Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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On New Year's Day, 1943, Merritt sent a letter to WRA Director Dillon Myer, the substance of which became the charter on which community government would be reestablished in the center and upon which the "Peace of Manzanar" would ultimately rest. In the letter, Merritt stated that every effort had been exhausted to bring about the type of center government desired by Washington. However, he rejected the form of self-government as proposed by the Washington office:

Viewing the plan for creation of evacuee self-government, as an analyst and not as a critic, it now seems clear that the positions of the majority of the evacuees toward self-government deserves serious open-minded consideration by the Authority. Evacuees who approach the plan of self government without emotion and with the desire to be constructive divide themselves roughly into two classes: first, those who question the sincerity of a plan of self-government which prohibits a large percentage (and particularly the more mature people) from the holding of office and, secondly, the exercise of any plan of self-government prepared and limited by the authorities above, whose authority includes the maintenance of a barbed-wire fence as visual evidence of the actual complete lack of the fundamentals of self-government. Their view boils down to the conclusion that it is silly for mature men to spend time playing with dolls.

It was Merritt's belief that any form of government which was democratic and American in spirit must of necessity represent the will of the people. Democratic government could not be handed down to people by higher authority, but must be based on understanding acceptance of a charter representing the will of the governed.

Merritt continued:

The conclusions reached, after long discussion and thoughtful consideration of the Japanese leadership at Manzanar, appears to be that the majority of the evacuees will immediately accept a form of government comprising judicial committees, internal policing, the administration of blocks, and advisory action on the great range of problems touching the lives of all evacuees, provided the Project Director assumes the responsibility for proposing an acceptable form of government and supervises its general administration. Definite and overwhelming opposition has been growing and now must be accepted against attempting to involve the evacuees in responsibility for a type of apparent self-government purporting to originate from within their body, yet in fact designed to implicate them in a participation and acceptance of the fundamentals of evacuation, detention and control, and in the artificialities of a wartime experiment, by which citizens and Japanese Nationals are deprived of liberties accorded other citizens and other alien Nationals.

Opposition to the establishment of evacuee government as set forth in the purposed [sic] charter has come from all elements in the camp. The Issei believe that deprivation of their holding of office further accentuates discrimination. An active Kibei group is pro-Japanese in tendency and unwilling to participate in any form of American governmental procedure. Many of the Nisei base all their opposition on the fallacy of the offer of the opportunities of self-government which is to exist in form only.

The discussion to this point has had to do with the adoption or rejection of the proposed charter. All this, however, does not mean that there is no opportunity for the growth and development of phases of self-government based upon a slowly developing degree of confidence between the evacuees and the administration, and a clear recognition of the part of the evacuees for the need of certain forms of internal government operation. . . .

I am not discouraged on the development of sound and sincere principals [sic] of self-government at Manzanar, based upon the demonstration of need for the functions of government and the expressed desire of the evacuees to participate, in their own interests, and in suitable compliance with the policies of the Authority. I do not believe that any tailor-made program for self-government, operating on a time schedule, could be effective, acceptable, or even a reality. Self-government is a method of group procedure that arises from recognized needs and is developed from within, with the acceptance of the majority, to meet such needs. That such method of procedure must also be acceptable to the Authority is obvious. Self-governing is a process of growth from within, not the imposition of authority from without. It is a slow process based on bitter experience. Therefore, temporary measures, not labeled self-government, must be used as a bridge to the desired point. [16]

On January 6, 1943, one month after violence erupted in the camp, the block managers reconvened and began weekly meetings with Merritt "for a complete, full, and candid discussion of all matters which touched the administration of the Center." Gradually, "confidence between the Administration and the evacuees developed and an unwritten code of procedure and regulations was created through mutual understanding." [17]

Peace Committee

In addition to cooperation and consultation with the block managers, Merritt consolidated his policy of accommodation at Manzanar in early 1943 by acknowledging and working with a "Peace Committee," a spontaneous arbitration and control group of evacuees that emerged at Manzanar in the wake of the violence. Consisting of representatives from each block, the committee was led by Seigoro Murakami, who had been a judo instructor and Japanese language school teacher before evacuation and had organized a judo instruction program in the camp. [18]

Designations of "Mayor of Manzanar" and "Father of Manzanar"

In March 1943, Kiyoharu Anzai, an Issei who had studied at the University of California and the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley prior to evacuation and was the father of a Nisei military volunteer, became chairman of the block managers. Merritt, conscious of Japanese cultural patterns, deferred to those traditions by conferring the honorary title, "Mayor of Manzanar," on Anzai, who would remain as chairman of the block managers and discharge the duties of his honorary position until the close of the center in 1945.

After becoming chairman of the block managers and receiving his honorary title, Anzai, working together with Merritt, "found a way to bring the Administration and the evacuees into a more cordial relationship." Using "the accepted Japanese cultural approach," Anzai reciprocated Merritt's overtures of goodwill by designating the project director as the "Father of Manzanar." Realizing the delicacy "of the compliment and the possibilities of accord arising from the use of this title," Merritt "permitted and joined in the device by which it was possible for Japanese aliens to give complete loyalty to Caucasian leadership." The "device" was used by Merritt to encourage the alien evacuees who dominated the block managers assembly "to advocate the American way of living as a means of creating better public acceptance for their children."

"Peace of Manzanar"

Shortly thereafter, an alien, who had previously criticized the government and whose attitude had been described as pro-Japanese, became the "chief advocate of the school system," while another Issei "constituted himself as the public relations officer of the Project hospital." In response, Merritt proposed that "the common ground of agreement should be the 'Peace of Manzanar' which should be preserved at all costs by all persons." This theme, according to the Final Report, Manzanar, would form the framework for "all evacuee activities from January 1943 until the date of the closing of the Center." Regardless "of differences in nationalistic views, of the selfish interests of organizations or individuals, the 'Peace of Manzanar' was maintained and the result was community accord, peace and cooperation."

Block managers were elected "by the formal or informal vote of the residents of their blocks subject to veto" by Merritt. The project director only exercised the veto on two occasions, but in both instances the majority of the block managers agreed that the person "was unsuitable for the position."

The block managers assembly became "a vital and important force within the life of the Center." Its secretary had a staff who arranged for all evacuee meetings, assigned rooms for such meetings, and directed the "life of the Center in acceptable channels." According to the Final Report, Manzanar, few "important events took place in Manzanar without the support or approval of Town Hall, the little building from which the forces of the peaceful life of Manzanar flowed."

Thus, community government at Manzanar during 1943-45 "was not cut to the formal pattern followed in other centers." Instead, "it arose," according to the Final Report, Manzanar, "from the people and accomplished the purposes of the Authority by creating peace, good-will and renewed confidence in the American way of living." [19]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002