HOW TWO QUESTIONS DETERMINED THREE YEARS OF SEGREGATION
What was the Loyalty Questionnaire (Oath) of 1943?(1)
Before reading the transcribed interviews, it is necessary to understand the 1943 Loyalty Questionnaire issued by the American government for all able Japanese Americans to complete. This questionnaire asked a few basic questions about age, sex, and citizenship status. However, the questionnaire is historically notable for questions 27 and 28.
Question number 27 asked Nisei (Japanese-American citizens) if they were willing to serve their country. Men were asked whether to begin combat duty, and women were asked to enlist in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. This question disturbed many Japanese men, who feared that signing "yes" would automatically send them to fight overseas. Willingness in this question remained undefined and ambiguous. Is willingness to serve the same thing as volunteering to serve?
Question number 28 asked if individuals would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and forswear any form of allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. This question was problematic for two reasons. The majority of Japanese Americans who were sent to camp were citizens of the United States and were not citizens of Japan. Many resented being asked about this "phantom allegiance" which they didn't have in the first place. Moreover, those who were not citizens of the United States but had citizenship ties to Japan would be left stateless if they refused to forswear allegiance to Japan.
Based on their responses to the questionnaire, Japanese Americans were segregated into regional camps. Most Japanese Americans who responded "yes; yes," (or that they would be willing to serve and would swear complete allegiance to the United States) were considered to be "desirable" internees. These Japanese Americans were sent to camps in the interior of the United States with less military supervision and security.
In contrast, Japanese Americans who said "no; no," (or that they would not be willing to serve, nor give up ties to Japan) were sent to Tule Lake, California, on the West Coast. These Japanese Americans were considered dangerous and "undesirable," and the heavy military presence at their camp was strict and abusive.