Farewell to Manzanar
Chapters 14, 15 & 16
Summary—Chapter 14: In the Firebreak
In her later life, Wakatsuki concedes that Papa was right to protest her being baptized at a young age. At the time of his refusal, however, Jeanne cannot forgive him and feels herself drifting farther and farther away from him. Jeanne’s oldest sister, Eleanor, has returned to the camp because her husband has been drafted, and she is in the camp hospital giving birth. The family is worried because two of Jeanne’s older sisters hemorrhaged badly during childbirth, and blood plasma is in short supply. One sister was saved by a blood transfusion from Woody, but the other bled to death. Eleanor is in her second day of labor, and Mama and Papa take turns sitting with her. On the afternoon of the second day, Mama runs across the firebreak, a patch of cleared land, shouting for Papa. Papa is afraid and runs to meet her, but the news is good: Eleanor has given birth to a boy. Both Mama and Papa begin to cry, but Jeanne is strangely detached. She feels invisible as she watches her parents talk tenderly to each other in the middle of the firebreak.
Summary—Chapter 15: Departures
Mama and Papa become even closer in the following months, but like many of the other Japanese, most of the older Wakatsuki children decide to relocate or join the military. By 1944, only 6,000 people remain in the camp, and most are children or elderly persons. Eleanor moves back to Reno and stays with friends. Woody is drafted in August 1944, and despite Papa’s suggestion that he refuse to serve, he reports for duty when his unit is called up in November. The whole family goes to see him off, and although Jeanne does not understand where he is going, she feels the way she did when the FBI took Papa away. Jeanne remembers the day they waved goodbye to the fleet on the wharf in San Pedro Harbor, but now there are 500 other proud Japanese waving goodbye. The all-Nisei 442nd Combat Regiment that Woody joins is famous for its valor in Europe, and one mother in camp has recently received a Congressional Medal of Honor for a son killed in Italy. As more and more families are split up by the departures, people begin to worry about what will happen to them after the war.
Summary—Chapter 16: Free to Go
In December 1944, in the last of three cases brought against the camps, the Supreme Court rules that the camps are illegal. The first case is brought by a Nisei university student, Gordon Hirabayashi, who violated the curfew imposed in 1942, but the Supreme Court upholds the War Department’s restrictions on the movements of the Japanese. The second case is brought by Fred Korematsu, who evaded the removal to Manzanar and underwent plastic surgery in order to stay with his white girlfriend. Korematsu’s case protests the fact that no German Americans or Italian Americans were relocated, but again the Supreme Court rules in favor of the army’s evacuation policy. The third suit is brought by a twenty-one-year-old Nisei named Mitsue Endo, who challenges the legality of the government’s detaining loyal citizens against their will. The Supreme Court is forced to decide in her favor, and the army, anticipating the decision, announces that it will close the camps in the next twelve months.
The Japanese response to the decision is far from joyful, as many of Manzanar’s inhabitants have no homes to which to return, and wartime propaganda has turned public opinion against them. Prejudiced groups such as No Japs Incorporated and The Pacific Coast Japanese Problem League even try to block Japanese resettlement on the West Coast. Many Japanese fear leaving the camps, but the government insists that the camps close. Most Japanese have few problems resettling, but rumors of attacks on returning Japanese fuel the fears of those remaining in camp. Jeanne is confused because she has always associated the world outside with good things like the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. Now, however, she begins to prepare herself for what was once just an unnamed ache: being hated. Most of the older Wakatsuki children move to New Jersey, though they all realize that Papa will never move back east. Jeanne compares him to a freed black slave who does not know what to do with his freedom because slavery is all he has ever known.
In “In the Firebreak,” Wakatsuki uses the firebreak as a symbol of the end of her parents’ fighting. The firebreak is a wide swath of empty land intended to prevent fire from spreading from one part of camp to another. The birth of their grandson, which Mama and Papa celebrate in the firebreak, is a sort of symbolic firebreak, preventing a conflict that has been brewing since Papa nearly struck Mama with his cane. The image of Mama running breathlessly toward a stumbling Papa across the openness of the windswept sand represents the psychological distance that Mama and Papa must cross to come together again. Jeanne comments that Papa’s and her fear that Mama would bring bad news must have slowed Mama down. This thought illustrates that it was not actual conflict but simply the unspoken fear they coped with on a daily basis that kept Mama and Papa from reconciling their differences.
The departures of the older Wakatsuki children, particularly Woody, represent the breakdown taking place within the family. Woody is earlier a surrogate father for the younger children during Papa’s absence, and his decision to accept being drafted into military service distances him from his family, especially from Papa. Papa is unable to declare loyalty to either Japan or the United States at Fort Lincoln and supports the “Yes Yes” position on the Loyalty Oath only as a practical measure. Woody, on the other hand, is fully loyal to the United States and is willing to die for his country. He does not care that the same government that has kept him imprisoned for the last two years is now asking for his help. Along with the other members of his all-Nisei regiment, he feels he must do his duty as an American citizen. Papa’s struggle with being a noncitizen makes him fearful of the outside world, but Woody can leave the camp because he is sure of himself and his right to a place in America. Unfortunately for the family, however, Woody’s strength in the face of adversity is what has kept the family together, and his departure begins the final stage of the family’s deterioration.
The Supreme Court’s delay in ruling against the internment policy is a reflection of the political and cultural atmosphere in America during the 1940s. The Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on color, race, religion, or national origin, was not enacted until 1964, and in the 1940s there was little precedent for establishing the illegality of ethnic discrimination. The first two cases that Wakatsuki mentions were doomed from the beginning because they addressed only the issue of ethnic prejudice, which the courts had never really dealt with before. The Endo case, however, was successful because it eliminated ethnic prejudice from the equation. Endo built her case on the Constitutional principle of habeas corpus, which allows a judge to demand the release of a citizen imprisoned without cause. Endo had signed the Loyalty Oath, and by petitioning for habeas corpus, she asserted her Constitutional right to freedom and forced the Supreme Court to decide in her favor. Because of the air of fear and intolerance in America during World War II, it took one of the oldest American legal precedents to correct the hypocrisy of the United States’ policy of imprisoning its own loyal citizens.
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