Sunday, November 13, 2005

Who's Tom Kawakita?

Friends of Historical Accuracy regarding the ethnic Japanese Evacuation of 1942

In case you're wondering who Tom Kawakita was, here's an historical summary:

Kawakita v. United States, 343 U.S. 717 (1952)

Tomoya (Tom) Kawakita was born in the United States in 1921. His parents were Japanese nationals. Therefore, Mr. Kawakita had dual nationality with both the United States and Japan. On March of 1941, Mr. Kawakita decided to attend the University of Meiji in Japan. Although war broke out between the United States and Japan in December, 1941, Kawakita remained at school. After graduation, Kawakita sought employment as an interpreter. He never attempted to join the military of either country. Kawakita worked for a private company engaged in mining and processing of minerals for munitions. He worked on the island of Honshu, on which, there was also a Japanese prisoner of war camp supervised and managed by Japanese military personnel.

In early 1945, approximately 400 American prisoners-of-war were housed at the camp on Honshu. These men had been in captivity under terrible circumstances for almost two and half years, and due to malnutrition, inadequate health care, confinement and hard work, the American prisoners were suffering and in bad condition. Kawakita aided the Japanese military in numerous ways, both requested and not requested by the military personnel, and in the course and scope of giving aid to the Japanese, Kawakita abused the American prisoners. The American prisoners were used as workers for the mine until August, 1945, when the camp was surrendered to the American military forces. Kawakita then assisted the American military forces with interpreting services. In June, 1946, Kawakita sought re-entry to the United States and took the oath of allegiance to America.

Once back in America, Kawakita started graduate studies at USC. While in a store in Los Angeles, Kawakita was recognized by Willliam Bruce, a former POW. Bruce reported Kawakita to the authorities. The FBI arrested Kawakita in June of 1947, and before the end of the month, he was indicted for 15 acts of treason. Kawakita entered a plea of "not guilty" on the grounds that he had renounced and/or abandoned his United States citizenship and was expatriated at the time of providing assistance to the Japanese military on Honshu.

The District Court jury found Kawakita guilty of eight overt acts of treason as follows:

1. Kawakita knocked an American prisoner of war into the camp cesspool and beat the POW repeatedly on the head as he tried to crawl out of the cesspool.

2. Although Kawakita had no authority and no military duties, he swore at the prisoners, beat them, threaten them, and punished them for either resting, or not working faster and harder at the mine, and for not filling their quota of ore.

3. Kawakita and Japanese guards lined up about 30 POWs, and as punishment for making clothing out of Red Cross blankets, beat the POWs or forced them to beat each other. Kawakita hit prisoners who, he thought, did not hit other prisoners hard enough.

4. Kawakita threw stones and dirt and prisoners forced to run around the camp because they finished work early.

5. Kawakita forced a prisoner to carry a log up an icy slope. When the prisoner fell and became badly injured, Kawakita did not seek assistance for the prisoner for over five hours.

6. Kawakita forced a prisoner to kneel on bamboo sticks jammed into the joints of the prisoner’s knees. The prisoner was forced to keep his arms above his head holding a bucket of water. When the prisoner tired and bent his elbows, Kawakita would hit him. Kawakita engaged in this torture of American POWs for no other reason other than he was bored on Honshu island.

7. Kawakita repeatedly taunted the American POWs with statements such as: "We will kill all you prisoners right here anyway, whether you win the war or lose it. You will never get to go back to the States." And " I will be glad when all the Americans is dead, and then I can go home and live happy."

The jury found that all of these overt acts of cruelty actually gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Kawakita was convicted of treason and sentenced to death.

On appeal to the United States Supreme Court, Kawakita argued that (1) he had lost his US citizenship by registering in Japan as a Japanese national, and (2) that a person who has dual nationality can only be guilty of treason to the country where he resides, not to the other country that claims him as a national. The Supreme Court rejected both of these arguments holding that (1) Kawakita was a national of the United States upon his birth and that he had never renounced it, and (2) a person who holds dual nationality will be subject to the claims of both nations. The Court wrote, "One who wants that freedom can get it by renouncing his American citizenship. He cannot turn it into a fair-weather citizenship, retaining it for the possible contingent benefits but meanwhile playing the part of the traitor."

The United States Supreme Court confirmed the District Court conviction of treason against Kawakita, and stated that it would not interfere regarding the imposition of a death sentence. In refusing to reverse both lower courts, the Justices wrote, the "flagrant and persistent acts of petitioner" against the POWs was such that a trial judge had great leeway in reaching the decision of death.

On the last day of President Eisenhower’s administration, he commuted Kawakita’s death sentence. Kawakita was then released from prison, stripped of his US citizenship, and roughly deported to Japan.


At May 27, 2009 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last paragraph is not correct. In 1954, President Eisenhower commuted Kawakita's sentence from death to life in prison. Many years later, the Prime Minister of Japan asked President Kennedy to release Kawakita as a sign of goodwill to the Japanese people. In 1963, Kennedy commuted the remainder of Kawakita's sentence and deported him to Japan on the condition that he never return to the United States. Kawakita was released from federal prison on December 3, 1963 and flew to Japan.
Any information about his subsequent life in Japan would be appreciated.

At June 08, 2009 1:35 PM, Blogger Friends of Historical Accuracy said...

Agreed the last paragraph is vague and should have been more specific regarding his deportation.

Thanks for the clarification!


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