Friday, February 26, 2010

A Brief Historical Overview

I sketched out a brief history of the events leading up to the beginning of the play (and the book) for possible dramaturgical support for our audience and being constitutionally unable to throw out anything I've ever written, I thought I'd post it here for your edification, even though you probably hardly need it.  It's a little bit dry (I was going for brevity), but maybe you'll find it helpful: 

A Brief History of the Japanese American Interment and the Events Leading to the Play:

On December 7th, the Japanese Imperial Army attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. In the days immediately following that attack, the FBI began rounding up and arresting any Japanese “non-citizens” (it should be noted that Japanese immigrants were forbidden by law to become citizens) who were judged to be community leaders, such as teachers, ministers, and business leaders, taking them to isolated prisons. Japanese Americans serving in the U.S. Army were declared to be “enemy aliens” and were discharged.

All suspected “enemy” aliens were ordered to surrender short wave radios and cameras, and in January, 1942, Attorney General Francis Biddle began issuing orders establishing strategic areas along the West Coast, requiring the removal of alien Japanese from these areas. On February 19th, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the Western half of the three West Coast states and the southern portion of Arizona. On March 18th, FDR created the War Relocation Authority and by March 22nd, the first large groups of Japanese Americans began to be moved to the Army-operated Manzanar Detention Center.

On March 23rd, Japanese Americans were ordered evacuated from the Seattle area and the removal of all people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to temporary detention centers – often horse racing tracks where families were lodged in horse stalls, like Santa Anita, Tanforan, and the Puyallup Fairgrounds. Within six months, these people were then shipped to ten different internment camps scattered throughout the interior of the United States, mostly in remote desert areas or swamp lands.
In January 1943, the Secretary of War Henry Stimson reversed the order calling Japanese Americans “enemy aliens” and announced the formation of an all-Japanese American Combat Unit. On February 8th, a “loyalty questionnaire” was distributed to all persons over 17 years of age for Army recruitment, segregation and relocation. About ten percent of the draft-age men either answered the final two questions (the infamous Questions 27 and 28), which read in part “Are you willing to serve on combat duty wherever ordered?” and “...will you forswear any form of obedience to the Japanese emperor?” “No” and “No”, becoming known as NO-NO BOYS. Those who signed “No, No” were segregated in a camp at Tule Lake, some arguing that Question 28 was a trick question because to “forswear” loyalty to the Japanese emperor implied that they WERE loyal to the emperor in the first place, while others signed “No” to Question 27, arguing that the government’s actions stripped them of their rights as citizens, so if they weren’t citizens, they could not be subject to the draft. Meanwhile, 315 Nisei who refused the draft were tried and found guilty of draft evasion, and subsequently sent to Federal penitentiaries in Leavenworth, Kansas and McNeil Island in Washington State. The term “No-No Boy” eventually became a blanket term for all dissenters and resisters.

The camps were closed in 1945, and many Japanese Americans returned to a hostile reception on the West Coast. Japanese American veterans returned in 1945 and 1946, while those who were sent to prison came back after serving three years with time off for good behavior. Although Truman would issue a blanket pardon for all draft resisters in 1947, the Japanese American community was not so forgiving, and it is here where the play begins.

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