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Idaho Bench, Bar Consider ‘Nisei Paradox’

Following the lead of the Ninth Circuit 2017 Civics Contest, the collision of war powers, war hysteria and civil liberties, which were created by the relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II, became the centerpiece of a gripping dramatic production presented at the fall 2017 District of Idaho Bench-Bar conferences.

The “Nisei Paradox” retells the story of young Nisei Japanese-Americans and

their draft resister trials during World War II.

“The Nisei Paradox – How Does One Know When the Vision of the Constitution is Blurred by Crisis? The Memory of the Japanese-American Relocation and Internment in Idaho” was written and produced by Jeffrey Thomson, a Boise attorney.

(left) Ronald E. Bush is Idaho’s chief magistrate judge

“The Nisei Paradox,” retold the story of young Nisei Japanese-American men who chose to resist conscription into the United States armed forces in World War II.

Idaho was the location of the Minidoka Relocation Camp, which housed more than 10,000 Japanese- Americans and other family members of Japanese ancestry.

They had been removed from their homes, businesses and farms in Oregon and Washington and relocated into a barren, rural area of southcentral Idaho.

Although the Minidoka Camp had a greater percentage of its young men enlist for service in the Armed Forces than any other of the relocation camps, nearly 40 young men refused induction. Each of them was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged in Idaho federal court.

Some pleaded guilty, but many were tried in jury trials in Boise presided over by Judge Chase Clark, who had been appointed only a few months earlier by President Roosevelt to serve as Idaho’s only federal judge. At the time of his appointment, Judge Clark had just been defeated for re-election as Idaho’s governor.

While governor and following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Judge Clark’s public pronouncements made him one of the most stridently xenophobic public officials in the western United States on the subject of whether persons of Japanese ancestry (and other of the Axis countries) posed a threat to the safety of the country.

“It is no secret that there are many men and women in our state today who owe first allegiance to the governments of Germany, Italy, and Japan,” then Governor Clark said.

Later, when the U.S. Department of War announced curfew and exclusion zones for Japanese-Americans living along the U.S. coast, Governor Clark said he would not permit any effort by coastal Japanese-Americans to lease or purchase land in Idaho.

“I can’t see us sending Idaho boys out to fight the Japs in the Pacific,” he said, “and then let them come back to find Japs in their homes and on their farms.”

Reflecting an attitude that seemed to pervade the country, one Idaho newspaper editorialized against any persons of Japanese ancestry owning land in Idaho, writing that “they do not maintain our standard of living,” and that “if the [Japanese] lend anything to a state or a community we are at a loss to know what it is.”

When the Nisei draft resister cases came before Judge Clark for trial, he denied a defense motion to recuse himself from the cases because of his disparaging public statements about persons of Japanese ancestry. He did, however, appoint leading attorneys from the local bar to represent the defendants, even though there was no right to appointed counsel at that time, and even though some of those attorneys objected to being asked to take on the representation.

The subsequent trials were not the finest hour of the federal courts, although there were moments of courage and conviction in the statements of the defendants who had chosen to resist induction. There were also moments of admirable professionalism and great example in the work of the lawyers who represented the defendants and the government. The “Nisei Paradox” portrayed the events of those times and of the draft resister trials with both historical and emotional verisimilitude.

The “Nisei Paradox” was performed before more than 400 lawyers and law students at the two conferences and before many members of the public in a separate performance. Conference attendees were unanimous in their acclaim for the production and the history lesson it carried.

The “Nisei Paradox” was performed in front of more than 400 lawyers and law students at two district conferences in Idaho. Involved in the production were, from left, Ron Bush, Jim Ball, Rafael Gonzalez, Lance Taylor, Walt Bithell, Nicolas Kawaguchi, Alex Schloss and Jeff Thomson.

One attendee said the play was “moving, poignant, and highly relevant to today’s world.”

Another said, “I had no idea that something this historically important had occurred.”

“Amazing,” said another. “Fantastic and timely!”

Plans are being made to reprise the performance for the 2018 District of Idaho Teachers’ Institute on the Rule of Law and the Role of the Judiciary.

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