Another Type of Courage

Monday, June 2, 2014

Last week I talked about the courage that sends people into war at the risk of their lives and limbs. This week I am going to discuss another type of courage: the courage to stand up for one’s convictions.

Don’t get me wrong. The men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team had both types of courage. I’m sure many if not most of them fought for their conviction that World War II was a just war or that America was worth defending (or both). But those convictions were the popular ones at the time.

The members of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee had the courage to take a stand that was both unpopular and illegal.

The Heart Mountain draft resisters weren’t conscientious objectors who didn’t believe in war. They weren’t cowards who were afraid of dying on the battlefield. They weren’t typical draft resisters at all.

A typical draft resister says, “I won’t go.” A Heart Mountain draft resister said, “I’ll be happy to go when I and my family are given the same rights as other Americans.”

Why the stipulation? Because the United States government put the Heart Mountain draft resisters and their families behind barbed wire simply because of their ancestry.

The Heart Mountain incarceration camp wasn’t the only source of Nisei draft resisters, but the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee made the strongest statement. The Committee was composed of Japanese American citizens who were loyal to the United States and willing to serve in the army once their rights were restored.

By June 1944, sixty-three members of the Fair Play Committee had resisted the draft and been arrested. At a mass trial held in federal district court in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the judge found each of the defendants guilty and sentenced each one to three years in prison. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, and the committee members served them out.

Some people labeled the resisters as disloyal, but that was not the case. As noted above, loyalty to the U.S. and willingness to serve in the military were both qualifications for belonging to the Fair Play Committee. The Heart Mountain draft resisters were loyal Americans who stood up for what they believed was right.

And that takes its own kind of courage.  


The picture at the top of this page shows the Heart Mountain draft resisters sitting in the federal courtroom in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The photograph is in the public domain.

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