Second Thoughts on Enlistment

Group: Eveline, Ashley, Linda, Joyce

Primary Document: Letter to FDR

Watercolor Painting: Second Thoughts on Enlistment

Second Thoughts on Enlistment

In Gene Sogioka’s painting titled “Second Thoughts on Enlistment”, a young Japanese American man in a military uniform is standing in the midst of a crowd of people, and two men are also seen in the corner having a conversation. There appears to be a general environment of concern and disagreement amongst the crowd, as well as a look of doubt and helplessness on the Japanese American male’s face. He looks as though he could be trying to defend his decision to enlist to the concerned females, who could potentially be family members, because of complicated camp political dynamics and differences in opinions between the Issei and Nisei generations. He could also be second-guessing his decision to join the US military in the midst of national efforts in World War II, be it questions regarding unequal treatment in the army or whether risking his life for a country that saw him as a traitor was worth it. The three women surrounding the young male seem to be holding the male back and asking him to reflect on his decision.

Gene Sogioka, Second Thoughts on Enlistment, 1941-1943. Watercolor. Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

Letter to FDR-page-001 Letter to FDR-page-002 Letter to FDR-page-003 Letter to FDR-page-004 Letter to FDR-page-005

Addressed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 13, 1943, the Temporary Community Council of Poston III composed a letter to declare Japanese Americans’ loyalty to the United States and express disgust with the conditions of racial segregation and discrimination. This letter, written during a camp council meeting, focuses on reasoning for why privileges granted to American citizens should be restored to Japanese Americans interned in camps. The letter describes ways in which Japanese Americans in camps offered to serve their country, stating, “We wish to extend our aid in bearing our share of the responsibilities, hardships, and sacrifices, as our duty to the country is absolutely paramount.  We believe in the fulfillment of this supreme obligation”. Despite the discrimination faced by the camp internees, their attempts to convince the United States government of their loyalty and encourage desegregation persisted. The letter adds that they are “opposed to the formation of a separate combat team composed entirely of Americans of Japanese blood” and their “one and fervent wish and desire is to fight and work as Americans and not as hyphenated Americans”. The letter states their desires to be fully integrated into the military and leverages their argument with criticism of the United States government as not living up to the principles of democracy, one principle of which includes not discriminating based on race. They further argued that the performance of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry could be greatly improved by disregarding race in making military decisions. The temporary council argues that both sides would simultaneously benefit from desegregating the military and closing internment camps: the United States government would receive enhanced military performance from loyal Japanese Americans and internees would obtain freedom from camp as well as citizenship rights. There are, however, significant limitations to this primary document. While this particular group of internees expressed their utmost loyalty and desire to serve the United States, it may not be an accurate representation of all Japanese and Japanese-American internees who may have held different opinions on voluntary induction.

Letter to FDR. Letter. February 13, 1943. From Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830.

Encyclopedia Entry: 

Keyword: Draft Resistance

During World War II, many Japanese American soldiers who had previously been in the army as well as others held in internment camps refused combat training and resisted the military draft due to the discriminatory treatment and incarceration that they and their families faced. Others, typically referred to as “no-no boys”, not only resisted the draft but also distinguished themselves as disloyal to the United States. Though induction into the military was initially deemed voluntary, many Japanese Americans found themselves suffering the consequences of resistance.

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, over 5,000 Japanese Americans had been inducted into the army. However, suspicions after the attack led to many Japanese American soldiers being discharged or stripped of combat duty and instead assigned menial tasks, such as collecting garbage.[1] Combat training of Nisei did not resume until February of 1943 when the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was formed.[2] Although some previously inducted soldiers resumed combat training, others refused due to the ways they had been treated.

Around the same time, the War Relocation Authority launched the Loyalty Questionnaire to Japanese-American internees on February 12, 1943. [3] It was an attempt to segregate those who were loyal and disloyal across the internment camps. The final two questions, numbers 27 and 28, asked the internees whether they would be willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty and if they would be willing to swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America, thereby forswearing any form of allegiance to the Japanese emperor. [4] Considered disloyal, the term “no-no boys” was termed for those who answered “no” to both questions, and they were ultimately segregated at Tule Lake. “No-no boys” are commonly thought to refer to draft resisters; however, there were draft resisters who answered “yes-yes” and sent to prison for the crime of draft resistance. [5]

On January 20, 1944, it was announced that the draft had reopened. Reluctance to join the military, however, was prominent across internment camps. News of high casualty rates of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team spread through camps, young Nisei men wished to remain with their parents, and many expressed anger over their treatment in incarceration camps. Some Nisei tried filing applications to renounce citizenship but this strategy proved unsuccessful for avoiding the draft. The Poston camp had the largest number of draft resisters at 107. [6] Each draft resister was charged with the same federal crime of refusing to report for induction under the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 and faced prison terms ranging from six months to three years. [7]  

Overall, a wide range of motives for draft resistance in the 1940s existed for Nisei internees. “No-no boys” expressed disloyalty towards the United States and some Nisei believed that they should not be drafted by a country that had incarcerated them. Others simply wished to remain with their families and not risk being killed in combat.

[1] Brian Niiya. “Japanese Americans in military during World War II,” Densho Encyclopedia (accessed Nov 30 2015).
[2] Brian Niiya. “Military resisters,” Densho Encyclopedia (accessed Nov 30 2015).
[3]Brian Niiya. “No-no boys,” Densho Encyclopedia (accessed Nov 30 2015).
[4] Statement of US Citizen of Japanese Ancestry. From Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830.
[5] Niiya, “No-no boys,” Densho Encyclopedia.
[6] Chrissy Lau. “Japanese American Incarceration.” (Class lecture, Introduction to Asian American History, Cornell University, Ithaca NY, October 22, 2015).
[7] Eric Muller. “Draft resistance,” Densho Encyclopedia (accessed Nov 30 2015).

Japanese America and Questions of Loyalty During WWII

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by the Japanese during World War II and under themes of exclusion and foreignness, the idea that Japanese Americans could not be trusted led to internment and “loyalty review programs” instituted by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in February of 1943 that centered on the so-called “loyalty questions” directed towards these interned Japanese Americans.[1] Included in the “Statement of United States Citizen of Japanese Ancestry” application that served as a “leave clearance” application for interned Japanese, these “loyalty questions” specifically referred to the last two questions of the application.[2] Question 27 asked, “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?”, and Question 28 asked, “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or another foreign government, power, or organization?”[3] These “loyalty questions” served to highlight the larger fundamental question being directed towards the interned Japanese Americans regarding how they might act to reveal their committed allegiance to the United States. With primary documents, including one of Gene Sogioka’s watercolor paintings titled “Second Thoughts on Enlistment” and a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt from the Poston Temporary Community Council highlighting facets of these internment experiences of Japanese Americans and particularly how they viewed the concept of loyalty, Japanese Americans were forced to answer the question of whether or not to show their allegiance to the United States, specifically by enlisting in combat duty, with various tensions guiding the decision, such as the struggle in choosing loyalties, intergenerational differences primarily between Nisei and Issei, and contradictions resulting from historical tensions surrounding treatment of Japanese Americans.

When the Japanese Americans were ordered to internment camps, they were presented with demands from the government to “obey the law, peacefully cooperate with their own removal and incarceration, and two years into the war, accept the draft as a restoration of their “right” to serve in the military.”[4] Those who were willing to be enlisted in the military were promised the restoration of their citizenship rights in the future, while those who resisted drafting were threatened with prison time and the loss of what minimal existing citizenship they did have. In the case of Gene Sogioka’s painting, it is possible that the worrying and anxious look on the person of focus resulted from a dissonance between the ideal United States citizenship and the question of if and how he should pursue proof of loyalty when the principles of citizenship seemed to exclude him. Sogioka’s own resistance at the beginning waves of internment may have prompted him to form the opinion he captured in his art and to judge that the person of focus was struggling with the dynamics and politics behind incarceration.[5]

For the interned Japanese Americans, compelling reasons existed to prove loyalty to the United States, as highlighted in the letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The authors state, “Being aware of the situation, we wish to extend our aid in bearing our share of the responsibilities, hardships, and sacrifices, as our duty to our country is absolutely paramount”.[6] The statement captures the notion that the interned Japanese Americans were willing to do almost anything to prove their loyalty. Their emphasis that they were “American citizens of Japanese ancestry,” combined with their statement that they were willing to sacrifice and endure hardships to contribute to war efforts, indicates their deep affinity to the United States and thus their stake in proving their loyalty to a country they considered home. Furthermore, as the Community Council was likely primarily composed of Nisei[7], these second generation Japanese Americans wanted to be seen as harmless cultural bridges capable of aiding the United States in advantageous ways “with the idea of giving the Army and the United States Government every cooperation” rather than as potential traitors or sources of espionage.[8] Indeed, proving their loyalty offered a chance to prove the United States wrong about how they viewed Japanese Americans and show how they were “loyal and willing to fight and serve this country…, as every American should be,” which could bring about “post war benefits derived from such associations… of enduring and harmonious nature economically, socially, and politically”.[9]

While the letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt captures the feelings of those who were willing to prove their loyalty by fighting for the United States, the interned Japanese Americans did have compelling reasons to reject joining the war effort as a method of proving loyalty. Understanding that “it is against the principles of democracy… to segregate any people… on account of racial reasons alone, without proof of disloyalty”, some Japanese Americans may have felt hurt and betrayed beyond the point of being motivated to prove the United States wrong.[10] In fact, on one extreme, counter-propaganda efforts in newspapers existed that consisted of pro-Japan editors and translators that advocated against joining efforts for the United States and instead for Japan.[11] Even when the United States called upon Japanese Americans to fight but in a “separate combat team,” that seemed to be “merely an extension of the principles of segregation and discrimination, which has been, especially recently, greatly magnified by the evacuation”, which was an element of hypocrisy in calling on the Japanese American to fulfill citizenship duties while denying the benefits of citizenship, was a viable reason in some Japanese Americans turning their backs.[12]

Indeed, not all the experiences of Japanese Americans were identical, and delving further, differences between the Issei and Nisei had implications on how they responded to being interned and asked to answer the “loyalty questions”. While the letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt likely does not capture their experiences, the Issei, who were first generation Japanese Americans who immigrated to the United States and had largely grown up in Japan, had motivations for immigration and experiences in the United States that differed from the Nisei, who were second generation Japanese Americans born in the United States and who grew up in a more “American” culture.[13] Proven to be much less straightforward to answer than the government had initially thought, the “loyalty questions” yielded different responses from the Nisei and Issei than the “correct” answer, which was “yes” to both questions. Answering “no” to both questions, the elderly, first generation Issei did not want to serve in the army because of their old age, and they also did not want to become stateless because many did not want to give up their Japanese citizenship if they were not guaranteed naturalized citizenship in the United States. On the other hand, the Nisei believed that the “loyalty questions” were designed to make them feel like foreigners despite having been born in the United States and assumed that they worshipped the Japanese emperor; those actively upset at this questioning of their loyalty were called “No No Boys” for answering “no” to both questions.[14] Furthermore, the first persons suspected of being a threat to the safety of the United States were often Issei because they tended to be religious or community leaders who had more ties to Japan.[15] In response, some Issei stated, “Shikata ga nai”, or “It can’t be helped” in response to internment, much like their reaction to previous discriminatory legislation.[16] Meanwhile, many Nisei felt upset that they were not being treated as citizens, but some did not resist when being interned because they wanted to continue to show their loyalty to the United States. In the internment camps, it seemed that many young Nisei, potentially like the youthful person of focus in Gene Sogioka’s painting, were more inclined than the Issei to prove their loyalty by joining war efforts because they identified more with the United States than with Japan, as stated by the repeated emphasis by the Community Council likely composed mostly of Nisei that they were “American soldiers of Japanese blood” and their “one and fervent wish and desire is to fight and work as Americans and not as hyphenated Americans.”[17] Indeed, while all Japanese were asked to declare loyalty to the country through the loyalty questionnaires, only the Nisei, second-generation Japanese Americans, were accepted into the military because to the United States, Nisei seemed to logically hold a greater allegiance.[18]
However, the Issei did have a stake in how the Nisei, the group that the government was more inclined to listen to, might respond, as “Each individual had to… decide whether to enlist in the army… under the watchful eyes of friends and family, neighbors and community leaders, many of whom believed that the way these young men responded to the draft would determine the post war future of all Japanese Americans in the United States.”[19] Born in the United States himself, Gene Sogioka, in his painting “Second Thoughts on Enlistment”, captures multiple figures surrounding the person of focus as he displays a worrying facial expression.[20] These “watchful eyes” and surrounding people are not only whispering in the corner and in the back but are also speaking directly to him as he weighs how his involvement and the larger Japanese American involvement in the war could shift the narrative of Japanese Americans in the United States. The painting captures tensions in the decision to answer the question of loyalty and highlights the thoughts and opinions of fellow internment camp community members as possible sources of these tensions that could have arisen from differences in the perspectives between the Nisei and Issei.

In understanding individual decisions to answer the question of loyalty, the past treatment of Japanese Americans in the United States and underlying systemic racism and discrimination was another factor that influenced the decisions of some that were debating whether or not to prove their loyalty or enlist in the army. For many, the mere fact that the Japanese were incarcerated while foreigners of other ethnicities were not was reason enough to disobey a government that was not acting according to its “democratic” principles of equality, freedom, and the right to due process of the law, amongst many others. Even though the Americans were actively fighting against the Axis Alliance comprising the Germans, Italians and Japanese, not only were the Germans and Italians in the country left undisturbed by the government, they were also naturalized as citizens, while the Japanese were rounded up in concentration camps due to baseless “military necessity,” deemed ineligible for naturalization, and threatened with prison time if they resisted being drafted into the armed forces.[21] As stated in the letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt, many Japanese were frustrated with the treatment that they were facing, a large part of which was due to nothing more than their ethnicity and the generalization that all Japanese were disloyal to the country. They believed that a “great injustice [had] been done,” and that the US government had violated the “principles of democracy” to make the Japanese suffer “tremendously from the effects of psychological and political pressure of actual segregation and evacuation, based on racial differentiation alone.”[22]

Before the war, many of the Nisei who were American citizens by birth were “naively confident” that “their citizenship alone had the power to make them 100 percent American,” and that it would guarantee them the freedom and equality as promised by the US Constitution.[23] However, as revealed in the letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt, it quickly became obvious over the course of the war and internment that racial prejudice was easily preventing these promises and expectations from being fulfilled. They believed that their rights and obligations had to be in balance, with some seeing draft resistance as leverage for restoration of their rights to due process before imprisonment and freedom to movement in response to the government’s insistence of military service obligations.[24] One outspoken Nisei expressed that many Japanese were eager to declare themselves as loyal US citizens to differentiate themselves from the “enemy Japanese” soon after the Pearl Harbor attack but were instead called “Japs” and rounded up and put behind barbed wire. Now that the Americans wanted the Japanese to volunteer for enlistment and hence declare them as loyal citizens, the Japanese considered it an action taken “too late,” after the treatment they had already gone through.[25] Indeed, to those who most identified as American, the interned Japanese wanted “to have [their] citizenship rights fully restored not only in principle or words alone, but in actuality” to potentially start a path of correcting a history of exclusion and discrimination in the face of a contradictory manifestation of the democratic principles on which the United States was founded.[26]

Consistent with decades of exclusion and discrimination, the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II, especially for those interned in camps, focused heavily on how they could prove their loyalty to the United States as evidenced by Gene Sogioka’s “Second Thoughts on Enlistment” painting that captured the feelings of a community and the letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Intergenerational differences, historical tensions and contradictions, and an eagerness to prove allegiance broadly affected how those interned approached the “loyalty questions”. There were a range of responses from simply accepting Executive Order 9066 to actively refusing to join the efforts on the side of the United States, but a thread of tensions runs throughout the whole experience. To this day, the decision to intern Japanese Americans during WWII represents one of the clearest manifestations of systematic discrimination and exclusion towards Asian Americans, and the United States’ expectations of a loyal response from those who were targeted remains far from intuitive.

[1] Roger Daniels, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1990), 202.
[2] Roger Daniels, Major Problems in Asian American History: Documents and Essays, ed. Lon Kurashige and Alice Yang Murray (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003), 315.
[3] Statement of US Citizen of Japanese Ancestry. From Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830.
[4] Cherstin M. Lyon, Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory, Asian American History and Culture (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2011), 3.
[5] Patricia Wakida. “Gene I. Sogioka,” Densho Encyclopedia (accessed Nov 30 2015).
[6] Letter to FDR. Letter. February 13, 1943. From Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830.
[7] Chrissy Lau, “Japanese American Incarceration.” (Class lecture, Introduction to Asian American History, Cornell University, Ithaca NY, October 22, 2015).
[8] Letter to FDR
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Lyon, Prisons and Patriots: Japanese, 88
[12] Letter to FDR
[13] Chrissy Lau, “Japanese Immigration and Labor.” (Class lecture, Introduction to Asian American History, Cornell University, Ithaca NY, September 8, 2015).
[14] Daniels, Major Problems in Asian, 316.
[15] Lau, “Japanese American Incarceration.”
[16] Ibid.
[17] Letter to FDR
[18] Lyon, Prisons and Patriots: Japanese, 87.
[19] Ibid, 4.
[20] Gene Sogioka, Second Thoughts on Enlistment, 1941-1943. Watercolor. Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
[21] Daniels, Major Problems in Asian, 202.
[22] Letter to FDR
[23] Lyon, Prisons and Patriots: Japanese, 3.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid, 83.
[26] Letter to FDR

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