Mixed Feelings About These Photos

I had never seen Ansel Adams series of photos from a US internment camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII.  I had mixed feelings about them.  Adams said that he wanted to portray the resiliency of those imprisoned, showing how they made the best of a bad situation.  And certainly I have great respect for that, and the cultural strengths we see at work are a prelude to how Japan itself was rebuilt after the devastation of WWII.

But at another level I find these photos incredibly creepy.  They look too much like the fake photos staged by Germans and Russians of various eras to airbrush the horrors of their concentration camps.   I am willing to believe we Americans were better jailers, but none-the-less I was disturbed that these looked a lot like propaganda photos.

  • Brian

    Here's a little explanation from someone that was sent to the internment camps as a child:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yogXJl9H9z0

  • me

    Potato, tomato - while the concentration camps in the US operated on the same principle of concentration camps in Germany, the USSR and South Africa (it's a common practice worldwide), and while there was widespread violation of citizens constitutional rights and quite a few people died as a result of the usual violence, the US solution to the Japanese Problem never made it as far as the German Final Solution. There were no camps specifically aimed at destroying the populace. Other than that, propaganda is the same worldwide (you should see the motivational posters at some places of work I've seen - a russian coworker of mine once commented on how much they reminded him on the home he'd fled)

  • DrTorch

    Talking to relatives of internees, they liked them. It was better work than the agricultural fields of CA or HI.

  • Bram

    I'm disgusted that these things existed at all. We were in our second war with Germany without locking up people of German descent.

  • http://exit78.com Mike

    While Adams was not normally a portrait photographer, but, rather, a landscape photographer, to me, these photos look and feel like Ansel Adams photographs, NOT propaganda photos. I have been aware of these photos for quite some time. They are available online at the Library of Congress at: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/manz/

  • http://sevencontinents@mindspring.com Benjamin Cole

    What incredible photographs. I agree with Coyote's sentiments exactly. There is a creepiness lurking.

  • John Moore

    Blame the creepiness on the Soviets and the Nazis, not Adams or the US Govt. The photos are creepy because the US concentration camps were much better places than the other. That doesn't mean they were paradise, and the pictures clearly show that this was a form of imprisonment in a pretty bleak place.

  • Vilmos

    Me:

    > Other than that, propaganda is the same worldwide
    > (you should see the motivational posters at some
    > places of work I’ve seen – a russian coworker of
    > mine once commented on how much they reminded
    > him on the home he’d fled)

    I, who grew up on the wrong side (sure on this blog we can agree which one was it...) of the Iron Curtain, second that. I remember once in the early '90s I was in the waiting room of a (possibly) Midas shop, and I was marveling/terrified at those "motivational" images on the wall. Even in Hungary I didn't see such images in the '80s.

    Vilmos

  • Mark2

    If you ever drive up 395 visit Manzanar on the way to Bishop. The high school gym the Japanese interns built for themselves is now a museum dedicated to the camp. They have displays about the conditions, and a movie with interviews from some of the people there, and how they felt.

    Overall they didn't like it - they were restricted to an area the size of a small city, and had armed guards watching over them. Their barrack like living areas were ill suited for the cold / dusty climate. On the other hand, they weren't under lock down, could do farming and grew fruit trees (Owens valley was the largest fruit producing area in CA until Los Angeles took (stole?) the water rights from the farmers. Now it is a dustbowl. Kids went to school, they could play games, go to events at the gym, etc, and no-one was put into an oven or gas shower.

    One of the worse tragedies not talked about is how these Japanese lost their property. Since they could not pay property taxes while interned. Many had to give their property to the state (or it was taken over by the state) or the property was signed over to white "friends" who were suppose to give it back (after payback for tax and maintenance) but most often the property was not returned.

    It is not well known that the Famous Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco was actually private property which had to be given up when the owners were interned. Nice for the City of SF huh.

  • Mark2

    Something else not well known is on the East Coast there were German Internment camps during WWII. And I believe it was for WWII that Americans of German decent were not allowed to meet in groups larger than 4, because of their socialist bent. I should try to read up more about this, since my memory about learning it is hazy.

  • caseyboy

    Well needless to say all your Libertarians will experience this gubmint's re-education camps in the not too distant future. Can't wait to see those pictures. Coyote, Benjamin, me, DrTorch and the gang. Maybe they'll use one of Coyote's camp grounds after confiscating it.

  • me

    @caseyboy - LOL, I'd bet I'd have a boatload of fun if we all got interned together, circumstances notwithstanding. All a matter of smuggling in the right kind of scotch to facilitate raucous discussions :)

  • Not Sure

    "(Owens valley was the largest fruit producing area in CA until Los Angeles took (stole?) the water rights from the farmers"

    Not saying nothing illegal ever happened, but for the most part, LA bought the water rights by buying land in the Owens Valley. I believe (if I wasn't lazy, I'd look it up) that the DWP is still one of the largest landowners there to this day.

    It's not exactly stealing if you acquire water rights associated with a piece of land by buying the land, is it?

  • Mark2

    @Not Sure,

    I am not sure myself. I heard the story and forgot most of it. Somehow, thought, farmers lost their water rights and had to shut shop. Not sure exactly how that happened. But there was definitely wheeling and dealing going on to get the water rights. When I have a few minutes I will start here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Mulholland since it is an interesting story.

    Apparently once LA got all the water rights to the region, they started telling nearby cities that if they want water for their citizens they need to merge into LA, which is why LA is such a big glob of a city right now. How Beverly Hills,and Culver City stayed independent I don't know. The water empire is so vast that even 150 miles south, in San Diego, I get my water supplied indirectly by Los Angeles.

  • Mark2

    @Not sure

    Here is a wiki on the Owens Valley water wars.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Water_Wars

    I will read this when I have a chance :-)

    It is interesting how memory works though, I remember reading all about this stuff about 10 years ago, now I don't remember the details, but just have a notion that the water was "stolen" from farmers. Gotta take more of my smart pills to help the ol' memory.

  • Uncle Bill

    Potato, tomato – while the concentration camps in the US operated on the same principle of concentration camps in Germany, the USSR and South Africa (it’s a common practice worldwide), and while there was widespread violation of citizens constitutional rights and quite a few people died as a result of the usual violence, the US solution to the Japanese Problem never made it as far as the German Final Solution. There were no camps specifically aimed at destroying the populace. Other than that, propaganda is the same worldwide (you should see the motivational posters at some places of work I’ve seen – a russian coworker of mine once commented on how much they reminded him on the home he’d fled)

    I've heard this kind of "moral equivalence" argument before, and I think it is dead wrong. First, Japan had declared war on the US. The Jews obviously never declared war on Germany. With the smug superiority of 20-20 hindsight, we can see that the Japanese were not a threat, but I don't imagine it was quite so obvious at the time. Keeping the Japanese in a place where they could not harm the US was something that reasonable people could suggest.

    Also, there was obviously no effort to exterminate the Japanese, as the Germans did to the Jews and other groups. In fact, they were reasonably well treated. I'm sure the pictures put the best spin on things, but I don't believe they were doctored or staged - no Potemkin village. I'm sure that there were many hardships, and loss of rights, but it doesn't even begin to compare to what was done in Germany.

    I think it's telling that many Japanese volunteered to fight for the US, and did so very bravely. I'm sure they did not like the idea that their families were confined to the internment camps, but it did not keep them from feeling strongly enough about their native land to fight and die for it.

  • Not Sure

    "Keeping the Japanese in a place where they could not harm the US was something that reasonable people could suggest."

    According to Wikipedia, it was largely US citizens who were imprisioned:

    On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ... resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens.

  • Kermit

    On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which … resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens [REDACTED TEXT FOLLOWS] who registered with the Japanese consulate as Japanese citizens prior to the war, the other third held only Japanese citizenship. Half of those who held duel citizenship refused to renounce their Japanese citizenship.

    OK, a bit of an exaggeration with the redacted bit, but more accurate than what is presented today - of those who only held US citizenship, the majority were children whose parents did not yet register them with the Japanese consulates.

  • me

    @Uncle Bill

    The patterns are what I care about - as I pointed out, the US never got as far as extermination, which is the major difference. Both the "Oh, we'll just locate all of these people somewhere out of the public eye for really understandable reasons, while their rights are being just a tiny little bit violated" is rather commonplace. Usually it's followed by extermination after a few year, but fortunately there were just a few impromptu killings here.

    Propaganda photos also are the same "look, this just looks very normal, nothing to worry, move it along". Theresienstadt comes to mind - orchestras, painters, quite a nice setting, some very "normal" photos for the rest of the world to get complacent about.

    The lesson history teaches all over again is that the time to stand up is once we start to segregate some folks on a pretext and start building up extra security forces to deal reasonably with those foreign devils. And if that reminds you of Guantanamo and the TSA, maybe you're not far off the mark. Give it 20 years, and we'll all know more.

  • Beale

    First, Japan had declared war on the US. The Jews obviously never declared war on Germany.
    But Germany and Italy did declare war on the US. Americans of German or Italian ancestry were not rounded up and imprisoned. On the contrary, men of German or Italian (and non-Jewish) ancestry held high offices, both civil and military (the names Eisenhower and Nimitz come to mind).