "There were a bunch of young people who came to me who said they were members of the Fair Play Committee, and they said, 'We want to hold a meeting in your block, but the present block manager will not chair it, and would you do it for me?'" He said, "Yes, I'll be glad to do that." And at that meeting, he stood up and told the crowd there, he said, "I'm an Issei, an immigrant, ineligible for citizenship, an alien. However, I've gone to your schools and I graduated from high school and spent one year at USC and I learned about the Constitution and why there was a rebellion in this country against European rule, and these people here are here to talk about the Constitution, and I want you to listen to them." And that was my father, a story in 1981.

And that was my first realization that even though I was interned here, there was a group that stood up for conscience and the Constitution and their country, and that was when I first became involved within the Japanese American Citizens League to do something about the resisters of conscience and the Fair Play Committee.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1995, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FC: Are you... how, how were the resisters treated in the community after the war up to the present?

PT: My awareness of the treatment of the resisters was that, as I became more familiar with them and came to know some of them, I realized that they were in a position of being ostracized still, after all these decades, and they would not voluntarily come out and say who they were. When I was able to put together a public hearing in 1989 in August in Los Angeles with Peter Irons as a featured speaker, we had very few resisters and people of conscience, probably only two or three that would publicly surface at that time.

FA: Are you aware of any ostracism after the war of the resisters?

FC: Personally, are you aware of...

PT: I, as a member of JACL, and helping to put forward forums publicly in support of them, I came to know James Omura, who has recently passed away, the only member of the press who supported the Fair Play Committee. And when he came, he told us the story of how he was ostracized, and hounded by the JACL, and he felt -- and it was true -- that he was never, be recognized within the Japanese American community until after he died. He passed away, he's not yet recognized, honored, least of all by JACL.

FC: In camp, how was the JACL perceived?

PT: I was eighteen and then nineteen in camp here at Heart Mountain, when the loyalty questionnaires came up. I was not a member of JACL. I was not aware of their activities in the other camps, especially Tule Lake. So I had, I was apolitical, I was a white person. I wanted to be drafted, I wanted to serve my country, so I had no involvement in that area of public opinion within the Japanese American community.

FC: How are you regarded today by the JACL following your attempts to restore the resisters to the community?

PT: I would say as a member of JACL, that I am basically, certainly not supported or encouraged to say that JACL must reclaim its civil rights roots if it wants to do anything further in a number of areas of concern for Japanese Americans. What we need, really, is a change in the mentality of the JACL leadership at its top level.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1995, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FC: The JACL leader who called himself Moses in World War II, what was his name?

PT: There was a person who was a leader of the national movement to lead us into camps, to start the 442nd, to, in his own words, to, after the war, to spread us throughout the country so our identity as Japanese Americans would be lost. The leader, that Moses name, was Mike Masaoka.

FA: What do you think now about the JACL cooperating with evacuation and suppressing the resistance?

PT: Run that by me again.

FC: Your opinion... the JACL, what do you feel now about the JACL's stand to oppose all test cases, to challenge, to test the constitutionality of the camps in court?

PT: My feeling about JACL in opposing those issues which are constitutional and of consequence to us, that it's JACL as an organization is taking a position that is counter to the, for the reason for its establishment as a civil rights organization.

FC: Can you simplify that? Was the JACL, was the JACL pursuit of good publicity over good law, was that a policy that worked? The JACL says it worked; did it work? Is Japanese America a healthy and happy community?

PT: My opinion of JACL's position that it was necessary for our survival, for our goodwill to be accepted, is still a recalling of that voice that says that we need to be "whiter than white."

FA: Paul, Mike Masaoka advocated being "whiter than white," yet everyone in Japanese America thinks Mike Masaoka still was a great man. How do you personally reconcile those two different views of Mike Masaoka?

PT: I do not believe that his public pronouncements can be separated from his private persona. He had a different agenda, and he was a member of army intelligence. I think you can take it from there.

FA: I'm sorry, Paul, I can't. What do you mean by that? [Laughs]

FC: You're saying that he informed before the war?

PT: The public position of Mike Masaoka in leading us into the camps and saying that all that transpired thereafter was good for us and it was, it led to our acceptance within the larger community is a betrayal of the concept of civil rights and what JACL stood for. Where's the sword I fall on now? [Laughs]

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1995, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FC: Should they be honored, are they heroes? Or are they, should they just be apologized to and forgotten? Where, in your opinion, do they stand in regard to Japanese American history?

PT: My feeling about the Fair Play Committee and the resisters of conscience is that they represent the best of us, and the best of what we are called to be in this life, and I have nothing but the highest respect for them. I'm only distressed that so many of them have passed away and will not live to see the society that honors them, as James Omura knew would happen to him.

FA: Is it difficult to talk about Mike Masaoka even now? I mean, you say, "Where's the sword that I fall on?" Is it difficult?

PT: I don't have any problem talking about him.

FC: Did you ever meet him personally?

PT: No.

FC: Did he send you Christmas cards?

PT: Postcards? [Laughs]

FA: But, you know, it is, it is difficult in the community to talk about Mike and the betrayal.

PT: Oh, yeah. They can't deal with that.

FA: Why not?

PT: You want me to explain? I believe that the reason that the Japanese American community cannot deal with what Mike Masaoka means in terms of our history has a lot to do with our culture. We are a culture that do not, that does not tend to bring its problems out in the open, that does not like to see persons who are highly honored by our government to be brought down. We are not that kind of people, and it's in our culture, and that's the reason I believe that we're not willing today even, even within the Japanese American Citizens League, to face this problem of why did we do this during the war, and how does that measure up contrasted to what the JACL as a civil rights organization must do and stands for.

FA: And by criticizing Mike Masaoka, are we bringing him down?

PT: No, I don't think criticism of Mike Masaoka or that position during World War II negates the life of anyone. It's, because in my view it's understandable why we were that way. We were people of color, we had no power, and we were told by our immigrant parents that they wanted us to be established in part of the larger community, so that through us they might vicariously live out the life that was denied to them, and I think that's a reality. And so I don't have any problem with people who do not wish to deal with this problem, because I understand them. That's where I came from.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1995, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.