Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: Roger Daniels Interview
Narrator: Roger Daniels
Interviewers: Frank Abe (primary); Frank Chin (secondary)
Location: Heart Mountain, Wyoming
Date: May 20, 1995
Densho ID: denshovh-droger-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FC: Would you describe the Japanese American Citizens League response to the constitutional issues of evacuation and camp?

RD: The Japanese American Citizens League, which from the beginning counseled cooperation with the government, was very upset -- at least its leadership was very upset -- when protesters like Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui and there were a few other people, but these were the two people who were most significant at that time, objected to the whole procedure. Min went downtown and insisted on being arrested, Gordon, after a while, refused to obey the curfew. And very unwisely, I think, the leadership conducted a campaign of vilification against these people, and says, "Well, if it's unconstitutional, then we'll get our rights back, etcetera, but let's not protest now." I don't think -- I think it would have been disaster if everybody or even large segments of the community had decided to resist given the, even passive resistance. The resistance of Min Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi was, of course, very, very much in the American tradition. There was no two ways about that. And I think they should have been supported or at least, at the very, very least, a neutral objective attitude, I think no one could criticize even now if the leadership had said, "Well, we don't think that's a correct position but, of course, they're within their constitutional rights, we don't counsel people to do that but certainly there's a long American tradition of doing this." The JACL did not do this at this particular time. Later, however, after everyone was in camp, the JACL began to join briefs, amicus curiae, to cases that went before the Supreme Court. But in 1942, when the chips were on the line, the campaign was -- and there was a campaign of vilification particularly against Yasui -- there were leaflets and speeches made, and I think that this set some of the tone for the way in which the JACL would operate. I think, psychologically, its leaders were in a very difficult position, they had very little experience, although they assumed that they were speaking for all the community and much of the outside world, both the government and the people generally took them at their face value, actually, they were only a -- membership in the JACL represented only a small minority of the community and I think this made them less willing to countenance multiple points of view. This is an essentially authoritarian kind of position which people who are in a sense usurping authority quite often take.

However, to suggest as some people have suggested that it would have been better if everybody in Japanese America had resisted, I think are not reading the 1940s very, very well. I think that would have been a disaster for the Japanese American people and I think would have resulted in measures even more repressive than those that the government actually adopted.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

FC: Did the organized resistance at Heart Mountain endanger, create such a danger for the Japanese American community?

RD: The organized resistance at Heart Mountain came a good deal later. The Yasui and Hirabayashi cases, although they don't get settled by the Supreme Court until 1943 and late 1944 respectively -- no, I beg your pardon, I'm misspeaking myself. They're both settled in 1943 and Yasui is actually sent back down and is not formally decided by the Supreme Court.


FC: Maybe you could just start with the organized resistance to the draft, 1944. That might save --

RD: Well, some of it started a little earlier than that, really, but the organized resistance at Heart Mountain has to be differentiated from the resistance that took place in 1942. The war was not over, but clearly the United States was over the hump, large numbers of Japanese Americans had already been released from camp to work, to go to college, and to do something, and to do other kinds of things. Some had joined MIS, there were volunteers for the army starting in 1943, but when the draft was instituted -- and this was after the so-called "loyalty tests," -- there were some people initially in Heart Mountain, later at Poston and a few other camps, there was a, there were a minority of people who said they did not think it was appropriate to apply Selective Service procedures to persons who were behind barbed wire and deprived of large amounts of their normal constitutional rights to life, liberty, etcetera. These have been confused by some people with persons who had said "no-no" on the so-called "loyalty questionnaires," questions 27 and 28, but these were people who had said, "yes-yes" because people who said -- at least males of draft age who said "no-no" were not subject to the draft, so these were people who had already attested their loyalty to the United States, had already said that they were not in a state of allegiance to the Emperor of Japan.

But they did protest, and they said, "We shall not go, we will not go," and some of them actually refused to get on the buses to take them for their draft physicals. Even the Selective Service system understood that it wasn't right to give people draft physicals inside of concentration camps, although this meant that the Japanese American draft resisters as opposed to other kinds of draft resisters had to decide to resist the draft before they knew whether they were going to pass their physicals or not, whereas most people could take a physical, then go back home and wait to see the result and then get a call for induction. There were, of course, other American protesters, Jehovah's Witnesses for instance, some of whom even refused to register for the draft.

The JACL and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed this resistance, vilified and later ignored -- which I think even worse -- those who did resist, almost 300 actually went to federal penitentiary, for draft resistance 260-odd inside the camp, and at least one Japanese American outside the camp, Gordon Hirabayashi, who gave up his Quaker conscientious objector status and said -- I won't claim that, I claim it's not right he was out of the concentration camp, in fact he'd been in prison but never was in a concentration camp. But Gordon said to the authorities, "No, if Japanese Americans, some Japanese Americans are in concentration camps, then I shouldn't have to go," and he went back to federal prison. This has to be contrasted with the fact that a much, much larger number did serve in the armed forces of the United States. Conscientious objection in the Second World War, if you look at American society as a whole, was a very, very much a minority phenomenon, a very, very small minority, and the government was willing to accept certain kinds of conscientious objection, if it were on religious grounds, for instance, Gordon who was a Quaker, his parents had been Christians before they came from Japan. Gordon could get that kind of conscientious objection but he could not get ideological constitutional objection because American law did not recognize this. Again, I think it would have, if every Japanese American of military age had taken the position that the resisters had done, I think the results, again, would not have been as "happy," quote/unquote, for the Japanese American people.

The effect of the 442nd and the propaganda about the 442nd was, of course, an important part of the "rehabilitation," again quote/unquote, of the Japanese American people, of improving their public image, and it did a lot of good, but that doesn't mean that the draft resisters were somehow endangering that because there weren't that many of them. Again, I think the very, very least responsible American organizations could have done was say, "Well, we don't agree with this particular stance, we think that most Japanese Americans, like most Americans, should go to war, but we can respect the rights of individuals to say on grounds of conscience that they don't want to go," and they were quite prepared to pay the price, which was a term in federal penitentiary, as other non-Nikkei conscientious objectors did. My friend, Larry Garrow, who was a total conscientious objector, doesn't believe in military service, didn't believe in alternate service of any kind, does not believe that individuals should have anything to do with military activity, Larry went to jail. He's just retired as a historian, he's a fine historian. And I don't agree with Larry, I served in the military, but I certainly agree with his right to do so. And I think not to have done so exhibited the same kinds of authoritarian intolerance that was all too typical of the wartime generation of JACL leadership, and I think that this was in part caused -- I'm being a psychologist and not a historian -- this was in part caused by their basic insecurity, both in lack of experience and in the fact that they really understood well that they were not true spokesmen for the majority of the people. That they represent a minority, that they were the only effective voice.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

FC: What was the result of the, in the courts, of the Japanese American organized resistance? Did they remain condemned, convicted, and remain outlaws, essentially?

RD: Well, all draft resisters... people ask what happened to the draft resisters. They did some of their sentences, a typical sentence was three years, but after the war, in a series of proclamations, President Truman pardoned all draft resisters, including the draft resisters from Heart Mountain, I think eighty-eight were convicted at Heart Mountain, and all of the other Japanese American draft resisters, and these pardons restored their citizenship. Their legal status was that they were people who were convicted, tried, indicted, tried, convicted, served some of their sentences, and were later pardoned. What was unpardonable, I think, was the fact that for a long, long time they were simply erased from Japanese American history and were unknown from memory.

I will never forget my shock and surprise when I began investigating the history of Heart Mountain, that I picked Heart Mountain was really an accident. I started this work when I was in California at UCLA and knew I was gonna write a book that would largely focus on overall government decisions. But I wanted to look at one ordinary camp in some detail. I couldn't do ten. Tule Lake was out because of what Tule Lake became after the so-called "segregation," and if I'd stayed at UCLA I'd probably have picked Manzanar and might not have seen the draft resistance at all, but I got a job at Wyoming. So they had copies of the Heart Mountain Sentinel and other materials and I'd read everything that had been published and nobody said anything abut draft resistance. It turns out later, when I found out about the draft resistance and went back and looked, there is one small table and one six-line paragraph in one of the nine volumes of the official history of the WRA that does talk about Selective Service violations, but no one would understand from reading that paragraph or looking at that chart -- unless they were lot smarter than I was -- that this involved an organized resistance. So that this was -- I think this was an important part, I wrote this in the early 1970s, I think it was important to understand that the Japanese people, like almost any other segment of the American people, were not a monolithic group, everybody doing the same, and that there was a dissent tradition.

Later this became much more important when, partially as a result of the Civil Rights movement and the Great Society programs and even more as a result of our misbegotten war in Vietnam and the eventual reactions against it, that suddenly protest became "in" as in the '50s protest was "out." And I think it was very important for younger Japanese Americans, the Sansei, even the Yonsei, to understand that there had been a minority protest movement, and protest movements are by definition minority movements, but that even at the time when apparently there was more consensus among the Japanese American people than at any other, that there was a protest movement and that this is an important part of Japanese American history and the traditions of the Japanese American people, and to ignore it is to, is to distort that history.

On the other hand, it has to be seen as what it was: a minority phenomenon, a protest, in my view, a perfectly reasonable protest although perhaps an unpolitic protest in the sense that if everybody had done this I think the results would have been serious. As it was, I do not think in any way it can be argued that this protest damaged Japanese American people, and you can even argue that its very existence even -- for those who wanted to seek conformity and patriotism -- that the very fact of this resistance even highlighted more the acquiescence, the compliance, what's usually called good citizenship of the majority of the people.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

FC: When you began studying the camps, this period of Japanese American history, did you expect to find resistance in the population? Or were you surprised when the general consensus was there was none?

RD: I was always -- I'm always suspicious of things that are too neat. And, of course, everybody knew the, everybody knew about the constitutional cases, which after Hirabayashi and Yasui and one or two others that never got very far. Then Korematsu, then finally the one successful case, the Endo case. I mean, everybody knew about those, everybody knew that there was that range of protest. And I would not have been surprised to find pockets of protest on other issues here and there, and we know that there were other kinds of protests in relocation centers. What really surprised me was the size and strength of the movement in two places in particular, at Heart Mountain, that I know a lot about, and at Poston that I don't know a lot about, because nobody's really done Poston yet. And I was surprised at the, at the successful way in which this had been suppressed. This had been just sort of written, written out of history, it had gone into what George Orwell would call in 1948 a "memory hole." But happily, there were ways to reach into the memory hole and pull it out.

And by now, I think everyone who was interested in the question, does any serious reading about the Japanese American experience, is now aware of dimensions of this protest. I never expected to find no protest, but I really was surprised -- remember, this is 1970, this is a quarter of a century after it's over, I was really surprised to discover that this kind of a well-organized movement, a mass trial for draft resistance of sixty-three people, that's still the largest mass trial for draft resistance in our history, that this could be absolutely ignored, that you could, that it could have had, as it were, almost disappeared without trace, unless you went back beyond the other accounts. And there had been -- I'm not going to list them now -- but there had been any number of books written about the Japanese American experience, some by insiders who knew very well what had happened.

And although I don't do oral history in the formal sense, I've over the years talked to and made notes on discussions with about 2,000 individual Japanese Americans and I've got 'em arranged in various ways. And on one of my trips back to Los Angeles after I discovered the draft resistance, I went to see some of my Heart Mountain informants, a couple, and I would get the... I didn't start out, "Why didn't you tell me about this?" That's not the way you work with people. But I went back, I asked about this and that, in one or two cases, I says, "Look, I found this about you," or, "I found this about your son, or about your brother, in the Heart Mountain Sentinel," because I Xeroxed a lot of stuff, and then I would ask, "What about that draft resistance movement, the Fair Play movement?" And I would get answers like, "Oh that. Yes, I remember that, that was so unpleasant, you wanted to know about that? I'm sorry, if I had known I would have told you, but I didn't think it was important." In other words, there's just this, this had become, and I think that there are... I don't want to get into stereotyping here, but there are such things as cultural traditions, and there was established in the Japanese American community, as in the Japanese community, a kind of... present an overall consensus to the outside world, not to stick up like the odd thumb. Individualism was not in, especially in first-, second-generation Japanese American culture, individualism was not particularly stressed, so people stayed away from this kind of thing. And when they talked about it, they really wanted to improve in their notion the image, and they thought that this would improve the image. In fact, the opposite was true, for by the -- because by the time the '70s came around, this myth of the overly compliant Japanese Americans was really one of the things that helped pull generations apart. So that, and this is a very historic kind of thing.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

FC: Would you describe the leave clearance registration form and its impact on Japanese Americans in the camps?

RD: Apart from the initial stupidity -- and it was stupid and counterproductive -- of putting Japanese Americans en masse in camps and leaving alone the whole moral thing, perhaps the most stupid thing, the second most stupid thing was this questionnaire for leave clearance. The motives were not really bad. The WRA, it was a bureaucratic organization, they said, "Well, let's, we can let loyal Japanese Americans go out," so they hand out this goddamn questionnaire, as if that were a way to do it. In addition, they didn't bother to make up their own questionnaire, but they simply adapted a questionnaire that the military was already using to segregate draft age Japanese Americans who had volunteered -- because there was no draft for Japanese Americans at that time -- to make sure that they didn't get the quote "wrong kinds" into the armed forces, you can say about this or that. And they used this questionnaire and gave it to everybody. These were people who hadn't volunteered to do anything, and it created a whole series of problems.

First of all, what Issei or women of any kind would make of the question 27, "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States," etcetera. Well, that was, that was just ridiculous. The whole question about forswearing allegiance, some people said first of all, "Well, this means if I admit to this, this may be a trap." Remember, these are people who are in no way psychologically ready to trust and believe their government because their government, they were American citizens and they were in a concentration camp, not for any specific act but simply for being Japanese. There was no way to get out and say, "No, this doesn't apply to me, I'm a loyal American." The question was: "Were you born in Japan?" "Were your parents born in Japan?" "Did you live in a, were you living in a certain place at a certain time?" And if your answer to these three questions were "yes," off you went, so why should these people have any great deal of trust? And it divided families, it was absolutely unnecessary, it created fears. There were people who didn't want to go, as some people like to say, "back to America." The America that they had left and been expelled from was, seemed a very hostile place. Many had no assets; they'd lost most of what they had. So this just created all kinds of problems.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

FA: The ACLU, Kiyoshi Okamoto wrote to the ACLU and asked for their support.

RD: He wrote to Roger Baldwin.

FA: What do you make of the ACLU, Roger Baldwin's response?

RD: Well, this was... the role of the ACLU in the early days of the relocation, incarceration, was really despicable, and now I'm talking about the national ACLU. The northern and the southern California branches did some very, very good work, but the national was opposed to what they did. Initially, the American Civil Liberties Union had agreed to defend Gordon Hirabayashi and Seattle members of the ACLU supported this, but they reneged very early on, before, after Executive Order 9066 but before people went to camp, they simply withdrew their support so that Gordon had to be defended by a good Quaker lawyer who had never hired an, had an appellate case in his life.

Later, when one of the leaders of the resistance in Heart Mountain, Kiyoshi Okamoto, wrote a private letter to Roger Baldwin, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union, asking him whether he would help them, Baldwin apparently consulted with leaders of the Japanese American Citizens League in Salt Lake City and answered Okamoto in a public letter, which was made public before Okamoto received it, denouncing what he was doing, saying that they had no right to do this, etcetera, something the American Civil Liberties Union today would absolutely deny. Then later in the war, later in the war, the ACLU joined in amicus curiae briefs and in its postwar propaganda talked of itself as the defenders of the Japanese American people. And then -- and this was the thing that really turned my stomach at the time -- then eventually it made Edward Ennis, the Department of Justice man who was responsible for the execution of the renunciation act and who was responsible for what courts ruled later was the illegal -- you can't say deportation -- exiling of Americans to Japan, some of whom had never been there before, made him one of the postwar heads of the American Civil Liberties Union. I think that that was an utterly despicable action, and one which the official historians of the American Civil Liberties Union have never properly discussed.

FA: The ACLU told Okamoto that he had no legal case -- no, he had a good moral case, but no legal case at all.

RD: Yeah, well, that's...

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

<Begin Segment 7>

FA: You mentioned the Japanese American Citizens League, under the leadership of Mike Masaoka, you've talked about that in terms of the "dirty underside of loyalty."

RD: Uh-huh.

FA: Can you expand on that?

RD: Well, you see when... loyalty is very, very complex proposition, particularly when you're deciding this not as a very, very complex continuum, but as a simple heads/tails, loyal/disloyal proposition. And if you're engaged in a struggle to prove your loyalty, one of the ways that you tend to do it, unfortunately, and this is a human trait, is by denigrating the non-loyalty, in your terms, of certain others. This happens all the time, it happens in lots of immigrant groups, this is not just a Japanese American phenomenon. My mentor, Theodore Saloutos, who is an immigration historian generally but a specialist in Greek Americans, used to say, "Boy, when an immigrant becomes a patriot he usually becomes a 200 percent patriot." Well, we know what 100 percent Americans do, 200 percent Americans do even worse. And I think this was one of the problems of many of the JACL leaders, that they were trying to be 200 percent Americans, and at the same time were ready to denounce anyone who had a different definition of Americanism than they did.

I don't say that people have to agree with one another, but certainly one of the, one of the most important distinctions between American democracy and many other societies is that we have at least a tradition of tolerating dissent. In fact, when the crunch gets down, whether it's in a hot war or a cold war, certain of those traditions go by the board. We are not that tolerant in times of crisis, and that's not surprising that that's so.

FA: In your opinion, did the Japanese American Citizens League inform on the community prior to Pearl Harbor and after Pearl Harbor? Did they act as informants?

RD: Well, "did the Japanese American Citizens League," now that's, when you phrase a question that way, "Did the Japanese American Citizens League inform on people?" I think you're... I think you've got to be more specific than that. I mean, you have to talk about certain individuals informing at certain times. It is quite clear that from the prewar period, immediate prewar period on, that there were individual Japanese Americans certainly associated with the JACL, some of 'em, who were informing on persons who they thought were subversive and ought to be locked up, to the FBI. The Freedom of Information Act allows us to discover this, but it does not allow us to discover the names of those particular individuals. We get a, we get a blacked-out document. I'm sure there were people inside the Japanese American Citizens League and in its leadership who never informed on anyone. I'm sure there are others who did. But in general, the policy of the JACL was to collaborate with the government, to collaborate with some of the chief oppressors of the Japanese American people. And you can certainly justify this as a political tactic. It's very difficult to justify it as a moral position.

FA: Can you elaborate on that?

RD: Well, I think it's, I don't think it's, it's... I don't think it's proper for people to make denunciations in secret of other people. I think that in the -- but, I mean, this is what happens in wartime situations, in cold war situations, in FBI files, etcetera. My own notion is that accusations made against people should be made in open court and people should be able to face their accusers, etcetera. And there are people who clearly were involved. There was a widespread belief in the Japanese American community, for instance, that Kibei tended to be disloyal, Japanese Americans who'd had some of their education in Japan. And there were general denunciations of Kibei as a group, which were really very reminiscent of denunciations by non-Japanese Americans of Japanese Americans as a group, so that, and in crisis situations, people, a lot of people tend to behave badly. We have to remember that. But despite anything that one can say, you have to keep the main perspective that the Japanese American people as a whole were victims, that there were certainly... within that community there were individuals of the JACL persuasion, some of those who were Communists, who felt it was much more important to denounce those they thought were against the war effort. On the other hand, there were people within the community, within the Japanese American community in the camps, who felt so strongly about this that they committed physical assaults on other kinds of people, and there was great division, and we had the situation in Manzanar, for instance, of young Americans shooting other young Americans, a situation we had later at Kent State and at some of the, at some of the southern colleges during the Civil Rights movement, so all of these things happened, and I think the Japanese American experience must always be seen as a part of the American experience generally, not as some isolated special ethnic thing.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

FA: Finally, this is a program about the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. What is your overall assessment, the actions, the achievements of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee?

RD: The Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, it seems to me, took a very, very high moral ground, and paid the consequences of it. At the time, they didn't achieve very much if they wanted to change, to change government policy. On the other hand, they left an important historical record and they raised important moral and legal issues, and one hopes that American society now treats dissent somewhat better than it did in the Second World War. And if it does, it has in part this whole experience of the Japanese American people, every aspect of it, to thank for that. The Fair Play Committee would have had more influence had more people known about it. And this is one of the things you have to talk about, about... it's very important who writes history. History is usually written by the winners. And in the short term, the JACL, people, or people who believe in that point of view, the people who wanted to "improve" the image of the Japanese American people, in the short run, they controlled the history. That's obviously no longer the case. Some people are still trying to control the history. People want to control history very, very much. But memory holes don't work. Big Brother is not yet in control, and one hopes never will be.

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