Let’s Salute the Flag & Stand for the Anthem — Oh, Wait!
This flag was flying over the Manzanar relocation camp in the high desert of California in 1942. Manzanar, as well as nine other camps were packed with more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, who were taken from their homes shortly after the U.S. entered World War Two against Japan & Germany. Most lost everything they had owned.
Manzanar is now a National Historic Park. And it’s one that Quakers have a lot invested in, though not many of us know that.
At the Manzanar site online, there are a series of photos, quotes, and discussion questions, for use in schools and for inquirers. One of these quotes caught my eye:
Two questions for discussion and reflection: why would Miyo’s friend have questions about saluting the flag, or singing the anthem? And, is this just a historical, 75-year old issue?
It wasn’t “just history” on the West Coast in late 1941 and early 1942:
(BTW — there was NO evidence of actual sabotage or spying produced involving Japanese-Americans in the western U.S.)
Ten thousand of them were crowded into a camp called Manzanar, in the remote Owens Valley of California. Owens Valley could be a good definition of the “middle of nowhere.”
It’s almost 120 miles north of Death Valley in California, and 100-plus from the eastern entrance to Yosemite. Owens Valley is home to bands of Paiute-Shoshone Indians, some hardy fruit farmers, cattle ranchers, and not much else on two legs.
From here it’s 336 miles to San Francisco, 226 to LA, and almost 250 to either Reno or Vegas. “Manzanar” is Spanish for “apple orchard.”
This is high desert, nearly 4000 feet, so it’s hot in the summer, freezing and snowy in winter, and whipped by strong winds at any season. Twenty miles or so west are the Sierra Nevada mountains, usually capped by snow and fantastic slow-swirling cloud formations.
Conditions were tough in the camps. Legal challenges to the internment were turned aside, even by the Supreme Court. Most Japanese-Americans were kept in the camps until late 1945, when the war ended.
There were a dogged handful of white Americans who protested the internment and worked to end it. Prominent among them were Quakers and the American Friends Service Committee. A new book, Quiet Heroes, by Tsukasa Sugimura, describes and celebrates this support.
There are many powerful stories about Friends in this book; but those are for another time. This post is about why someone in the camp, an American citizen, might have questions or resistance to saluting the U.S. flag or singing the national anthem.
And whether the queries posed on the National Park Service study site are still apt:
PS. Most of the internees did stay loyal to the U.S.; many of the young men volunteered for combat in Europe. Eventually, the U.S. government apologized for the internment.