Frank Emi died yesterday at the age of 94. I had never heard of him until his obituary caught my eye in this Sunday’s New York Times. Then the magnitude of the crime that we perpetrated on him, and then compounded, sunk in. It made my head hang in shame, especially in light of the not as yet repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
After Pearl Harbor, in one of the most constitutionally illegal and reprehensible Executive Orders ever, Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the detention of more than 110,000 American citizens and permanent resident in makeshift “detention centers”. To me these were nothing less than concentration camps. The only transgression that these Americans were accused of was that they were of Japanese descent, deemed “threats to national security” by that Executive Order. So much for due process and “innocent until proven guilty”. It was the purported “Champions of Justice”, the President and the Supreme Court of the United States that perpetrated the foul deed.
One of these was Frank Emi. He was born on September 23, 1916 in Los Angeles. He was married with a kid running a food market when he was interned. Back then you couldn’t really rebel, you had no choice but to go along, get along, even though it was at the end of a fixed bayonet.
Two years later, with America quickly running out of men of draft age, the policy abruptly changed. It was decided to add insult to injury. The interned Japanese Americans were subjected to the draft. Go directly from jail to the killings fields of the European Theatres of war. You were still suspect and not “American” enough to die fighting the Japanese. Some, Frank being one, just said “Hell no, I won’t go!” not until all of my rights as a true natural born U. S. citizen have been restored. That cry, to be echoed anew during the Viet Nam War, resulted in criminal charges. Found guilty of draft evasion, Frank Emi was sentenced to four years of hard labor at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Today’s military age gays and lesbians are really better off. They are not in jail nor are they subject to the draft. Which brings us to yesterday’s non repeal of the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law. While the Senate’s vote ostensibly repeals it, it still leaves it in effect, its final repeal slowly inching forward.
But here is today’s version of “insult to injury”. If there was a draft today, as it should be so as to have all of us bear the burden of war, and you were a gay draftee openly declaring your sexual preference and you did so “for the purpose of avoiding or terminating military service” you would be subject to criminal prosecution for draft evasion ,just like Frank Emi. Damn if you do, and damned if you don’t.
Frank Emi stood up for his rights and was rewarded with a stay in the Leavenworth brig, surely not a tourist destination, not a Disneyland. Lest we forget, the last stand up Japanese American is down. He was a patriot in that long ago war to be remembered for standing up for all of our constitutional rights, which we “round eyes” utterly failed to do.