When chapter delegates unanimously approved the handbook produced by the Power of Words Committee at the National Council meeting in Seattle, it was notable that the resolution was quickly adopted without prolonged debate. Resolutions passed by the Council become part of the responsibilities of the Executive Director, and I anticipated that there would be challenges and controversy when the time came to implement the Resolution.
In the past couple of months, I have seen emails and heard comments on the issue. The conversation has provided an opportunity to put different options on the table for the board and organization to consider. It’s important for me to say upfront that we are exploring all options to ensure a most impactful implementation of the Handbook.
The Council adopted the Handbook in its entirety, and any reference to the Handbook in this entry encompasses the whole document with no omissions. The Handbook itself does not mandate any one particular term, but rather presents options that replace euphemistic terms that have been used to describe the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. My efforts are directed toward promoting use of the Handbook.
There are two options for promoting the Handbook – as a coalition effort or as a JACL/Japanese American effort. As JACL experienced in the redress program of the 1980s, there are strategic and political advantages to working in a broad coalition. I am among those who believe that the federal redress bill would not have been successful without the help of our coalition partners. It is my opinion that the fight for redress would have taken much longer and had a significantly reduced chance of passage. For a coalition to work, there has to be collaboration and agreement among coalition partners.
As part of a coalition, I believe we can see adoption of much of the language in the POW Handbook in public documents, including textbooks and other educational materials, and that adoption will be expedited with coalition support. It is important that this language is on the desks of every student, in National Park Service brochures, and on government placards and monuments – and the sooner the better.
The hang-up is the use of “American concentration camp”. To be perfectly clear, Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) respect JACL’s position. After all, it was the American Jewish Committee that was the first non-J.A. organization to support redress. These organizations do not want to tamper with how Japanese Americans define their history. However, there are many survivors of the Holocaust that believe their history will be diluted by the use of American concentration camp. That is a position we should respect just as AJC and ADL respects our views.
In a short meeting with Jewish organizations that occurred on the day after Hurricane Sandy passed over D.C., the organizations admitted they would have a hard time convincing their memberships to join a coalition with JACL that promoted the use of American concentration camp.
A pivotal point over the use of American concentration camp is whether Jewish organizations signed off on the term for a plaque at Ellis Island. The AJC contends their acquiescence was a one-time approval, and did not constitute acceptance of the term. The Education Committee is researching the issue now. To clarify the point, AJC would like to add a disclaimer to the Handbook.
Without a conflict over the term, and with support from Jewish organizations, the formation of a broad coalition is possible. A coalition paves the road for implementing 95% of the Handbook’s dictionary. Without Jewish support, I anticipate most organizations will stay on the sidelines. Without a coalition, it will be a much harder and longer row to hoe.
Members of the Board, the Education Committee, and of the organization will need to come to a decision on the best option. We have been here before. During redress, there were those who drew the line for reparations at $25,000. In end, a decision was made to accept $20,000. Because of that concession, H.R. 442 moved forward. Was it worth the concession?
My family was incarcerated in prisons across the nation – Manzanar, Tule Lake, Amache, Topaz, Rohwer. They served in the 442nd RCT and the MIS, and fought in Arno River, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Lost Battalion. My uncle, a Japanese language teacher, never made it home. We have a right to say in real terms what happened during World War II. The goal is worthy, and the next phase is a healthy dialogue on which of two paths makes the most sense.