Loyalty Questionnaire

In February 1943, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) administered a questionnaire to determine the “loyalty” of Japanese Americans in the concentration camps. The questionnaire, required of all Japanese Americans over 17 years of age, would help establish, the WRA held, those who could be trusted for release to work, attend college, or serve in the military outside the camps and identify the “disloyals” or “troublemakers” inside the camps. The WRA called their instrument the Application for Leave Clearance.

The heart of the questionnaire was Questions 27 and 28. The former asked: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?” Question 28 asked: “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and foreswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?” Both questions were complicated and troubling, and they triggered what became known as “the registration crisis.”

Women could not serve in the U.S. military on combat duty, a convention at the time for all American women even those who volunteered in military auxiliaries. Issei or first-generation Japanese Americans could not by U.S. law become citizens; they thus remained citizens of Japan. If they foreswore that allegiance, they would become stateless and no nation would look after their interests. During the war, the Spanish government represented Japan's citizens in the United States. Even the WRA realized its error in the wording of Question 28 for the issei, so they changed the wording to “Will you swear to abide by the laws of the United States,” but by then the damage had been done.

The WRA questionnaire, accordingly, caused a crisis in the camps and among families, dividing people and generations. The questionnaire was a trap, many camp residents believed, to render issei stateless and thus subject them to repatriation to Japan and to trick nisei into admitting, by foreswearing loyalty to Japan, to disloyalty to the United States. By swearing allegiance to the United States, would that abrogate one's civil rights and the ability to contest or challenge the concentration camps? some asked. These answered Questions 27 and 28 conditionally, “Yes, if my rights as a citizen are restored” or “No, not unless the government recognizes my right to live anywhere in the United States” (Daniels, 262). Many answered “No-No” in protest against their forced removal and confinement, and some answered “Yes-Yes” because their parents wanted to remain in the United States. In sum, the questions' answers failed to achieve the WRA's purposes for them.

Nearly 75,000 of the 78,000 Japanese Americans in the camp filled out the questionnaire, and of that number, about 6,700 answered “No” to Question 28, and they were promptly classified as “disloyal.” Even the approximately 2,000 who qualified their answers to that question the WRA classed as “disloyal.” Because so many, more than one-third, of Tule Lake's Japanese Americans refused to answer the questionnaire, the WRA selected Tule Lake as the concentration camp for disloyals. The WRA designated Tule Lake a segregation center, and removed those who answered “Yes-Yes” to other camps, and relocated all those who answered “No-No” to Tule Lake. The WRA's presumption, thus, was Tule Lake's more than 18,000 Japanese Americans were “disloyal” and “troublemakers” and they were the enemies of the United States. The facts were not that simple.

About a third of Tule Lake's segregants came from other concentration camps, another third comprised their families, and a final third, presegregation Tule Lake residents. Many of those simply refused to move out of Tule Lake or out of the concentration camps. As two nisei brothers explained, “We'd like to sit in Tule Lake for a while. We don't want to relocate. The discrimination is too bad. I see letters from people on the outside. There are fellows in Chicago who want to came back [to camp] but are not allowed in” (Daniels, 264).

A young nisei mother expressed her disillusionment with the United States that found expression in her answers to the loyalty questionnaire. “I have American citizenship,” she wrote. “It's no good, so what's the use? … I feel that we're not wanted in this country any longer. Before the evacuation I had thought we were Americans, but our features are against us…. I found out about being American. It's too late for me, but at least [in Japan] I can bring up my children so that they won't have to face the same kind of trouble I've experienced” (Daniels, 264).

Gary Y. Okihiro


Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.