Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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One of the most significant chapters in the history of evacuation and relocation was the registration, leave-clearance, and segregation programs carried out at all relocation centers during 1943-44. These programs, "one of the most exacting experiences" that the War Relocation Authority would undergo during the war, represented "a fork in the road for the evacuated people — a testing of fundamental loyalties and democratic faiths in an atmosphere of high emotional tension." The program "brought to the surface grievances that had accumulated over a period of months and laid bare basic attitudes that had previously been submerged and indistinct.' Its net results were, according to the WRA, "unquestionably beneficial both for WRA and for the great bulk of the evacuated people." The trauma and turmoil that the efforts to determine evacuee loyalty brought to the relocation centers by these programs, however, would raise serious doubts concerning the credibility of this conclusion. [1]


Registration Program

Military Background of Program. The military background of the registration program dated to the early phases of evacuation when the U.S. Selective Service System was advised by the War Department to discontinue inducting registrants of Japanese ancestry until further notice. On March 30, 1942, the War Department issued an order, discontinuing the induction of Nisei into the U.S. armed services and placing them in a IV-F classification (unsuitable for military service). At the time there were about 5,000 Nisei from Hawaii and the mainland in the Army, the majority having been drafted. Enlisted Japanese Americans in the Army soon found themselves in a precarious situation. The personal attitude of their commanding officers was decisive; some Nisei stayed in the service, while others were discharged without explanation.

No clear-cut Selective Service policy was established to evaluate the status of draft-age Japanese Americans until June 17, 1942, when the War Department announced that it would not, aside from exceptional cases, "accept for service with the armed forces Japanese or persons of Japanese extraction, regardless of citizenship status or other factors." Later on September 14, the Selective Service adopted regulations, prohibiting Nisei induction and classifying registrants of Japanese ancestry IV-C (declarant and nondeclarant aliens), the same status as that for enemy aliens. [2]

Soon after his appointment as Director of the WRA on June 17, 1942, Dillon Myer came to the realization "that the most important key to the regaining of status" of Japanese Americans "was the opportunity for service with [the] armed forces." Myer believed that participation in the military service was important for two reasons. First, as American citizens, the Nisei should have the same rights and responsibilities as other American citizens, including the responsibility to fight for their country. Second, it was important to the future of the Nisei that they have the opportunity to prove their patriotism in a dramatic manner, and thus regain their rightful place in American society. Starting in July 1942, he began pressing this point home to the Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy and other officials of the War Department. [3]

Myer's efforts would later be reinforced by the Japanese American Citizens League, which in November 1942 petitioned President Roosevelt for reinstatement of the draft for citizens of Japanese descent. The JACL conducted a one-week conference in Salt Lake City in late November 1942, that was attended by representatives from each of the relocation centers. Manzanar's representatives to the conference were Fred Tayama, Joe Grant Masaoka, and Kiyoshi Higashi, all of whom would play important roles in the violence that broke out at the camp less than two weeks later. At the conference, the JACL adopted resolutions declaring that it "its stand on the principles of duty to country and to Americanism is unwavering and holds even greater significance in these times of stress." In addition to asking for reinstatement of Selective Service procedures for Japanese Americans, other resolutions passed included expressions of confidence in the WRA, greetings to Nisei soldiers, commendation to the President of the United States on his selection of liberal personnel in WRA, gratitude to religious bodies for their work on behalf of loyal Americans and residents of Japanese ancestry, and an appeal for funds for recreational purposes in the relocation centers. [4]

During the summer of 1942, the War Department began a program to recruit some American citizens of Japanese descent as 'exceptional cases" under the meaning of its June 17 directive. The Military Intelligence Service (MIS), the intelligence branch of the U.S. Army, realizing that men skilled in the Japanese language would be vitally needed in the Pacific Theater, had established a language school for this purpose at Camp Savage, (and later at Fort Snelling), Minnesota, under the leadership of Colonel Kai E. Rasmussen. During the autumn of 1942, recruiting officers were sent out to all WRA centers in an effort to enlist volunteers among the male citizens at the centers who had a working knowledge of the Japanese language and who demonstrated promise that they could be trained to become language 'experts' in a comparatively brief period of time. The men were recruited both as instructors and translators. Ironically, many of the evacuees at the centers who were able to meet these qualifications were Kibei. a group considered by military and WRA experts to be generally the most disaffected element within the Japanese American population, and the largest number of volunteers came from the Tule Lake War Relocation Center, where "disloyal' sentiments were greatest. By the end of 1942, a total of 167 male American citizens at the centers had met the necessary requirements and were either already enrolled or in the process of being enrolled in the language school at Camp Savage. [5]

Nisei soldiers in the MIS were attached to every major combat unit in the Pacific, including the Alaskan Defense, Southeast Asia Area, Central Pacific Ocean, Southwest Pacific Area, and South Pacific Area commands, as well as the European Command. The Nisei "intelligence" soldiers were attached as individuals to military units in these commands and given noncommissioned ranks, thus depriving them of "proper recognition, awards and promotions." Nevertheless, they made considerable contributions to the American war effort. Due primarily to the work of the MIS, General Douglas MacArthur stated, 'Never in military history did an army know so much about the enemy prior to actual engagement.' General Charles Willoughby, G-2 intelligence chief, said, "The Nisei saved countless Allied lives and shortened the war by two years. [6]

On January 28, 1943, the Secretary of War Stimson announced that the Army had decided to form a special Japanese American combat team and that recruits would be accepted from the relocation centers, the Hawaiian Islands, and elsewhere on the mainland of the United States. In the near future, the secretary added, a special enlistment program to recruit personnel for the team would be carried out simultaneously at all relocation centers. Four days later, President Roosevelt wrote to Stimson, approving the combat team plan and calling it a step toward restoration of the evacuated people to their normal status in American society. By February 6, ten recruitment teams were on their way from the War Department in Washington to the relocation centers, and the 21,000 male citizens of military age in the centers faced one of the most crucial decisions of their lives. [7]

WRA Administrative Background of Program. In early January 1943, when the WRA was first informed of the plans for a large-scale Army recruitment program at the relocation centers, the agency was developing its own plans and strategies to conduct a mass registration of all adults in the centers to speed up the leave-clearance process — the process of determining leave eligibility for evacuees based on national security considerations. Prior to this time, the WRA had attempted carry through its leave and/or relocation policies with little effect because of red-tape involved with the clearance program. Both the Army and the WRA needed much the same type of background information on the people in the centers to conduct their respective recruitment and leave-clearance programs. The Army needed information on male citizens of draft age for induction purposes, while the WRA needed it on all residents 17 years of age and older for leave-clearance purposes. Thus, the decision was made to combine Army recruitment and WRA leave-clearance registration in one massive operation to be carried out jointly by both entities. [8]

Program Implementation. Two basic questionnaires were developed to implement the Army recruitment and WRA leave-clearance programs. One form (DSS Form 304A), titled, "Statement of United States Citizens of Japanese Ancestry," was for male citizens of draft age, while the other (WRA Form 126 Rev.), titled 'War Relocation Authority Application for Leave Clearance," was for all female citizens as well as alien males and females. The questionnaires were complicated and lengthy, each including some 30 questions. The questionnaire titles, wording of questions, and the fact that the Army questionnaire was voluntary while the WRA's was compulsory would lead to considerable misunderstanding and turmoil in all ten relocation centers during the registration program. [9]

The ten Army recruitment teams, each headed by a commissioned officer and staffed by two non-commissioned Caucasian sergeants plus one sergeant of Japanese ancestry, were organized quickly. One representative from the WRA staff at each relocation center (Robert B. Throckmorton, project attorney, was the representative from Manzanar) was brought to the War Department in Washington to be attached to the teams. During January 29 to February 5, 1943, the combined Army teams and WRA personnel were given an intensive course of training at the War Department in the details of handling the registration program at the relocation centers.

During the training sessions, it was decided that the detailed planning and implementation of the registration program at each relocation center would be the joint responsibility of each project director and Army recruiting team captain The Army recruiting teams would administer the military's role in the registration program, while the WRA would be responsible for the registration of female citizens and alien men and women.

At the training sessions in Washington a check-sheet of possible evacuee questions to be asked during the registration program was formulated for the Army recruiting teams. The check-sheet was to be read by a member of the Army team to the evacuees at each relocation center. In the document the possible implications of voluntary enlistment from behind barbed wire were rebutted by such statements as:

The circumstances were not of your own choosing, though it is true that the majority of you and your families accepted the restrictions placed upon your life with little complaint and without deviating from loyalty to the United States. [10]

The WRA did not prepare a similar check-sheet to explain its part of the registration program — an omission that would contribute to the agency's mishandling of its responsibilities.

On February 3, President Roosevelt, who had been informed about the upcoming registration program, sent a letter to Secretary of War Stimson in support of the undertaking. Roosevelt informed Stimson that the program was "a logical step, and no loyal citizen should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry" This letter would also be used by the army and read to the evacuees at each center before the registration program began. [11]

The teams arrived at the centers during the first week of February 1943 and immediately arranged for a series of meetings to be held with evacuees in designated messhalls. At these meetings prepared statements were read to the assembly residents regarding the purpose and significance of the registration program, and some minimal efforts were undertaken to answer questions. Actual registration was commenced at most centers around February 10.

At the outset, there was confusion, resentment, and widespread reluctance to register at virtually all the relocation centers. At some centers, such as Minidoka, these initial difficulties were quickly overcome, while at others, such as Tule Lake, they persisted and were even intensified as time went on. Despite the turbulence and the emotional atmosphere that prevailed for varying lengths of time at the relocation centers, the registration program produced useful information to both the Army and the WRA.

The primary benefit in terms of the WRA's administrative needs and ultimate objectives was the accumulation of extensive background information on virtually all adult residents of the centers. For the first time, data required in connection with leave-clearance determinations was readily available on practically everyone who might conceivably apply for indefinite leave. The ground work had been laid for faster processing of leave applications and decentralization of leave procedures, and ultimately a thoroughgoing program to segregate those whose loyalties lay with Japan.

The chief benefit for the Army was the recruitment of 1,208 carefully selected volunteers from the centers by June 30, 1943, the number of volunteers ranging from a low of 40 at Rohwer to a high of 236 at Poston Although this number was a small proportion of the 10,000 eligible that the War Department had estimated and fell short of the 3,000 that it had expected to recruit, those who did volunteer represented from the standpoint of both loyalty and military fitness, "the cream of the draft-age group at the relocation centers." Combined with several thousand volunteers of Japanese ancestry simultaneously recruited from the Hawaiian Islands and enlistment of several hundred Nisei from the mainland outside relocation centers, the volunteers formed the nucleus of "a hard-hitting combat unit." By the end of June, the greater proportion of the volunteers from the centers had entered the Army and were in training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in preparation for active duty overseas.

The most significant questions asked of the relocation center evacuees during the registration program were Questions 27 and 28 that appeared on both the Army and WRA questionnaires. The two questions on the Army form were to be answered only in front of a representative of the Army recruitment teams, while the other questions were to be filled out with the help of registrars or counselors at each of the centers. On the Army questionnaire, Question 27 asked draft-age males: "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?" On the WRA form, Question 27 asked: "If the opportunity presents itself and you are found qualified, would you be willing to volunteer for the Army Nurse Corps or the WAAC?" On the Army questionnaire, Question 28, known as the "loyalty question," asked:

Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power or organization?

On the WRA questionnaire, Question 28 asked:

Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power or organization?

Before the registration program had progressed very far at most centers, however, large numbers of alien residents were protesting against the wording of Question 28. Since Japanese aliens were not eligible for naturalization as American citizens, they pointed out that they could not conscientiously answer "yes" to the question as it was worded without becoming virtually "men without a country." On the other hand, a "no" answer could result in deportation. Realizing the logic of this position, the WRA, on February 12, instructed all relocation centers to insert on WRA Form 126 Rev. — "for all aliens but not for female citizens" — the following substitute for the original Question 28.

Will you swear to abide by the laws of the United States and to take no action which would in any way interfere with the war effort of the United States?

Although this change in Question 28 was made to meet the objections of many aliens, other questionnaire problems were never addressed. For instance, the obvious absurdity of asking aliens, especially males, whether they would be willing to enlist in the Army Nurse Corps or the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps was never clarified. [12]

There were a total of 77,957 residents eligible to register at the ten relocation centers. Of this number, 65,078, or 87.4 percent, answered Question 28 with an unqualified "yes," while 5,376 answered "no," 1,041 qualified their answers, and 3,254 failed to register. Including the 234 who did not answer the question, 9,905 Japanese Americans did not answer the loyalty question with a "yes." Thus, approximately 12.6 percent of the total possible reacted negatively to the "loyalty" question The great bulk of the non-affirmative answers came from the citizen group. Approximately 26.3 percent of the male citizens and about 15 percent of the female citizens failed to provide unqualified affirmative answers. Only 3.6 of the male aliens, and 3.5 percent of the female aliens failed to provide unqualified affirmative answers. [13]

Aside from Questions 27 and 28, most of the other questions on the two forms were less controversial. The questions asked for information on topics such as education, previous employment, knowledge of the Japanese language, number of relatives in Japan, foreign investments and travel, religious and organizational affiliations, sports interests, hobbies, magazines and newspapers customarily read, and possession of dual citizenship. As the registration program was completed at the various centers and as the younger residents were subsequently registered upon reaching the age of 17, the completed questionnaires were transferred to WRA headquarters in Washington for cross checking against the records of federal investigative agencies. Under an agreement between the WRA and FBI, the latter took the principal responsibility for this record check and provided the WRA with information on each registrant that was available in its files as well as those of the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Military Intelligence Service. By July 1, some 73,900 cases had been submitted to the FBI, and approximately 61,200 had been returned with available intelligence information. [14]

Evacuee Reactions to the Registration Program. According to the WRA, the underlying factors explaining resistance to the registration program at most centers was "an extremely intricate pattern of influences dating back to the time of evacuation." Two of the most significant factors were "evacuee resentment against the government resulting from evacuation and detention in relocation centers," and "administrative miscalculations and errors of judgment both in the explanation and the execution of the registration program.

At the outset of the registration and enlistment program, most WRA personnel believed that it was "a distinctly forward step for the evacuated people." The War Department's decision to accept Army volunteers from the evacuee population at the centers was regarded as an opportunity for the evacuees to provide the American public with proof of their patriotism and loyalty The registration program was understood to be a practical administrative step taken to speed the return of qualified evacuees back to private life.

To many evacuees, however, both the recruitment and registration programs were understood "in a vastly different light." After undergoing the trying experiences of evacuation and the perplexities of several months' detention in a relocation center, "a considerable minority — particularly among the citizen group — was deeply resentful against the Federal government and highly suspicious of any action it might take affecting their future status." This point of view was reflected, according to the WRA, in some of the "milder" qualified answers to Question 28, such as "Yes, if my civil rights are fully restored" or "Yes, if I can return immediately to my former home. Furthermore, a "yes" answer to Question 28 proved offensive to many Nisei, because it implied that they once had an allegiance to Japan and its emperor. According to the WRA, some of the "most thoroughly embittered citizens tended to regard the whole enlistment and registration as 'just another government trick,' and nearly 3,000 "went to the point of requesting expatriation to Japan."

In hindsight, the WRA recognized that it had handled the program poorly At the time the agency "was so absorbed in the mechanics of an enormous operation that it failed to appreciate the advantages that might have been gained from early consultation with key evacuee residents." There was insufficient time for "adequate advance planning or for the formulation of wholly clear-cut instructions covering every phase of the operation." The confusion that arose about the original wording of Question 28 for aliens was one result of the haste in which the program was formulated.

The linkage of WRA registration and Army recruitment was also understood by the former agency's officials to be "unfortunate." The WRA stated:

. . . . From the very beginning, the recruitment phase of the operation, because of its more dramatic character, tended to obscure the real significance of registration not only in the minds of the evacuees but even in the eyes of many WRA staff members at the centers. And at some of the centers, this initial confusion was never entirely eliminated. It is probably literally true that hundreds of the evacuees went through the registration without any real understanding of the significance of Question 28 or even any adequate appreciation of the reasons why they were being asked to fill out the questionnaires. [15]

Other observers looked behind the responses for reasons to explain the evacuees' reaction to the registration program. These analysts argued that the registration program demanded a personal expression of position from each evacuee, a choice between faith in the future in America and outrage at present injustices. The registration raised the central question underlying exclusion policy, the loyalty issue which had dominated the political personal lives of the Nisei for the past year. Questions 27 and 28 forced evacuees to confront the conflicting emotions aroused by their relation to the government. To illustrate this point, one evacuee later noted:

Well, I am one of those that said 'no, no' on them, one of the 'no, no' boys, and it is not that I was proud about it, it was just that our legal rights were violated and I wanted to fight back. However, I didn't want to take this sitting down. I was really angry. It just got me so damned mad. Whatever we do, there was no help from outside, and it seems to me that we are a race that doesn't count. So, therefore, this was one of the reasons for the 'no, no' answer. [16]

Personal responses to the questionnaire inescapably became public acts open to community debate and scrutiny within the closed world of the relocation centers, thus making the difficult choices excruciating. One young evacuee, for instance, later related:

After I volunteered for the service, some people that I knew refused to speak to me. Some older people later questioned my father for letting me volunteer, but he told them that I was old enough to make up my own mind. [17]

Another evacuee later described his anguish in answering the questionnaire:

Because of the incarcerations, here I was, a 19-year-old, having to make a decision that would affect the welfare of the whole family If I sign, 'no, no,' I would throw away my citizenship and force my sisters and brother to do the same. Being the oldest son and being brought up in the Japanese tradition, it was up to me to take care of my parents, sisters, and brother. It was about a mile to the administration building. I can still remember vividly. Every step I took, I questioned myself, shall I sign it 'no, no,' or 'no, yes?' The walk seemed like it took hours and then when I got there a colonel asked me the first question and I cursed him and answered, 'no.' To me, he represented the powers that put me in this predicament. I answered 'yes' to the second question. In my 57 years, I have never had to make such a difficult decision as that. [18]

Loyalty Review. With the ambiguous results of the registration program in hand, the WRA began to decide who should leave the camps. The WRA's initial leave policies had been in effect for several months. With the results of the registration program, it was now ready to modify these policies. The War Department, however, was not content to leave this matter to the WRA. Despite the continuing protestations that evacuees were a matter for the civilian WRA, the War Department plan of January 20, 1943, called for the formation of a Japanese American Joint Board (JAJB), which would also have a hand in deciding whom to release from the centers. While the WRA would retain ultimate authority over leave clearance, the JAJB would recommend individual releases. [19]

Composed of one representative each from the WRA, Office of Naval Intelligence, Military Intelligence Service, and the Provost Marshal General's office, the board was established to assist in determining the loyalty of American citizens of Japanese ancestry, determine eligibility of applicants for war plant employment, and assist in the selection of volunteers for the Army Early in 1943 the board decided to consider the cases of all evacuee American citizens 17 years of age and older and make recommendations to the WRA on the granting of indefinite leave. [20]

The board floundered in its efforts to determine the "dangerousness" of each evacuee. Finally, an ever-changing system was adopted that would bring an adverse recommendation if any one of a number of "factors" were present. The "factors" included whether the person was Kibei; whether he refused to register; whether he was a leader in any organization controlled or dominated by aliens; and whether he had substantial fixed deposits in Japan. By adopting this approach, the board was spared having to find an illegal or even disloyal act as the basis of recommending continued confinement. Instead, individual characteristics and legal acts became cause for a finding of "dangerousness."

After about a year of making such determinations, as well as performing its other work such as clearing laborers for vital war plants, the board was terminated. It had handled nearly 39,000 cases and made over 25,000 recommendations for leave clearance. Of 12,600 recommendations against release, the Western Defense Command reported that the WRA ignored half of them and released the evacuees anyway. [21]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002