Rewiring the System

Concentration Camps Here in the United States

Posted in Uncategorized by rewiringangel on May 11, 2011
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Manzanar is most widely known as the site of one of ten camps where over 110,000 American citizens of Japanese extraction, some lived here for generations, were imprisoned during World War 11. It was a harrowing experience to cross the dusty path between the stone pillars. Once there were high wires and walls around simple wooden long barrack like structures. These were not insulated to keep out the cold desert winds in the change of day and the movements of the seasons.  I walk the paths where the outlines marks the space where the shanty wooden long houses stood.

I question my courage to live through this experience as a tourist. I have trouble imagining the hardships of the actual life of fellow americans forced out of the homes they own and packed into barracks in the desert. Their property taken away, all their unique possessions sold and the money went to the government treasury. It may be because of the High Born aristocratic quality of the people at this place This became the best-preserved of the former camp sites, and was designated ‘the Manzanar’ .

Since the end of World War II, there has been debate over the terminology used to refer to Manzanar and the other camps in which  Americans of Japanese ancestry and their immigrant parents were imprisoned by the United States Government during the war.  Manzanar has been referred to as a “War Relocation Center,” “relocation camp,” “relocation center,” “internment camp“, and “concentration camp“,  and the controversy over which term is the most accurate and appropriate continues to the present day.

Dr. James Hirabayashi, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, wrote an article in 1994 in which he stated that he wonders why euphemistic terms used to describe camps such as Manzanar are still being used.

Let us review the main points of the debate. Over 120,000 residents of the U.S.A., two thirds of whom were American citizens, were incarcerated under armed guard. There were no crimes committed, no trials, and no convictions: the Japanese Americans were political prisoners. To detain American citizens in a site under armed guard surely constitutes a “concentration camp.” But what were the terms used by the government officials who were involved in the process and who had to justify these actions? Raymond Okamura provides us with a detailed list of terms. Let’s consider three such euphemisms: “evacuation,” “relocation,” and “non-aliens.” Earthquake and flood victims are evacuated and relocated. The words refer to moving people in order to rescue and protect them from danger.The official government policy makers consistently used “evacuation” to refer to the forced removal of the Japanese Americans and the sites were called “relocation centers.” These are euphemisms (Webster: “the substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit”) as the terms do not imply forced removal nor incarceration in enclosures patrolled by armed guards. The masking was intentional.

Hirabayashi went on to describe the harm done by the use of such euphemisms and also addressed the issue of whether or not only the Nazi camps can be called “concentration camps.”

The harm in continuing to use the government’s euphemisms is that it disguises or softens the reality which subsequently has been legally recognized as a grave error. The actions abrogated some fundamental principles underlying the Constitution, the very document under which we govern ourselves. This erosion of fundamental rights has consequences for all citizens of our society and we must see that it is never repeated.Some have argued that the Nazi Germany camps during the Holocaust were concentration camps and to refer to the Japanese American camps likewise would be an affront to the Jews. It is certainly true that the Japanese Americans did not suffer the harsh fate of the Jews in the terrible concentration camps or death camps where Nazi Germany practiced a policy of genocide. Although the loss of life was minimal in America’s concentration camps, it does not negate the reality of the unconstitutional incarceration of Japanese American citizens. Michi and Walter Weglyn’s research concerning Nazi Germany’s euphemisms for their concentration camps revealed such phrases as “protective custody camps,” “reception centers,” and “transit camps.” Ironically, two Nazi euphemisms were identical to our government’s usage: “assembly centers” and “relocation centers.” It might be well to point out, also, that the Nazis were not operating under the U.S. Constitution. Comparisons usually neglect to point out that Hitler was operating under the rules of the Third Reich. In America all three branches of the U.S. government, ostensibly operating under the U.S. Constitution, ignored the Bill of Rights in order to incarcerate Japanese Americans.

2 Responses to 'Concentration Camps Here in the United States'

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  1. tyler williams said,

    i am 12 and i dont understand what these are. what do they do to you at these places?

    • The united states put some Japanese people in concentration camps out of fear. All their possessions were taken away. You can look these facts up on Wikipedia. This is happening again in a less public way since the passage of the Patriot Act. This was passed in secrecy in an effort to create fear in the country and around the world.

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