Teenage Hatsue is buttoning her coat after church at the Amity Harbor Buddhist Chapel when she hears about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Hatsue’s father consults with his friends Mr. Oshiro and Mr. Nishi over the phone. He learns from Mr. Oshiro that Otto Willets, a fisherman, had unscrewed the light bulbs in the marquee of Shigeru Ichiyama’s movie theater. Meanwhile, two other men shout derogatory slurs at Ichiyama. Willets calls Shigeru Ichiyama “a dirty Jap” and asks him if he knows there was supposed to be blackout.
The attack on Pearl Harbor (a surprise military strike by the Japanese Navy on the Pearl Harbor United States Navy base in Honolulu, Hawaii) results in heightened racism directed towards San Piedro’s Japanese population. Willets’s behavior towards Shigeru Ichiyama foreshadows the future acts of injustice San Piedro’s Japanese population will be forced to endure over the course of the next several years.
Oshiro calls Hisao again, telling him Amity Harbor was on high alert for a subsequent Japanese attack. Hisao takes out his shotgun. Nobody in the Imada house sleeps that night.
The Imadas are worried about another attack by the Japanese, but they are also afraid of another attack on Japanese citizens by someone like Otto Willets.
On the school bus the next morning, Hatsue and Ishmael learn that the Japanese are making attacks all around the Pacific Ocean. Their bus driver tells them that Roosevelt will declare war, that arrests are being made on “Jap traitors,” and that the government is freezing Japanese bank accounts. The general atmosphere is one fear—that if it happened at Pearl Harbor, it could happen in Amity Harbor. There are blackouts ordered that night all along the coast.
The bus driver’s prejudiced comment about “Jap traitors” parallels Otto Willets’s comment about Shigeru Ichiyama being a “dirty Jap.” San Piedro—and much of the rest of the United States—considers all people of Japanese descent to be enemies of the United States.
The radio is on all day at school, transmitting “cheerless and sober” voices. Hatsue and Ishmael’s teacher encourages the male students to “consider it an honor to meet the Japs head-on.”
Everyone is on high alert. Despite the fact that some of his students are of Japanese descent, Hatsue and Ishmael’s teacher engages in racist rhetoric, urging his students “to meet the Japs head-on.”
Ishmael’s father publishes the paper’s first war extra. It reads “ISLAND DEFENSE. SET!” and describes the steps taken on the island to counter potential attacks. It contains, noticeably, none of the slurs present in the rhetoric of many of the other islanders; in fact, Arthur’s publication contains articles that feature Japanese islanders pledging loyalty to the United States.
Ishmael’s father tries to combat the racism of his neighbors by emphasizing the dedication of San Piedro’s Japanese residents to the United States. Arthur’s decision to publish stories highlighting Japanese loyalty to the United States shows how certain facts can be selected and emphasized in order to paint a certain picture of the truth. In this case, Arthur publishes stories selectively in order to present a version of the truth (that many Japanese islanders are in fact loyal) that corrects and contradicts an alternate, racially biased “truth” (that all Japanese people are enemies of the United States).
Hatsue approaches Ishmael as he reads his father’s war extra. Hatsue tells Ishmael that her family’s bank accounts have been frozen—they have no way of accessing their money. Ishmael and Hatsue reflect on how surreal their current situation feels. Ishmael insists that “the Japanese forced [them] into” their current predicament. But Hatsue is hesitant to accept Ishmael’s blame. She tells him to look at her face, saying: “My face is the face of the people who did it.” Ishmael doesn’t understand Hatsue’s worry, declaring that Hatsue isn’t Japanese—she’s American. But Hatsue accepts the direness of her situation pragmatically: she tells Ishmael about the incident at the Ichiyamas’ theater. The couple promises not to let the war hurt them.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States froze accounts in United States branches of Japanese banks, just as Hatsue’s family experiences here. Ishmael believes he can separate Hatsue from “the Japanese [that] forced [them] into” their current troubles, but Hatsue adopts a more realistic attitude: “My face is the face of the people who did it.” Hatsue knows that most Americans, like Otto Willets, will assume the worst about every person of Japanese descent—even Japanese Americans, like she and her sisters.
Later in the week, Ishmael helps his father with the paper, taking phone calls. The county sheriff calls, concerned about Japanese farmers keeping dynamite in their sheds. The dynamite, the sheriff speculates, might be used for “sabotage,” and should thus be turned in to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff wants Arthur to print the notice in the paper. Arthur publishes the notice, and also the defense authority’s message that, as of December 14, people of Japanese descent would no longer be permitted to ride the ferries.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, prejudices directed at the Japanese continue to rise. The sheriff, fearing “sabotage,” demands that all Japanese farmers turn over the dynamite they use for clearing land. The sheriff has no evidence to suggest that any of these farmers would initiate sabotage—he acts only on speculation, motivated by his prejudice.
Arthur also writes a story about men who had joined the “civilian defense auxiliary fire force.” Arthur singles out a few Japanese men on the force, referring to them by name in his article. Arthur tells his son that he singled these three men out because “not every fact is just a fact. […] It’s all a kind of…balancing act. […] that’s what journalism is about.” But Ishmael disagrees with his father’s assessment, arguing that journalism is only about reporting facts. Arthur replies by noting that they still have to choose which facts to print.
Arthur continues to use his newspaper to retaliate against his neighbors’ unjust prejudice against the Japanese residents of San Piedro. Ishmael criticizes his father’s selective use of “fact,” arguing that, regardless of intention, Arthur’s “balancing act” still imposes a narrative on his supposed “facts,” much like other white citizens impose a racist narrative on their Japanese neighbors. Arthur, however, challenges his son, implying that journalists have a moral obligation to determine with which facts they use to construct a narrative of truth. The argument between the two highlights how difficult it can be to determine what an objective “fact” really is.
Arthur continues to be selective in “which facts” he publishes, actively drawing his readers’ attention to acts of loyalty performed by the island’s Japanese population. “Seems like you’re favoring the Japs, Art,” writes in an anonymous Review reader. People cancel their subscriptions to the paper, disappointed and angered by Arthur’s supposed “favoring” of the Japanese. The Price-Rite in Anacortes backs out of its advertisements in the paper. Arthur prints the complaints he receives, and also responses to these complaints.
Arthur believes it’s his moral imperative to include “facts” that dispute the heightened racism directed at San Piedro’s Japanese population, so he continues to publish stories that emphasize the loyalty of the island’s Japanese population. Some readers accuse Arthur of bias, arguing that he’s “favoring the Japs.” Arthur publishes the complaints he receives in order to maintain a neutral, unbiased position.