In 21st century America, the preservation of our history and our historic places has become of increasing concern. Are we just nostalgic for the good, old days or do we want to remember the lessons of the past in an increasingly difficult and complex present? History can be found in the most surprising places, and many may find that history to be most surprising.
Heading north up eastern California's Owens Valley, the mighty wall of the great Sierra Nevada range comes into view
before reaching the town of Lone Pine. The Sierra's moist and gently sloping western flank features magnificent
sequoia forests. Its drier, eastern flank rises precipitously from Owens Valley and forms a nearly sheer wall for hundreds of miles.
Its magnificent alpine wilderness of stone and snow and running waters has few peers in America. America's foremost naturalist,
John Muir, named the club he founded, the Sierra Club, after the mountains he loved, which he dubbed the "Range of Light".
Photographer Ansel Adams immortalized the Sierras with his work. A generation's vision of Yosemite National Park came from his photos.
From these men, we have come to appreciate mountains and wilderness not just for their beauty, but the freedom of the spirit they
The Sierras reach their crest at Lone Pine. The skyline is highlighted by Mt. Whitney, at 14,491 feet of elevation, the highest point
in the contiguous United States (right). A few miles north, Mt. Williamson dominates the landscape, at 14,370 feet.
Sixty years ago, this was where the Range of Light was cloaked in darkness. This is the site of Manzanar Camp, the first of ten
"relocation" camps that imprisoned 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry, mostly American citizens, during World War II.
Before September 11, 2001, the most traumatic attack on the United States was the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941,
the "date that will live in infamy". In both cases, people reacted with horror and grief at the death and destruction, and fear about the
possibility of another attack. And, of course, anger at the perpetrators. In 1941, this anger focused on people of Japanese ancestry
here in America. This led to an irrational - or more accurately, racist - fear that Japanese Americans might engage in sabotage and
espionage on behalf of Japan. The military, panicked at the idea of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast and under public pressure,
recommended removing all persons of Japanese ancestry from the area. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order
9066, effectively authorizing such a removal. 
Without any due process of law or any espionage-related charges against them ,
then or ever, the 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were promptly rounded up and ultimately wound up in remote and spartan relocation camps,
many for the duration of the war. Their bank accounts were frozen, they were given as little as three days to settle their affairs. Many had to sell their homes and
businesses at great loss, or even abandon them altogether. Everyone was removed, including women, old people, and children - even orphans.
. . .
Left, the color guard at the Grand Opening ceremonies.
April 24, 2004: We are heading to the Manzanar National Historic Site, located between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence, for the
Grand Opening of their new interpretive center. Manzanar Camp, built on leased land, was completely dismantled after World War II. The
Manzanar Committee , which represents the surviving prisoners of Manzanar Camp, had conducted annual pilgrimages to
the site since 1969. After years of lobbying, the site became part of the National Park System. More years of lobbying and fundraising
brought about the visitor center and museum that is being dedicated this day. The Manzanar auditorium built by camp internees in 1944
houses the center. The old building was located, returned to the site, and refurbished as a museum and visitor center. There are no
other structures on the site though there are signs indicating where the various buildings stood. There is a bronze plaque at the
entrance that reads 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 economic exploitation
never emerge again."
. . .
It is now well understood that there were reasons other than national security for the removal of the Japanese Americans. During a
national crisis, citizens are urged to pull together for the common good. Dissent and discussion become viewed as disloyal and
unpatriotic. Our support is invariably coaxed with fear and not reason. Yet the agendas of politicians and special interest groups
don't necessarily coincide with the national interest or with what is right. This was true in 1942. At that time, America was a very
racist society. Jim Crow was in its heyday. In California, resentment had been building against Japanese immigrants for years. Many
of the diligent Japanese enjoyed economic success, especially in farming, which roused the envy and hatred of their white neighbors.
The first of nearly six hundred anti-Japanese statutes was enacted as early as 1924. The Asian Exclusion Act prohibited Japanese
nationals from becoming American citizens.  Powerful newspapers such as the Sacramento Bee and the Hearst chain
railed against the Japanese on the West Coast for years.  The surprise attack brought the perfect opportunity to
inflame the long simmering race hatred. It is ironic that Earl Warren, later to be the liberal Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court,
stood against the Japanese Americans. In 1942, he was a California gubernatorial candidate, and he decided to lend his prestige to what
was expedient instead of standing for what was right. 
Most revealing of the hypocrisy, the 60,000 Japanese residents of Hawaii, the site of the Pearl Harbor attack and essentially the front
line of the war at the time, were left alone and never rounded up.
In early 1942, world war was the main worry of most Americans. Back then no one worried much about racial injustice even in the best
of times. The West Coast Japanese were quickly rounded up and shipped off with hardly a protest.
"...There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices - to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own - for the children, and the children yet unborn..."
-Rod Serling 
. . .
April 24, 2004: At the Manzanar site, the most dominant sensation is the power of the mountains. Mt. Williamson, the great mountain
(right), dominates the Sierras to the west. Do an about-face, and the skyline is dominated by the Inyo Range and the
White Mountains, rising to over 13,000 feet. In the rain shadow of the Sierras, the semiarid eastern mountains have a different
kind of specialness. The Whites are home to the oldest living entity on earth, a bristlecone pine tree, named Methuselah,
4,770 years old. It has lived through all the foibles of humankind since the earliest Pharaohs of Egypt.
It must have been maddening to be locked up here with these magnificent mountains always in sight but out of reach. 
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