A More Perfect Union Exhibit and Japanese American Redress

Sargeant Kazuo Masuda, of the 442nd RCT, and President Reagan’s Decision to Sign the Civil Liberties Act of 1988


One of the most remarkable stories of the Japanese American civil rights struggle for redress and reparations was how members of the Japanese American community lobbied President Reagan to sign the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. 


As the article states below, President Reagan and a number of his advisors were opposed to the President signing the Act into law.


The backstory to this was the story of Sargeant Kazuo Masuda, who while a member of F Company 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy performed a series of heroic acts under fire for more than 12 hours and was killed in action.  While manning his mortar during a German attack, Masuda repelled a German counteroffensive and saved members of his platoon. 


For this, he received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the second highest medal awarded by the Armed Forces.  The DSC is just below the Medal of Honor.


Kazuo Masuda’s body was brought back to Southern California for burial.  Ironically, the Masuda family was told that he could not be buried in an all-White cemetery.  The Masuda family had recently returned to their home in Santa Ana, California, from a Japanese American prison camp in Arizona.  In addition, night riders and local bigots threatened the Masuda family and warned them that they should not return to their home.  These racist incidents were covered in the national media and the treatment of the Masuda family was considered disgraceful by U.S. Army and War Relocation Authority leaders.


General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell, who was at the time Commander of the Sixth Army at the Presidio of San Francisco, was personally incensed.  Stillwell, who had commanded the U.S. Army in the China-Burma-India theater, had numerous Nisei soldiers of the Military Intelligence Service serving in his command.  Stillwell had commended the Nisei soldiers in his command, stating that: “The Nisei bought an awful big hunk of America with their blood. … You’re damn right those Nisei boys have a place in America’s heart, now and forever.  And I say we soldiers ought to form a pickax club to protect Japanese Americans who fought the war with us.  Any time we see a barfly commando picking on these kids or discriminating against them, we ought to bang him over the head with a pickax.  I’m willing to be a charter member.  We cannot allow a single injustice to be done to the Nisei without defeating the purposes for which we fought.”


Stilwell went to Southern California to personally present the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously to Kazuo Masuda’s family.  He brought with him an aid named Captain Ronald Reagan. 


Later that day, at a “United America Day” rally at the Santa Ana Municipal Bowl, the young captain made a moving speech about ethnicity in America.  He said: “Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world: the only country not founded on race but on a way, an ideal. Not in spite of but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way.  Mr. and Mrs. Masuda, just as one member of the family of Americans, speaking to another member I want to say for what your son Kazuo did—thanks.” 


The Masuda family was deeply moved, including Kazuo’s sister, June Masuda.  The event was covered in the local media and in the Pacific Citizen, the official newspaper of the Japanese American Citizen’s League.  A photograph of the ceremony was published. 


Kazuo Masuda’s Distinguished Service Cross was in the possession of June Masuda Goto until 1980.  June Goto was married to a K Company 442nd veteran named Tak Goto.  Tak and June were active in local  nisei veterans gatherings and reunions. 


One morning, I got a call from Chet Tanaka and Tom Kawaguchi saying that they were bringing in a special item to be shown in the Go For Broke exhibit.  Arriving at the museum gallery was June Masuda Goto, her husband, Tak, as well as Rudy Tokiwa, Chet Tanaka, and Tom Kawaguchi, the exhibit veterans coordinators.  They presented to me, on loan, Kazuo’s DSC medal, an original news photo of the ceremony and an original news clipping from the Pacific Citizen.  These items were incorporated as a highlight of the Go For Broke exhibit.  The irony was that Ronald Reagan had just been elected President of the United States.  We all had a feeling that this simple display would be very meaningful in the near future.  We had no idea how meaningful.  Here was a largely unknown and unremembered event in Japanese American history that, within a few short years, would affect the course of civil rights history in America.


On the basis of Ronald Reagan remembering his plea for justice for the Masuda family, he was willing to turnabout and fully support the American Civil Liberties Act of 1988.  The memorabilia was prominently featured for over a year in the Go For Broke exhibit.


The following is Staff Sargeant Kazuo Masuda’s official citation:


“Staff Sergeant Kazuo Masuda, Infantry, U.S. Army. For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company F, 2-D Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team attached to the 34th Infantry Division, and action against enemy forces on July 6, 1944, near Molino a Ventoabbto, well his advanced observation post was the target of heavy mortar and artillery barrages, SSGT Masuda crawled 200 yards to the mortar section, secured a mortar tube and ammunition, and returned to the observation post. Sergeant Masuda single-handedly directed affective fire upon the enemy for 12 hours, inflicting heavy casualties and repulsing two major enemy counterattacks on August 27-28th, 1944. Near Florence, Italy, SSGT Masada voluntarily led two men on a night patrol across the Arno River and through the heavily-mined North Bank. Hearing movements to his right, he ordered his men to cover him while he crawled forward and discovered that they have a strong enemy force had surrounded them. Realizing he was trapped, he ordered his men to withdraw while he engaged two enemy automatic weapons. At the sacrifice of his life, he enabled his comrades to escape with valuable information which materially aided the successful crossing of the Arno River. SSGT Masuda’s gallant heroism and selfless devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the U.S. and reflect great credit upon himself, the 34th Infantry Division and the U.S. Army.”


The President’s Signature and the Fight for Appropriations


Following are excerpts from the book: Maki, M. T., Kitano, H. H. L., & Berthold, S. M. (1999). Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, pp. 189-197, 238-240:


After nearly nine years of congressional labor H.R. 442 was ready to be sent to the president of the United States. Throughout the legislative battle it was uncertain whether President Ronald Reagan would sign the legislation. While the president himself never publicly spoke against redress, his administration consistently opposed the notion of redress in general and H.R. 442 in particular. The Department of Justice’s earnest contesting of the judicial cases and its opposing testimony in congressional hearings, along with the negative strictures of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), all reflected the administration’s opposition. Through his veto power President Reagan could prevent H.R. 442 from becoming law, because there were not enough votes in the House to override such an action.


Lobbying the President


Efforts to lobby President Reagan began in the mid-198os and overlapped with the congressional action. Understanding the president’s thought processes and what motivated him to action were crucial components of the lobbying effort. The Japanese American community was at a disadvantage in its efforts to lobby President Reagan. There were no Japanese Americans in the upper levels of the Reagan administration, and the most prominent Japanese American Republican, former Senator S. I. Hayakawa, was adamantly against redress.


Between 1984 and 1986 Frank Sato, the national president of the JACL, was employed as an inspector general for the Veterans’ Administration. Sato took advantage of his relationships with White House officials. He disseminated packets of information supporting redress to key officials, including John A. Svahn, the president’s chief domestic policy adviser. During the One-hundredth Congress Sato also arranged for redress information to be included in President Reagan’s briefing material on a weekend visit to Camp David.


Before the vote on H.R. 442 Grant Ujifusa asked a White House pollster to inquire about the level of support for the bill among members of the Reagan administration. Ujifusa was told, “I’ve got very bad news .... People over at the White House say they’ve drawn their wagons in a circle and they don’t want this [bill] at all.”1 The pollster advised Ujifusa to wait until another session of Congress to press for the bill.


Meanwhile, Grayce Uyehara and others across the nation were organizing grass-roots letter-writing campaigns to the president.2 As numerous as these support letters were, they were outnumbered by letters urging President Reagan to veto the legislation. Ujifusa reported that Anne Higgins, a White House aide who reviewed the incoming mail, told him that they “were swamped by the negative mail ... four or five or six to one, particularly from outraged veterans.”3 Lillian Baker and her “Americans for Historical Accuracy” and groups of “Concerned Americans” placed opposition ads in California papers, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe. The Pacific Citizen urged supporters to write letters and use a prepaid hotline mailgram to send their message of support to President Reagan.4


While many influential Japanese American Republicans wrote to the president, there was no Japanese American who could personally persuade President Reagan. The lobbying effort needed to include non-Japanese Americans who were trusted by the president and could influence him.


Opponents of Redress in the White House


As redress supporters worked to obtain the president’s support, redress opponents were actively trying to dissuade the president from signing the bill. On May 5, 1988, former Senator S. I. Hayakawa sent a handwritten note to Howard Baker, the president’s chief of staff. In the letter Senator Hayakawa described Japanese Americans as “just rolling in prosperity.” He went on to state, “They are a damn sight better off than whites, but they play on the widespread assumption that non-whites are all more-to-be-pitied than whites. Makes me damn sick to listen to those skillful hustlers. I crawl with embarrassment at their gimme/gimme attitude towards government. Best wishes to you. Best wishes to the President.”5


Inside the Reagan administration the Department of Justice and the OMB favored a presidential veto. Richard Willard, the assistant attorney general from the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, had presented strongly worded testimony against the redress bill during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Governmental Relations hearing. Willard later stated that the Civil Division of the Justice Department based its opposition on its analysis of the legislation, the CWRIC report, and the litigation brought by the coram nobis team.6


Ujifusa wrote a letter to Willard on May 7, 1987, and subsequently visited him. Ujifusa argued that the original intent of the Constitution was grossly violated by the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans. He also stressed the political argument that the Japanese American and the Asian American communities were “emerging natural Republican constituencies” that voted Republican in both 1980 and 1984.7 This argument was especially important since the prominent Japanese Americans in Congress were Democrats. For many in Washington, D.C., Senators Inouye and Matsunaga and Representatives Mineta and Matsui were the Japanese American community.


On September 10, 1987, one week before the vote on the House floor, the Reagan administration released a “Statement of Administration Policy,” which outlined its opposition to H.R. 442 and the intention of the president’s senior advisers to recommend a presidential veto. It cited the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 and the bill’s inclusion of persons who repatriated to Japan during the incarceration period as reasons for opposing the bill.8


Immediately after the bill was passed, the OMB, the Domestic Policy Council, and other White House staff recommended a veto.9 The fall of 1987 was a bleak time in the economy because· of a plunge in the stock market and the ever-growing budget deficit. Moreover, President Reagan had already targeted a large amount of money to wage a “war on drugs.” Any funds for redress would have to come from the same pot of money used to wage this war.10 These factors provided fuel for the opponents of redress on fiscal grounds.


Governor Thomas Kean and Kazuo Masuda


Ujifusa was keenly aware of the need to reach President Reagan through key individuals. President Reagan planned to travel to New Jersey in October 1987 to lend support to Republican candidates running for the state legislature. Ujifusa was aware that Thomas Kean, the Republican governor of New Jersey, would “host” the president’s visit and would have personal access to the president. Ujifusa knew Governor Kean from editing his book, The Politics of Inclusion, and urged the governor to lobby the president to sign the redress bill.


Governor Kean was no stranger to political controversy and protecting the rights of racial minorities. In one instance Governor Kean intervened on behalf of Asian Indians who were being persecuted and physically attacked by a white hate group named the Dot Busters. In response to another incidence of racial hatred he personally washed off a swastika that had been spray painted on the walls of a Jewish synagogue.


During a private limousine ride with President Reagan and Deputy Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein, Governor Kean spoke to the president.11 Governor Kean was aware that members of the Domestic Council advised the president to oppose the legislation. During the conversation he learned that the president had received the same advice from other sources: “The President said he had been advised to veto it and one of the main ones advising him, interestingly enough, was that fellow that used to be head of the University out there during the riots, a Japanese American [S.I. Hayakawa] .... Hayakawa had been the senator from the president’s home state, so that had quite a bit of influence.”12


The governor urged President Reagan to reconsider his stance on the redress legislation since it was compatible with the president’s philosophy of redressing a wrong.13 Governor Kean recalled, “I told him that I thought Hayakawa was wrong, and that members of the community felt very differently about the bill. I told him that it was a blot on the nation, that he had a great opportunity to purge. And he said to me, ‘You know I kind of felt that way ... I was getting all this advice, but before I got it all I was inclined to sign it.’ He said he was glad that I was making another argument.”14


Despite this sympathetic perspective President Reagan would not commit his administration to redress at that point. The president expressed two primary concerns. First, he wondered whether the issue was adequately dealt with by the Japanese-American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948. Second, the president questioned whether the incarceration was a form of protective custody for the Japanese American people.


Governor Kean’s forthright expression of support for redress, however, persuaded the president to take another look at the issue.15 Governor Kean was the only person outside the Reagan administration to have spoken at length with the president about redress. Reflecting on his own support of the bill, Governor Kean stated, “I believed very much in the bill. ... I believe that when a great people do something wrong you admit it and you try to make redress. And this was a chance for us to admit a mistake which I think is a sign of a country’s maturity.”16


On February 6, 1988, approximately four months after the limousine meeting, Governor Kean sent a letter to President Reagan urging him to sign the redress legislation. He reminded President Reagan of his participation in the wartime medal ceremony for a dead Nisei soldier from the 442d R.C.T. who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He went on to write, “Given your life-long commitment to the cause of equal rights, and the esteem in which Japanese-Americans now hold you, I feel it would be very fitting for you to sign the redress legislation. It would show the world that America is big enough to admit when we make mistakes, and still true to the values on which we were founded.”17 President Reagan read the letter, and a White House aide informed Governor Kean that the president recalled the story and was “glad to hear it again.”18


The World War II veteran about whom Governor Kean reminded President Reagan was Kazuo Masuda. Masuda was a young Nisei staff sergeant in the 442d R.C.T. Despite his family’s incarceration in Arizona he wanted to fight with the 442d R.C.T. He survived numerous military campaigns until he was killed in Italy on August 27, 1944. A mortar had lost its base plate, and Masuda filled his helmet with dirt and fired the mortar long enough to repel a German patrol that was bearing down on F Company. Several days later Masuda was killed as he was on patrol. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.


In 1945 Masuda’s family received threats of physical violence when it attempted to resettle in Santa Ana, California. The local community also refused to allow Masuda’s body to be buried in the cemetery. In response the U.S. Army sent a group of officers to present formally the Distinguished Service Cross to Masuda’s family. This was part of an intensive government campaign to defuse anti-Japanese American tensions as Japanese Americans returned home from the camps. Heading this contingent was General Joseph W. “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. Among the other officers was none other than Captain Ronald Reagan. Captain Reagan read a statement prepared by the U.S. Army and the Office of War Information, which said in part, “Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way-an ideal. Not in spite of, but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way. Mr. and Mrs. Masuda, just as one member of the family of Americans, speaking to another member I want to say for what your son Kazuo did- Thanks.”19


Accompanying Governor Kean’s letter to President Reagan were two carefully chosen letters from Grant Ujifusa and Jane Masuda Goto, Kazuo’s sister. Ujifusa’s letter to President Reagan clarified that Japanese Americans did not leave their homes voluntarily and that the Japanese-American Evacuations Claims Act of 1948 did not adequately compensate Japanese Americans. June Masuda Goto’s letter included a photograph of the medal ceremony. She recalled the moving remarks the president delivered and his participation in honoring her brother. She wrote, “Our family feels that what you and General Stilwell said in 1945 are as true and important as ever: the ideals for which all good Americans should be willing to fight and die. My brother did both, even though his parents and family were stripped of all their American rights, and placed in an Arizona internment camp.”20


By mid-February 1988 Ken Duberstein indicated to Ujifusa that the president was going to sign the bill.21 Secretary of Education William Bennett and President Reagan’s domestic policy adviser Gary Bauer (a prominent anti-abortion, family values advocate), also spoke to Ujifusa about their support for redress.22 Ujifusa approached others, such as Burton Pines from the conservative Heritage Foundation and Paul Weyrich from the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress. Having support from such conservative individuals and organizations made it politically more feasible for President Reagan to back the legislation.23


A March 28, 1988, internal OMB memo questioned the appropriateness of threatening a veto.24  The next day Chief of Staff Howard Baker sent a memo to the president recommending that the administration “withhold any further threat of a veto and explore with Congress the possibility of reducing the potential costs while making it clear we expect any subsequent appropriations to be in accord with our budget agreement.”25 With his initials President Reagan approved the recommendation and set a new direction for the administration’s policy.


The 1988 Presidential Campaign


Concurrent with President Reagan’s decision to support redress, the 1988 presidential campaign was proceeding. Early in the campaign the major candidates, Vice President George Bush, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, and Reverend Jesse Jackson, endorsed the redress legislation. The vice president stated, “It is only fair that our country provide apologies and reparations to those innocent Japanese Americans interned in prison camps during World War II.”26 Excerpts from a statement released later by Vice President Bush’s press secretary described the wartime incarceration as “an unfortunate chapter in our nation’s history . . . . During times of war, it is often difficult to resist succumbing to hysteria. However, we should always try to remember our basic purpose-to defend freedom and civil rights for all.”27


Budgetary Concerns


Despite President Reagan’s and the presidential candidates’ general support the Reagan administration continued to have budgetary concerns about the bill. As H.R. 442 passed on the Senate floor, the Reagan administration preferred that the payment period be extended from five to ten years, the amount appropriated be limited to $500 million annually, and an immediate extinguishment clause be adopted. Joe Wright, the director of the OMB, and Ken Duberstein suggested that members of the House-Senate conference committee address these issues. Duberstein recalled, “There was a lot of give and take. We essentially signaled to Congress that if they made these accommodations to the president’s concerns the president would look favorably on it and in all likelihood sign the legislation.”28


Once the president was convinced that the conference bill addressed his concerns, he sent a public letter to Speaker Jim Wright two days before the House was scheduled to vote on the conference committee’s bill. The letter, dated August 1, 1988, stated:


We welcome the action of the House-Senate conference on H.R. 442, a bill to provide compensation for Americans of Japanese descent interned in the United States during the Second World War. The bill reported from the conference and passed by the Senate on July 27 is substantially improved over the versions of the bill previously considered.


We are particularly pleased that the bill provides for a measured disbursement of the amounts authorized for the trust fund and ensures that acceptance of compensation under the legislation fully satisfies claims against the United States based on the unique circumstances of the internment. The enactment of H.R. 442 will close a sad chapter in American history in a way that reaffirms America’s commitment to the preservation of liberty and justice for all. I urge the House of Representatives to act swiftly and favorably on the bill.29


With the threat of a presidential veto publicly removed, the Congress passed H.R.442.


The Signing of H.R. 442


After the president decided to sign the bill, the question remained about whether there would be an official signing ceremony. Some in the president’s administration were in favor of a ceremony, while others were opposed, feeling that he should sign the bill without any fanfare.30 The president thought that a signing ceremony would be the appropriate thing to do. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 became law on August 10, 1988, when President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 100-383 in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. Before signing the bill President Reagan remarked that “we gather here today to right a grave wrong .... More than forty years ago ... 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living in the United States were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in makeshift internment camps. This action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race.”31 He described the concentration camp experience by citing Congressman Norman Mineta’s personal story. The president captured the essence of the bill by stating that “no payment can make up for those lost years. So, what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law .... the ideal of liberty and justice for all—that is still the American way.”32


The president mentioned his personal recollection of the Masuda story. He credited Rose Ochi with sending him a December 1945 newspaper clipping from the Pacific Citizen about the medal ceremony. The president injected a bit of wit by alluding to a speech made by a young actor on that day. He humorously remarked, “The name of that young actor—I hope I pronounce this right—was Ronald Reagan.”33 He concluded by acknowledging that the bill was fittingly named in honor of the 442d R.C.T.


The signing ceremony was a memorable moment. Ken Duberstein acknowledged that the signing “was one of the most moving moments in my White House career ... the [signing ceremony sent] chills up and down my spine .... The tears that flowed at that signing ceremony reinforced [to those of us on the White House staff] that President Reagan had done the right thing. This was not a question of a bailout ... this was a question of doing the right thing in a measured way to redress a wrong and to be up front about it.”34


June Masuda Goto was in the audience. At the conclusion of President Reagan’s remarks several veterans rushed her up to meet the president. When President Reagan realized who she was, he stopped and extended a heartfelt handshake.


Many of those who played a significant role in the redress struggle were in the audience, including key congressional members, White House staff, and numerous members and friends of the Japanese American community. One key player, however, was noticeably absent: Representative Mike Lowry. Representative Lowry’s invitation was mistakenly sent to Representative Bill Lowery (Republican from California), who accepted the invitation, attended the signing ceremony, and posed behind President Reagan in photographs of the event. Representative Bill Lowery’s attendance was, at best, a curiosity, since he voted against H.R. 442 on every single House vote.


The reception held after the signing ceremony was a joyous and festive occasion. Hugs, congratulatory slaps on the back, and tears filled the room. Ron Wakabayashi recalled being physically picked up off the floor by a hug from Representative Matsui.35 The mood of the day was best captured by Thomas Shimasaki, who declared, “The ceremonies today made me feel that for the first time in the past forty-six years that I was an American, like the rest of the people.”36


Understanding Why President Reagan Signed


The process by which President Reagan was persuaded to sign the legislation is a critical component of the redress movement. Early in the redress process all indications were that President Reagan would veto the redress bill. If President Reagan vetoed H.R. 442, the House of Representatives would not have had the votes needed to override the veto. A combination of factors influenced President Reagan to sign the bill: the manner in which the issue was presented to the president, the relative importance of the bill to the president and his administration, and the willingness of the Congress to work toward a compromise on key aspects of the bill.


The strategy of the JACL LEC was to present redress to President Reagan on an anecdotal level. Ujifusa reasoned that reminding President Reagan of his personal connection to the issue (i.e., by using the words from his 1945 speech) would be a persuasive strategy. Although the words spoken at Kazuo Masuda’s medal ceremony were written by army superiors and performed by a young officer on active duty, they could be used to remind the president of his involvement.


Ken Duberstein and Ed Meese, the U.S. attorney general, described President Reagan as a president who used anecdotes to communicate his philosophical views and convictions but who liked to make decisions based on facts. He had very strong beliefs and goals, and when the facts fit the beliefs and goals, he could be convinced.37 To persuade President Reagan on the redress issue, it was important to highlight the injustices of the camp and the heroics of the 442d R.C.T. and the 100th Battalion. He was aware of the contributions of the 442d/100th and often mentioned them when talking about World War 11.38 The Masuda story did all of these things. It connected President Reagan personally to the issue and provided him with an anecdote through which to communicate his conviction. It also supported the facts that Japanese Americans were loyal Americans who were unconstitutionally denied their civil liberties during that period.


A second factor in the president’s decision to sign the legislation was that although the redress bill was momentous for members of the Japanese American community, it was not a major bill for the Reagan administration.39 The scope of the individuals affected and the amount of money required were much smaller than for other issues before the president. President Reagan frequently used meetings with members of his cabinet to make decisions on controversial issues. There was no cabinet meeting on the redress issue. Internal White House communication on redress occurred through memos or conversations with key staff members. President Reagan did not mention the redress legislation in his memoirs.


The final factor was the willingness of the House-Senate conference committee to make concessions to the administration. The negotiations to find common ground on the issues that concerned the Reagan administration overcame the final obstacle to signing the bill. By August 10, 1988, President Reagan was in favor of the legislation. The president felt that Congress had met his administration’s concerns halfway, and he recognized that since H.R. 442 was an authorization bill, further concerns could be addressed in the subsequent appropriations bill. According to Duberstein, “From an ideological standpoint I think that the President was convinced months before [the conference committee] that a blanket veto signal was a mistake.” Furthermore, on August 10, President Reagan believed that signing the redress bill “was the right thing to do.”40 With that belief, the various streams of influence became properly aligned (see table 9).




Lessons of a Movement


Important Elements in the House


In the House there were key elements that specifically affected the passage of the bill. These included the strategic lobbying efforts of the Japanese American community and the use of non-Japanese American proxy advocates. The lobbying efforts of the JACL LEC and the NCRR were essential for two reasons. The first was that they either prompted uncommitted legislators to consider supporting the bill or solidified the support of legislators already in favor of the bill. Second, the support from the community sent a strong message to Representatives Mineta and Matsui that the community wanted this bill to pass. The unwavering message was a constant reminder that this bill was of the highest priority to the community.


The community’s lobbying efforts faced difficult obstacles. Legislators received far more opposition letters than letters supporting redress. Since most Japanese Americans resided along the Pacific Coast and in Hawai’i, it is naive to believe that the representatives and senators were influenced simply by letters and telephone calls from people outside their districts. Letters, mailgrams, and telephone calls from individuals were most effective when used to target their own legislators. The use of “proxy” Japanese Americans to lobby legislators was productive in districts that had few or no Japanese American constituents. In addition what made the letters effective was the channeling of lobbying energy toward key legislators and committees.


Important Elements in the Senate


In the Senate there was one unique element that facilitated the passage of H.R. 442: Senator Spark Matsunaga. Senator Matsunaga’s personal solicitation of over seventy cosponsors and his effort to speak to each U.S. senator was unprecedented at the time. The collegial nature of the Senate and the popularity of Senator Matsunaga made him the right person in the right place at the right time. The high priority he gave to redress and his appeal to fellow colleagues coalesced, and as a result the Senate vote was never in doubt.


Senator Inouye described Senator Matsunaga’s contribution best by stating, “The man who should take nearly all of the credit for the passage of the redress bill is Senator Sparky Matsunaga. He is the one who sponsored the bill and organized the vote on that in the Senate.”9


Important Elements Affecting President Reagan


Several additional elements played a role in convincing President Reagan to sign H.R. 442 into law. These elements included the manner in which the issue was presented to the president, the relative importance of the bill to the president and his administration, and the willingness of the Congress to work toward a compromise.


Understanding the president’s thought process and his values was important in approaching President Reagan. The use of the Kazuo Masuda story accomplished a great deal. It reminded the president of his personal involvement with the issue and provided him with an anecdote to convey his convictions and values. A second element was that the bill was a relatively minor item on the president’s agenda. Although the bill was of major concern to the Japanese American community and to its handful of vocal opponents, it paled in comparison with such issues as international relations and tax reform. Its relatively small budget and limited visibility helped it to avoid extensive Cabinet discussions that might have diminished the chances of the president’s signing the bill. Finally, the willingness of the House-Senate conference committee to make necessary concessions to the administration was a crucial element. The negotiations to compromise with the White House removed the final obstacle to the president’s signing the bill.


A Final Element


A final element is the presence of luck or good fortune, which was often cited by those who were closely tied to the redress effort. The notion of luck is arguably ill-defined and elusive. However, throughout the movement there were a number of coincidences and other episodes of good fortune. In the redress effort luck is best understood by the athletic analogy “the harder we work, the luckier we get.” For example, one fortuitous bit of timing and luck was Representative Barney Frank’s becoming chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Governmental Relations. Had Representative Frank not assumed this position, the bill could have easily died again in subcommittee. Representative Frank’s appointment to the chair of the subcommittee was neither planned nor the result of careful strategy. It was good luck.


In addition to good luck, however, the Japanese Americans were in a position to capitalize on these fortuitous events. They achieved this position through hard work and diligence. From this perspective crucial moments of luck in the redress movement (e.g., Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga’s finding a key document on the archivist’s desk, Peter Irons’s knowing about writ of coram nobis, the Mineta-Simpson relationship) can be described as “good fortune born of hard work.” Had the community not worked so hard to put itself in a position to take advantage of these fortuitous events, luck would not have mattered.


Precedent for Other Groups


The success of Japanese American redress provides important lessons for other groups seeking public policy legislation. The Kitano-Maki model and the aforementioned elements are applicable in varying degrees to the causes of ethnic minorities, women, gays and lesbians, and any other group fighting for policy change. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, however, is very specific legislation that cannot be used in toto as a precedent for redressing all injustices.


The most apparent aspect of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that prevents the setting of a precedent is the requirement that individuals needed to be alive at the signing of the law in order to be eligible. While this served as a cost-saving measure, the basic intent behind this provision was to prevent the act from becoming a precedent for other groups with long-standing histories of oppression. For example, any attempt by African Americans to seek legislative redress for the history of slavery could not be based on Japanese American redress since no former slaves are still alive.


A second limitation to its application to other groups is the amendment Senator Helms introduced (Title III of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988). This amendment prohibits the recognition of another country’s claims to U.S. territory, which limits the applicability of the act to such movements as the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. These limitations were the result of compromises to get the bill passed.


The redress movement, however, contributes a model for getting legislation passed. The structure and the elements of the movement provide valuable lessons to groups seeking justice (e.g., women used as prostitutes by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II [“comfort women”], gays and lesbians seeking to legalize same-sex marriage).


In 1994 survivors of an African American community in Rosewood, Florida, were granted redress by the state of Florida for an injustice that had occurred over seventy years earlier. In 1923 the small African American town of Rosewood was burned to the ground by an angry white mob. Numerous residents were killed or maimed, while state and local authorities did nothing to stop the violence and at times even facilitated it. In 1993 the survivors presented legislation to the Florida state legislature that was modeled after the Japanese American redress movement. These individuals were each awarded $150,000, and a college scholarship fund was established for the victim’s descendants.




The redress movement benefited the Japanese American community, in particular, and the United States, in general. It is important to remember, however, that the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 simply brought legislative closure to the injustice of the exclusion and incarceration. For many Japanese Americans the personal anguish and painful memories remain. No act of Congress can change the past; it can only acknowledge it.


Beyond the formal legislation Japanese Americans achieved a greater sense of pride by standing up for themselves. The Japanese American community initiated and spearheaded the redress movement. A healing process occurred through the increased communication and understanding between the Japanese American generations. All Americans were exposed to the frailties of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and were reminded of the need to be ever vigilant in safeguarding every American’s civil liberties.


Finally, redress is not just a great Japanese American story. It is a great American story. The story includes the nightmare of the World War II concentration camps and the subsequent dream of an apology and compensation for unjust treatment. It includes pain, humiliation, and suffering, along with acknowledgment, accomplishment, and redress. It is a story of how an impossible dream became a reality.



Notes: The President’s Signature and the Fight for Appropriations


1. Quoted in Naito and Scott, Against All Odds, 24.

2. For example, in June 1988 James Hurley, a New Jersey state Republican leader, planned to call the president; Tak Moriuchi, the Philadelphia chapter redress coordinator for New Jersey and president of the New Jersey Fruit Growers Association, persuaded several people with access to the White House to call Reagan; John Nitta of Cocoa Beach, Florida, organized hundreds of his fellow Shriners to write letters to Reagan; the Midwest district office of the JACL, directed by Bill Yoshino, sent eight hundred mailings encouraging members to lobby the president; Jo Okura (Cincinnati JACL redress chair), Tom Kometani (the governor of the Eastern District Council), Sumi Kobayashi of Philadelphia, and Terry Yamada from Portland reported that their JACL chapters sent out petitions and numerous letters to Reagan; and Sumi Kobayashi and Ida Chen organized all the Chinese American organizations in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley Asian American Bar Association to join in the redress White House campaign. Grayce Uyehara. “Grassroots Effort Gains Support of Former U.S. President: LEC Update,” Pacific Citizen, June 10, 1988, 4.

3. Quoted in Naito and Scott, Against All Odds, 26.

4. “JACL-LEC Mailgram Hotline to the White House Urges President Reagan to Sign Redress Bill,” Pacific Citizen, June 10, 1988, 1.

5. Hayakawa, letter to Howard Baker, May 5, 1988.

6. Willard, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.

7. Ujifusa, letter to Assistant Attorney General Richard Willard, May 7, 1987.

8. “Statement of Administration Policy: H.R. 442-Civil Liberties Act of 1987,” September 10, 1987.

9. Karen Tumulty, “House Votes Payments for Japanese Internees,” Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1987, part 1, 12; Duberstein, interview by authors, July 10, 1995. OMB staffers would not support $1.2 billion in payments and were concerned that the bill would create an open-ended entitlement.

10. Sutherland, interview by authors, September 19, 1994.

11. This particular limousine ride was approximately thirty minutes long. During this time Governor Kean spoke about the redress issue for about six or seven minutes. Kean, telephone interview by authors, October 18, 1995.

12. Ibid.

13. Duberstein, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.

14. Kean, telephone interview by authors, October 18, 1995.

15. Duberstein, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.

16. Kean, telephone interview by authors, October 18, 1995.

17. Kean, letter to President Ronald Reagan, February 6, 1988.

18. Kean, telephone interview by authors, October 18, 1995.

19. Quoted in “General Stilwell Pins Medal on Sister of Nisei Hero in Ceremony at Masuda Ranch,” Pacific Citizen, December 15, 1945, 2.

20. Quoted in “3 Historically Significant Letters,” Pacific Citizen, October 21, 1988, 5.

21. Ujifusa, interview by authors, July 9, 1995; see also “An Address from JACL-LEC Legislative Strategy Chair,” Pacific Citizen, March 23, 1990, 5. Duberstein, also a supporter of redress, recalled talking about it a number of times with the president and his senior advisers.

22. Ujifusa, interview by authors, July 9, 1995.

23. Ibid.

24. Wright, 0MB memorandum to Howard Baker, March 28, 1988.

25. Baker, memorandum to the president, March 29, 1988.

26. Quoted in” ‘Only Fair’: Bush Says ‘Yes’ to Redress,” Pacific Citizen, June 10, 1988, 1.

27. Ibid.

28. Duberstein, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.

29. Reagan, letter to Rep. Joseph Wright, August 1, 1988.

30. Duberstein, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.

31. Reagan, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1988-1989, 1054.

32. Ibid., 1054-55.

33. Ibid., 1055.

34. Duberstein, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.

35. Wakabayashi, interview by authors, May 15, 1996.

36. Kinoshita, Hayashino, and Yoshino, Redress.

37. Meese, interview by authors, July 10, 1995; Duberstein, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.

38. Meese, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.

39. Duberstein, interview by authors, July 10, 1995; Willard, interview by authors, July 10, 1995; Meese, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.

40. Duberstein, interview by authors, July 10, 1995.


Notes: Lessons of a Movement


9. Arnold T. Hiura, “Entitlement Plan Passes Congress: Hawaii Sen. Dan Inouye Engineers a Way to Guarantee Full Redress Funding,” Hawaii Herald, November 3, 1989, 1.