We Said No! No! A Story of Civil Disobedience


Although most Japanese sent to “internment camps” during World War II appeared compliant, some were not. We Said No! No! A Story of Civil Disobedience, a re-enactment with historical film footage and interviews with participants, is the story of those who resisted.

The narrative begins with the issuance of Executive Order 9066 that about 120,000 with Japanese blood, whether American citizens (Nisei or Sansei) or not (Issei) are told on the West Coast to evacuate their homes and leave the West Coast. Those who remain are to report to temporary locations from which they will be sent to “internment camps.” (Some with mixed Japanese blood were also sent to the camps.) Lt. General John L. DeWitt, leader of the Western Defense Command, who recommended the order to President Franklin Roosevelt, posted “A Jap is a Jap” remark to justify treating all Japanese the same, though two-thirds were American citizens.

An official of the Japanese American Citizen’s League delivers the news at a meeting, where everyone strongly objects. Next, Japanese go to 17 Assembly Centers, such as the Santa Anita Race Track, from which they are recruited for work in various occupations, including farming. (The film does not mention that some ended up as doctors, mechanics, and teachers.) From the Assembly Centers, they are sent to 10 Relocation Centers in 1942. After reassignment, they must sign a questionnaire in which the last two questions are poorly worded. One question asks if they would be willing to fight in the U.S. armed forces; being treated as second-class citizens, some answered No! (The film does not mention that 33,000 volunteered and served in the army.) The last question asks them to disavow allegiance to the Emperor and any foreign government. Those born in Japan, in effect, were asked to become stateless, and many second-generation Japanese believed that disavowing the Emperor would be disrespectful, so some checked the box for a second No! About 12,000, answering No to both questions, were then sent to the Segregation Center within the Tule Lake Relocation Center, where they became prisoners in what the film designates as a “concentration camp.” Most of the film is at Tule Lake, where a group of about 5,500 is formed; they renounce American citizenship and request to return to Japan (though only 1,327 were sent). Those most defiant are sent to the stockade, a prison within the prison, conduct a 7-day hunger strike, demand space for physical exercise, and several are tortured.

What impresses filmviewers throughout the film is the solidarity among the Japanese men, who remain strong. An anthropology student reports on what she finds in her doctoral dissertation, though some of her findings are disputed. Wayne Collins of the San Francisco office of the American Civil Liberties Union is featured for seeking to retrieve citizenship for those who denounced their American citizenship as a form of protest against their mistreatment, and he also won court battles to close the stockade.

Director Brian T. Maeda is determined to tell the story of the mistreatment and resistance, though the film begins by noting that Asians were targets of hate crimes during Covid-19, when China was blamed for the outbreak, suggesting that racism explains what happens in the rest of the film. Although the film ends with a sense of desperation for those seeking to return to normal life, as Tule Lake closed in 1946, there is no mention of $20,000 reparations paid in 1988 to 80,000 survivors—or that George Takei was at Tule Lake from the age of 5 to 8. The film ends by noting that no act of subversion was ever committed by any Japanese during the war.  MH       

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