Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee

American political group active against drafting Japanese-American citizens / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee was a group organized in 1943 to protest the draft of Nisei (U.S. citizens born to Japanese immigrant parents), from Japanese American concentration camps during World War II. Kiyoshi Okamoto formed a "Fair Play Committee of One" in response to the War Relocation Authority's controversial loyalty questionnaire in 1943, and was later joined by Frank Emi and other inmates of the Heart Mountain camp (from which the Committee took its name). With seven older leaders at its core, the Committee's membership grew as draft notices began to arrive in camp. To challenge their forced "evacuation" by the government, they refused to volunteer or participate in the draft, but the Committee required its members to be citizens loyal to the United States willing to serve if their rights were restored. By June 1944, several dozen young men had been arrested and charged by the U.S. government with felony draft evasion. While the camp at Poston, Arizona produced the largest group of draft resisters, at 106, the Fair Play Committee was the most prominent inmate organization to protest the draft, and the rate of draft resistance at Heart Mountain (out of a much smaller population) was the highest of any camp. The number of resisters eventually numbered nearly 300 from all ten camps.

A total of 85 Heart Mountain resisters and the Committee leaders were convicted for Selective Service Act violations and sentenced to three to five years in federal prison. In 1947, they were pardoned by President Harry S. Truman, but for decades the Fair Play Committee members were largely seen within the Japanese American community as traitors and cowards (especially when pitted against the famed 100th Infantry Battalion, also known as the "Purple Heart Battalion" [1] and the 442nd RCT whose motto was a Hawaiian pidgin English phrase "Go for Broke").[2] In the post-war years, Japanese Americans struggled to re-establish their place in American society, but in the 1970s a movement began to gain redress for their forced imprisonment in the concentration camps; as former inmates spoke out about their wartime experiences, attitudes towards the resisters began to change.

Since the late 20th century, the draft resisters have been recognized as objectors of conscience with an equally important place in the incarceration history, although their legacy remains a point of contention for many. In 2002, the Japanese American Citizens League, which during the war was a vocal opponent of the Committee and worked with the FBI to prosecute its members, formally apologized for its role in their imprisonment and subsequent ostracization.