A Tale of Two Signs


Updated

I already wrote about my visit to Manzanar,
but there was one thing that pissed me off more than anything else: The
Blue Star Memorial Highway Sign. I noticed these sorts of signs have
popped up all over the place since I was last in the US. Essentially
they are support the troops kind of signs. Sections of freeways will be
called "Marine Corps Memorial Freeway" and that sort of thing. I think
it is important to support the often marginalized kids that are duped into offending other countries, but there is a time and place for it.

The entrance to Manzanar is on the southern edge of the site. There is
a barbedwire fence separating Manzanar from miles and miles of
sagebrush. After driving about 30 yards down the driveway you come to
the guardhouse and an old neglected bronze plaque on the left
(southside) of the driveway. Before the visitor's center, this plaque
was all there really was to memorialize Manzanar and what happened
there. Right next to the plaque, and on just the other side of the
barbedwire is a shiny new sign - one designating the highway the Blue
Star Memorial Highway, "a tribute to the Armed Forces that have
defended the United States of America". Either this sign is calling
Manzanar's driveway a highway, or somebody decided that its location
behind the Manzanar sign was more appropriate. You may be thinking that
I am overexaggerating its position relative to the highway, but trust
me, it is nowhere near highway 395.

When I entered the visitor's center
I asked them about the sign, and the young ranger looked kind of
nervous and deferred to his superior. She gave me the official line,
which was that the sign was for the highway, and that it was not on the
park service's land. I said that its positioning was clearly
deliberate, and her eyes agreed, sharing my disgust for the situation.


For me, the implications are clear. People don't like to remember what
Manzanar forces us to. For them, the USA is always right, fighting on
the side of justice, keeping us safe. But Manzanar doesn't tell this
story, quite the opposite in fact. There are some names on the sign:
Oasis Garden Club and California Garden Club, but I doubt they are the
insensitive, revisionist, overly patriotic idiots that put up the sign.
It is probably somebody local that paid off the people responsible for erecting the sign. 

The sign should be cut down and saved as a reminder of the ignorance
and danger of not learning from history that still exists in the USA.

It would fit in well at the Museum of Tolerance or the Japanese
American Museum, both excellent and in LA. Most appropriate, though
would be for it to hang in the Manzanar museum itself, where it would
mark the most recent in the long line of injustices that occured in
that place. So keep that in mind if you happen to find yourself on 395 with a set of pipe cutters or a chain saw . Oh and send me pictures.

Update
I
received a very interesting email from Alisa Lynch, the Chief of
Interpretation at Manzanar. Alisa explained in detail the origins of
the 2nd sign which are different than my conspiracy theory, but perhaps
even more interesting. From Alisa's email: "The plaque was placed at
the suggestion and initiation of the (Japanese American) Manzanar
Committee and a number of Japanese American veterans to recognize the
thousands of men and women from Manzanar and the other WarRelocation
Centers who served in the US military during World War II.Veterans of
the all-Japanese American 100th Battalion/442nd RegimentalCombat Team
and local and Japanese American dignitaries dedicated theplaque in
April 1994."
So I was
right in thinking that the sign's position was a statement in and of
itself. The question is - what statement are they making? Well, my call
for pipe cutters and chainsaws worried the authorities, and a third
sign is now in place, stuck on below the Blue Star sign: "In Honor of
Americans of Japanese Ancestry who served in the 100th/442nd Regimental
Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service during World War II."
(thanks for the picture Alisa)
So we have a concentration camp (as the Japanese American Museum
in LA refers to Manzanar) which held Japanese Americans during World
War II next to a plaque dedicated to Japanese Americans who are proud
to have fought for their country. It is not a statement of
reconciliation. It is certainly not an apology. My best interpretation
is that some Japanese Americans don't want to be remembered just as
outcasts that were locked up during World War II. For them, Manzanar is
a sad and controversial heritage, whereas defending their country is a
more acceptable - a more American one.

1 Response to A Tale of Two Signs

  1. Thank you for your research into this. Manzanar is a bleeding scab on the USA's history that I'm surprised is ignored and shoved aside.

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