"When we are dealing with the Caucasian race we have methods that will test the loyalty of them. But when we deal with the Japanese, we are on an entirely different field." — California Attorney General Earl Warren and latter Governor and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
The most abhorrent act since the end of slavery in the United States was the relocation of thousands of Japanese-Americans to War Relocation Centers during the Second World War. These relocation centers were located in California, Arizona, Arkansas, Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming with one of the largest and most well-known was the center at Manzanar in the Owens Valley of California.
Approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese who lived along the Pacific coast of the United States were relocated to 26 camps called "War Relocation Camps," in the wake of Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 The internment of Japanese Americans was applied unequally throughout the United States. Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast of the United States were all interned, while in Hawaii, where more than 150,000 Japanese Americans composed over one-third of the territory's population, 1,200 to 1,800 Japanese Americans were interned. Of those interned, 62% were American citizens.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066, issued February 19, 1942, which allowed local military commanders to designate "military areas" as "exclusion zones," from which "any or all persons may be excluded." This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and most of Oregon and Washington, except for those in internment camps. In 1944, the Supreme Court (Korematsu v. United States) upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders, while noting that the provisions that singled out people of Japanese ancestry were a separate issue outside the scope of the proceedings. The United States Census Bureau assisted the internment efforts by providing confidential neighborhood information on Japanese Americans. The Bureau's role was denied for decades but was finally proven in 2007.
In the aftermath of Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Manzanar was transformed from a sleepy abandoned orchard to a mile-square, prison-like camp, one of 10 across the country. Over 10,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them American citizens, were brought there to live, most for the duration of World War II. In that time, they overcame primitive conditions and their own internal divisions, and, together with the War Relocation Authority (WRA) staff charged with overseeing them, they created a livable wartime city.
In 1905, John Shepherd sold his 1,300-acre George's Creek ranch to Charles Chaffey, brother of Southern California irrigation developer George Chaffey, for $25,000. The Chaffeys planned to turn Shepherd's and other properties nearby into an apple-growing subdivision modeled after the irrigated citrus colonies George had launched east of Los Angeles. Doing business as the Owens Valley Improvement Company, the Chaffeys and their investors called their venture the Manzanar Irrigated Farms. A town built in the center would be Manzanar, Spanish for "apple orchard."
Manzanar's orchards fell into neglect after 1934, but many kept producing, and each fall, local residents harvested their fruit for pies and preserves. Cattle grazed contentedly in the former hay fields, and teenagers raced their jalopies after dark in the deserted orchard rows. Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, shattered that calm in the Owens Valley and across America. War hysteria soon enveloped Pacific coastal cities, but in the Owens Valley, isolated from the coast by the Sierra Nevada, few residents felt in danger. As calls for the removal of all ethnic Japanese from coastal areas grew louder, President. Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. Eight days later, military officials appeared in the Owens Valley and selected the orchards and former town site at Manzanar as the location of the first "processing center" for "evacuated" Japanese. Manzanar's isolation, agricultural potential, and access to water and power sources met the military's requirements. But its landowner, Los Angeles, vehemently protested locating the camp within 1 mile of its aqueduct, which was considered a defense installation. Assured of military protection, Los Angeles agreed to a lease of 6,000 acres for the camp.
The Manzanar Relocation Center, established as the Owens Valley Reception Center, was first run by the U.S. Army's Wartime Civilian Control Administration (WCCA). It later became the first relocation center to be operated by the War Relocation Authority (WRA). The center was located at the former farm and orchard community of Manzanar. Founded in 1910, the town was abandoned when the city of Los Angeles purchased the land in the late 1920s for its water rights. The Los Angeles aqueduct, which carries Owens Valley water to Los Angeles, is a mile east of Manzanar. Begun in March of 1942, the relocation center was built by Los Angeles contractor Griffith and Company. Construction proceeded 10 hours a day 7 days a week; major construction was completed within six weeks. On March 21 the first 82 Japanese Americans made the 220-mile trip by bus from Los Angeles. More volunteers soon followed to help build the relocation center: over the next few days 146 more Japanese Americans arrived in 140 cars and trucks under military escort. Another 500 Japanese Americans, mostly older men, arrived from Los Angeles by train. By mid-April, up to 1,000 Japanese Americans were arriving at Manzanar a day and by mid-May Manzanar had a population of over 7,000. By July Manzanar's population was nearly 10,000. Over 90 percent of the evacuees were from the Los Angeles area; others were from Stockton, California, and Bainbridge Island, Washington.
U.S. Department of Justice officials, meanwhile, had rounded up hundreds of Japanese aliens with ties to Japanese cultural or political activities. Families left behind faced growing isolation and uncertainty about their own futures. Despite the reluctance of many in the military and government to undertake a project clearly in violation of citizen rights, plans for the "gradual and orderly removal" of more than 100,000 ethnic Japanese from Military Area No. 1, along the coast, went forward. Most were taken first to one of 16 assembly centers, usually in converted racetracks and fairgrounds. There they remained, some for up to six months, until the relocation centers were built. The Owens Valley Reception Center at Manzanar, however, was the first and only destination for most of the 10,000 people sent there.
Japanese Americans were by far the most widely affected group, as all persons with Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast and southern Arizona. As then California Attorney General Earl Warren put it, "When we are dealing with the Caucasian race we have methods that will test the loyalty of them. But when we deal with the Japanese, we are on an entirely different field." In Hawaii, where there were 140,000 Americans of Japanese Ancestry (constituting 37% of the population), only selected individuals of heightened perceived risk were interned.
Americans of Italian and German ancestry were also targeted by these restrictions, including internment. 11,000 people of German ancestry were interned, as were 3,000 people of Italian ancestry, along with some Jewish refugees. The Jewish refugees who were interned came from Germany, and the U.S. government didn't differentiate between ethnic Jews and ethnic Germans (Jewish was defined as religious practice). Some of the internees of European descent were interned only briefly, and others were held for several years beyond the end of the war. Like the Japanese internees, these smaller groups had American-born citizens in their numbers, especially among the children. A few members of ethnicities of other Axis countries were interned, but exact numbers are unknown. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson was responsible for assisting relocated people with transport, food, shelter, and other accommodations.
Many notable liberal progressives such as Roosevelt, William Douglas, Chief Justice Hugo Black and Earl Warren supported the internment of these Japanese Americans as vital to the war effort. One dissenting voice was that of J. Edgar Hoover the director of the FBI. Hoover’s opposition stemmed not so much from a constitutional or civil rights position, but from a belief that the FBI could handle any security threat to the United States from citizens of foreign ancestry. He believed that the most likely spies had already been arrested by the FBI shortly after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
It should be noted that not one case of espionage or treason was attributed to people of Japanese ancestry and the only real cases of treason or espionage were against Germans and Communists like Klaus Fuchs, Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs.
Executive Order No. 9066 came about as a result of great prejudice and wartime hysteria after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even before the Japanese-Americans were relocated, their livelihood was seriously threatened when all accounts in American branches of Japanese banks were frozen. Then, religious and political leaders were arrested and often put into holding facilities or relocation camps without letting their families know what had happened to them.
The order to have all Japanese-Americans relocated had serious consequences for the Japanese-American community. Even children adopted by Caucasian parents were removed from their homes to be relocated. Sadly, most of those relocated were American citizens by birth. Many families wound up spending three years in facilities. Most lost or had to sell their homes at a great loss and close down numerous businesses. This was a boon for the banks and real estate speculators.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor many Caucasian Americans, who viewed the Japanese as competition, saw the Exclusionary Act as an opportunity get rid of their competition. “Japs not wanted” signs and posters were in abundance all along the west coast.
Thirty-six drab and depressingly identical barracks blocks, each with 300 or more occupants, functioned as both living and administrative units at Manzanar. Gradually their sameness gave way to unique identities, many formed by internees' prewar ties. Manzanar's 10,000 people came from dozens of communities in Southern California and elsewhere. As the exclusion orders emptied neighborhoods and towns, authorities generally moved their residents to the same camp and often assigned them housing together. At Manzanar, West Los Angeles residents lived in Block 22, while those from the San Fernando Valley occupied Block 28. Bainbridge Island, Washington, strawberry farmers in Block 3 were next to Terminal Island, California, fishermen in Blocks 9 and 10.
Special groups had their own living areas. Children of even partial Japanese heritage without parents or families-those in orphanages and foster care included-came under the mandatory evacuation order. All were brought to Manzanar, and a total of 101 children, together with staff, lived in the landscaped three-building Children's Village set in a firebreak near the pear orchard. Nearby, doctors and nurses had quarters at the hospital; other internee medical workers lived in Blocks 29 and 34 across the street. Often shunned by older Issei fearful of disease, medical personnel formed their own close-knit community. War Relocation Authority staff, including teachers, lived first in Block 7, enduring primitive barracks conditions with internees. By early 1943, the "Beverly Hills of Manzanar," as the WRA area was known to internees, was ready. The 22 well-built, gleaming white barracks were configured as dormitories or family apartments with kitchens and baths and housed nearly 300 staff and their families. Employees had their own mess hall, recreation club, and Victory Garden. Some, including children, socialized with their Nisei (or American-born, second-generation Japanese) counterparts at internee parties, baseball games, and weddings. But others clearly felt the invisible barrier that lay between them. At Project Director Ralph Merritt's insistence, the staff housing was inside the fenced internee living area, a symbolic gesture that, as he later wrote, "we are all in this together."
More essential than the luggage Japanese Americans carried into Manzanar was their response to sudden confinement: "shikata ga ni," or "it cannot be helped." Most chose to go on with life: they fell in love, succeeded in school, worked productively, had fun, and learned new skills. "The threads of normal life that were broken with the evacuation were slowly mending," wrote the Manzanar Free Press. To people accustomed to work and activity, the enforced idleness and boredom of early camp life were, for many, more difficult to bear than the primitive barracks and inedible food. It was no surprise, then, that from the beginning, internees took the camp's urgent needs into their own hands when they could, and those with skills and talents stepped forward to help make the best of a very bad situation. Volunteer teachers started nursery schools, gardeners planted lawns, restaurant chefs helped set up mess halls, and doctors and nurses organized a hospital.
Leisure-time activities gave morale a lift as well, and a WRA Community Activities section employed 150 internees who supervised arts and crafts, athletics, gardening, music, the Boy Scouts, and social events. Weekly Sunday night Concerts Under the Stars brought out 1,000 or more classical music lovers who gathered in the south firebreak and listened to selections from records played by internee Harry Ushyjima. Nearly 3,000 adults took Americanization classes and courses in English, history, science, and sewing during 1942, and while many internees turned to church-going, others "made the best of it" by distilling prohibited rice gin in their barracks. Devoted fishermen found the Sierra Nevada's nearby streams irresistible and regularly crawled under the barbed-wire fence with rods and reels in hand. More than any other activity, though, baseball brought the excitement, competition, and identity with America that many internees yearned for. When the Aces, Scorpions, Broncos, or Gophers played, anticipation built and thousands came to watch at the field near Block 19. "Softball governs," wrote the Manzanar Free Press, "150 teams rule supreme."
The decades-long effort to gain recognition for Manzanar led to designations as a California State Landmark, a National Historic Landmark, and, in 1992, a National Historic Site. Today a new, nonresident community includes National Park Service staff and nearly 90,000 visitors annually. Among them are many who once lived at Manzanar.
It was not until 1988 when President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation stated that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership", and beginning in 1990, the government paid $20,000 in reparations to the surviving internees.
We must remember the words of Benjamin Franklin when he said; “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
This post is an excerpt from a longer and more detailed article about Manzanar I have published on the Web. You can read the full PDF version of the article by clicking here or an HTML version by clicking here.
You can access a full gallery of photos from my visit to Manzanar by clicking here