history Road Trips

Minidoka National Historic Site

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I didn’t leave Twin Falls til 2 pm from my solo road trip, which put me off schedule. but it didn’t really matter much. Some of places I wanted to go I knew would likely be unreachable and I wasn’t against making changes. While at the visitor center in fact I read about the nearby Minidoka National Historic Site – also known as a “Japanese Internment Camp”, which is more accurately referred to as a Concentration Camp. I had always wanted to visit one. It’s good to know and try to empathize with the worst things about the human past. I always have a hard time at places like that, a mix of trying to understand why it happened, how people must have felt, while trying not to cry or punch something. I raged for quite a while after seeing a torture museum in Mexico City and I wasn’t happy about this place either.

It took over an hour to reach the site from Twin Falls, it’s pretty much near nothing. So I started up some podcasts about the concentrations camps that I had already downloaded recently by coincidence. I finished the first of 2 by the time I arrived and had a little information under my belt. You can listen to the podcasts here or download them anywhere (itunes, podkicker etc) via Stuff You Missed in History Class (hundreds of great podcasts).

The first thing you see is a guard tower where armed men kept watch – 7 towers existed at this place in total, horrible conditions in winter, deep mud in spring, hot Idaho desert summers, walls one piece of wood thick in the barracks, barbed wire all around, a disturbing place. Yet, the place had a sports arena, a baseball team, businesses ran (thanks to the business owners who lost everything to be imprisoned there) like laundry, watch repair, dances, socials, schools (only thanks to prisoners who organized it themselves), all kinds of “normal” goings on – but still prisoners in a place with harsh conditions. Over 13000 American Citizens and permanent residents, people ripped from their lives and expected to just go on like normal in this place. Can you even imagine this happening today? Sadly it totally could, and with all the same “justifications” that were made back then – mainly, “for their own protection” being the generalized version of the excuses.

I spent a couple of hours here, walking to all the signs and buildings, over about 2 miles, you can drive closer but I decided to walk the path along the barbwire fence and get a feel for the place. The information at the site disturbed me and often seemed contradictory “first sign – Guard towers, this was definitely a prison, can you imagine guns pointed at you every day – next sign – Look how happy these people are, making the best of their time here at a school dance”. The signs themselves constantly had you emotionally reeling back and forth, is the place being remembered here accurately? is the information being whitewashed (no pun intended but also, yes kind of)? I didn’t like the presentation much, I felt like it didn’t hold an overall theme of empathy and regret but jumped around far too much, like an activist and someone afraid of confrontation and a negative reputation for Idaho had to team up and write the information.

The “Honor Roll” was interesting, a wall at the camp site listing Japanese prisoners from that camp who choose to fight in WWII, despite what had been done to them. Some did it to get out of the camp and do anything else but wait but many just to prove how loyal they were to America. A few didn’t go for it and didn’t trust that the US would let them keep their US citizenship after the war if they denounced their Japanese citizenship in order to fight, those men ended up at another camp and were labeled the “no no boys” for answering no to 2 questions on the application for service ( so much information so little time).  The positive attitude of the prisoners, and especially the saying repeated by the older generations, I can’t remember exactly but it basically meant “What’s done is done, make the best of it” – in fewer words. It astonishes me, I understand it and admire it in a way, but I don’t think I could let go of my outrage. 

Here are some of the photos from my visit. 

Minidoka Staff Building

Minidoka Staff Building

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