Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #6

Manzanar was a location for one of the various internment camps used by the US government to imprison Japanese-Americans and nationals following Pearl Harbour. Clearly, this wasn't one of the finest hours exhibited by the US during the second world war, but since no one can go back and re-write history so it remains a stain on the nation's history. However, at least this gross error of judgement is now being recognised as such, and some amends are being made.

Interestingly, Ansel Adams was retained by the government to photograph the inmates, presumably with the intention of showing just how well they were being treated. A by-product of Ansel being paid to be there by the government "from 9 to 5" was that he could use the remaining hours to do whatever he liked, including taking a number of his most iconic images of the eastern Sierras.

From what remains (and it's now a national park in order to preserve what little is actually left) Manzanar was clearly quite a large facility, holding at peak some 120,000 individuals and stretching across 6,200 acres (the US military never doing things by half, even back then). Although there's now a visitor center and museum, really little else is visible apart from a single guard tower and concrete slabs marking where the various huts once stood.

Manzanar is a bleak looking place, even today with a main road right alongside. In the middle of winter in 1943 it must have been a miserable place to suddenly find yourself, especially when your only "crime" was to be of Japanese ancestry, something against which even a US passport could not provide protection, apparently.

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