Manzanar War Relocation Center
August 19, 2002 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps at which Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II. Ansel Adams photographed the camp in 1943 and published a book the following year to publicize the loyalty of the internees. You can take a QuickTime VR virtual tour, tour the camp in 3D VRML (screenshots), or read the memoirs of a woman who was interned there.
posted by kirkaracha (22 comments total)
Phenomenal post Kirk. I hope to find a copy of that book someday for my own library. Those of you who spend the winters driving to Mammoth from Los Angeles to go skiing/snowboarding drive right by Manzanar on the way. Why not stop and visit next time you're nearby?
posted by gen at 9:18 PM on August 19, 2002

I grew up in southen Idaho and my parents' closest friends were Nisei--the stories I've heard. And every family I knew had one--about twenty to thirty percent of the population was Japanese American--most were prosperous farmers, owned the largest and most productive farms, or the canneries or packing sheds. And all had come back from the camps with nothing, having lost their house, businesses, possessions.

My home town had a sunset law once--if you were black, you couldn't stay there past nightfall. The local president of the JACL, Japanese American Citizens League, quietly lobbied for its repeal, and several similar laws on the state level, all successfully. I grew up hearing about the camps, meeting the people who'd been there--which may explain my feelings on the related topics. I grew up during the civil rights era, knowing of this and still remember what it was like then, how ugly it got. It seems like only yesterday, and it was. Which is why I have little patience for people who want to pretend all this stuff is past and handled.
posted by y2karl at 9:22 PM on August 19, 2002

For many years I drove from Cody to Powell Wyoming when I was a performer at the Yellowstone Jazz Festival. My last two years at TSJHS I was privileged to take my junior high students to a jazz festival in March.

I made it a point to stop and take them through the Hart Mountain Relocation Center. While there is little left, it is a moving and touching location. Living in Japan as I do now, and married to a Japanese citizen, it frightens me to think we may very well be headed down this same path again.

Second ever post, and the first to try a link. Hope all goes well.

Thanks for your support.
posted by charms55 at 10:18 PM on August 19, 2002

Here is a much more detailed site.
posted by charms55 at 10:27 PM on August 19, 2002

it frightens me to think we may very well be headed down this same path again.

Perhaps you should elaborate. Where exactly do you see this happening?
posted by HTuttle at 10:54 PM on August 19, 2002

When we have members of this administration saying that American citizens should be held w/o due process, and a civil rights commissioner says Americans may be willing to have people placed in camps in the name of Homeland Security, I see us going down that slippery slope.

"There will be a groundswell of public opinion to banish civil rights. So the best thing we can do to preserve them is by keeping the country safe."

At one point during the hearing, Roland Hwang, a Lansing attorney, recalled how Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II and said this country needs to prevent that from happening again.

It was at this point that Kirsanow broached the possibility of a rising public sentiment for internment camps if the U.S. were attacked again.

Braceras, another Bush appointee, said:"There's no constitutional right not to be inconvenienced or even embarrassed."

While in ways one can not argue with the logic (better safe than sorry), I suspect there are few who felt the internment of Japanese-American citizens made us one iota safer.

Fits in the category of "please don't put words into my mouth for me." None of these people can in fact speak for the American public. "Rising sentiment..." Sounds like someone is floating trial balloons.

Thanks for your support.
posted by charms55 at 11:33 PM on August 19, 2002

HTuttle: this latimes (reg. req.) commentary suggests we might be, as charms55 writes, headed down the same path.
posted by josephtate at 11:34 PM on August 19, 2002

Here is the article josephtate tried to link to.

joe: in the link tag, the actual URL is supposed to go in between the quotes. href=""

You had it outside the quotes, so it broke. Just FYI.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:41 PM on August 19, 2002

Kirsanow was unmoved, arguing that Arab and Muslim Americans should accept the country's new antiterrorism laws and complain less about infringements to their civil rights.

If there's another attack by Arabs on U.S. soil, "not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling," Kirsanow said.

In otherwords, "quit yer bellyachin'."
posted by charms55 at 11:49 PM on August 19, 2002

I've tried to visit this camp twice, on camping trips up to Bishop, from southern california back in college. It's on the map, and there was even a tiny sign saying it was up ahead, but I never could find the road leading off 395 that led to it. Next time I go through that area, I'll be sure not to miss it.
posted by mathowie at 11:50 PM on August 19, 2002


These sites are kind of buried sometimes. The one in Wyoming has only a tiny sign and not clear signage at the turn off. But worth the stop.

It must be said that there are many in our area (Wyoming) who are opposed to the commemorative sites. While I lived there, when this came up several years ago, it seems many Japanese-Americans did not want visitor centers, etc for varying reasons.
posted by charms55 at 11:56 PM on August 19, 2002

There are several excellent plays about the internment camps, including Philip Kan Gotanda's The Sisters Matsumoto and Ed Sakamoto's Pilgrimage.

As far as AJA loyalty goes, all one need do is research a little bit about the history of the 442nd. They suffered for America during the war, and often suffered in America after the war.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:21 AM on August 20, 2002

Great link, especially the Adams book! I had only seen a few of these photos before, who knew the LOC had them all arranged online in a slide show. Breathtaking, especially since it was only 1997 or so when the site became officially protected, so almost everything is gone, as evidenced by the VR photos, which have not much more than signs to show where the buildings used to be.

When I was a kid, we stayed in nearby Lone Pine about 4 times on vacation, but never even knew about the camp.

Nearby are Mt. Whitney and Death Valley, which I believer are the highest and lowest points, respectively, in the Lower 48 contiguous states (only Alaska's McKinley is higher).
posted by planetkyoto at 3:10 AM on August 20, 2002

The book is available in a new edition, with Adams' full text, personal comments and corrected misspellings, etc., from the internees who have published it.

From the page linked above:

Vanished photographs... Despite its best-selling status in 1944-45, BORN FREE AND EQUAL vanished from store shelves and was never again reprinted by the U.S. Camera, the original publisher. Brought to light 60 years later with the photographer's original and complete text, this edition was supported by both the Manzanar Committee of Los Angeles and the Friends of the Eastern California Museum in Inyo County, California, seven miles north of the Manzanar site.

Details on the book:
Born Free and Equal:
The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans
Based on the original book published by U.S. Camera with text and photographs by Ansel Adams from the Library of Congress Collection. New introduction by former internee Archie Miyatake. Photographs by Toyo Miyatake, Archie Miyatake, George Shiba, and Eichi Uemura. Essays by Sue Kunitomi Embrey and William H. Michael. Edited by Wynne Benti.
128 pages, 75 duotone photographs, 8.5" x 11" portrait size $45/U.S. ISBN 1-893343-05-7
posted by planetkyoto at 3:22 AM on August 20, 2002

Sunday I went to a talk about the internment of German and Italian Americans in WWII. It is interesting that these are not as well known as the the story of Japanese Americans. I think that the Japanese internment was larger, and fits more with the narrative of American culture of the 20th century, a good reason for it to be better known.

I was told, though, that Italian and German detainees actively surpressed knowledge of the camps after the war. They wanted it kept secret from their children so that they wouldn't fear that it would happen to them. Also, I would guess that they believed that their descendants would "blend in" better and the issue wouldn't come up again.

Another iteresting fact, a significant number of the detained Italian Americans were Socialisti who detested Mousselini, and who we wouldn't detest again for 5 or 10 years.
posted by putzface_dickman at 6:27 AM on August 20, 2002

Oh yeah, in an ironic twist, one of the Italian camps was on Ellis Island.
posted by putzface_dickman at 6:31 AM on August 20, 2002

just some impressions looking through the photos:i'd also just like to say the LOC presentation is great!

and i thought this bears repeating: "It is our task to retain the individual as the foundation of society, irrespective of his race, color, or religion. It is a problem we must face and solve—no matter what the cost may be to our false dignity or imagined self-interest. Left unsolved, the cost will prove beyond computation."

Executive Order No. 9066
posted by kliuless at 7:09 AM on August 20, 2002

It seems to me that many of the people who scream the loudest about work and morality, the ones who go on and on about the greatness of America and the great value they place on our freedoms, are the same folks that often seem to lack the willingness to put in the effort required to maintain those freedoms when push comes to shove. Then they lack the moral clarity to recognize immediately when they have done something terribly wrong, or the moral character to attempt to put it right.

These efforts to strip people of their basic civil rights, of legal rights defined in the founding documents of our nation, smack of stunning hypocrisy, laziness, and bad judgement. Those who support such moves for the sake of a warm and fuzzy feeling of "safety," or worse still, for expediency, I would count as being equally lazy and also ignorant of the true responsibilities that come with the freedoms they claim to have and love.

We as a nation and as individual Americans bear a solid responsibility to stand up for the civil and human rights of everyone, especially when the forces of laziness/complacency/fear and/or greed/avarice conspire to limit or remove those rights. We need to think about the words our leaders are using, think about the actions they take, and determine whether or not they are respecting and strengthening the rights of individuals.

In the case of the Japanese internment camps, we did not think until many years later...and even then only made a vague and half-hearted attempt to make things right. The guilt many of us bear for what was done to the native Americans was right and truly earned. The guilt many bear for the evils of slavery was right and truly earned. There is nothing we can do now to correct any of these past wrongs. What we can do is make sure we do not commit them again...but somehow I suspect we will commit them again.

Even now, Mr. Bush and friends are busy removing any and all individual rights that get in the way of whatever it is they feel like doing with the machinery of our government. Even now they hold at least one American citizen in prison, without conferring upon him the rights we would expect an American citizen to receive...and aberrantly few Americans have a problem with this. Apparently the majority of my fellow countrymen believe that the system is functioning to protect them, and that is enough. They do not make the logical connection that if this can be done to one person, it can be done again...and again...

Maybe I'm ranting, or preaching to the choir...but for the most part I think we Americans, in general, may as well be rewriting the first lines of an old story.
posted by ruggles at 8:04 AM on August 20, 2002

The only Germans and Italians interned were those deemed disloyal. Camps like Manzanar were for those Japanese-Americans expressly found to be loyal to America. (There were prison camps in different locations for those found to be disloyal).

Although, as we all should know Korematsu, the Supreme Court decision which permitted the interning of loyal citizens and aliens, has never been overturned, few people doubt that the courts would promptly overturn the precedent were such action ever attempted again.

However, I suspect that a process to determine loyalty among those of like ethnicity with an enemy state, and to intern those whose loyalty is reasonably suspect, would not be blocked by the courts were it supported by sufficient military necessity. Fortunately, there has been no suggestion that American citizens of Arab descent or Muslim religion have been actively involved in military or terroristic actions against the US ... at present, the worst cases seem to be fund-raising for Palestinian charities which are influenced by or commingle funds with Hamas and other organizations which -- bad as they are -- are not engaged, Al Quaeda style, in war against the US.
posted by MattD at 8:04 AM on August 20, 2002

der..."aberrantly" should be "apparently"
posted by ruggles at 8:07 AM on August 20, 2002

I know very little about the internment because my great-grandfather was the only member of my family who was interned (going back to loyalty, he was a WWI vet who had emigrated from Japan specifically to fight for the US) and he died long before I was born. The rest of my family doesn't talk about it much, and the overwhelming impression that I get was that it was something that just happened - there's a Japanese phrase, "shikata ga nai," which roughly translates to "it can't be helped", which I think pretty much sums up the attitude at the time towards the whole thing.

I don't think that such a thing could happen now on such a scale because that sense of "it can't be helped" really doesn't exist any longer. I think that if the US tried to intern any racial or religious group now, there would be much more of an uproar than there was at the time of the Japanese internment, both on the part of the intended internees and the public at large. The news media alone would have a screaming field day with it. Whereas during WWII I just don't think too many people cared or even thought about it that much, unless they came from AJA-heavy communities.
posted by lilikoi at 8:31 AM on August 20, 2002

If you ever find yourself on Hwy 395 in CA, Manzanar is worth stopping for. I spent about an hour there on a road trip this year, and I felt like I could have spent many more.

Don't go there expecting to see lots of interpretive signage or musuem-like displays (although they're in the process of restoring a building there.) At first glance, it looks pretty much like the desert that surrounds it. But when you get out of your car and walk through the center, in any direction, you begin to learn about what was there by seeing what was left behind. It's refreshing to visit an historical site that doesn't spoonfeed you its message, there are lots of meaningful things to see if you're willing to do a little historical archeology.

We also visited Bodie on our road trip. Different experience, but similarly fascinating.
posted by bicyclingfool at 9:47 AM on August 20, 2002

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