The Learning Center provides introductory information about the different areas of the Suyama Project.

SHATTERING THE MYTH OF THE “QUIET AMERICAN”

Shortly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast were removed from their homes and imprisoned in United States concentration camps.

The stereotype that formed of Japanese Americans from this experience was that of the “quiet” American who went “quietly” into the camps, never questioned the constitutionality of their incarceration, agreed to serve in the military while imprisoned in the camps to prove their loyalty and “quietly” returned to their pre-war lives after the war…[more]

WHO

Everyday Popular Resistance

Citizen Isolation Center at Moab, Utah

Although history books and the Suyama Project website highlight major protest activities that occurred within the Japanese American community during World War II, it is important to note that resistance was not limited to only a handful of Japanese Americans.

There was what can be called “popular” or “everyday” resistance from within the United States concentration camps from almost all the inmates over the injustices they endured as a result of imprisonment.

These actions may have manifested themselves in a number of ordinary ways such as, but not limited to:

  • Stealing or “borrowing” – the term most often used by the inmates – wood from camp constructions sites or camp supply rooms to make personal furniture
  • Sabotaging the fence around the camp
  • Sneaking out of camp to go fishing or hiking
  • Making moonshine in camp
  • Smuggling liquor and other difficult-to-get items into camp
  • Skipping classes
  • Writing graffiti on the barrack walls, some of which are still visible on existing barracks

These collective and creative acts of resistance appear in all sorts of documents in the archives and are given voice in oral history interviews.

However, the Suyama Project website will focus and highlight the larger protests.

Conscientious Objectors
During World War II, there was only a handful of Japanese American conscientious objectors (CO). Unlike Japanese American draft resisters who were willing to serve in the armed forces once their rights were restored, COs refused combat service on grounds of freedom of thought, conscience and/or religion.

Draft Resisters
Kiyoshi Okamoto's name is found in the death registry
More than 300 Japanese American men refused to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II unless they and their families were first released from U.S. concentration camps. These men were tried in court, with most judges taking a narrow reading of whether or not the men had refused to serve, rather than taking into consideration that they were being drafted from a concentration camp. Only Federal District Judge Louis E. Goodman who presided over the Tule Lake draft resisters dismissed the charges. Most of the draft resisters served two to three year federal prison terms but were later pardoned by President Truman.

Legal Protests
Japanese Americans filed several legal challenges during World War II in an effort to reclaim their constitutional and human rights. These cases ranged from several draft resisters’ lawsuits such as Fujii vs. the United States to a number of renunciation lawsuits such as McGrath vs. Abo.

Military Resisters
There were hundreds of Japanese American serving in the U.S. Army before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. However, after Pearl Harbor, Japanese American servicemen were placed into segregated units and had their weapons taken away. The government also denied the request of these men to go assist their families on the West Coast who were being forcibly placed into U.S. style concentration camps. Those who protested their discriminatory treatment by the U.S. Army either ended up in the 1800th Engineer General Battalion or were imprisoned at Leavenworth.

Moab/Leupp Citizen Isolation Center
The government first set up the Moab Citizen Isolation Center in December 1942 Utah to imprison Japanese Americans from the WRA camps, whom the government deemed as “troublemakers.” In April 1943, Moab was closed and the Leupp Citizen Isolation was opened in Arizona. By the end of the year, the government quietly closed down Leupp after abuses were reported.

No-Nos
In order for the U.S. government to separate the so-called “loyal” from the “disloyal” Japanese Americans, the government came up with a so-called loyalty questionnaire. The two most controversial questions were questions 27 and 28. Those who left the two spaces blank or answered yes with a “if-yes” conditional clause or answered “no” to each question were labeled as “no nos” and sent to Tule Lake, which was converted from a War Relocation Authority camp into a Segregation Center.

Renunciants
By 1944, anti-Japanese politicians and organizations were searching for ways to legally deport Americans of Japanese descent from the camps. What resulted was the passage of Public Law 405, which allowed U.S. citizens to renounce their citizenship in times of war, upon the approval of the attorney general.

Riots/Unrest
From the spring until the fall of 1942, the Japanese American community was in constant flux as the Army sent some groups directly to camps, while with others, the Army temporarily imprisoned them at assembly centers and then shipped them off to camps.

Tule Lake War Relocation Authority Camp Block 42
In February 1943, the U.S. military police illegally rounded up close to 35 men living in Block 42 of the Tule Lake War Relocation Authority camp for refusing to register for the so-called loyalty questionnaire.

RESOURCES

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