Revisiting Camp and Community: A Consideration of Its Relevance for the 2012 Day of Remembrance at the Manzanar National Historic Site
March 2, 2012 2 Comments
Dr. Arthur A. Hansen, Professor Emeritus of History and Asian American Studies, California State University, Fullerton, was the guest lecturer at the Manzanar National Historic Site, February 18-19, 2012, when he discussed Manzanar in a local, Owens Valley-related context, while highlighting universal themes such as fear, friendship, loss, and loyalty. The lectures were held in honor of the Day of Remembrance.
Dr. Hansen has graciously shared his presentation with us.
by Dr. Arthur A. Hansen
As probably many of you here today are well aware, the year 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the signing on February 19, 1942, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of Executive Order 9066. It was this presidential order that set in motion the forced mass eviction of over 100,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, or Nikkei—two-thirds of them U.S. citizens—from their West Coast homes and communities, and their subsequent incarceration in U S. Government-sanctioned confinement centers, such as the one here in the Owens Valley at this very Manzanar site.
The United States and Japan were then at war, which got declared two months earlier in the immediate wake of the December 7, 1941, surprise morning attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Struck by 353 Japanese fighter, bomber, and torpedo planes launched in two waves from six aircraft carriers, the attack sank four U.S Navy battleships, and sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. Also, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed.
As for the human toll of the attack, it was very high as well, with 2,402 Americans killed, and another 1,282 wounded. Eighteen years ago, in 1994, Congress designated December 7 of each year as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and this designation ushered in the tradition of flying the flag of the United States on that day until sunset in honor of dead patriots.
Although no evidence whatsoever of Nikkei disloyalty was uncovered in either Hawaii or the U.S. mainland, Japanese Americans were nonetheless assumed, because of their ancestry, to be potential conspirators. As a consequence, Executive Order 9066 was deemed a “military necessity” by both U.S. Government declaration, and widespread American public acclamation.
Forty-six years later, on August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. That Act consecrated the findings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a Congress-appointed blue-ribbon group of Americans, that the World War II exclusion and detention of Japanese Americans had not been justified by military necessity. Rather, the Commission’s 1983 report, titled, Personal Justice Denied, and based upon extensive archival research and a cross-section of testimonies by 750 witnesses at nationwide hearings held in 1981, determined that the government’s 1942 decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans had been based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 also implemented the Commission’s legislative recommendations, which consisted of an official Government apology, redress payments of $20,000 to each of the survivors of the wartime camps, and a public education fund to help ensure that the sort of social catastrophe that Japanese Americans underwent during World War II would not happen to other Americans in the future.
I think most of us here today will agree that those Americans killed, injured, or simply caught up in the carnage of Japan’s December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor were victims of imperialistic war and that these individuals, moreover, are worthy of their annual recognition on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. I suspect, too, that the great majority of us here today also share the belief that those Americans of Japanese ancestry imprisoned in American-style concentration camps like Manzanar during World War II were victims of legalized racism, and thus rightly merit the annual Day of Remembrance celebrations that have flowered across the country in the wake of the very first such event staged in Seattle on November 25, 1978, to simultaneously draw attention to the redress issue and to rally the Nikkei community together in support of redress.
But what I want to address directly with you today is not the victimization of either those ambushed nationalists at Pearl Harbor who lost their lives or limbs or psychological equilibrium, or those face-of-the-enemy Japanese Americans confined behind barbed wire who were stripped of their property, civil and human rights, freedom, honor, and personal dignity. Quite properly, there has been a great deal spoken, written, dramatized, and visually represented about both of these two horrendous instances of historical victimhood, and there is every indication that the high-tide of this representation has still not been reached or the public appetite for such representation even slightly diminished.
In contrast, precious little has been developed in any of these diverse communicative formats to represent the “victimized” World War II experience of the residents of the Owens Valley, a topic that the student historians in the Japanese American Oral History Project at California State University, Fullerton, investigated and documented for posterity three and one-half decades ago. It is this particular local historical experience that the staff of the Manzanar National Historic Site has asked me (this afternoon/this morning) to review and critically explore in my presentation, which I have entitled Revisiting Camp and Community: A Consideration of Its Relevance for the 2012 Day of Remembrance at the Manzanar National Historic Site.
It is decidedly not my contention that Owens Valley wartime inhabitants were victims in any way remotely comparable to those who suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune either on the “Day of Infamy,” or during the “Years of Infamy.” Indeed, the difference in victimhood experienced by home front Owens Valley civilians as against that by blind-sided American military enlistees at Pearl Harbor and banished Japanese American detainees in concentration camps was clearly a difference sufficiently great in degree as to constitute a difference in kind.
In what sense, then, were those who called the Owens Valley their World War II home “victims?” And in a similar vein, what possessed Cal State Fullerton’s Japanese American Oral History Project, which in 1977 published Camp and Community: Manzanar and the Owens Valley, to link the wartime ordeals of the less than 10,000 Owens Valley free civilian population with Manzanar’s more than 10,000 Japanese American inmates by dedicating its book “To All Residents of the Owens Valley, 1942-1946.”
In response to these rhetorical questions, let me share with you the answers to them that Camp and Community’s co-editors, Jessie A. Garrett and Ronald C. Larson, provided in the conclusion to their introductory essay:
In many ways the situation in the Owens Valley was a microcosm of that in the country at large. Yet, there was this important difference: the Valley had to cope with the very “devil” that the American society sought to exorcise through the evacuation. Suddenly those in the Valley found themselves with ten thousand “deviants” on their doorstep. It was…[as one prominent Owens Valley wartime resident, District Attorney George Francis, pointed out at the time] comparable to making Los Angeles County a dumping-ground for three million Japanese. Nor was the Valley given any real preparation for the “invasion.”
“It just happened,” testified another wartime Owens Valley resident. “I mean, there wasn’t any, to my knowledge, pre-warning, there weren’t any discussions. The local communities [of the Owens Valley] weren’t consulted. And pretty soon, we saw in the newspapers that this was going to happen, and that the federal government had made a deal with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for the use of the land at Manzanar to put in the Manzanar War Relocation Center.
”[Still] another…[Owens Valley resident] recalled that “it all happened so fast….They were here before you even realized it, really.”
“In light of the…[foregoing information], it can be seen that those in the Owens Valley, like the Japanese Americans incarcerated at Manzanar, were victims of the evacuation policy. Though differing from the internees in not being the targets of racism and economic exploitation, they too underwent an abrupt dislocation from their customary way of life. In dedicating this book to all the wartime residents of the Owens Valley, we have sought to give tacit recognition to this situation. It must be kept in mind that the people of Owens Valley, while sharing in the societal blame for the racist policy of the Japanese American Evacuation [i.e., exclusion and confinement], were not directly responsible for it. Camp and Community is intended not as an apologia for the thoughts and deeds of Owens Valley people, but as a vehicle for inculcating greater understanding of them. The cancer of prejudice will never by eradicated by name-calling, selective indignation, or mere exhortation. Only through understanding its causes will we gain a basis for its future elimination. Oral history has a part to play in this humanistic enterprise, for by elevating the sources of prejudice to a conscious level—for interviewers, interviewees, and readers alike—it can promote tolerance and therefore provide a precondition for changed attitudes and actions.”
Before assaying the contents of Camp and Community, let me spend some time filling you in on the back story to this volume. The Japanese American Oral History Project of the Cal State Fullerton Oral History Program was launched in 1972 at the urging of a re-entry upper-division student, Betty Mitson, who was then enrolled in my Historical Methods class. That particular semester, I had assigned all of the students in the class to complete a research paper on the topic of the World War II Japanese American exclusion and detention experience. Ironically, it was a subject that Ms. Mitson knew quite well, having written a term paper on it the previous semester in an oral history class. Moreover, she convinced me that she could spend her time for my class more profitably by transcribing, editing, and indexing (that is, doing the technical processing) for the few interviews in the general collection of the Oral History Program relating to the assigned topic, while concurrently collecting and collating pertinent research materials for exploitation by her classmates.
At this point in time, 1972, I knew virtually nothing about either the subject of the so-called “Japanese American Evacuation” or oral history methodology. My motivation for assigning each student in my class to write a research paper on some aspect of the World War II experience of Japanese Americans was that the thirty-year anniversary of this event afforded a convenient way of imparting historical perspective to the then raging contemporary concern in the United States with civil liberties, human rights, social justice, and ethnic consciousness.
One immediate result of my arrangement with Mitson was that, in reviewing Mitson’s technical processing work, I became drawn—or rather, I was plunged—into every facet of the oral history process via the topic of the “Japanese American Evacuation.” Before long, I found myself becoming less Mitson’s teacher than her student, as she instructed me in the art of oral history interviewing, transcription, editing, and indexing. Moreover, the dynamic, dialogical character of the oral history data that I was working with had the effect of deepening my understanding of and stimulating my curiosity about the entire subject of the “Evacuation.”
Mitson then encouraged me to suggest to the then-director of the CSU Fullerton Oral History Program that the program formally constitute a project pivoting upon the history and culture of Japanese Americans, with particular attention being paid to the events surrounding World War II. Upon receiving the director’s endorsement of this proposal, the Japanese American Oral History Project, with Mitson as associate director and me as director, became a reality.
Over the next two years, Mitson and I teamed up on two important undertakings. In Spring 1973, under my overall coordination, we staged, through the University of California, Irvine, Extension Program, the first-ever lecture series devoted to the World War II Japanese American experience: “Japanese American Internment during World War II: A Socio-Historical Inquiry.” Then in fall 1974, we co-edited for publication the first oral history book devoted to the same subject, which we titled Voices Long Silent: An Oral Inquiry into the Japanese American Evacuation. This book was an anthology of essays and oral histories, all of which focused on personalities and events connected with the Manzanar wartime experience.
Although most of the oral documentation (interviews and speeches) included in Voices Long Silent showcased notable Manzanarians such as Sue Kunitomi Embrey (the person most responsible for Manzanar being designated a National Historic Site), Togo Tanaka, and Karl and Elaine Yoneda, the book also contained the edited transcript of an interview that one of my students, David Bertagnoli, and I had transacted with longtime Owens Valley resident Anna Kelley at her Independence home on the evening of December 6, 1973.
In the early days of the Manzanar camp, Kelly had been the first-aid operator for the crews constructing the camp buildings. From her post she was in a unique position, as a comparatively “objective” observer, to monitor the events inside the camp in its beginning stages. As an Independence resident and, with her husband, O.K. Kelley, the operator of a town gas station, she was, during the same period, able to ascertain the reaction of Owens Valley towns folk to the camp. It was this experience of interviewing Anna Kelley that crystallized my already growing conviction that communities located in close proximity to so-called “relocation centers” were untapped repositories of vast amounts of potentially very useful oral history research documentation.
David Bertagnoli was another student of mine who, like Betty Mitson, turned out to be one of my greatly valued mentors. In the summer preceding our winter 1973 interview with Anna Kelley, Bertagnoli was enrolled in a summer school section of Historical Methods that I was then teaching. In this class, I not only had the students write an original research paper about a selected dimension of the Japanese American World War II story, but, at Betty Mitson’s prodding, also made each of them responsible for undertaking an in-depth interview with an individual, whether of Japanese or non-Japanese ancestry, who could illuminate some important but heretofore neglected facet of their chosen research topic. It was agreed further that all of these interviews would be transcribed and eventually deposited for scholarly and public use in the Japanese American Oral History Project of the CSUF Oral History Program.
Eventually two of the students in that 1973 class, one of whom was David Bertagnoli, requested that they be permitted to modify the original assignment so that they could conduct a series of short, focused interviews with individuals living in the areas proximate to the two wartime confinement centers for Japanese Americans located in California: the Tule Lake Relocation/Segregation Center, near the Oregon border, and eastern California-situated Manzanar War Relocation Center. Having had this deviation in the assignment approved by me with alacrity, Bertagnoli wrote to Henry Raub, the then director of the Eastern California Museum in Independence. That museum then featured a special exhibit on the Japanese American wartime experience at Manzanar curated by former camp inmate Shi Nomura, with the able assistance of his wife, Mary Kageyama Nomura, the fabled Songbird of Manzanar.
In his letter to Raub, Bertagnoli asked him to compile a list of appropriate interview prospects among the residents of the communities surrounding Manzanar. Director Raub not only duly complied with this request, but also took it upon himself to introduce Bertagnoli to the initial group of interviewees (or narrators), and later agreed himself to be interviewed by Bertagnoli. A conscientious and indefatigable researcher, Bertagnoli made two field trips to the Owens Valley that July, interviewing people in the communities of Lone Pine and Independence and gathering names of prospective interviewees. During the subsequent fall semester of 1973, on an independent study basis, he took two further interviewing trips to the area alone, and finally, accompanied by me and another student from the summer class, still another two.
Had David Bertagnoli not been inducted into the Armed Forces in January 1974, I would have recruited him to serve as the editor for the volume that turned out to be Camp and Community. In his absence, I turned to two other students affiliated with the Japanese American Oral History Project, Jessie Garrett (an undergraduate journalism major of mixed Japanese/Hispanic/and Euro American ancestry) and Ron Larson (a graduate history student of Danish American heritage specializing in Japanese American studies). So it was these two students who co-edited the collection of oral history interviewees with eighteen current residents of the Owens Valley who had lived in the area during World War II and had expressed a willingness to talk on tape about their wartime memories of Manzanar. Some of you in the audience today may know these people or their families or at least recognize them by name. So let me now name them for you: Jack Hopkins, Anna Kelley, Ethelyne Joseph, Katharine Krater, Arleigh Brierly, Mary Gillespie, Elodie Drew, Norvil Aigner, Albert Aigner, Dorothy Cragen, Rollin Bell, Frank Harry, Pauline Miller, Hubert Miller, Bessie Pedneau, Frank Pedneau, and one interviewee who chose to be designated as “anonymous.”
Of these eighteen, ten lived in Lone Pine and eight in Independence; nine were men and nine were women; all but one of them were over sixty-five years of age, with the oldest being eighty-nine; and all except one, a Chinese American woman, were of Euro American descent. In addition to these interviewees, two other interviews rounded out the book, one placed at its beginning and the other at its end. The opening interview was one I had conducted in two sessions (the first in late 1973, the second in early 1974) with Robert Brown, an Orange County retiree who before the war had lived and worked in the Owens Valley both as a teacher in the town of Big Pine and as the executive secretary of the Inyo-Mono Associates, a valley-wide chamber of commerce, and who, during the war, made his home in the Owens Valley town of Bishop while holding down the successive positions at Manzanar of reports officer and assistant project director in charge of operations.
The closing interview in Camp and Community was with the aforementioned Eastern California Museum director Henry Raub. Whereas Robert Brown’s interview provided a panoramic overview of the Owens Valley communities in the immediate prewar and wartime years, including their populations, socio-cultural characters, economic bases, and political power networks, the interview with Henry Raub offered his knowledge about local Owens Valley-based attempts to get Manzanar designated as a historical site prior to this goal being accomplished in 1975 by the joint action of the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League.
Fortuitously, after my second interview with Robert Brown at his Leisure World Retirement Community home in Orange County’s Laguna Niguel, he bestowed upon me a gift of his personal copy of the Final Report on the Manzanar Relocation Center that he had supervised and co-compiled with his close friend, Ralph Palmer Merritt, who had served as Manzanar’s project director from November 1942 to February 1946. Among other invaluable material in this final report, produced for the War Relocation Authority (which administered Manzanar and nine other “relocation camps”), I found two unpublished stories about the Manzanar camp, one by a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Milton Silverman, which had been written in April 1942, and the other by Rudie Henderson, the owner of the Lone Pine Lumber Company, that had been penned in late 1943. Both of these reports, although largely concerned with events within the Manzanar compound proper, also included colorful and insightful sections within them that dealt with the response of Owens Valley townspeople to the Manzanar camp.
These two contemporary accounts by Silverman and Henderson were properly noted by those of us comprising the Japanese American Oral History Project , but they did not become truly important to us until two years hence, in 1975. That was when a complement of our project journeyed from the Cal State Fullerton campus in Orange County to the Owens Valley to collect photographs of the people who David Bertagnoli and I had earlier interviewed, to locate primary source material that could supply historical context for their taped recollections, and to attend the Manzanar Pilgrimage to be held on April 19, 1975, at the Manzanar site.
In the outset of their introduction to Camp and Community, co-editors Garrett and Larson describe how late in the day previous to the pilgrimage, April 18, 1975, the Japanese American Project cohort group who had come to the Owens Valley had motored into the Manzanar site so as to better familiarize ourselves with the camp’s physical environs. When our curiosity was aroused by a cluster of unidentifiable artifacts, I steered our automobile, a 1974 VW Dasher, off of the compound’s non-maintained roads for closer scrutiny of the artifacts. What appeared solid ground turned out to be treacherous wind-deposited surface soil. Our tour had come to an abrupt end. With the Dasher mired to the axle, our project members could now better understand one of the natural forces imperiling confined Manzanarians only three short decades before. After several futile attempts to free the Dasher, the sun disappeared behind the towering High Sierra and our project members were exposed to still another natural force bedeviling its wartime population—bone-penetrating cold.
Fortunately, after having reconciled ourselves to spending the night in the camp as latter-day prisoners, one of our project members spotted a light shining from a trailer adjacent to the sole remaining wartime building on the site (which had served Manzanarians, after 1944, as an auditorium but was presently functioning as a garage for the Inyo County Road Department). Help was soon forthcoming, as the trailer’s occupant, a Road Department watchman, graciously telephoned a towing service in Independence to ask for assistance. Let me now tell you what transpired by sharing with you the relevant section of Garrett’s and Larson’s Introduction:
Within the hour, the shivering project members were comforted by the approaching headlights and roaring engine of the O.K. Kelley & Son tow truck. Grinding to a halt alongside the hopelessly ensconced vehicle, the elderly and warm-spirited O.K. Kelley [the husband of one of the project’s interviewees, Anna Kelley] bounded out of his cab, shot a bewildered glance at the beleaguered party and asked, “What in heaven’s name are you people doing out here in Jap Camp?”
‘“Jap Camp’! The offending term, while assuredly not unfamiliar to those in the Japanese American [Oral History] Project, had a momentarily numbing effect upon them. Throughout the process of being towed onto sturdy ground and safely escorted out of “Jap Camp” by this Owens Valley samaritan, they grappled privately with his enigmatic epithet. Later, in the sanctuary of their Lone Pine lodgings [at the Willow Motel, constructed of one-time Manzanar barracks], they collectively sought to resolve the paradox of an unmistakably decent man using what seemed to them to be an unmistakably indecent term. The paradox was unresolved that night, and only partial resolution emerged during the technical processing of the interviews that were to be included in Camp and Community. Nonetheless, pondering that invidious phrase of O.K. Kelley’s, and its root derivative, provided us [co-editors Garrett and Larson] with a tentative resolution (as well as an animating purpose) for our oral history inquiry into the impact of the Manzanar camp on the people of the Owens Valley.”
When looking for help in trying to unravel the mystery presented to them by O.K. Kelley’s reference to “Jap Camp,” Garrett and Larson recalled the reports by Milton Silverman and Rudie Henderson that they had read in Robert Brown’s and Ralph Merritt’s Final Report on the Manzanar War Relocation Center. However, they now read them very carefully. The better written and fuller developed report was the one marked “For Confidential Use” by Silverman, a well-known feature writer for the San Francisco Chronicle given a 60-day assignment by the Western Defense Command to investigate the operation of reception or assembly centers administered by the WDC’s civilian arm, the Wartime Civilian Control Administration.
Written in April 1942, this report covered only the first two months of Manzanar’s existence as the Owens Valley Reception Center or Manzanar Assembly Center, which in total encompassed the period from March 21 to June 1, 1942. Nonetheless, it captured well the initial reaction of the Owens Valley citizenry to Manzanar. Explained Silverman:
On February 3, 1942, after nearly two months of a mounting demand that ‘the Japs must be removed from the Pacific Coast,’ western alien control coordinator Tom Clark announced alien Japanese would be moved to some still unselected ‘inland farm colonies.’ Exactly a month later, Lieutenant General John DeWitt, the head of the Western Defense Command, announced that American-born Japanese would be evacuated to such colonies along with their alien parents. On March 7, General DeWitt reported the Army had acquired a satisfactory site in the Owens Valley. It was selected because of its distance from any vital defense project (except the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which brought drinking water to 1,500,000 Los Angelenos), its relative inaccessibility, the ease with which it could be policed, and its general geography.
But before the Army was ready to make any announcement of the Manzanar site, before the Owens Valley citizens knew the story, a civilian contractor let this particular cat out of the bag, walking into one of the little Owens Valley towns and announcing: “Well, I’m going to build nine miles of prison camps up here for the Japs.”
Owens Valley and its leading communities—Bishop to the north (population 2,000), Big Pine (500) and Independence (600) in the middle, and Lone Pine (800) in the south—exploded promptly and thoroughly. The valley wanted no prison camps, it wanted no Japanese, and particularly it wanted no deal wherein any part of the City of Los Angeles was concerned. It took nearly two weeks for the valley people to cool down, to realize this was war and the acceptance of the so-called ‘prison camp’ was a necessary wartime sacrifice. Furthermore, and this was spectacularly significant in modifying public opinion, a group of leading valley citizens receiving tentative public works projects which the Japanese could undertake for the permanent benefit of the valley. Moreover, Manzanar was to be a city and not a prison. ‘The Japanese,’ a WCCA official asserted, ‘will go to a well-prepared reception center, not to the hardships of a concentration camp.
But what about the Henderson report? Written late in 1943, at a time when Manzanar had long since been transformed from a WCCA “assembly center” to a War Relocation Authority-administered “relocation center,” the report by Rudie Henderson proved much more useful to Camp and Community co-editors Garrett and Larson in their gaining a longitudinal perspective on the wartime reaction of Owens Valley residents to the Manzanar camp.
Although Henderson owned and operated the Lone Pine Lumber Company, he was also an ex-newspaper reporter, who at one point had run for election to the United States Congress. When Henderson was commissioned by Life magazine, which had supported his Congressional candidacy, to write a story about Manzanar as he saw it from the standpoint of a local valley resident, Henderson readily complied with this arrangement. Henderson’s story on Manzanar was not published in Life as scheduled, however. This was because right then, the celebrated photojournalist Carl Mydans had returned to the U.S. from a Japanese concentration camp in the Philippines, where he and his wife Shelley, herself a journalist, had been interned since 1941, and Mydans had developed a powerful pictorial layout for Life comparing his and his wife’s Philippines experiences with treatment then being received by Japanese Americans confined in the Tule Lake Segregation Center. Thus, Life decided that Henderson’s story was somewhat redundant so, reluctantly, passed on publishing it.
In any event, the very brief section of the Henderson report subtitled “The Reaction of Local Citizens Toward Manzanar,” provided Garrett and Larson with the interpretive tool they needed to make sense out of the overall reaction of the people of the Owens Valley, particularly those living in Inyo County, to the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Here is how Camp and Community’s coeditors summarized what they had learned from Rudie Henderson’s report:
According to Henderson, the citizens of Inyo County (population 7,625) had little pre-war contact with Japanese Americans (“there had never been a resident Jap”), were conservative (“persistently rebelled at normal change”), distrusted “outsiders” (“they grumped that the influx of tourists would ravage their fishing and hunting grounds”), and were simultaneously suspicious of governmental sincerity yet acquiescent to governmental authority (“they believed it possible that 10,000 internees might eventually be the responsibility [law enforcement, educational facilities, and hospitalization] of 7,625 people….[but] fresh in their minds was General De Witt’s blast that ‘A Jap’s a Jap, and it makes no difference if he is an American citizen?”).
Although eventually they accepted the camp’s presence as a necessary war measure, initially. the “almost unanimous reaction was keen resentment and open hostility.” A petition signed by twenty-two businessmen in Lone Pine (population 1,040) requesting permission for limited numbers of internees to shop at their stores was quickly overridden by a counter-petition with more than five hundred signatures, while vituperative remarks directed at the internees were commonplace: [a Lone Pine flight school instructor] “It’s a plain case of the survival of the fittest. It’s either us or the goddam Yellow-bellies! What are we waiting for? The Army needs target practice on those sons-of-bitches!;” [a Lone Pine barber] “We ought to take those Yellow-tails right down to the edge of the Pacific and say to ‘em: ‘Okay boys, over there’s Tokyo. Start walkin’!;” [an Inyo County supervisor and rancher] “A Jap’s a Jap, and by gawd I wouldn’t trust one of ‘em further’n I could throw a bull by the tail!”
However, with the passage of time, resentment and hostility gave way, if not to tolerance, to cautiousness and, ultimately, to indifference.
In their introduction, Garrett and Larson drew upon the interviews done with longtime Owens Valley residents in 1973 to show that there was a marked similarity between Henderson’s contemporary wartime portrait of the Owens Valley response to Manzanar and the retrospective collage emerging from the interviewees thirty years later. I will leave it to you to read the quotations they extract from the interviews with Owens Valley informants to buttress this claim—if and hopefully, when you buy a copy of Camp and Community. But I do want to share with you one portion of the similarity Garrett and Larson claimed between Henderson’s portrait in 1943 and the wartime memories in 1973 by Owens Valley inhabitants in their oral histories, and that portion concerns the attitudinal evolution of Valley residents from open hostility to gradual acceptance of the camp.
In the minds of the interviewees…the initial resentment cited by Henderson appears to have diminished in retrospect. Indeed, a substantial percentage maintain that resentment was absent from the outset, as the following comment indicates: “I don’t know that anybody was ever opposed to it…There probably were some, but I don’t think there was too much prejudice here against them anyway, to start with.”
Yet, this view is offset by memories of antagonistic community response. “As I remember,” a Lone Pine man recounts, “they were really against having the camp up here. It seemed to me that most of the people living in the town were against it.”
And a woman from the same town recalls a still stronger emotional response: “Well, of course, at that time, I’m sure we all felt the same way because we were at war. Naturally, we had a feeling of hatred toward them.”
Moreover, resentment was compounded by fear. “There were people in Independence,” maintains a storekeeper’s wife, “who were just frightened out of their wits; they thought the Japanese were going to break out of Manzanar and we’d all be slaughtered in our beds. We know of at least two men who slept with guns under their beds all the time the Japanese were at Manzanar.”
“I can’t remember the guy’s name,” relates an interviewee [Bob Brown] who served as Manzanar’s reports officer and assistant director, “but there was a guy in Independence who formed his own militia of trained people and they were going to march….they were going to ‘save the women and children of Independence when the Japs broke loose!’”
Indeed, so strong was the fear of and hostility toward the Japanese Americans that frequently economic profit was deliberately forfeited. The former superintendant for the Owens Valley Unified School District [Dorothy Cragen], for example, divulges that the federal government “wanted very much to have the school district here take over the operation of that school [at Manzanar], and I wanted them to do it. But when I approached the board—and I will not mention any names—they simply said to me, ‘We don’t need any Jap money.’” She also reveals that a Lone Pine barber refused to serve a uniformed Japanese American soldier who came to visit his interned parents at Manzanar, while a Lone Pine resident recalls a local baker’s refusal to do business with Caucasians suspected of buying pastries for internees.
Although most of the interviewees substantiate Henderson’s claim that temperance came with time, one Independence woman proved to be the adamant exception. When asked if her attitude toward the Japanese changed as the war progressed, she maintains, “My attitude has never changed… No, I’ll be honest, I just had that feeling.”
“Some, as happens on all occasions,” reflects one interviewee, “were real bitter about it and had bad feelings. But I think generally—the people of Lone Pine anyway—accepted it as a happening and there was no bitterness…I don’t think you could say the people were jumpy about this by any means.”
If people came to accept is as a “happening” without “bitterness,” part of the reason, as a Lone Pine observer notes, was that the area, especially the town of Lone Pine, benefited financially from the presence of the camp. There may have been some who allowed their prejudice to cloud their economic self-interest, but the oral evidence suggests that they represented a minority viewpoint. It also suggests that a lessening of bitterness was accompanied by a lessening of anxiety. Even after the camp was shaken by a riot in December of 1942, the community did not relapse into a state of panic. “The word never got out that it was really bad,” explains one man, “and everyone felt very secure because they had the Army camped there. They had guards all around the camp and they felt sure that there wasn’t going to be any harm to anyone.”
Evidently, what began as an irrational alarm gradually evolved into an attitude of reasoned unconcern. “We had not fear,” muses one Valley man complacently. “I guess we had no feeling at all about them. There may have been a little excitement about all these people moving into the Valley, but that’s about all it amounted to.”
Before closing my presentation and opening up the floor for questions and commentary, I would like to bring up one factor that might have consciously or unconsciously influenced the responses that the eighteen Owens Valley interviewees gave to Cal State Fullerton Japanese American Oral History Project interviewers in their 1973 interviews with them. That factor was this: on April 14, 1973, prior to any of the interviews in Camp and Community, a ceremony was held at the Manzanar site that was attended by some 1,500 people. On this occasion, which was the 4th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage (and the first one attended by me), a controversial plaque was placed on the rock sentry house nearest the highway by the California State Department of Parks and Recreation, in cooperation with the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League. The ceremony, with the installation of the plaque, was significant in that it represented the culmination of more than a year of heated negotiations with the California State Department of Parks and Recreation over whether such terms as “concentration camp” and “racism” ought to be on the plaque that was to make Manzanar a California Historical Landmark.
Ultimately, a compromise was reached whereby the first paragraph of the plaque would be written by the State of California and the second paragraph written jointly by the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League. As for the plaque’s third and final paragraph, it was to consist of compromise language, with the state responsible for the word “hysteria” and the two Nikkei groups supplying the words “racism” and “economic exploitation. Accordingly, the final wording on the plaque read as follows:
In the early part of World War II, 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were interned in relocation centers by Executive Order No. 9066, issued on February 19, 1942.
Manzanar, the first of ten such concentration camps, was bounded by barbed wire and guard towers, confining 10,000 persons, the majority being American citizens.
May the injustices and humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism, and exploitation never emerge again.
In nine (i.e., one-half) of the interviews with long-time Owens Valley residents contained in Camp and Community, the informants were asked by their interviewers to respond to the words on the plaque. So let us together listen very carefully to their responses, singularly and collectively, so as to see whether in the thirty-year span separating the opening of the Manzanar camp in 1942 and the plaque’s installation at Manzanar in 1972, the people who had directly or indirectly experienced both of these events had become more enlightened citizens. After all, an enlightened citizenry is a fundamental pre-condition for any democratic government where, at least in theory, the will of the people is purported to be paramount. Moreover, it is precisely such an enlightened citizenry that annual Day of Remembrance events like this one seek to nurture in the hope that the social disaster experienced by Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II will never be repeated in the future either for Nikkei or any other community of Americans.
Interviewee #1: Anna Kelley (worked at Manzanar camp in its beginnings and later visited it)
Hansen: Would you comment on the wording of the plaque?
Kelley: It shouldn’t say “concentration camp.” It wasn’t one. In a concentration camp, the people are in horrible straits. I mean, in Europe, you know, just terrible and all jammed together and no privileges, no means of keeping themselves clean or anything else. And this is not true of Manzanar. Manzanar was a war relocation center. The living conditions were pretty adverse at first, but after the camp was built and the people had a chance to make themselves comfortable, it was pretty good. It wasn’t bad at all.
Interview #2: Katharine Krater (wife of Independence grocer; author of Owens Valley book)
Bertagnoli: Did you go to the ceremony and stop and read the plaque?
Krater: Yes, I did. My husband and I got the feeling that it will never again be the same. They were identifying…you’re too young to remember the Japanese before the war, but of all the groups, they were the ones that considered themselves Americans. They didn’t hyphenate themselves, and down there at the ceremony they were identifying with the Chicanos, with the Indians at Wounded Knee, with all those oppressed minorities, and they were definitely hyphenated. And I said to my husband afterwards, “I feel uncomfortable here, as though I’m not even wanted.”
Interview #3: Arleigh Brierly (pre-World War II superintendant of Inyo County schools)
Hansen: Is there anything in the wording [of the plaque] to which you take an exception?
Brierly: As I said before, I think it was a good thing that they were locked up. I don’t think that’s what you would call a concentration camp. I don’t know what you’d call it, but they were rounded up and kept there for their own protection.
Interview #4: Donald Branson (worked at Manzanar as foreman for a Nikkei plumbing gang)
Bertagnoli: Would you care to comment on the wording of the plaque?
Branson: Well, the people were treated very well out there in Manzanar, but the bad part of it is that they lost their businesses and their cars, and it broke lots of them.
Bertagnoli: Do you think economic motives played a part in their being put in camps?
Branson: Oh, no, no. I don’t think so. They were put there because of the sneaky way Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor. And the Los Angeles people were afraid of a coastal attack. But this is what happened. I think it was a real sad mistake as far as that goes. But I certainly wouldn’t call Manzanar a concentration camp. They weren’t policed like they would be in a concentration camp. They were given barracks and places to live and plenty to eat. They could roam within the camp, any place they wanted. They had to stay inside, or they were supposed to; they didn’t really all stay inside. They went to work. Lots of them went out in the upper section toward the mountains and this sort of thing. They went fishing in the creeks and did all these kinds of things.
Interview #5: Al Aigner (a schoolmate of Nikkei in Los Angeles before the war; worked during the war with Nikkei at Lone Pine Railroad Station during World War II)
Bertagnoli: Do you care to comment on the plaque’s wording?
Aigner: Well, it’s true. They were humiliated and they lost all their belongings, savings, and cars. As a matter of fact, it just broke their life up. When they did release them, the Japanese had to start all over. But I had to start all over, too, when I came out of the service. Before I enlisted, I had a car, a wife, and money in the bank, but when I came out I was broke. They were a little more alienated than the rest of the people. But what are you going to do when you have a war?
Bertagnoli: Would you call Manzanar a concentration camp?
Aigner: I would, yes. It’s a relocation center as they call it, but I think it’s more or less like a concentration camp, just like in Germany. But, of course, they weren’t treated too badly. They had the best of food and the best of homes. They had their own gardens and they’d go fishing in the creeks after they were there for a year or so. I think they were treated very well while they were there. But I don’t really think they should have been there.
Interview #6: Dorothy Cragen (World War II superintendant of Inyo County schools)
Bertagnoli: Did you go to the dedication ceremony this past spring when they put up the plaque at Manzanar making it a [state] historical landmark.
Cragen: No, I didn’t, and I might add that I’m a little bit unhappy about that plaque. I’m unhappy with the wording. I think that, probably, most of the people who were instrumental in having that plaque put up are not the people who were in the camp, but descendants. And they probably resent it more than the people who were actually there. Now, I’m guessing at this, but I certainly don’t like the wording. I think they should have said, “May the incident at Pearl Harbor, and the succeeding events never emerge again.” I think they should have mentioned the bombing of Pearl Harbor, because after all, that was what set the whole thing off, wasn’t it?
Interview #7: Pauline Miller (wife of a Lone Pine auto dealer and service station owner)
Hansen: Do you think that Manzanar was a concentration camp?
Miller: Well, I think that it was.
Hansen: What exactly comes to mind when you think of a concentration camp?
Miller: Well, just what Manzanar was. They put those people in there and they were locked up. They were really not treated like prisoners or anything, but they were enclosed and weren’t allowed out. That’s my idea of it. I don’t know.
Hansen: So that part of the plaque doesn’t bother you. What about the accusation that the camps were caused by hysteria, racism, and economic exploitation?
Hansen: On all three counts?
Miller: On all three counts, probably.
Interview #8: Herbert Miller (Lone Pine auto dealer)
Bertagnoli: Do you think the Manzanar center was a concentration camp, insofar as you were in the camp several times?
Miller: I don’t know how you define concentration camp. They certainly were interned there, but I don’t know how to define concentration camp—what takes place there or what it really means. I’ve never been in one, so I couldn’t say. All I’ve heard it called was Manzanar Internment Camp.
Bertagnoli: What about the wording saying that the camps were caused by hysteria, racism, and economic exploitation?
Miller: I wouldn’t know how to answer that question. I suppose part of it would be racism.
Interview #9: Bessie Pedneau (a Chinese American woman, and purportedly the only Asian, outside of Manzanar, living in the Owens Valley during World War II; worked for the same talc company as her husband in Darwin, a community 55 miles from the Manzanar camp)
Bertagnoli: Could you give me your opinion on the historical plaque, the wording on the Manzanar plaque?
Pedneau: Well, I don’t see anything the matter with it. It’s the truth, isn’t it? It sounds like the truth to me.
Bertagnoli: There was quite a fight over getting it placed. Between the Manzanar Committee and the Landmarks Committee in Sacramento.
Pedneau: Because they didn’t like the truth?
Bertagnoli: Well, for various reasons, I’m sure, but the two phrases…
Pedneau: …the words “concentration camp?”
Bertagnoli: Yes. Do you feel that it was a concentration camp, though?
Pedneau: Not in the sense that those in Germany were, where they burned the Jews and things like that. But the people here were concentrated into a camp, and they couldn’t come and go freely. In fact, it seems that some of them did come into downtown Lone Pine, but they never did walk the streets. I think some of the local citizens objected to that. They never came into the stores or anything like that, but they would ride in, maybe, or the trucks that came in to pick up supplies or something like that. I don’t think they meant any harm. After all, they probably wanted to get out of there, too. I don’t think they ever did anything wrong.
Thank you for your kind attention to my presentation. Now we can move into the more important portion of today’s Day of Remembrance event—where all of us here can critically explore through dialogue, in the spirit of oral history, both the presentation’s content and its implications for the present and future of America’s democratic society.
The Manzanar Committee’s Official Blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official Blog – Licensing and Copyright Information.