For some Japanese Americans seeking redress for their internment during World War II, the formal apology and financial compensation expected to be recommended by a government commission early next year will come much too late.
"When we started this thing in the mid-'70s," said Shosuke Sasaki, 70, a retired financial analyst, "we figured it would take five years to get some cash in the hands" of older camp survivors, many of whom die each year. "We've failed," said Sasaki, an early advocate of compensation for the internees.
But there are also those, like John J. McCloy, the assistant secretary of war involved in decisions about the internment, who strongly say they believe no apology is necessary.
"The shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and its devastating results can now be described," he has said. "But I doubt they can really be felt as they were then . . . . The people that were dealing with this thing were men of real statesmanship and integrity. It sends me up the wall when somebody suggests we ought to apologize for what they did."
Trying to reconcile this is the nine-member Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, created by Congress to examine internment. Sasaki said its two years of hearings and deliberations have been "a stall."
But the commission is expected to conclude in the next two months that a "grave injustice" occurred. It is expected to recommend that Congress and the president approve a formal apology to those who were were interned, establish a federally financed educational foundation for Japanese Americans and compensate each camp survivor or immediate heir.
Compensation of up to $20,000 per person interned is being considered. This could make the total price $1.5 billion.
For commission members, their long hearings, in which more than 700 witnesses testified, were an important part of the redress process.
"The point was to dramatize what happened," said the Rev. Robert F. Drinan, a former congressman and commission member, "and to get something for the report that would, for the first time, shock the American conscience and demonstrate that a terrible, terrible thing was done."
"My kids had never heard of it the internment ," Washington attorney Joan Z. Bernstein, who chaired the commission, said of her grown children.
"It was a catharsis," said Cherry Konoshita, a Japanese American community leader in Seattle who helped organize commission hearings there. "I was surprised myself at how emotional I got. These things hadn't come out. After camp, everyone was just worried about survival."
The U.S. government has previously allowed courts to award claims made against it by various groups of citizens, including American Indians and, after World War II, individual Japanese Americans, who won a total of $37 million in legal proceedings.
The government has established affirmative action programs and has enforced laws requiring compensation for discriminatory treatment of blacks and women. And it has been ordered to pay damages to anti-Vietnam war demonstrators. But the country has never done anything quite like what may be proposed by the Wartime Internment Commission. Discussions of the issue on radio talk shows indicate considerable resistance to it.
"The phone calls that came in," Sasaki recalled, "were often from older people. They were shaking in fury at the mere presumption of these Japs to ask for such a thing as redress when they got exactly what they deserved. They hold us responsible for Pearl Harbor and everything else."
"Callers say 'everyone suffered' during the war," Konoshita said. "They say they lost a son or a husband at Guadalcanal and they want to know why we the Japanese Americans should be singled out for redress."
The Washington Post has received numerous similar responses since this series of articles began on Sunday. Many callers referred angrily to the television documentary broadcast Sunday night on the Bataan "death march" during the war, in which thousands of American troops died at the hands of Japanese forces.
Japanese Americans also suffered heavy casualties fighting in the U.S. Army in Europe. One, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), lost his arm fighting in Italy with the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Command. The 442nd won 5,000 combat awards, including 3,600 Purple Hearts, with 500 Oak Leaf clusters, 342 Silver Stars, 27 Distinguished Service Crosses and one Medal of Honor.
Japanese Americans are not of one mind on the question of redress for wartime internment.
"There's a certain dichotomy," said Minoru Yasui, chairman of the redress committee of the Japanese American Citizens League, which backed the commission's work. "Many of the older and more conservative individuals feel that this is a matter of past history. They say we should let bygones be bygones."
Patti Kinaga, 28, a Georgetown University law student whose parents met at an evacuation assembly center, said she wants the episode memorialized but has "mixed feelings" about compensation payments.
"I don't think they will have a long-term effect," she said. "If anything, they might anger people." She suggested that the money be "spent for uses that are going to result in people knowing about the camps, so people will say 'What is this? Did this really happen?' "
It is indisputable that Japanese Americans suffered huge economic losses during World War II. The Federal Reserve once estimated the immediate property loss at $400 million in 1950 dollars.
Japanese Americans owned 6,118 farms with a land value of $72.6 million in California alone. About $16 million of the $25 million Los Angeles County flower industry was in Japanese American hands. In Seattle, Japanese Americans owned about 200 small hotels and boarding houses.
Most of these business investments either were sold at a fraction of their value or slipped out of their owners' hands during their internment. In the camps, internees were paid no more than $19 a month, regardless of the work they performed.
A Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act after the war permitted survivors to make claims in court against the United States. About $37 million was awarded this way.
But in a hostile atmosphere, with claims limited to proof of property loss in adversary proceedings against Justice Department lawyers, less than a tenth of the internees filed claims. Claims for loss of liberty and damages to families were prohibited.
The commission also is wrestling with how to compensate for psychological damage described in the tearful testimony of Emi Tonooka:
"My parents' 14 years in America was reduced to the contents of four seabags . . . . There is not a single night since, when I can close my eyes without fearing that tomorrow my rights will be taken away. The sense of having been torn from one's moorings means that one spends the rest of life looking for a home and trying to resurrect the family pride."