The novel Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson explores life of Japanese- Americans during the first half of the 21st century on the island of San Pierdro, a small island off the shore of Seattle. The novel opens on the trail of Kabuo Miyamoto in 1954 and focuses on his wife Hastue and the local one-armed reporter Ishmael Chambers. Later in the story Hastue and Ishmael, a white man had a secret romance in high school. Yet after the bombing at Pearl Harbor their lives will change forever. Kabuo and Hastue are forced into internment camps and Ishmael is drafted into war and is forced to fight the Japanese and losses his arm. In the internment camp Hastue is forced to forget her love and marry Kabuo who is ?right for her? because he is the same nationality. After the pains that World War II caused them they come back to San Pierdro, to start their life again. However the pains of World War II and the racial internment shadow their lives. The internment of Japanese- Americans is not just a stain on the United States Constitution, but on the morals of America. Japanese- Americans suffered several injustices by the federal and local government and by members of their own communities that did not stop at their relocation to the desert. In order to understand the background of the book. I needed to research the attack on Pearl Harbor and other events that lead to the incarceration of American citizens.
At the turn of the century the United Stated became to suffer from server upward trends of immigration, mainly from southern and eastern Europe, and Asia. As the American public became more concerned about these unwanted groups moved in greater numbers to America, the federal government under the Woodrow Wilson administrated Congress appointed Senator William Dillingham of Vermont to study the immigration question (Garraty 596). Two years later in 1909 Dillingham bought a 41- volume report that lead to the reducing the immigration in those unwanted regions (596). However this did not stop Asian emigrates from moving their families to the West Coast mainly in large cities like San Francisco and Seattle. Animosity against the Asian immigrants that in the San Francisco school board instituted a policy of segregating Asian children in a special school. Japan protested due to the fact of their hatred toward the Chinese. To keep good relations with the Japanese President Teddy Roosevelt and leaders for the Japanese made a ?Gentlemen?s Agreement? to desegregate the schools if the Japanese government would not issue passports to labors seeking to come to America (621). Therefore Japanese immigration came to almost a complete stand still until after the Second World War.
The Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor (on the Hawaiian island of Oahu), December 7, 1941, was the climax of a decade of rising tension between Japan and the United States. Throughout the 1930?s, Japan had been steadily encroaching on China, and the United States had been trying to contain Japan’s expansion. Since America supplied more than half of Japan’s iron, steel, and oil, Japan was reluctant to push the United States too far, but it was also intent on getting control of its own sources of raw materials. On September 27, 1940, Japan joined the Triple Alliance with Italy and Germany and began to expand into northern Indochina. The United States, in response, placed an embargo on aviation gasoline, scrap metal, steel, and iron. After Japan’s seizure of the rest of Indochina in July 1941 (Reader?s 822), President Franklin D. Roosevelt closed the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping and added oil to the embargo list. In October 1941 Gen. Hideki Tojo, leader of the Japanese pro-war party, became premier.
Japanese dispatched aircraft carriers eastward toward Hawaii and began massing troops on the Malayan border. American military leaders, expecting a Japanese attack on Malaya, gave only general warnings to U.S. forces in Pearl Harbor. Adrn. Husband E. Kimmel and Gert. Walter C. Short, in command on Oahu, took few precautions; there was no effective air patrol, and neither ships nor planes were safely dispersed (824).
Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor at 7:55 A.M., December 7; a second wave hit an hour later. By the time the planes returned to theft carriers at 9:45, most of the American planes on Oahu were wrecked; eight battleships, three destroyers, and three cruisers had been put out of action; and two battleships, Oklahoma and Arizona, were utterly destroyed. A total of 2,323 U.S. servicemen had been killed. The next day President Roosevelt spoke for the American people when, before a joint session of Congress, he proclaimed December 7 a “date, which will live in infamy.” With only one dissent, Congress granted Roosevelt’s request to recognize the state of war that existed between the United States and Japan. With that vote, America entered World War II (827). The lives of every Japanese American changed forever from that moment on they were forced to prove their loyalty to the United States as is stated in Snow Falling on Cedars:
Arthur?s war extra included an article entitled ?Japanese Leaders Here Pledge Loyalty to America,? in which Masato Nagaishi, Masao Uyeda and Zenchichi Miyaoto, all strawberry men, made statements to effect that they and all other island Japanese stood ready to protect the American flag. They spoke on behalf of Japanese Chamber of Commerce, the Japanese- American Citizens? League, and the Japanese Community Center, and their pledges, said the Review were ?prompt and unequivocal,? including Mr.Uyeda?s promise that ?if there is any sign of sabotage or spies, we will first one to report it to the authorities? (183).
Ten weeks after the outbreak of war, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the Sectary of War, Henry L. Stimson and the military commanders to whom he delegated authority the power to exclude any persons from designated areas in order to secure national defense objectives against sabotage and espionage (Commission 220). The order was used by Stimson to exclude persons of Japanese ancestry, both American citizens and residential aliens, which included citizens from South American countries from the West Coast. Over the following months more than 100,000 people were ordered to leaves their homes for ?voluntary? resettlement of people who were potentially disloyal to the War Department. The order did not directly mention American citizens of Japanese decent, but when there was talk of the War Department using the order to move Germans and Italians on the East Coast, the President wrote Stimson that he considered enemy alien control to be ?primarily a civilian matter except of course in the case of the Japanese mass evacuation on the Pacific Coast? (Commission 228). This way of thinking was not limited to President Roosevelt, in the novel the mother of Carl Heine, the man Kabuo allegedly murder, Etta Heine, a German immigrant discussing the Japanese- Americans ? ?They?re Japs? answered Etta. ?We?re in a war with them. We can?t have spies around? ? (Guterson 126).
In the novel the Miyamoto and the Imada families were forced to move to relocate to Manzanar, taken from the Spanish word meaning apple orchard was an actual internment camp in northern California. Conditions at Manzanar were terrible with constant sandstorms that were blinding and its inhabitants had no protection, the mushroom barracks that the Japanese- Americans called homes did not protect them. I found the quote from an actual inhabitant of Manzanar and the quote from the novel are the corresponding, ?We cursed this government every time we showered with sand, we slept in the dust, we breathed the dust, and we ate the dust?(Commission 314). Manzanar was originally built as an assembly center and transferred to the to the War Relocation Authority for the use as a relocation center. Barbed- wire fences, watchtowers, and armed guards surrounded the residential and administrative areas. The administrative quarters were painted and had residential cooling systems, refrigerators, indoor toilets and baths, which the relocated citizens built (317). The ?Block? consisting of about 12 to 14 barracks, a mess hall, baths, showers, toilets, and a laundry and recreation hall. Each barrack was about 20 by 100 to 120 feet, divided into four to six rooms around about 20 by 21 feet. Each room housed at least one family, even if the family was very large (318). Arriving evacuees found in their room two stacked canvas cots, two blankets, a pot- bellied stove and a light bulb hanging over the ceiling. One block had to share a series of outdoor toilets and one -water source In Snow Falling on Cedars Guterson describes their living situation, ?All toilets, six back to back pairs, were filled up near to overflowing. Women were using these toilets anyway, squatting over them in the semidarkness while a line of strangers watched a held their noses? (219). The mess halls planned for about 300 people but had to handle 600 to 900, three months after opening Manzanar lacked the equipment for half of the 36 mess halls. ?The camp was only half- finished; there were not enough barracks to go around. Some people, on arriving had to build their own in order to have somewhere to sleep. There were crowds everywhere, thousands of people in a square mile of desert scoured to dust by army bulldozers, and there was nowhere for a person to find solitude? (220). These are the conditions that the United States government forced American citizens had to suffer while they were fighting a dictator that was treating his people the same way.
After the war the Japanese Americans were released and tried to go on with their lives. In 1978 the Japanese American Citizen League (JACL) launched a campaign calling for restitution and an apology by Congress. Within six months articles about the Japanese American internment were found in major newspapers and television networks. After which JACL made appropriations legislation to establish a federal commission to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans. In 1980 after the public outcry of injustice Congress passed a bill to create the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), which members included Arthur Goldberg, Edward Brooke, and Father Robert Drivian. In 1982, CWRIC issued their findings to President Carter and Congress. The report concluded that the Japanese Americans were unjustly forced from their home, underlying causes of this action were racial prejudice and failure of political leadership (Tateishi 3). After the findings the Japanese American members of Congress drafted legislation seeking $1.2 billion for compassion and trust fund. Finally in 1988 $20,000 was awarded to the victims of this injustice. Furthermore Congress filed a Writ of Error Coram Nobis to reverse the Supreme Court decisions in the Hirabayahi, Yasui, and Korematsu cases (4). In these cases the Supreme Court found that the actions of WRA were constitutional.
Everything I learned in Snow Falling on Cedars coincides with all the research I found on this period of American History. For example Gutterson included the initial visit by the government to the Japanese families. Government representatives confiscated any Japanese writing, ancient Japanese weapons, and any other family heirlooms. These Japanese families were given eight days to pack up their entire lives and prepare for the move. Even the items that the Japanese families could bring were parallel to the actual facts. The human experiences of the incarceration are also corresponding. Therefore I believe that Snow Falling on Cedars should be apart of every student that is learning American History.