Tuesday, March 10, 2009
There is lots to see on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada; Bodie, the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, and Manzanar, a National Historical Site between Lone Pine and Independence on Highway 395. In the dark days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor harsh feelings were growing against the Japanese Americans who lived in California, and on February 1 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. Manzanar was the first of ten Relocation Centers and remains the best known.
It's a sobering place, lonely and harsh, and one imagines the despair the refugees felt on getting off the buses here in the middle of nowhere.
But they endeavored to persevere, as Chief Lone Wattie said, and turned the camp into a thriving, industrious place, turned desert into gardens, and sand into baseball fields and lived as happy lives as they were able for the duration of the war.
It's a shameful page of American history, but one can understand the wartime tension that caused this. For west coasters, the Japanese invasion seemed imminent, and the thousands of Japanese Americans must have been looked upon with great suspicion, however groundless it turned out to be.
Manzanar is a must-see experience; an abject lesson for what can happen when countries go to war. If you're in the area, take a few minutes and tour Manzanar. You won't be sorry.