It is no secret that war affects more than just men and women on the battlefield. War damages society and terrifies citizens and policy makers, often resulting in irrational or thoughtless decisions.
Manzanar “Relocation” Camp, along with several other facilities, was the result of panicked policy makers after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, allowing for the removal of any and all persons of Japanese descent from the West Coast as it became necessary. The official evacuation notice was posted April 23, 1942. The lives of 120,000 men and women were about to drastically change. While this order was unethical and unfair to all those affected, it is presently portrayed in a distorted light.
Time allows history to be changed or entirely forgotten. I have been to the Manzanar Memorial five times, and each time I’ve been disheartened by the cruelty of the mass relocation. However, only recently did I find out the entire truth. The Japanese were not forced into internment; they were given the option to either be placed in a camp or to relocate away from the West Coast. Yes, Executive Order 9066 was erroneous and caused great hardship to masses of people, even those that were able to escape internment, but it has also been falsely depicted to our generation as though the Japanese were forced into poorly constructed, overcrowded prisons. Most Japanese Americans were still free to make a choice, act as agents on their own behalf, and execute their best interest within regulation. However, the choice they were given is not common knowledge, nor do the victims of internment ordinarily bring it up. This silence not only suggests their justified bitterness and anger toward the events, but it also reveals the Japanese Americans felt they did not have a true choice. If moving away from the West Coast were truly a feasible option, most internees would have moved away instead of moving to the prison camps. The Japanese Americans were only given 2 months time to flee the West Coast, before they were forced into internment camps with no option of moving away. This very short time period was not enough time to comfortably move to another state. Those that did escape were lucky, however, their life was still drastically different as a result.
In truth, both versions of Japanese internment are distorted versions of reality. The Japanese people both had agency and did not have agency at the same time. While they had the choice to move, for most, it was not a possibility, so their “choice” had already been made for them.
“Chronology of the Japanese American Internment.” Education Resources. CLPEF, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2015.
“Civil Rights.” The War. PBS, 2007. Web. 08 Oct. 2015.
United States. National Park Service. “Japanese Americans at Manzanar.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2015.