"In certain camps," Mike Masaoka recalled, "they built monuments to me. They urinated and defecated on them. Even after 40 years, that is not a pleasant feeling."
Masaoka was the youthful liaison between the U.S. government and the Japanese American Citizens League. The league cooperated with the government, helping to negotiate and plan the evacuation. To this day, the league's cooperation is a source of bitter and intense controversy that has carried over into the debate over redress.
Last August, four decades after the event, Masaoka felt it necessary to explain his actions once again before a league convention.
"I was damned," he said in an emotional, hour-long speech, as the man "who led my people out of the civilization of the cities into the wilderness of camps where many died.
"I've heard so many people tell me, 'Why didn't you resist?' Let me remind you that 6 million Jews who knew where they were going went to their deaths in the genocide camps of Europe . . . . In spite of all the criticism, we have not yet heard one viable alternative to the course that we took."
Shosuke Sasaki, 70, a retired financial analyst who was interned, still speaks with rage about the role of the JACL, saying that submissiveness and a desperate desire to assimilate, to "not stir things up," led to wartime cooperation.
Sasaki has on the wall of his Seattle apartment a picture of a legendary Japanese samurai teacher executed for agitating against the Tokugawa family, which ruled from 1603 to 1867. He says the submissiveness that allowed the evacuation continues today in the JACL's support of protracted hearings by the federal commission studying redress.
It is a "stall," Sasaki said. He supports a bill by Rep. Michael E. Lowry (D-Wash.) that would provide immediate redress, with the money coming from a voluntary checkoff on Japanese Americans' income tax returns. Sasaki believes there can be little objection to redress if Japanese Americans are paying for it.
John Tateishi, director of the JACL's redress campaign, says the study is the only practical way to seek redress. "We were advised that we would never get a bill through without the commission," he said. "We were advised over and over to get a commission established and then you can talk about legislation.
"The hardliners, particularly the sansei [third generation], interpreted it as the JACL once again coddling the power brokers in Washington.
" . . . The younger sansei have a much more intense dislike of the JACL and a much more intense anger about what happened in 1942," he said. "But they have much less understanding. It's a translation of their anger towards their own parents that they [the parents] didn't resist. It's difficult to understand there was nothing the parents could have done."
Tateishi knows the JACL controversy from experiences in his family. His now-deceased father, a camp leader at Manzanar, Calif., was imprisoned after riots there and raised him with "a very anti-JACL attitude," he said. "My father felt there was nothing that could be done to avoid the internment. His protest was that as an organization, the JACL didn't make a louder protest in 1942. He always felt someone should have done more."
Tateishi said his father was "at first upset" that his son had taken a job with the JACL. "He thought I was selling out . . . . But when I was appointed, I sat down with him and he said that if the JACL can do anything with recognition of what happened and make some attempt at redress, then I think it exonerates the organization forever. He thought the JACL was really doing something that was meaningful. That was the first time he said he was ready to send membership to the JACL."