The "NO NO Boys"

“NO NO” BOYS and Cultures of Protest and Resistance

     Of the approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in 1941 not all of them went to the interment camps quietly.  Many were upset and angry for a variety of reasons, but the most of the dissent was initiated by the loyalty questionnaire sent out by the  U.S. government to all Japanese Americans (over 17 yrs old) who were interned.  There was an estimate of approximately 12,000 labeled disloyal “No No Boys”.

     In 1943 when the loyalty questionnaire was first asked, the initial group of the “No No Boys” was identified. 

#27Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

#28. 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 for swear any form?

     Those who answered these questions “No”, or refused to answer were branded as disloyal and were segregated and sent to Tule Lake in Northern California, a higher security internment camp.  They were sent to Crystal City, Heart Mountain and various prisons.

     At Heart Mountain there was a group of men who answered with a qualified statement.  They stated that under “the present conditions and circumstances” they could not answer these questions.  They felt their freedoms and rights should be returned and if so, would defend their country. Later when being drafted from camp to the Army, they became draft resisters.  Sixty three of these men were tried, found guilty and sent to prison for three years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and McNeil Island, Washington.

     There were many different groups of Japanese Americans who comprised these cultures of protest and resistance.

Japanese temporarily living in America
There were the Japanese National living in U.S. as visiting professors, businessmen, diplomats, they were deported back to Japan or imprisoned until they were used as exchange to bring back U.S. citizens living in Japan.

Japanese Aliens
These were individuals who had migrated to the U.S. to start a new life, or here working and hoping to one day return to Japan.  These people had been living in the U.S. for as many as 40 years or more in the U.S., but they were considered aliens because the laws did not permit them to become U.S. Citizens but they had considered America as their new home.  Most of these men were community leaders, heads of local churches, and ministers.  They were rounded up by the FBI and sent to various prisons throughout the U.S. as soon as the war broke out.

These were American citizens, born in America of Japanese immigrant parents, who had been sent to Japan at a relatively early age by their parents for either education or employment. They were bilingual with the ability to read and write Japanese. 

There were several reasons why some internees either refused to answer these questions or said No:

     Many Japanese/Japanese Nationals living temporarily in U.S. most had allegiance to Japan.  If they answered “Yes”, they would be fighting their brothers, and other family members from Japan.

     Many were Japanese Aliens who immigrated to make the U.S. their home, thought themselves as Americans, having lived here for many years. Their children were born in the U.S. (Nisei) and were U.S. Citizens, but because of the Alien Immigration Law, the Japanese immigrants were not allowed to be American Citizens.  By answering “yes” they, in their mind, were denouncing their Japanese citizenship and swearing allegiance to the U.S. even though they could not become citizens, thus in essence, they would become people without a country.
Because many of the heads of the families were taken away by the FBI, and entire families incarcerated, they felt they were not wanted in this country any longer.

     Another group of men were U.S. Army veterans from WW I, or currently serving in the U.S. Military.  (My Father was stationed in Georgia in the U.S. Army at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack).  After Pearl Harbor many Nisei who were serving in the Military were discharged from active service by transferring them to the Enlisted Reserve Corps, for the convenience of the Government, as a method used to discharge them from the Army.  These men were very bitter because of the incarceration and felt that it was an insult because their loyalty to United States was being questioned.  Because of the bitterness, many of these men swore, as they were behind barbed wired fence, to “become a Jap” and never do any work for the U.S. again. 

     For most Japanese Americans the Japanese cultural tradition of obedience to the father was very strong, and usually the father’s decision would prevail without question.  So for many families, if the father told them to answer “No”, the entire family would do the same.  Even if the father left the loyalty question decision to the children, if the parents answered “No”, the children followed their lead because they wanted to remain with their parents.

     There were some Nisei  like the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee who did protest based on their conviction that America’s constitutional rights were for all people and not just some.  As Mits Koshiyama, one of the draft resisters said, “if a person is going to fight for freedom and democracy, shouldn’t he be enjoying the same rights he is entrusted to defend?”

     The embittered Issei, Nisei and Kibei felt they should return to Japan, where they could be with people they could identify with, without discrimination they received in America.  If they went to Japan they felt they wouldn’t need U.S. citizenship, since citizenship was useless if it could not protect us against their own government.

Submitted by Henry Kaku

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