In Poland we have a saying, "Podróże kształcą". It basically means, "Travels Educated". And the more I travel, the more I believe this to be true. I recently visited the Manzanar Internment Camp in Eastern California, and boy did I learn.
You probably learned about Japanese internment camps at some point in US history class. And it was probably taught to you, something like this: "A bunch of innocent Japanese-Americans were taken from their homes by racist white men, and put into crappy concentration camps, where they had to endure horrific hardships."
In case you DIDN'T learn this: in 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President FDR, who by the way was a very proud and respected DEMOCRAT, signed an executive order establishing a series of 10 internment camps across the U.S. The purpose of these camps was to intern anyone living in the U.S. who was of Japanese ancestry. From 1942 to 1945, more than 100,000 Japanese men, women and children were interned in 10 different camps throughout the country, about 2/3 of whom were U.S. citizens. The largest and oldest of these camps was Manzanar and it held about 11,000 Japanese. Virtually overnight, 100,000 Japanese who were guilty of nothing aside from being the same ethnicity as the enemy, lost their entire livelihoods when they were taken from their homes against their will and placed in internment camps throughout the country. The fear was that these Japanese-Americans would end up colluding with the Japanese government and military. Although Manzanar was exclusively Japanese, other camps were used to intern Americans of Italian and German ancestry, the other two nations of the Axis Powers. That being said, I just want to make it clear that I completely condemn the actions of FDR and his administration, though I understand why they did it. I got into a brief debate on this issue with some fellow GAGers, and THIS is where things got a bit controversial.
It's not a matter of whether or not interning innocent Japanese was right or wrong. The issue for me begins to arise when people begin comparing these camps to NAZI Concentration Camps, and I think it is extremely important to know the difference. Did people die in Japanese internment camps? YES! About 146 died in Manzanar alone. The majority of deaths were due to inadequate medical treatment, stress and death by camp guard. What do I mean by "death by camp guard"? Were the Japanese being systemically executed, like the Jews? NO. Usually if an internee was killed by a guard it was for dissent, rioting, protesting or trying to escape. There were also tensions between various groups within the camps, which often lead to violent protests. The Tule Lake camp is notorious for poor conditions and mistreatment of internees, but even so, these camps weren't designed for the purpose of committing an ethnic cleansing, but simply to detain potential enemy combatants. So, what was life in these camps like?
For one, they were built in some pretty shitty areas. Yes, the Manzanar Camp had some spectacular mountain scenery in the background, but it was hot, dry and windy and dust storms were a common occurrence. The barracks were very basic and uncomfortable, food consisted mainly of rice and vegetables because of government imposed meat rations. But the biggest complaint the internees had was lack of privacy, especially in the latrines which had communal showers and toilets with no dividers. The good news was, men and women each had separate latrines, but even so most people don't want to bath or do their business with others watching them. For this reason, many of the prisoners chose to make use of the latrines at night time. Rooms also lacked privacy.
At this point you're probably saying, "What the hell is wrong with you Zeus? You call these GOOD conditions?" NO, of course these were crappy, but overtime, things began to change.
Fast-forward about two years, and Manzanar had basically grown into a small town. By this time, each residential block also had a communal mess hall, a laundry room, a recreation hall, an ironing room, and a heating oil storage tank. The camp also had schools, an auditorium, farms, churches, a cemetery, a post office, stores, hospital, town hall and even beauty saloons. The camp also had a camouflage net factory, an experimental plantation for producing natural rubber, and an orphanage, which housed 100 Japanese-American orphans. So, who ran all these things? The internees themselves. And not only that, they were paid a decent wage, between $100 and $200 by today's standards, which at the time was a decent wage. After two years, they were also allowed to set up hog and chicken farms, so they finally had a supply of meat to eat.
In addition, the incarcerees made life more livable at the camp through recreation. They participated in sports, including baseball and football, martial arts and musical performances. The incarcerees also personalized and beautified their barren surroundings by building elaborate gardens, which often included pools, waterfalls, and rock ornaments. There was even a nine-hole golf course. That's right, a GOLF COURSE!
Now, there was one way one could leave some of these camps, and that was to enlist in the U.S. military, although this wasn't a thing in Manzanar. That being said, the camps were eventually abolished in 1945 with the end of WWII and the election of Harry S. Truman. Some Japanese returned to their homes, some were repatriated to Japan, and others chose to live out the rest of their lives in Manzanar having lost EVERYTHING! It wasn't until 1988 that president Ronald Reagan payed $20,000 in reparations to each of the surviving internees. And the following year, President George H.W. Bush issued a formal apology, assuring that something this cruel, would never happened again.
The one thing that never improved was the privacy issue, and as mentioned earlier, camp life wasn't perfect and certainly not a luxury, but it's extremely ignorant and naiive to compare them to Nazi Concentration Camps, as conditions at these camps actually weren't so bad. Bet they didn't teach you THAT shit in history class.