When I made my first visit to the Manzanar Japanese War Relocation Center, I didn’t understand why over 10,000 people of Japanese ancestry ended up living there from March 1942 to November 1945. Our tour guide, National Park Service Ranger Mark Hachtmann, gave us a short Manzanar history lesson before we stepped out of the bus, onto the dusty, wind-blown area of Manzanar.
War Hysteria after Pearl Harbor Bombing
Ranger Mark explained that about two months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the people who lived in Pacific Ocean coastal cities began to fear an invasion. That caused anti-Japanese sentiments to run high. So on Feb. 19, 1942, United States President Theodore Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. That order authorized the relocation and/or interment of anyone who might threaten the U.S. war effort. The Secretary of War was given the authority to remove anyone who might potentially sabotage U.S. war effort away from sensitive, military areas on the west coast.
How the Internees Were Chosen
Over 112,000 people of Japanese ancestry (considered so if they were 1/16 Japanese) lived in the west coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington. They were all considered to be a security threat. So govenrment officials used the 1940 census to locate people of Japanese ancestry. They were given seven days to dispose of their personal belongings (property, businesses, cars, houses, furniture, etc.) and allowed to bring the amount of luggage that could be carried by a family group to one of 16 assembly centers at converted race tracks or fairgrounds. In six months all had been relocated at one of ten Japanese Internment Centers.
Military Requirements for Japanese War Relocation Centers
The military established the requirements that had to be met for a Japanese War Relocation Center to be built.
1. The Center had to be remote; away from highly populated areas.
2. Infrastructure, preferably railroad access, had to be in place.
3. The government only wanted to sign one lease for each Center.
4. Power would be needed, so a hydro-electric plant had to be close by.
5. A gravity water system had to be available.
How Manzanar Met the Requirements
1. Manzanar was built in the high desert Owens Valley, off highway 395, near Independence, CA. Its west side is dominated by the high Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
2. A single-gage railroad track ran from Los Angeles to Lone Pine, CA, a town only eight miles from Manzanar.
3. The one-square mile of property needed to build Manzanar was owned by the city of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
4. The Department of Water and Power had a hydro-electric plant located fifteen miles from Manzanar.
5. Manzanar was built on a slope, with fresh water flowing down by gravity from the high Sierra Nevada Mountain Range would easily be available through Shepherd Creek.
How Long Did Japanese Internees Live at Manzanar?
The Manzanar Department of Justice Internment Camp opened March 21, 1942 and closed November 21, 1945. Its residents came from the city of Los Angeles, the California San Fernando Valley and San Joaquin County, and Bainbridge Island, Washington. Further articles will share about the Manzanar cemetery, barracks, Children’s Village, and life inside an internment camp.
Manzanar was designated to be a National Historic Landmark in 1985 by the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. It is easily accessible by road from Los Angeles. Lodging and food are available in nearby Lone Pine, CA.