Significant news came from the Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson at the end of January 1943. “The War Department announced today that plans have been completed for the admission of American citizens of Japanese ancestry to the Army of the United States….” In addition, there was a simultaneous decision to allow Japanese citizens to work in war-related industries. To many Japanese Americans, this new policy signaled that the government had realized its mistake in incarcerating them in the first place.
But, a significant complication arose almost immediately. To leave the camps, male Nisei (citizens) seventeen or older were asked to complete Selective Service Form DSS 304A. A similar form, the War Relocation Authority Application for Leave Clearance (also called the Loyalty Questionnaire) applied to Issei and female citizens. Most questions on these forms were routine, but Numbers 27 and 28 single-handedly erased any goodwill that the government had created. The Nisei questions read as follows (the female and Issei questions were similar):
Question 27: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?
Question 28: Will you swear allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and foreswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any foreign government, power, or organization?
Painful feelings that many had repressed came boiling back to the surface. The government had forcibly taken everyone from their homes and interned them without legal process. For that same government to then ask them to fight for the United States was, for some, too much to bear. And for Issei (noncitizens), the question presented another dilemma. If they voted yes on Question 28, they’d be rejecting their birth country and, because they couldn’t be citizens of the United States, they’d technically be people without a country.
The “Yes/Yes and No/No” controversy resulted in fights and deep divisions even within households. This entire episode could have been avoided completely if only the government had given some thought before writing these questions.
Addendum: Many of you remember Mr. Sulu, the helmsman of the USS Enterprise on the television series, Star Trek. Fewer of you probably know that Mr. George Takei, who played that role, was an interned Japanese American during World War II. He was interned first at Rohwer in Arkansas and then at Tule Lake in California (the same camp as in How Much Do You Love Me?). Noteworthy is that Mr. Takei, besides his other accomplishments, is an activist and the force behind the upcoming Broadway Musical, Allegiance, which chronicles the internment and all of its complexities. Click here for play information.
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This post was written by paulmarktag