- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

The name and writings of Japanese-American leader Mike Masaoka already have been etched in stone on a national monument under construction in the District of Columbia, much to the surprise of his opponents who have lobbied the federal government to omit his name from the memorial.

The opponents argue that Mr. Masaoka's name and a creed he wrote before the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor should not appear on the monument because he advocated complete cooperation with the U.S. government during World War II, fought against redress and even suggested a suicide battalion of Japanese-Americans.

Scheduled to be dedicated this fall near the U.S. Capitol, the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism honors Japanese-Americans who fought in World War II or were interned at desolate camps.

The opponents got a rude awakening Saturday at a National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF) meeting in San Francisco when they saw pictures of a concrete panel that included Mr. Masaoka's name and portions of his creed already carved in stone.

"I was completely surprised by it," said Yeiichi Kuwayama of Northwest D.C., an opponent who traveled to San Francisco to attend the meeting. "We could have been told about that earlier. What do we do about it now? What else can we do?"

Not much, now. The group of dissenters, some of them members of NJAMF, which raised money to erect the memorial and oversaw its design, had collected more than 900 signatures over the past two months to ask the National Park Service to review their request to delete Mr. Masaoka's name and words.

"I was very shocked and blown away to find this out," said Rita Takahashi, a San Francisco State University professor and one of a handful of board members who have been leading a grass-roots effort to keep Mr. Masaoka's name and creed off the monument.

"I was blown away that the National Park Service would give this approval after receiving our petition," Ms. Takahashi said.

Telephone calls to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, were not returned yesterday.

Mr. Masaoka is among seven persons whose quotations will appear on the monument, which is scheduled to be dedicated Nov. 9 at the intersection of Louisiana and New Jersey avenues Northwest. The monument will honor the 33,000 Japanese-Americans who fought during the war and the 800 who died, and tell the story of the 120,000 forced from their homes into inland camps.

Mr. Masaoka, who died in 1991, has been criticized because he showed a willingness to give up his ethnic heritage and pride for American culture and ideals. In 1942, Mr. Masaoka testified before Congress that Japanese-Americans would willingly sacrifice their constitutional rights to show their loyalty to the nation by going to relocation camps.

Mr. Masaoka also is seen as a hero for his postwar accomplishments. He fought successfully for the 1952 Walter McCarran Act that allowed immigrant Japanese to become naturalized citizens, worked to win $1.2 billion in reparations for camp survivors and helped found the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

For Ms. Takahashi and other opponents, however, the inscription of Mr. Masaoka's words is another example of the disrespect they believe they've been getting from a board they argue does not embody or reflect the opinions of today's Japanese-American population.

Months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. Masaoka wrote his "Japanese American Creed," which reads, in part:

"I am proud that I am an American of Japanese ancestry. I believe in this nation's institutions, ideals and traditions; I glory in her heritage; I boast of her history; I trust in her future."

Critics said the creed does not capture the rebellious spirit of some Japanese-Americans who lived through the war, and that Mr. Masaoka is a reminder to many of decades worth of pain and anger, and not worthy of the acclaim.

"He didn't oppose the expulsion of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast," said Mr. Kuwayama, a World War II sergeant. "He told them they should go [to the internment camps] peacefully."

Supporters note how widely respected and influential Mr. Masaoka was in political circles.

"Not only for what he did during World War II but after," said board chairman and retired Rear Adm. Melvin H. Chiogioji. "The guns were facing us. And people were put in camps. They're blaming him and none of it is his doing."

Adm. Chiogioji said the inscription plans were revised at least 11 times before the final version was approved by the board and the National Park Service. He also noted that it was Mr. Masaoka who first lobbied Congress for the memorial.

"It wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," Adm. Chiogioji said.

Opponents said yesterday they will keep up a letter-writing campaign urging the Park Service to remove Mr. Masaoka's name and creed from the memorial.

"It's already cast in stone," Ms. Takahashi said. "But what goes up can come down."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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