Throughout their incarceration, Japanese Americans challenged the actions of their government and protested in an effort to secure their rights as American citizens. When the United States, through the War Relocation Authority, detained and interred Japanese Americans, the government violated many of the most fundamental civil rights. Japanese immigrants (Issei) and Japanese American citizens (Nisei) were never charged with crimes and were never brought to trial, yet they spent years incarcerated in isolated concentration camps. Wide-spread fear, racial discrimination, and heightened war-time hysteria all contributed to the government’s decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans.
Curfew laws and forced evacuation were thrust onto the Japanese Americans living on the West Coast after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Government officials restricted Japanese Americans to their homes and later gave them a weeks’ notice before forcibly evacuating them from their homes. Evacuees were transported to temporary incarceration sites because other Americans viewed all people of Japanese descent as a threat. Ten of thousands cooperated with the demands made by their government.
Many citizens realized internment represented a frightening breakdown in constitutional government. Some people, including Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Mitsuye Endo, challenged curfews, relocation, and incarceration. Hirabayashi was a student at the University of Washington when he violated the curfew law. As a result, he was tried, convicted, and sent to King County jail (in western Washington) before he was transferred to the Catalina Federal Honor Camp in Arizona where he served a three month sentence.
Reproduced from University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Gordon K. Hirabayashi Papers
Gordon Hirabayashi was a student at the University of Washington during 1942 when the Curfew Laws and Evacuation Orders put into place. He deliberately violated these laws claiming that the laws unfairly restricted Japanese American’s freedom and rights. He lost his case in court and was sent to King County Jail and later transferred to the Catalina Federal Honor Camp in Arizona.
Japanese Americans also challenged the government’s violation of their civil rights while in internment camps. The War Relocation Authority created a questionnaire that asked internees about their citizenship. Two questions were meant to separate the loyal from the supposedly disloyal. Number 27 and 28 on the questionnaire asked “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?” and “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and foreswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese Emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?”
These questions frustrated and angered the internees because no other Americans had their loyalty to the U.S. questioned in this way. The Nisei pointed out that they were American citizens who were asked to reject allegiance to a government they never recognize and the Issei, who were unable to become American citizens, feared deportation if they answered “no.” They were upset by the question regarding serving in the Armed Forces because they did not understand why they were being asked to fulfill the duties of an American citizen while they and their families were incarcerated solely because of their race and ethnicity.
Anyone who answered no to the questions or refused to answer were nicknamed the “no-no boys” and they were considered disloyal. These “no-no boys” were segregated from the “loyal” internees and taken to the Tule Lake Relocation Center, on the California-Oregon border.
Draft resisters challenged the actions of the government by protesting the draft that was reinstated in January of 1944. These men refused to show up for physical examinations. Still others went as far as to renounce their citizenship. Both of these groups protested the fact that their families remained unlawfully incarcerated behind barbed wire fences as they were expected to fight for their country. They refused to serve the country that had committed so many injustices against their friends and families. Internees at eight out of the ten Relocation Centers protested the draft; the largest number of resisters came from Poston Relocation Center. The Fair Play Committee at Heart Mountain Relocation Center organized a public discussion about the draft and, as a result, 85 men resisted.
The government charged the Nisei draft resisters from Heart Mountain and Poston as well as from the other six camps with the crime of refusing to report for induction when duly ordered. As a result, many were sentenced to federal imprisonment. The 85 resisters from Heart Mountain were tried in one large mass trial and sentenced to three years in federal penitentiaries. They were sent to federal prisons in Leavenworth, Kansas, McNeil Island, Washington State, and Tuscan, Arizona.
In all, 300 internee resisters resisted the draft, their internment and the illegal actions taken by the U. S government. On Christmas day in 1947, President Truman pardoned all of the wartime draft resisters.
Produced from the Ikeda Family Collection, Densho Encyclopedia, denshopd-p122-00001,
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project, www.densho.org (accessed January 6, 2014)
The Application for Leave Clearance was used to separate the “disloyal” Japanese Americans from the “loyal.” Questions 27 and 28 were the most controversial and upsetting to the Japanese Americans. Those who answered “no” on the questionnaire or refused to answer the questions were labeled as “disloyal,” nicknamed the “no-no boys,” and were sent to Tule Lake Relocation Camp.
Reproduction from the National Archives and Records Administration, Number G-578 Densho Encyclopedia, denshopd-i37-00300, Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project, www.densho.org (accessed January 6, 2014)
These are Japanese Americans who were considered “disloyal” and were separated from “loyal” Japanese American citizens in the other camps. Many of these Japanese Americans had answered “no” on the Loyalty Questionnaire and therefore they were nicknamed the “no-no boys.
Densho Encyclopedia, en-denshopd-i37-00276-1, Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project, www.densho.org (accessed January 6, 2014)
Those internees who protested their treatment or the draft were relocated to the Tule Lake Internment Site. Here, an official processes the transfer of this unnamed man.
Courtesy of Frank Abe, Densho Encyclopedia, denshopd-p122-00001, Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project, www.densho.org (accessed January 6, 2014)
When the draft was reinstated for Japanese Americans in early 1944, there were protests from the internees of the ten relocation camps. Heart Mountain Relocation Camp had one of the largest number of protesters with 85 people resisting the draft. 63 of the draft resisters were tried in one large mass trial. They were sentenced to three years in prisons in Washington state, Arizona and Kansas. This photo is of the first day of trials in Federal District Court, Cheyenne, Wyoming, June 12, 1944.
From Uyeda 1943, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites by Jeffery F. Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord (National Park Service, revised 2000), p. 408.
The Heart Mountain Relocation Center had the second largest number of Draft resisters during World War II. There were 85 total, 63 were sent to prison for three years while others were sent to Tule Lake (Photo) which had been designated for resisters and others deemed “disloyal.” These draft resisters were just released from McNeil Island wearing government issued suits.