Remembering Manzanar

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.

This is the poster that was displayed on streets notifying people of Japanese decent of the required evacuation. How could the Japanese people have had agency in a time like this? (From Learnnc.org)

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.

Works Cited

“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.

http://www.learnnc.org/lp/multimedia/13251

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4 comments

  1. johnpaulreed · November 12, 2015

    The blog makes a pretty clear statement on Japanese internment during World War 2, that the Japanese Americans of that time felt like they had no choice in being removed and set into internment camps. Still, i feel that the post doesn’t really make an argument, but rather a statement of fact that is backed up by historical analysis. While I am fully aware of the tragedy that this blog refers to, I am unable to see what this blog is referencing this event for. If it is a statement about choices and how two bad choices is no real choice at all, then this idea should be elaborated on and could even be tied in with an argument about free will and human agency.

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    • Meghan · November 18, 2015

      In this post, I was trying to introduce the idea that our knowledge of well known events may be distorted, or at least be missing several pieces preventing us from viewing the entire picture. In the case of Manzanar, many people do not realize that numerous Japanese people that were interned were given the option to move to another state. However, this option for many people was not feasible, so at the end of my post, I attempted to introduce the idea that “two bad choices is not a choice at all.” If I were to make a continuation of this blog post I would focus on how the agency of the Japanese people was limited by the choices they were given. I would also try to answer the question of “when do the limits placed on agents result in no agency at all?” To answer these questions, I would research more about the prejudice the Japanese faced during the time of the war to decide whether it was feasible for them to avoid internment. I would also research more instances in history dealing with social injustice that placed people in situations where they had little or no agency, to provide a broader scope for my argument.

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  2. Daniel · November 19, 2015

    The idea of a having a choice without the luxury of being able to choose is simultaneously an excellent summary of the situation the Japanese found themselves and a logistical nightmare. Although you mention that the Japanese-Americans facing internment “had agency and did not have agency at the same time”, I would actually go so far as to state there was no agency in that situation at all, as the dilemma posed was a matter of pure survival. Anti-Japanese sentiment had reached an all time high in World War II, exemplified by the creation of “Jap hunting licenses” (https://mason.gmu.edu/~jboggs/openseason/animals.html) and the results of a 1944 opinion poll which stated that 13% of Americans wished for the extermination of all the Japanese (http://www.ettc.net/tah/lessonPlans/plandetails.cfm?ID=1941). Even if individuals were rich enough to avoid transport to Manzanar, they still lived in a country that was temporarily hostile to their interests. The majority of the Japanese had no choice but to act in self-preservation. Their fates, to use Professor Oren Izenberg’s terminology, were overdetermined by the hostile situation they found themselves in, sapping them of whatever vestiges of agency they could cling to. Although they technically had the ability to choose their own destinies, they were still forced into a destiny not of their own choosing, much like Achilles in Homer’s Iliad.

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    • Meghan · November 21, 2015

      In writing this blog post, I wanted to take a different perspective on Japanese Internment, rather than the common stance pity and remorse towards their situation. I eventually wanted to address that in some cases it may have been safer and more beneficial for them to be placed into Internment camps due to the great amount of prejudice they faced in their communities, such as the example of “Jap hunting licenses” which you mentioned. However, I also realized that when they were placed into internment, the guns were facing in, there were always guards on watch and the camp was surrounded by barbed wire. In thinking about this I wonder which was the better choice for them because both were very unfavorable. If I were to continue this post, I would expand on the idea that the Japanese people had very limited agency (and perhaps lacked agency altogether) because “two bad choices is no choice at all.”

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