A total of ten relocation centers were built in remote areas of the west to house the Japanese Americans. Manzanar was organized into thirty-six blocks. Each block had fourteen large wooden barracks, as well as a mess hall, recreation hall, laundry room, and latrines. Each barrack, which measured twenty feet wide and one hundred feet long, was divided into four open rooms. Up to eight people were assigned to each room. In other words, one or more families lived together in one open room, and slept on single person cots with straw mattresses. The separate latrines were communal and without partitions; the showers had no stalls. There was very little privacy inside or outside the barracks.
The housing area was surrounded by barbed wire and eight guard towers with searchlights. The towers were manned by armed military police who also patrolled the perimeter.
Above left, Manzanar camp on July 31, 1942. Source: U.S. National Archives. There do not appear to be
any publicly available photos of the barbed wire and guard towers.
Coming from the coastal areas, the internees were unaccustomed to the harsh high desert climate of the Owens Valley. Temperatures often exceeded 100f in the summer and dropped below freezing in winter. Strong winds and even dust storms were common.
However the internees were determined to make the best of a bad situation. They made their lives as fulfilling as possible within the camp, establishing schools, churches, recreational programs, and social clubs. The barracks were improved, all manner of athletic fields were built, as were ponds and gardens. Desert land was irrigated and cultivated into acres of vegetables and fruit. Livestock was raised. There was even a newspaper called, ironically, the Free Press.
Right, except for the visitor center and museum, only open desert remains today.
The cemetary is barely visible in the distance. Mt. Williamson is at right.
Yet there was also an underlying tension in Manzanar and all the camps. There were protests and disturbances over political differences, wages, rumors, etc. In December 1942, military police killed two and wounded ten during a riot at Manzanar. In 1943, a controversial "loyalty questionnaire" created even more tensions. (The government never had a justification to consider these people disloyal to begin with.) Many of those professing their loyalty by signing the questionnaire were released from the camp to enter military service or to seek employment or college education in the Midwest or the East Coast.
. . .
April 24, 2004: There are about two thousand visitors here for today's event. Tourists and other non-Japanese visitors clearly outnumber those who are of Japanese descent. Certainly many of the internees have died or are too old to attend. Perhaps others find it too painful to return. Yet it is mesmerizing to watch those who are here.
Right, the new museum and visitor center with Sierras in background. Below, a museum exhibit.
Numerous Japanese American gentlemen are wearing their American Legion uniforms indicating their military service. One very elderly gentleman is wearing a uniform indicating his service in the famed all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The unit (combined with the 100th Infantry Battalion of the Hawaiian National Guard) served during World War II in Africa and Europe, and was the most highly decorated unit in the history of the U.S. Army for its size and length of service. It also suffered the most casualties for its size and length of service. The man's chest is covered in medals, and he radiates pride. Reporters are gravitating towards him to hear his story.
The centerpiece of the visitor center is a wall inscribed with the names of all the internees who were at Manzanar. Japanese Americans gravitate to this wall searching for names, perhaps their own or perhaps those of friends and family.
At the remnants of a rock garden, a very elderly Japanese American couple is posing arm in arm for a young man with a video camera, who appears to be a grandson. I stay in my vehicle and let these people enjoy their special moment in privacy.
. . .
There has always been controversy as to whether Manzanar and the other camps should be called "war relocation centers" or "concentration camps". Of course, the phrase, "concentration camp', instantly evokes images of places like Dachau, Buchenwald, and other Nazi horrors. The government did not murder, torture, starve, or gas anyone at Manzanar. Yet something colossally bad happened here.
The National Park Service refers to Manzanar as a war relocation center. The State of California refers to it as a concentration camp on its plaque, quoted in Part 1.
How do the former internees feel about it? The Manzanar Committee, a group representing internees, describes Manzanar as a concentration camp on its web site.  Chairperson Sue Kunitomi Embrey stated, "...A lot of people think of it as a concentration camp, but they didn't like to say it. But internment camp is not an accurate term. I call it a concentration camp." 
During the fall and winter of 1943-4, famed photographer, Ansel Adams, was asked to visit Manzanar and prepare a photographic documentary publicizing the plight of the internees. Adams drew the distinction between this camp and the concentration camps in Europe and the Pacific.  He noted the tenacity and strength of spirit with which the people were making a life for themselves at the camp, however nightmarish the situation. He observed the improvements in the barracks' interiors, the numerous small enterprises, the camp newspaper, and the many social and cultural endeavors.
On the other hand he recollected the disturbing sight of uniformed, young men on leave from the army visiting their incarcerated families behind the barbed wire. He noted the terrible contradiction of the principles for which the men were fighting overseas.
Adams published his Manzanar material in a poignant book, titled Born Free and Equal, in late 1944. The book is still in print today and widely available. At the time, the book was widely dismissed as disloyal. The public was largely unable to draw the distinction between Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals. In closing his book, Adams stated, "We must be certain that, as the rights of the individual are the most sacred elements of our society, we will not allow passion, vengeance, hatred, and racial antagonism to cloud the principals of universal justice and mercy." 
It is true that during World War II our enemies perpetrated unspeakable horrors in their camps. Yet we can never justify our own dubious deeds by saying that monsters did worse. It is better to tell it like it was: Manzanar was a prison and a rather ugly one, no matter how it was dressed up. The following photos come from the U.S. National Archives and speak for themselves.
Above photos by Dorothea Lange, 1942. Left, a barracks block. Right, a mess hall.
Above photos by Clem Albers, 1942. Left, people moving in during a dust storm. Right, inside a barracks.
Would you want your grandparents or children thrown in a place like this?
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