In the Japanese relocation center known as Manzanar during World War II, the detained Japanese lived under the same roofs as other detainees with no curtains and often no lights. Privacy was impossible. This led to a massive riot 8 months after Manzanar opened.
The Manzanar riot led to soldiers being deployed to suppress the rebellion. Tear gas was used, and 2 soldiers fired into the crowd. This occurred in December, 1942. Two in the camp died and 10 were injured by military police. Before the riot ended nine people had been shot but survived. As a result of events, 81 internees were removed from Manzanar and sent to the new prison camp in Moab, Utah. Many of the rioters ultimately ended up in Tulelake, CA in the camp for difficult cases that remained opened for a year after World War II. Manzanar itself was closed 3 months after this war ended. Ironically, this official closing occurred on Thanksgiving Day in 1945. All in all, 120,313 Japanese Americans were confined here by their own government. Ruth and I learned further details in the Manzanar Museum that provides even more information about life here.
Also ironically, Japanese men between the ages of 17 and 45 could volunteer for US military service. They could be drafted until 1944. There was also a way for anyone detained to renounce his or her US citizenship. Among the 10 camps set up, 5,589 Japanese bravely applied to renounced their US citizenship. Many others were told that they had to prove their loyalty to the United States. Those who caused trouble were sent to Tulelake. Those who remained in Manzanar experienced wind and dust storms as life went on and questionnaires circulated to try to identify those who might be deemed disloyal. One detainee was sent to Tulelake while his pregnant wife remained at Manzanar. They were never reunited.
Ruth and I saw the camp facilities, visited the museum, and took the more than 3 mile self-guided driving tour on this day of soft opening to see if Manzanar could completely reopen. Check to see if it did before going there. This drive is recommended because those who do it can see the official Manzanar monument and the orchards and rock gardens that occupied the detainees time. We were able to understand the forbidding nature of the camp’s location by doing this and appreciate what is left of the original camp.
Those who might have the opportunity to see Manzanar this summer and beyond are encouraged to read my first essay about it that was published on June 13, 2021.