Soldiers of Conscience
Japanese American Military Resisters in World War II
by Shirley Castelnuovo
July 2008, 200pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-35330-7
$55, £41, 48€, A75
eBook Available: 978-0-313-35331-4
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Castelnuovo’s work relays the bittersweet, untold stories of Japanese American military resisters who sacrificed their lives for the well-being of their families and friends. Often overlooked, this group of conscientious objectors stood resolute in their opposition to Japanese internment, risking not only greater wrath from the United States government, but ostracism in their fractured communities as well.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor unleashed rampant racism and distrust towards all things alien, and it raised perplexing questions of national identity that still reverberate. Persons of Japanese ancestry were the victims of racist acts and governmental loyalty investigations, and, finally, of exclusion and imprisonment. The majority of Japanese Americans complied with government actions, including the drafting of Japanese Americans into military service, often viewing such service as an opportunity to display their allegiance to the United States. However, some 200 Japanese Americans drafted into the Army refused to serve in combat while their families languished in internment camps. Here, for the first time, the resisters’ story is told in vivid detail, following many of them into the post-war years and assessing the ramifications of their actions on their lives.

The history of Japanese Americans in World War II does not record the stories of these resisters. It does not mention the War Department Special Organization to which many of them were transferred or the individuals who were tried and sentenced by military courts to long prison terms. The 200 conscientious military resisters felt betrayed by the government and viewed the decision to imprison Japanese Americans as an immoral acquiescence to West Coast racism.

Castelnuovo does not abandon the narrative with the end of World War II. Instead, she follows many of the resisters into the post-war years, assessing the ramifications of their actions on their lives as individuals and within the broader context of the Japanese American community. Happily, most of the resisters were eventually re-embraced by their community, but, until now, they have been forgotten by students of World War II. That is an oversight Soldiers of Conscience will certainly remedy.


"Do U.S. military personnel have the right to resist orders if these violate domestic or international law? This passionate and scholarly account of Japanese American soldiers during World War II both stuns and compels. Castelnuovo assesses a hidden chapter in American history and asks: are we mistaken to ignore Objectors of Conscience in the U.S. Armed Forces?"—Lane Ryo Hirabayashi is George and Sakaye Aratani, Professor of the Japanese American Internment, Redress & Community, UCLA
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