Chapter 5
The Draft Resistance
Stephen Fugita, Santa Clara University

Over the period of internment, the government's policy changed dramatically with regard to Japanese Americans serving in the military. Initially, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the War Department declared Japanese Americans ineligible for military service, labeling them "enemy aliens." In the territory of Hawaii, however, where there was no mass removal of Japanese Americans from their homes and incarceration in camps, the Army formed the 100th Battalion in the middle of 1942. This segregated unit was made up of Japanese American soldiers who were formerly mostly in Hawaii's National Guard.

In 1943, as military manpower became scarcer and the loyalty of Japanese Americans became more apparent to many officials, the U.S. government decided to call for volunteers from the mainland camps and Hawaii to form a segregated unit led by white officers. Those who answered the call became members of the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Due to the success of the 442nd and the need for additional soldiers, the War Department made the decision, in 1944, to draft young Japanese American men out of the camps.

Given the unconstitutional treatment they had been subjected to, a few young men decided not to report for their physical examinations after they received their draft notices. They were angry that the government would call them to serve when the same government had stripped them of their rights. Most of these men were not disloyal to the U.S. and would have served if their freedom and that of their families were returned. Thus, a small number, 315 men from all ten concentration camps, resisted the draft.

Heart Mountain Relocation Center. National Archives

This was not an easy decision for them as they were well aware of the possibility that they could go to prison. Their fathers pressured a few. Moreover, they were ridiculed by some of their fellow Japanese Americans who felt it was there duty to serve regardless of how the government treated them. By having a few draft resisters among them, many Japanese Americans felt that this would make it much more difficult for them when they returned to society after the war.

The feelings of one resister, Frank Yamasaki, were clearly expressed many years later, "I say, hey, this is stupid. They kick us around and now you're going to have to go around and prove that you're an American? To me it was pure [nuts] — to volunteer to the U.S. Army? Well, no way, from my feeling. It was just totally wrong. Take us back to Seattle, get our parents and get our hotel back, and get us back into what we were. We were American."

Dependent upon which judge the draft resisters were assigned to, they received widely varying sentences. Those from one camp, Heart Mountain, were sentenced to three years in federal prison. The resisters from Tule Lake camp had their charges dismissed and those from Poston were fined one cent. However, those from other camps were given prison sentences ranging from two to five years. President Truman pardoned all of the resisters on Christmas Eve 1947.

Although the actions of the resisters have frequently been controversial in the Japanese American community, today most people appreciate the reasons for the difficult decision these young men made during wartime confinement.

Resource Materials

Books for younger students:

The topic of the resisters was one that was not openly discussed for many years in the Japanese American community. Even after sixty years, there are those who cannot speak about their experiences. This area of history is still emerging and undoubtedly, more material will become available in the future.

Books for older students and researchers:

Abe, Frank (2004) Conscience and the Constitution: The Untold Story of Japanese American Resistance During World War II. TV Books Inc. ISBN: 1575001705. This book is based on Abe's television documentary (see below in the DVD/Videos.) Available at

Hohri, William M. (2001) Resistance: Challenging America's Wartime Internment of Japanese-Americans. Lomita, CA: the Epistolarian Hohri's book examines the resistance movement and includes accounts of Japanese American trials and subsequent imprisonment at McNeil Island in Washington state. This book is available from Asian American Curriculum Project. (

Mackey, Mike (ed.). (2002) A Matter of Conscience: Essays on the World War II Heart Mountain Draft Resistance Movement. Western History Publications, ISBN: 0966155661. This book is a collection of essays on the Heart Mountain Resistance movement.

Muller, Eric L. (2003) Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II, University of Chicago Press, ISBN: 0226548236. Muller describes both the resistance movement and the aftermath — ostracism of the resistors by the Japanese American community in the post-war period.

Okada, John (1978) No No Boy, University of Washington Press, ISBN: 0295955252. This book, originally published in 1957, is a novel based on a fictional young man, Ichiro, incarcerated in camp with his family. The story follows his decision to resist the draft and the consequences he faced. Okada, who only wrote this one novel during his lifetime, provides no easy answers and many thought provoking questions. Available at


Conscience and the Constitution, They Fought on Their Own Battlefield, a film by Frank Abe (2000. This powerful film, profiles the resistance movement through interviews with some of the Japanese Americans involved. Narrated by George Takei and Mako (50 minutes) Available from or from Frank Abe's website (

Websites and Organizations:

Densho Project, The Japanese American Legacy Project. This archive tells much of the story of Japanese Americans in the Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane region. There are many great photos as well.

Official site for Frank Abe's Conscience and the Constitution documentary at, contains historical information and updates on a new film, In Search of No-No Boy, based on John Okada's book, No-No Boy. Download the on-line teachers' guide and get information for school reports.

Japanese American Museum of San Jose, a great community based museum and website. KTEH's educational partner on the Return to the Valley documentary and educational project.

Japanese American National Museum, located in Los Angeles and the repository of a great deal of archival material on the Japanese American experience in the United States.

Tule Lake, California National Archives

Poston, Arizona. National Archives

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