Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar During World War II

Life at Manzanar Captured by Ansel Adams

Manzanar War Relocation Center
NARA/Public Domain

Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II. This internment occurred even if they had been long time US citizens and posed not threat. How could the internment of Japanese-Americans have occurred in "the land of the free and the home of the brave?" Read on to learn more.

In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066 into law which eventually forced close to 120,000 Japanese-Americans in the western part of the United States to leave their homes and move to one of ten 'relocation' centers or to other facilities across the nation. This order came about as a result of great prejudice and wartime hysteria after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Even before the Japanese-Americans were relocated, their livelihood was seriously threatened when all accounts in American branches of Japanese banks were frozen. Then, religious and political leaders were arrested and often put into holding facilities or relocation camps without letting their families know what had happened to them.

The order to have all Japanese-Americans relocated had serious consequences for the Japanese-American community. Even children adopted by caucasian parents were removed from their homes to be relocated. Sadly, most of those relocated were American citizens by birth. Many families wound up spending three years in facilities. Most lost or had to sell their homes at a great loss and close down numerous businesses.

The War Relocation Authority (WRA)

The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was created to set up relocation facilities. They were located in desolate, isolated places. The first camp to open was Manzanar in California. Over 10,000 people lived there at its height.

The relocation centers were to be self-sufficient with their own hospitals, post offices, schools, etc. And everything was surrounded by barbed wire. Guard towers dotted the scene. The guards lived separately from the Japanese-Americans.

In Manzanar, apartments were small and ranged from 16 x 20 feet to 24 x 20 feet. Obviously, smaller families received smaller apartments. They were often built of subpar materials and with shoddy workmanship so many of the inhabitants spent some time making their new homes livable. Further, because of its location, the camp was subject to dust storms and extreme temperatures.

Manzanar is also the best preserved of all Japanese-American internment camps not only in terms of site preservation but also in terms of a pictorial representation of life in the camp in 1943. This was the year that Ansel Adams visited Manzanar and took stirring photographs capturing the daily life and surroundings of the camp. His pictures allow us to step back into the time of innocent people who were imprisoned for no other reason than they were of Japanese descent.

When the relocation centers were closed at the end of World War II, the WRA provided inhabitants who had less than $500 a small sum of money ($25), train fare, and meals on the way home. Many inhabitants, however, had nowhere to go. In the end, some had to be evicted because they had not left the camps.

The Aftermath

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act that provided redress for Japanese-Americans. Each living survivor was paid $20,000 for the forced incarceration. In 1989, President Bush issued a formal apology. It is impossible to pay for the sins of the past, but it is important to learn from our errors and not make the same mistakes again, especially in our post-September 11th world. Lumping all people of a specific ethnic origin together as happened with the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans is the antithesis of the freedoms upon which our country was founded.

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Kelly, Martin. "Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar During World War II." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/japanese-internment-manzanar-world-war-ii-104026. Kelly, Martin. (2021, February 16). Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar During World War II. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/japanese-internment-manzanar-world-war-ii-104026 Kelly, Martin. "Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar During World War II." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/japanese-internment-manzanar-world-war-ii-104026 (accessed June 1, 2023).