Today I visited the Manzanar “war relocation center” near Lone Pine, California. It was one of ten camps where the US Government held 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Two thirds of these people were American citizens, many born in this country and yet they were deprived of their liberty and property without due process.
I felt very sad visiting here, similar to how I felt at Auschwitz. No, Manzanar did not have gas chambers or the brutality of Auschwitz, but in both places people lost their liberty and dignity.
I knew Japanese Americans who had been interned but knew little of their story until I purchased a copy of “Manzanar” by Ansel Adams. He photographed the camp in 1943 while it was still occupied. He said of his work:
“The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and despair by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment.”
I have great respect for Ansel’s Manzanar images and his views on the internment because it was not popular to defend the “Japs” at that time.
Fortunately he was not alone in speaking up, there were others such as newspaper editor Walter Woodward and librarian Clara Breed, also the Quakers were vocal critics of the internment policy.
Surprisingly however, there were very few politicians who stood up to decry this situation, but one who did was Governor Carr of Colorado who said:
“If you harm them, you must harm me.”
Unfortunately his continued support for the Japanese ended his promising political career. But what a wonderful legacy: here was a man who would not trade his honor for popularity or office.
Visiting Manzanar reinforced my commitment to not allow such tragedies to happen again. In the face of injustice and overwhelming popular opinion for the same, I hope I can be as principled and vocal as Ansel Adams and Governor Carr.
P.S. I created two images at Manzanar today, one is above, the other below.