Lessons from Manzanar

For what they “might do”

A road trip north of Los Angeles on Highway 395 went past a monument to one of the ugly chapters in Twentieth Century history: the Manzanar War Relocation Camp where eleven thousand Americans were imprisoned during World War II for what they ‘might do’. It was one of ten such concentration camps in the American West incarcerating 110,000 men, women and children. Here, in the Owens Valley of California, the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains present a stark contrast of geologic beauty and human shamefulness. The United States Government, abetted by local politicians and the media, unconstitutionally deprived Americans of their rights without due process. With racist laws in western states, particularly in California, people of Asian ancestry were prohibited from owning real estate or businesses.  While incarcerated in these camps, these men, women and children were publicly humiliated, lost property (through unpaid leases and property taxes), and forced to live in dusty, cheaply constructed conditions.  During the war, these people were subjected to “loyalty interviews” and eligible men were expected to accept being enlisted in the military to prove themselves. Once FDR realized that the Supreme Court was going to hear a case that would publicly shame him and the policy of internment, the Government initiated a plan to release the internees, comprising $25 payment and a bus ticket to another inner part of the country.

To be continued