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The No-No Boys Were Not Silent

When the United States government’s incarcerated more than 110,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps without cause during the World War II, many were not silent. They raged when the federal government forced Japanese Americans and their Japanese national parents from their homes and livelihoods under the pretense that they posed a national security threat, even though no crimes had been committed. In 1983 a grassroots campaign for redress forced the government to acknowledge that incarceration had been the result of "race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership" and award monetary reparations to former internees.

After depriving these Americans of their civil rights, the government then asked them to fight for the country. While some agreed in hopes of proving they were true Americans, others were outraged by the idea they needed to prove their loyalty, especially after giving up homes, businesses, possessions and their freedom. They answered “no” to key questions on a “loyalty questionnaire,” so were segregated from other detainees and moved to the Tule Lake Relocation Camp in California.

They were known as No-No Boys. Vilified at the time for their decision, to me they are heroes for standing up to a government that deprived them of their freedom. For refusing to serve, more than 300 were prosecuted, with many serving three-year sentences in a federal penitentiary. In addition to felony convictions, internees who refused to serve in the military faced a backlash in Japanese American communities.

Tule Lake had a tumultuous history of resistance, with prisoners resisting and protesting for their rights, fair working conditions and enough food., There were multiple strikes that moved the War Relocation Authority to lock down the entire camp to find “troublemakers.” In 1944 martial law was declared and elected leaders detained in the stockade.

5,589 Japanese Americans renounced their U.S. citizenship and 4,724 went to Japan after the war ended, many for the first time, as they were born and raised in the United States. These people who had the courage to dissent bore a lifetime of stigma as ‘disloyal’ and as ‘troublemakers’ for their courage in speaking out against injustice.

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