Manzanar War Relocation Center

During our honeymoon, on the way back from visiting Edwards AF Base, we decided on the spot not to take again highways 58 and 5 to San Francisco, but to go North by the Eastern part of Sierra Nevada and cross the whole of Yosemite National Park the following morning. With this new route we would drive more miles, give away a hotel reservation in Fresno but we were able to see the Red Rock Canyon State Park (famous for scenic rocky formations, featured in several films), Mount Whitney (with 4,421m the highest point of the Lower 48), Mono Lake (a terminal lake famous for its alkaline water) and Manzanar…

Manzanar War Relocation Center

Manzanar is the site where one of the concentration camps where thousands of Japanese and Americans with a Japanese origin were imprisoned during World War II. Manzanar is one black spot in the US history, let me quote from the Wikipedia:

Dr. James Hirabayashi, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, wrote an article in 1994 in which he stated that he wonders why euphemistic terms used to describe camps such as Manzanar are still being used.

Let us review the main points of the debate. Over 120,000 residents of the U.S.A., two thirds of whom were American citizens, were incarcerated under armed guard. There were no crimes committed, no trials, and no convictions: the Japanese Americans were political incarcerees. To detain American citizens in a site under armed guard surely constitutes a “concentration camp.” But what were the terms used by the government officials who were involved in the process and who had to justify these actions? Raymond Okamura provides us with a detailed list of terms. Let’s consider three such euphemisms: “evacuation,” “relocation,” and “non-aliens.” Earthquake and flood victims are evacuated and relocated. The words refer to moving people in order to rescue and protect them from danger. The official government policy makers consistently used “evacuation” to refer to the forced removal of the Japanese Americans and the sites were called “relocation centers.” These are euphemisms (Webster: “the substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit”) as the terms do not imply forced removal nor incarceration in enclosures patrolled by armed guards. The masking was intentional.

I didn’t know about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in American soil during the war until I came to Manzanar. During the same trip, we also had the chance to learn more about that topic in those times in Seattle at Pike Place Market, from where many Japanese Americans were first dispossessed from their shops and assets and then sent to concentration camps like Manzanar. 

After learning about this, I guess that the months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) surely must have been very dramatic in the USA, and that political upheaval felt in DC must have been tremendous. Not only how to respond to that attack but to which extent were they safe in American soil, the suspicions or paranoia that people must have felt, the man haunts that must have happened, the incomprehension felt by those Americans…

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military commanders to prescribe military areas and to exclude “any or all persons” from such areas. The order also authorized the construction of what would later be called “relocation centers” by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house those who were to be excluded. This order resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens. 

Today is a National Historic Site that can be visited from dawn to sunset, on foot or by car, following a defined route which guides you through where the different parts of the camp were located, of which only a handful are standing or have been re-constructed.

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See also some pictures from the other spots that I mentioned we saw during that day:

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One response to “Manzanar War Relocation Center

  1. Pingback: Hiroshima and the Enola Gay | The Blog by Javier

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