One of the least-defensible acts in our country’s history was the forced internment of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry in camps during World War II. This was “justified” by the suspicion that some of them might be more loyal to Japan than to the U. S.; in fact, no acts of sabotage or espionage were ever attributed to any Japanese-Americans, and many of them performed heroically for the U. S., in spite of the way the government had treated them. One of the largest and best-known of the camps was at Manzanar, in the Owens Valley of California. Because of this fact, as well as the book Farewell to Manzanar, written by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston about her experiences there, which was one of the first books I read on this subject, I used this name in the title, as a symbol of all the camps, and of the prejudices that created them. Stylistically, I was trying to write the kind of song that Woody Guthrie might have, if he had written one on this subject. This led to the simple verse-chorus form, and the relatively simple melody and lyrics.
A later addition: As anyone familiar with his life story probably knows, the person referred to in the fourth verse is Daniel Inouye, who was not locked up in a camp (no one in Hawai’i was, although that was the one place actually attacked by the Japanese), but who literally gave his right arm in service to his country, only to have a barber in Oakland refuse to cut his hair because he looked Japanese. A few years ago, I had chance to speak to my Congressional Representative at the time, Mike Honda, who had also been locked up in one of the camps, and I gave him a copy of this song, plus one that I asked him to pass on to Senator Inouye when he got back to Washington. He did as promised — I got a thank-you letter from Senator Inouye a little later — and since the Senator died only a short time afterward, I was glad I had been able to get this to him before that.
Like a blot on our flag, this deed’s left its stamp:
A hundred thousand Americans locked up in camps.
We said they might be traitors, or they might be spies;
But our “evidence” turned out to be nothing but lies.
Well, it’s a big boat we’re rowing, and we’re bound for the stars;
Without everyone’s help, we won’t get very far.
So you who have to hate others, just to know who you are,
Say goodbye to those feelings — Farewell, Manzanar.
They lost homes, they lost farms, some lost all that they had;
And the media tried to say, “It’s not that bad.”
They said, “Your protection’s what it’s all about.”
But then, why were the guns pointed in, and not out?
In the camps, they argued over what would be right:
Should they join their oppressors? Help out in their fight?
But then they formed a team they called the 4-4-2;
The most wounded, the most medals — they really came through.
Against the Germans in Europe, gave about all he could give;
Lost his arm to a grenade, they weren’t sure he would live.
On his way home, his uniform sewn up in a flap,
A barber in Oakland said, “We don’t serve Japs!”
All these years — is “I’m sorry” the most we can say?
And, “For this injustice, we’ll give you about a dollar a day”?
You say, “It can’t happen here,” but now you see that it can;
And the least we should all say is “Never again!”
It’s time we all say goodbye to those feelings … Farewell, Manzanar.
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