Black bear eating from my apple tree, August night, 2012

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Manzanar National Historic Site

Some of our most interesting National Parks sites are so remote, very few people manage to visit them. Manzanar National Historic Site in California is one such place. Situated in the gorgeous but somewhat inhospitable Owens Valley on Highway 395, tucked between Death Valley to the east and the sheer escarpment of the Sierras to the west, this Historic Site is one that takes some planning and  a real desire to investigate. It is well worth your effort. Like battlefields and Native American sites managed by NPS, Manzanar serves as a poignant reminder of a dark time in our nation's history, and while sobering, the stories it tells, of the people who lived and died there, are stories we all need to know.

From the NPS brochure (boldface is mine):

"Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor led the United States into World War II, and radically changed the lives of 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry living in the U.S. The attack intensified racial prejudices and led to fear of potential sabotage and espionage by Japanese Americans among some in the government, military, news media, and public. In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing
 the Secretary of War to establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort. Without due process, the government gave everyone of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast only days to decide what to do with their houses, farms, businesses, and other possessions...

...Each family was assigned an identification number and loaded into cars, buses, trucks, and trains, taking only what they could carry. Japanese Americans were transported under military guard to 17 temporary assembly centers located at racetracks, fairgrounds, and similar facilities in Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona. Then they were moved to one of 10 hastily built relocation centers. By November 1942 the relocation was complete."

I am always stunned to find Americans who have no knowledge of the fact that we sent some of our citizens to internment camps here in the good-old USA during these turbulent times. Two-thirds of the people sent to Manzanar (some people call it a "concentration camp") were American citizens by birth.

Please hit the link above to learn more about this particular camp, and to find out about the uncertain futures the internees faced during this difficult time. Our freedom is everything, and these innocent, hard-working citizens did not deserve to be herded up and fenced in by the military, losing everything, due to paranoia. No matter where you stand politically, I hope you'll agree that this kind of prejudice and government action was unwarranted, and not at all in keeping in line with our Constitution. If you happen to be traveling past this remote historic place, please stop and ponder for an hour or two. Somber yet, beautiful, the time you spend here will change your world view and make you appreciate the simple freedoms we all take for granted.