Group: Nishit, Jiayi, Stern
Primary Document: Conversation with Dick Nishimoto
Watercolor Painting: Six Pro Axis Commit Violence
This watercolor painting depicts a beating that occurred in Poston, a WRA concentration camp located in Arizona. The significance of the beating manifests the tensions within the camp: The internees did not always find their situations favorable—there was disapproval over wages and workload. The tensions between the Issei and Nisei grew when the camp administration announced that only Nisei citizens were allowed to serve on the Community Council, which essentially makes up the inmate “self-government”. In response, the Issei formed their own unsanctioned “Issei Advisory Board”. The terrible living conditions that Japanese internees had to face exacerbated these tensions even more, and as camp administers were seeking for camp troublemakers, the paranoia in the camp revealed itself. In November 1942, a suspected informer was beaten by two Kibei men (as depicted) and severely injured. Both the Issei and the Community Council feared that the two men would not be given a fair trial and pressed for their release. After their proposal was refused, both the Community Council and the Issei Advisory Board resigned to strike which finally lead to a settlement with the camp administrators—the prisoners would be released as long as the beatings of informers would cease and the internees would cooperate with the camp administration. The impact of the strike was that the Issei played a larger role in determining the internee’s living conditions.
Primary Document: “Conversation with Dick Nishimoto”, Nov 26, 1942
This document is a transcript of a meeting which occurred on November 26th, 1942, between an anthropologist, Dr. Spicer, working at the Poston, AZ camp, and Richard Nishimoto, an Issei informer for a sociological survey and block leader. In this meeting, Nishimoto recounts the experiences within his block during the Poston strike as well as the immediate aftermath. Nishimoto discusses how he worked to keep order within his block and deal with the radical Issei faction within his block. He talks about how the radicals built bonfires, flew the Japanese flag and played Japanese music as a form of resistance. In addition, Nishimoto notes how he had to bring bodyguards with him when he met with the council and how the Issei jeered at the white camp officials who had come to address the Japanese. However, Nishimoto asserts that the Issei are, in the end, loyal to the U.S. Nishimoto discusses the settlement at the end of the strike as well; he believes that the Issei are satisfied by the terms of the settlement and will go back to work peacefully. He thinks that multiple people will have to be fired or step down as a result of this incident, but in the end everything in the camp will go back to normal.
Keyword – The Poston Strike
The Poston Strike refers to a strike held by Japanese Americans on November 19, 1942 at the Poston War Relocation Center in southwestern Arizona. The strike was a result of internal conflict within the Japanese American internees at the camp, which were split into three major groups: the Issei (Japanese immigrants), the Nisei (American-born Japanese), and the Kibei (American-born Japanese that studied in Japan).
Being born and raised in the United States, the Nisei did not identify strongly with Japan. Among the three groups of Japanese Americans, they were the most cooperative with the United States government during relocation. As a result, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) chose Nisei leaders in the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) as representatives for the entire ethnic community1. Believing that cooperation, and assimilation would combat racism, the JACL leaders advised the WRA to ban Japanese language schools as well as speaking Japanese at public meetings. This drew the attention of the Issei and Kibei, who labeled those who collaborated with the WRA as inu, or dogs. The frustrations with relocation, poor living conditions, and the imbalance of power were then turned towards JACL leaders who were suspected of being informers.
On November 14, 1942, an alleged informer was beaten severely, and two Kibei suspects were arrested. The men were to be tried in an out of camp Arizona court, but the Nisei controlled Community Council as well as the recently founded Issei Advisory Board protested that these men could not be tried fairly outside the camp2. After requests to release the suspects were denied on November 17 and 18, the internees in Camp I went on strike. The Community Council and the Issei Advisory Board both resigned, giving way to a new elected representative body including both Issei and Nisei leaders.3 After roughly a week the Assistant Director of the camp negotiated in response, releasing both prisoners to the camp, under the agreement that the beatings would come to an end.
1 Yang, Internment, p.314
Between 1942 and 1945, after the events of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’ entrance into war with Japan, executive order 9066 consigned all Japanese-Americans living on the west coast of the U.S. to internment camps. One of these camps was located in Poston, Arizona, in the middle of the searing desert, and to study the behavior of the interned Japanese, sociologists were stationed at the Poston, AZ camp. Dr. Leighton, one of the sociologists at Poston, hired an artist, Gene Sogioka, to make watercolor paintings of his experiences at the Poston, AZ internment camp for Japanese-Americans. He painted scenes of daily life, conditions at the camp, and notable events that occurred during his three years at the camp. One of his paintings, titled ‘Six Pro-Axis Commit Violence’, depicted the beating of a Japanese man, a supposed FBI informer, at the hands of six other Japanese men in November 1942. A massive strike resulted after two men suspected of the assault were taken into custody by camp authorities, primarily led by first generation Issei Japanese immigrants. In this paper, we will analyze multiple documents regarding the beating and strike in order to determine the factors that caused the beating and what were the factors that affected the strike. In particular, we focus on the interview of Richard Nishimoto, an Issei and block leader, as he recounts the events of the strike. Nishimoto himself authored a book about his experiences at Poston, where he discusses events of the strike and the factors leading up to the strike. We will focus primarily on tensions between the Issei, first generation Japanese immigrants, and Nisei, second generation Japanese, in the camps and how these tensions caused the beatings as well as the strike. There was also a third group, Kibei, who were U.S. born but were raised in or studied in Japan, and for the most part aligned themselves with the Issei. These intergenerational tensions were one of the primary contributors to the strike, and were caused by three primary factors: the favorable treatment of Nisei over Issei by camp authorities, the division of loyalty between the Nisei, who wanted to align themselves with the U.S., and the Issei, who aligned themselves more with Japan, and the overall poor conditions and hardship at the internment camp.
One of the primary factors in igniting tensions between the Issei and Nisei and causing the strike was the favorable treatment of Nisei over Issei by the U.S. government and camp authorities. The Wartime Relocation Authority launched community councils as a form of self-government in the camps as soon as the camps were set up as a means of self-government in the camps. However, the WRA limited membership in these councils to American citizens only, meaning that Issei could not participate. This was a major issue, seeing as how most Nisei were children, teenagers or young adults and almost entirely dependent on the Issei generation for support and economic livelihood. In turn, the internees turned to block managers for leadership, who were WRA-appointed but primarily consisted of Issei, undermining the leadership of the community councils. Nishimoto himself was a block manager, and appeared to be a highly respected figure in his block, as he delegated work and during the strike, he had fifteen men just come as his “bodyguard” as he relayed information. The WRA’s favoritism with the Nisei and attempts to install them as leaders of the camps instead of the Issei backfired, as the Japanese and particularly the Issei preferred to be led by Issei regardless. Another major cause of resentment between the Issei and Nisei were FBI informers, colloquially referred to as “inu” – dogs – by the Japanese. The FBI sought to control dissention and unrest in the camps, and so paid informants, specifically, Nisei, who ratted out troublemakers in the camp; people organizing labor protests and gambling rings, as well as those with any pro-Japanese sentiment in general. In response, Issei began organizing beatings of suspected informers, such as the one depicted in the Sogioka painting. In response, those suspected of performing the beatings were detained by the FBI, sparking the Poston strike as Issei clamored for their release. Nishimoto argues that the discontent that would provide the fuel to generate large, organized protests such as the Poston strike were caused during the first few months of the camp operation, where the Issei realized that they were going to be “cut out of leadership positions entirely because of their status as enemy aliens”. As a whole, we see that Issei men, despite being older and the prewar leaders of the Japanese-American community, were denied the right to lead the interned Japanese in any capacity. To make the tensions worse, the FBI and camp authorities paid Nisei to inform on the behavior of those seen as troublemakers or disloyal, driving a wedge between the Nisei and Issei even further, since the Issei were afraid of being informed on for any reason, and the Nisei were afraid of being beaten for even suspected of being an informer. Even Nishimoto, who calls himself “one of the most liberal” Issei, states himself that “we do not allow boys to be cocky” when referring to the Nisei. Clearly, the Issei feel disrespected and undermined by the Nisei and the authorities who prop them up to lead the Japanese community. The reasons for preferring the Nisei over Issei by the authorities, while not documented, can be guessed at. The U.S. government officials might believe that the Nisei are younger, more assailable, and easier to control since they hold less ties to Japan, or, they could simply prefer the Nisei since they are U.S. citizens. Regardless, the moves made by the WRA and FBI with their preference of the Nisei and cutting out Issei from camp leadership, as well as supporting Nisei informants who spied on the Japanese, created a strong divide between the Issei and Nisei in the camps and the informant issue specifically led to the beating and strike that are the center issue of our analysis. Clearly, the U.S. government agencies involved in the internment process had a strong hand in causing Issei-Nisei tensions in the camps, leaving us to consider whether this was an intentional tactic to purposefully divide the Japanese community and make the Japanese community under internment easier to control.
In addition to the actions of government officials, the divided national loyalties of the Nisei and Issei further contributed to tensions that caused the strike. The Nisei attempted to renounce any loyalty to Japan and the Issei to gain favor with the U.S., and hopefully end their incarceration and improve their standing within the U.S. To this end, the JACL, an organization of citizen Nisei, publically denounced the Issei, cooperated with the FBI and ONI to inform on suspect disloyal Issei by forming the anti-Axis committee to root out disloyalty among Japanese-Americans. This made them wildly unpopular with the Issei, and led to multiple beatings of JACL leaders, including one in Poston. On the other hand, the Issei and groups of Nisei that were less pro-U.S. believed that they were effectively prisoners of war in the U.S., and that they should support Japan in order to secure safe release for themselves. This core division among how to best react to incarceration is the center point around which Issei-Nisei tensions developed. The Nisei believed that their best chance for escaping incarceration and restoring their rights was to prove their loyalty to the U.S. and assimilate further, and thus sought to eliminate “rotten apples” from Japanese-Americans through informing, and later, by serving in the U.S. military. On the other hand, the Issei viewed the actions of informants as breaking apart families, as those suspecting of being disloyal would be detained and separated from their families, and so the Issei generation largely believed that their life in the U.S. could not be repaired. This led to a cycle of informing and beatings that spiked tensions between the Issei and the Nisei, eventually boiling over and resulting in the Poston strike. However, Nishimoto paints an entirely different picture of the pro-Japan Issei during the strike, comparing them to “boys who are mad at someone”, essentially, that the radical Issei were using pro-Japanese fervor out of spite and not because they truly wanted to support Japan over the U.S. Nishimoto goes on to say that the Issei in his block “will be for the United States […] when it is a matter of life and death”. This suggests that the Issei were conflicted in their loyalty to the U.S., although they were disillusioned with the unfair treatment they had received in the U.S., first with the anti-Japanese laws passed in the early 1900s and then the internment, they were also equally apprehensive about supporting Japan. Ultimately, the beatings of informants and antagonism towards the Nisei comes from a desire to protect themselves against being detained and subverted, rather than a larger ideological difference of loyalty to the U.S. versus Japan. This contrasts with the attitudes of the informers and patriots among the Nisei, who tried to prove their loyalty to the U.S. at all costs, even resorting to selling out their fellow Japanese-Americans to gain favor with the U.S. government. While the Issei seemed resigned to their fate, the Nisei sought to improve their situation through patriotism, even at the cost of the Issei, and this sentiment only increased tensions among the Issei and Nisei. The beating in the painting was of a suspected informant, and the resulting strike came out of a demonstration to free two men who had been arrested and held by the FBI for being suspected of carrying out the beating. The question of national loyalty pervaded the camp, creating a climate of paranoia between the informants and beatings, and the heightened tensions eventually boiled over and resulted in the beating and strike that is the subject of our documents.
Lastly, the tensions between Issei and Nisei were exacerbated by the poor living conditions and lack of resources at the camp. Firstly, we must note that during the internment process, Japanese were only allowed to carry 75lbs of their belongings with them, the rest had to be thrown away or sold in “fire sales” far below their actual value. Sogioka recounts in his memoirs that in the camp, the government provided only the most basic necessities, meat, bread, rice, and some hay to sleep on, and the rest the internees had to build themselves. Nishimoto also suggests that part of the resentment that caused the protests was caused by poor wages and working conditions in the camps during the first few months. As a result of the economic hardship and unique situation of the camps, everything had to be set up by the internment camps, leading to general disillusionment with the camps and their situation. However, as we’ve analyzed previously, the Issei and Nisei had varying responses to this disillusionment, with the Nisei attempting to prove their loyalty to escape while the Issei either align with Japan or are indifferent entirely.
In the end, the strike lasted for a few days and resulted in multiple concessions, including release of two men who had been suspected of performing the beating, as well as allowing Issei onto the community councils and allowing Issei a greater say in self-governance and camp affairs. We can safely say that the strike was a victory for the strikers and in particular the Issei. Nishimoto notes in his interview that “the Issei are satisfied” and “will do everything in good spirit”. Although the tensions were relaxed in the camp immediately following the events of the strike, the JACL and Nisei pushed for the ability to serve in the U.S. military as a means to prove their loyalty, and so the WRA pushed out a loyalty registration program in early 1943 containing two controversial questions: “Are you loyal to the United States” and “Will you bear arms to fight for your country”. This survey resulted in many Nisei joining the military as a means to leave the camp, while the Issei looked down on those who joined the military, believing that they were joining the oppressors of the Japanese people. Ultimately, conflict between the Issei and the Nisei remained a focal point throughout the history of the Japanese internment, and the November 1942 beating and strike are but two examples of the intergenerational tension that plagued the camps. The Nisei aligned themselves with the United States, desperate to prove their loyalty and escape the camps, and some even resorted to informing on the Issei as an attempt to display loyalty. Meanwhile, the Issei, the traditional leaders of the Japanese community, were undermined, detained, and cut out of camp leadership, and so resorted to violence to quell the informant situation. The tensions were further exacerbated by the lack of resources and general hardship at the camp, as well as the WRA and FBI’s attempts to undermine the Issei and promote the Nisei to serve their own interests in the camps. The Issei-Nisei tension remained a pervading factor throughout the history of the camps, and hampered the Japanese-Americans’ ability to deal with internment effectively.
 Brian Niiya. “Community councils,” Densho Encyclopedia http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Community%20councils/.
 Niiya, “Community councils”
 Nishimoto, Richard. “Conversation with Dick Nishimoto.” Interview by Dr. Rosamond Spicer. November 26, 1942, 3.
 Nishimoto, Richard S., and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi. Inside an American Concentration Camp: Japanese American Resistance at Poston, Arizona. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995, 138-139.
 Nishimoto and Hirabayashi, Inside an American Concentration Camp, 139.
 Nishimoto and Hirabayashi, Inside an American Concentration Camp, 164.
 “Conversation with Dick Nishimoto”, 2.
 “Conversation with Dick Nishimoto”, 5.
 Brian Hayashi. “Informants / “inu”,” Densho Encyclopedia http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Informants%20/%20%22inu%22/.
 Hayashi, “Informants / “inu”.
 Hayashi, “Informants / “inu”.
 “Conversation with Dick Nishimoto”, 3.
 “Conversation with Dick Nishimoto”, 2.
 Gesensway, Deborah, and Mindy Roseman. Beyond Words: Images from America’s Concentration Camps. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987, 147.
 Deborah and Roseman, Beyond Words, 148-149.
 Nishimoto and Hirabayashi, Inside an American Concentration Camp, 164.
 “Conversation with Dick Nishimoto”, 2.
 Deborah and Roseman, Beyond Words, 153.