Kabuo Assumed Guilty Because of Japanese Heritage in Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Kabuo Assumed Guilty Because of Japanese Heritage in Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

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Kabuo Assumed Guilty Because of Japanese Heritage in Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

In the novel, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, Kabuo Miyamoto is arrested for murder without any substantial evidence. He was charged with a crime he did not commit. He was accused based strictly on his race. Kabuo’s trial was unfair because there was racial conflict with the Japanese following World War II.

The racial conflict with Japanese-Americans began when the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a military naval base located in the state of Hawaii. “Behind them they left chaos, 2,403 dead, 188 destroyed planes, and a crippled Pacific Fleet that included 8 damaged or destroyed battleships” (“Attack” 1). The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on the Empire of Japan. The fear that resulted from the attack on Pearl Harbor caused many white Americans to hate the Japanese-Americans. Many Japanese were accused of being spies and were arrested without proof. “Rabid anti-Japanese American racism surfaced the first days after Pearl Harbor. The FBI and the military had been compiling lists of "potentially dangerous" Japanese Americans since 1932, but most were merely teachers, businessmen or journalists” (Thistlethwaite 1). In February of 1942, all of the Japanese on the West Coast of the United States were sent to internment camps.

Japanese Internment Camps were established to keep an eye on everyone of Japanese decent. The internment camps were based on an order from the President to relocate people with Japanese Heritage. This meant relocating 110,000 Japanese people. “Two thirds of these people were born in America and were legal citizens, and of the 10 people found to be spying for the Japanese during World War II, not one was of Japanese ancestry” (Friedler 1). Thus, there was no reason for these internment camps, but people do irrational things when driven by fear. In theinternment camps, many of the Japanese became sick or even died because of lack of nourishment in the food provided at these camps. The conditions in the internment camps were awful. One of the internment camps, Manzanar, was located to the west of Desert Valley in California. “Manzanar barracks measured 120 x 20 feet and were divided into six one-room apartments, ranging in size from 320 to 480 square feet.

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Each block of 15 barracks shared bath, latrine, and mess buildings” (Thistlethwaite 2). This is a very small living space for a family to have to live in, especially if the family had more than 5 or 6 members. The Japanese were not killed purposely in the internment camps as the Jews were in German concentration camps. Most Japanese men, that were able, joined the armed forces to prove their loyalty to the United States and also to escape from the horrible conditions of the internment camps. The Japanese were released from the internment camps in 1945 only to return to their homes and see everything they had destroyed or stolen.

In 1944, the trial of Korematsu vs. United States was held. This trial was held to decide, “Did the President and Congress go beyond their war powers by implementing exclusion and restricting the rights of Americans of Japanese decent?” (“Korematsu” 1) The court decided that the need to protect against spies far exceeded the rights of Korematsu. Also in 1944, the trial of Ex Parte Endo took place. In this case, the Supreme Court sided with Endo. They approved a petition stating, “A citizen who is concededly loyal presents no problem of espionage or sabotage. When the power to detain is derived from the power to protect the war effort against espionage and sabotage, detention, which has no relationship to that objective, is unauthorized” (“Ex” 1). This meant that anyone who was a citizen and proven to be completely loyal should not be held. This would have been good had it been followed. The Japanese were detained no matter if they had proven themselves to be loyal or not.

In the novel, Kabuo is arrested for the murder of Carl Heine. He is arrested because Horace Whaley, the coroner, tells Sheriff Art Moran “to start looking for a Jap with a bloody gun butt—a right-handed Jap, to be precise” (Guterson 59). There is no other evidence that would even suggest that Kabuo had anything to do with the death of Carl Heine. While Art Moran is searching Carl’s boat, he does not investigate closely enough to see the blood on the mast, the cut ropes on the mast, or the cracked wood with a few pieces of Carl Heine’s hair in it. The Sheriff missing these clues tells me that he did not try hard enough to find Kabuo not guilty. He got a story, and he went with it even though it was not true and was based solely on the prejudiced opinion of the coroner.

Before the trial, Nels Gudmundsson tries to get Kabuo to tell the truth about what happened on the night that the “murder” took place. Kabuo keeps telling him he has no idea what happened. Nels finally says that there is no way to defend Kabuo if he will not tell the truth about what happened. Nels then says, “You figure because you’re from Japanese folks nobody will believe you anyway” (391). Kabuo responds to this by saying, “I’ve got a right to think that way. Or maybe you’ve forgotten that a few years back the government decided it couldn’t trust any of us and shipped us out of here” (391). This shows that Kabuo has not forgotten about the Japanese Internment Camps, and that none of the jurors would have forgotten it either. The Japanese from San Piedro Island, where the story takes place, were shipped to the internment camp Manzanar.
There are also signs of prejudice just by looking at the courtroom. First, all of the Japanese citizens had to sit in the back of the courtroom. “They had done so instead because San Piedro required it of them without calling it a law” (75). This sort of behavior was demeaning to the Japanese folks because they were considered less of people. Second, there are also signs of prejudice in the jurors that were selected. Out of the jury of a person’s “peers,” not a single juror was Japanese, and only one of them did not want to jump right to the conclusion that he was guilty right after the case (428-434).

In Snow Falling on Cedars, the reason Horace Whaley initially fingers a Japanese person was because of his experience in World War II. He had been a doctor in the Pacific Theater of the war and had seen wounds similar to the wound on Carl’s head. He said they came from Kendo strikes with the butt of a gun. Kendo is a form of Japanese fighting with sticks. Kabuo knows Kendo, and the prosecution uses this against him. The discrimination comes in to play because had he not been Japanese, they would not have suspected him of knowing Kendo.

In the novel Snow Falling on Cedars, there is a lot of prejudice shown towards Japanese-Americans. Besides the derogatory name calling, there are examples of prejudice shown through the internment camps, the courthouse where the trial is being held, and the knowledge of martial arts. The reason that this prejudice took place was because of the attack on Pearl Harbor and war that followed it. The Japanese were treated unfairly by being sent to the internment camps, as well as in trials that involved whites.

Works Cited

“Attack At Pearl Harbor, 1941.” 1997. 16 April 2001 http://www.ibiscom.com/pearl.htm

"Ex Parte Endo, 323 U.S. 283 (1944)." lawbooksUSA.com and law-YOU.com. . Lerner Law Books. 16 April 2001. http://lawbooksusa.com/cconlaw/endoexparte.htm

Friedler, Sorelle. “The Japanese Internment.” 16 April 2001 http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/4282/internment.html

Guterson, David. Snow Falling on Cedars. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
"Korematsu vs United States." 16 April 2001.

Thistlethwaite, Chuck . "MANZANAR - America's Concentration Camp." 16 April 2001. http://members.aol.com/EARTHSUN/Manzanar.html?clkd=iwm
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