He chose the latter, saying: "Reflection leads to the conclusion that the only worthwhile use for the life of a traitor, such as this defendant has proved to be, is to serve as an example to those of weak moral fiber who may hereafter be tempted to commit treason against the United States."
Today, most of those involved in the case are either dead or, if alive, could not be located. One exception is William J. Kelleher, then a federal prosecutor and now a senior U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles.
Although he did not take part in the trial, Kelleher was assigned to draft the government's response to Kawakita's appeal of his conviction. As a result, he immersed himself in every detail of the case.
In an interview last week , Kelleher recalled being visited at his office by Bruce and two other former POWs while he was working on his brief for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Me and the boys had a little meeting last night," he said Bruce told him. "And we want you to know that if he ever gets out, we'll be waiting for him."
Fortunately, Kelleher said, the appeals court upheld Kawakita's conviction by a 3-0 vote.
It was a much closer call when the appeal went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952. The vote was 4 to 3 to uphold the conviction. Two of the court's nine justices disqualified themselves.
At the crux of the case was this question: Where does the allegiance of a dual citizen lie when two nations, each claiming his loyalty, go to war?
"Of course, a person caught in that predicament can resolve the conflict of duty by openly electing one nationality or the other," said Justice William O. Douglas, writing for the majority.
Kawakita, the court said, chose neither option, trying instead to hedge his bets on the war's outcome while freely performing acts of hostility against the U.S.
"One who wants that freedom can get it by renouncing his American citizenship," Douglas wrote. "He can not turn it to a fair-weather citizenship, retaining it for possible contingent benefits but meanwhile playing the role of the traitor. An American citizen owes allegiance to the United States wherever he may reside."