Nisei Paradox


February 21, 2019

Click here for your FREE ticket(s)


The dramatic production presented to you at the Four Rivers Cultural Center will be performed on Thursday, February 21 in the performing arts theatre at 7:00 PM.  There is no charge to attend this performance.  The Nisei Paradox, tells a story that many might find inconceivable. Despite being at war, the armed services first refused to enlist volunteers from the ranks of those who had been relocated.  Later, a decision was made to allow volunteer enlistment of Japanese-American men and then later still a decision was made to draft all eligible young men interned in concentration camps.

A greater percentage of young men from Idaho’s concentration camp at Minidoka voluntarily enlisted than from any other of the concentration camps.  But some refused induction asking why they should be forced to fight for a country that deprived them of the very freedoms they were being asked to defend.  Dozens of young men were prosecuted as draft resisters in Idaho Federal court.

What does it mean to say no to your country when your country has said no to you?  This theatrical presentation about a forgotten chapter in the history of the federal courts in Idaho, written and directed by Jeffrey Thomson, a partner in the Boise law firm Elam & Burke, tells us this story. The staged reading is performed by Lance Taylor (Judge Chase Clark), Nicholas Kawaguchi (James Mitsugu Yamada – Minidoka draft resister, defendant), Walt Bithell (Matthew Kane –appointed defense counsel), Raphael Gonzalez (Jonathan Blake – prosecutor), James Ball (Josiah Montgomery – FBI agent), and Jeff Thomson (Narrator, Bailiff, Jury Foreman). Behind the scenes and running all of the technical aspects of the show is Alexander Schloss (Video and Visual Designer, Editor and Operator).

Young Japanese-American men were conscripted to serve in the United States Armed Forces. At the time they were conscripted, those same young men were living with their families under armed guard behind barbed wire fences, hundreds of miles from their homes, filling tight quarters with little privacy in hastily constructed wooden barracks shared with many other families. They had been forced to leave nearly all of their belongings behind, their parents had been forced to give up businesses, homes, and farms. Before receiving their draft notices, they were labeled enemy aliens and told that they could not serve in the Armed Forces even if they wanted to volunteer to do so. They were not free to leave the place where they were incarcerated. They did not know when or if they would be permitted to leave– unless, that is, if they reported for induction to the draft board located in Jerome, Idaho, the town closest to the internment camp in which they lived.

These young men were Nisei – born in the United States of Japanese immigrants, and therefore U.S. Citizens.  Their parents and grandparents had been living in the United States for many years, often decades. Their lives changed on December 7, 1941, when fighter planes of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack upon Pearl Harbor. More than 2000 American sailors and soldiers died, many more were wounded. Dozens of ships were destroyed including much of the Navy’s battleship fleet, along with more than 300 airplanes. The next day, the United States declared war on Japan, and three days later declared war upon Germany and Italy. For all Americans, any normalcy that existed before that infamous attack upon Pearl Harbor was gone. For the ethnic Japanese living on the west coast of the United States, their lives were turned upside down.

After Pearl Harbor, suspicious eyes turned upon people living in the United States who had Japanese ancestry, or Italian or German ancestry. Particularly on the west coast of the United States, where tens of thousands of American citizens and legal residents were of Japanese ancestry, rumors began to fly that there were spies and saboteurs everywhere plotting against the United States on behalf of the Japanese Emperor. Japanese were suspected to be in radio contact with the Imperial Navy to assist in a naval attack on the west coast. Local and state officials joined a chorus of ever increasing xenophobia directed against those of Japanese ancestry, and urged the federal government to remove all ethnic Japanese.

Almost immediately after the attack upon Pearl Harbor, Idaho’s governor, Chase A. Clark, ordered that any Japanese nationals living in Idaho be confined to their homes until their “status” had been determined. That requirement was lifted after a few days, but with instructions to law enforcement to keep a close eye on them. Chase Clark was later appointed as Idaho’s only Federal District Court judge and it was he who presided over the trial of the Nisei draft resisters.