I once had a friend call me a failure. My first thought was that given all of his failures, he had a lot of nerve saying anything about anybody, much less me. The incident taught me a lesson. I learned that a person should be very careful before they attack someone or something. You can’t splash mud without getting dirty.
There is nothing wrong with a good discourse on an issue. Open discussions are healthy. There are times where a strong response is the right thing to do. Most things, however, fall in the area where there is more harm in an attack than in the reason for the attack. That is how I feel about Allegiance, the musical.
Allegiance is a single person’s perspective of his incarceration during World War II. Every person who was confined has her own view of her experience, and each individual has a right to define her experience. If a hundred people witness a crime, there will be 100 different perceptions of the crime. JACL does not have the right to impose a single story on 110,000 incarcerees.
As I considered different responses to Allegiance, I realized the enormity of the challenge that JACL faced after the issuance of Executive Order 9066. Comparatively, a play is such a small thing. Yet, it engaged us in some very serious soul searching. Do we protest? Do we call out George Takei, an old JACLer and friend? Do we accept Allegiance as a vehicle that educates people about the American concentration camps?
As an individual, I can say I have deep respect for Mike Masaoka – this young man, not much older than our JACL fellows, was burdened with an overwhelming responsibility. We know today that there were no mass killings, but no one knew that in 1942. The choice reminded me of another courageous act – the quick decision made by Secretary Norm Mineta to call for the immediate grounding of every plane in the nation’s air space on September 11, 2001. The decision had an immediate and extraordinary economic impact at a time no one had an inkling of what was happening. In hindsight, we know it was absolutely the right decision. There are very few men or women that have that kind of guts – to put themselves in the front, to take the risk, to answer the jeers and criticism. Mike Masaoka was the one that stepped up to take on an unwinnable situation.
As an individual, I can say I believe that had it not been for the 100th, the 442nd and the MIS, Asian Americans would not enjoy many of the liberties we have today. Because of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the MIS, I believe anti-Asian laws fell and Asian Americans were granted equality much sooner. After World War II, JACL found the strength to move civil rights forward.
As an individual, I can say that Allegiance is a biased view of the World War II experience. But I am not George Takei. George Takei has a right to his own view. That is what JACL is all about.