Manzanar, Japanese Internment Camp
May 13, 2009
|Manzanar, WW II Japanese Internment Camp
My next stop was the Japanese relocation camp of Manzanar, just north of Lone Pine. I arrived there at about 3 PM, so had plenty of time to explore the interpretation center, which is in the newly refurbished gymnasium. If you haven’t heard of Manzanar, or read much about the relocation of the Japanese from militarily sensitive areas during WW II, you would find it interesting.
The displays and 22 minute long film introduce you to what the two classes of Japanese went through after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Americans generally hated all Japanese, whether they were Issei (translated, First Generation), which were those Japanese that emigrated from Japan, or the Nisei (translated, Second Generation), which were the Japanese that were born in America. All of the Nisei were American Citizens, but not all of the Issei were, but they were all treated the same.
There was such an outcry from the public that on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, to remove all persons of Japanese ancestry residing in military sensitive zones to relocation camps, which included the entire west coastline, Hawaii and Alaska (they weren’t states yet, but US Possessions). Because America was also at war in Europe, the Alien Enemies Act, Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526 and 2527 were issued designating all Japanese, German and Italian nationals as enemy aliens. We don’t hear much about how the German and Italian citizens were treated, but 11 thousand Germans and 3 thousand Italians did get sent to relocation camps. Some 120 thousand persons of Japanese ancestry were relocated.
Because it was easier to determine if a person was Asian, the Japanese were singled out and treated badly by most Americans. Although the War Relocation Authority (WRA) promised to watch over their property while they were away, those in the camps seldom regained ownership of their businesses and personal property after their release.
If they signed the loyalty pledge, they could relocate to non-military sensitive areas, which some did, giving up their businesses and homes. Those that refused and were already American citizens, stayed in the camps. Those that were yet citizens were sent back to Japan.
The WRA set up ten relocation camps (you can click on each one for additional information): Gila River War Relocation Center, Granada War Relocation Center, Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, Jerome War Relocation Center, Manzanar War Relocation Center, Minidoka War Relocation Center, Poston War Relocation Center, Topaz War Relocation Center, Tule Lake War Relocation Center and Rohwer War Relocation Center, and sent those people that fell under the WRA authority, given its power from the presidential orders, to one of the camps.
If you visit the sites for each of the camps, you will see notable persons that were interned in those camps, with George Takei (born 1937), an actor best known as Mister Sulu from Star Trek being one of them. Since his parents refused to take a vow and did not "pass" the loyalty questionnaire, the family was later transferred to Tule Lake War Relocation Center. You will also read about the many loyal Japanese that joined the military and were sent to Europe, earning high decorations for their actions.
Life in the camp is described on the sites and photos of each are available to view. Although we have since condemned this action, I believe that America did the right thing and may wish to visit it again when dealing with our newest enemy, the Muslims.
Daily life in Manzanar was harsh, but the people made the best to mold it into their home, making furniture and landscaping the surroundings with beautiful gardens and tranquil settings. They operated businesses that provided services to the residents of the “city.” Japanese Doctors, nurses, teachers, and other professionals helped run the camp and provide services to its people.
Zack and I took the auto tour, using a map with explanations of what had been there, as all of the buildings and their contents were auctioned off when the camp closed and the last residents left. The Gymnasium was repurchased and rebuilt for the museum and displays. A volunteer group has constructed a replica of two of the barracks and one of the guard towers. The barracks were simply large wood framed rectangles on concrete piers, covered with tarpaper. There were no dividing walls and the residents had to put up sheets for privacy and to separate families. The bathrooms and showers were communal without any privacy. Men, women and children were expected to share the facilities. Large dinning halls fed the entire camp and all the children went to school in the camp.
No matter how you sugar coat it, the relocation camps were prisons and the residents were not allowed to leave. Although they were told that being relocated was to protect them, the barbed wire fences that surrounded them and the eight armed guard towers were positioned to keep people in, not out.
It was late in day when I finally left, and we headed north again. I had found an RV Park, which was in my half price book, just beyond Bishop, so headed for it as a place to spend the night. It was supposed to be at Lake Crowley so I took the exit for Tom’s Place as it said Lake Crowley. The directions in the book are sparse and I ended up taking a dead end road and then a dirt road that just stopped in the woods. I had hoped it looped back to the road as I couldn’t turn around, but it didn’t. I decided that it was as good as any place to spend the night, so set the motor home up for a stay.