Why did Papa burn the flags and papers in Farewell to Manzanar?

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Early in Jeanne Wakatsuki-Houston’s memoir (coauthored by her husband, James D. Houston) Farewell to Manzanar, the author, who narrates the story of her family’s persecution and imprisonment in an internment camp because of their Japanese ancestry following the attack on Pearl Harbor, describes the panic among the Japanese-American community regarding the potential for the very kind of reaction among the American public that did in fact occur:

That night Papa burned the flag he had brought with him from Hiroshima thirty-five years earlier. It was such a beautiful piece of material, I couldn’t believe he was doing that. He burned a lot of papers, too, documents, anything that might suggest he still had some connection with Japan.

The surprise attack on American military installations on the Hawaiian Islands, as well as those on US facilities in the Philippines, sent shock waves through the American public that was, unfortunately, manifested in, among other ways, a disturbing rise in xenophobic sentiments against those of Japanese ancestry, many of whom resided along the California coast. These individuals and families, many US citizens, some legal residents but not citizens, had lived quiet productive lives. Panic regarding additional attacks by Imperial Japan upon the United States, however, resulted in the decision by the Roosevelt Administration to incarcerate Japanese and Japanese-American families far from the coasts to secure against sabotage and espionage targeting US military and economic facilities.

This reaction was not entirely unexpected by some of these families, as is evident by Wakatsuki-Houston’s description of her father’s reaction to news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Papa desperately feared falling under suspicion for his Japanese heritage and sought to destroy any possession, however innocuous, that might be used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to arouse suspicion regarding his loyalties. Sadly, as the author describes in the following chapters, such measures proved ineffective.

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When Pearl Harbor is attacked by the Japanese, Papa burns the Japanese flag he has brought with him from Hiroshima thirty five years earlier. He also burns all papers and documents which connect him to Japan. However, Papa's commercial fishing license and Japanese descent makes it easy for the FBI track him down.

The author, Jeanne Wakatsuki, relates that her father is eventually taken away by the FBI when they discover him staying at Woody's home on Terminal Island. Woody is one of the author's brothers. FBI deputies interview the five hundred Japanese families living on the island; they ransack houses, frantically looking for anything which could conceivably be used for signaling Japanese planes or ships. Anyone suspected of loyalty to the Emperor of Japan is arrested.

Jeanne learns from the newspapers that her father has been arrested for supposedly delivering oil to Japanese submarines off the coast. The author relates that she does not see her father again until a year has passed.

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