A concentration camp by any other name is still a concentration camp

I find it hard to believe that conservatives are currently trying to argue that the USA does not have concentration camps by redefining the term to mean only camps for Jews. No, just stop it and face up to reality. The US has concentration camps. This country has always had concentration camps. We are the world’s greatest master of concentration camps and ethnic cleansing. I wrote about this in 2015.

“Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history,” Toland wrote in his book, Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography. “He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination—by starvation and uneven combat—of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”

A concentration camp is “a place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor or to await mass execution.” It’s a general term. Liz Cheney is the one trying to redefine it by claiming a concentration camp doesn’t count as one unless it’s being used to persecute Jewish people.

“Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history,” Cheney wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning. “6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.”

Hitler used concentration camps in the Holocaust, no one is claiming he didn’t. But America used them to round up and imprison people of Japanese descent in WWII, and we’re also using them now to isolate people of Latin American descent. We are throwing people who have committed no crime into crowded, inadequate facilities on the basis of their ethnicity, and people are dying.

Learn some history, and remember: Hitler’s concentration camps were inspired by an American model.


  1. rietpluim says

    This sadly reminds me of the UN Council debating the exact definition of “genocide” while in Bosnia civilians were killed by the thousands.

  2. zenlike says

    Sadly, I see too many “liberals” and “moderates” agreeing with Cheney (the spawn of the dark one, not the dark one himself) in this instance. For many, accepting what the US is, and has become, means that they suddenly need to take some action, or be judged by history as being silently complicit, and they can’t be bothered.

    “Wir haben es nich gewusst” 2.0

  3. says

    1400 migrant children are being held at Ft Sill, which was also a concentration camp for Americans of Japanese descent during WWII. Today, we apologize for that crime – I wonder how history will judge this repeat of it?

  4. doubtthat says

    What made the Nazis unique was not the use of concentration camps. It was converting those camps into organized death camps. I agree that no one should call our asylum seeker detention facilities “death camps.”

  5. rietpluim says

    doubtthat Just you wait. 24 People were left to die already, and I hold my heart for the traumatized children.

  6. rietpluim says

    Besides, there is nothing unique about turning concentration camps into death camps.

  7. arno says

    Concentration camps and extermination camps are very different things, but both horrible. Concentration camps are not particularly special to the nazis, and often have horrible death-rates (see eg the concentration camps used by the British in the Boer war), but these death-rates are a result of apathy and neglect. Oppression and persecuation of the inmates is intensional, their death is a sideeffect. What makes extermination camps even more horrible is that their expressed purpose is to kill their inmates, because the goal is to kill so many people that pre-industrial methods of killing seem insufficient. The nazis only created extermination camps about 9 years after they started using concentration camps. I’m quite confident that the US doesn’t have any yet… but that is small consolation.

  8. raven says

    Trump vows mass immigration arrests, removals of ‘millions of illegal …

    1 day ago – President Trump said immigration agents are planning to make … that aims to round up thousands of migrant parents and children in a blitz …

    Those US concentration camps are about to get a whole lot larger.

    Yesterday, an unreliable source AKA the president of the USA, Trump, claimed that we are going to have mass arrests of millions of illegal immigrants.
    We will have to put those millions of people somewhere and the only place would be…in concentration camps.

    .1. The timing here is great. Right before harvest season on the US farms.
    2. We don’t have the humanpower, money, or facilities to round up millions of people.
    3. US unemployment is low at 3.9%.
    Taking a few million people out of the labor supply is going to do wonders for our starting to show stress economy.

    Someone needs to distract the toddler in chief with some shiny objects or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue or something.

  9. siwuloki says

    Fort Sill’s history as a concentration camp goes back further. It’s where the Chiricahua Apache were sent (eventually) after their surrender. Geronimo lived out his days there and is buried there. In the Philippines, we established (more accurately inherited from the Spaniards) concentration camps (“reconcentrados”) to house Filipinos who mistakenly thought that we had liberated the country. We used them in Cuba for Cuban patriots who made the same mistake. In Vietnam, we established concentration camps under the euphemism “strategic hamlets”. To name but a few US examples.

  10. PaulBC says

    “Concentration camps and extermination camps are very different things, but both horrible.”

    Correct, which is why Cheney’s faux outrage is so off-base. Could we split the difference and call them internment camps? Of course, they really are concentration camps, so that might not be an honest response.

  11. rietpluim says

    The US are taken over by Nazis and here we are discussing semantics. Fuck that. The details may be important to historians in 2119, but here and now I couldn’t care less about the exact definitions of “concentration camp” and “extermination camp”. Apathy and neglect are intentional just as much as active termination is, and just as deadly.

  12. PaulBC says

    I’m also disgusted by the apathy towards Trump’s announcement of mass deportations of a million people. Maybe nobody thinks he’s serious, but it’s hard to imagine something like that attempted without hundreds or thousands of deaths. It’s taken nearly two and a half years, but Trump really has normalized the idea of ethnic cleansing (a horrible euphemism btw) in the US. I am sure his core supporters love him for it. The question is whether the rest of us care enough to stop him.

  13. PaulBC says

    Where are those fearsome MS-13 gang members? It seems like the tent prisons are filled with desperate refugees. No, I don’t expect anyone in the Trump administration or any part of the media to address this question.

  14. petesh says

    @9: To be cynically political (which feels awful, considering what Trump is threatening), yes, the chaos involved in an attempt to arrest millions of undocumented workers is very likely to backfire on him. He’s already annoyed mid-Western farmers with his tariff shenanigans, and his “failure” to jump-start the coal and steel industries (the quotes are because both sets of promises were always fantastical) hurts him with a core constituency of industrial workers, while his tax cuts for the rich are generally seen accurately … so messing up the harvest and other essential sources of low-wage employment could really put him in a hole.

    But that’s not just “a million” as if they were a faceless population of consumers, it’s individuals and families and tragedies almost beyond imagination. If he bluffs, lies and cheats his way to re-election, we will be well on our way to having our own Desaparecidos. We don’t need to look to Europe or the 1930s for horrible and relevant examples. We don’t even need to look to South America. We (collectively; our society as a whole) have done it before and those of us who recognize that have an obligation to stop it happening agin.

  15. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Yes, concentration camps are reserved for Jews, which comes as a great posthumous comfort to the homosexuals, gypsies and other groups who were in the same camps as the Jews, but were at least not in concentration camps, because those were reserved for Jews…don’tchasee.

  16. Zmidponk says

    Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.

    I would fire that right back at Cheney. Yes, 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, and, yes, many or even most were interred in concentration camps until they were killed. However, the total number of civilian deaths attributed to the Nazis is estimated at 11 million. Who do you think the other 5 million were? They were gay people, Roma people, Sinti people, Slavic people, black people, political opponents, people who had religious beliefs incompatible with Nazi ideology – basically, anybody and everybody that the Nazis didn’t like. They were also interred in concentration camps, just like the Jews, before being killed, just like the Jews.

  17. PaulBC says

    Concentration camps didn’t officially become death camps until the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wannsee_Conference in 1942. I’m not sure where to put Trump on the Nazi timeline (before Kristallnacht in 1938 anyway). The goal should be to stop him now, not to wait until the analogy is perfect enough to utter publicly.

  18. mnb0 says

    There is a gradual difference between concentration camps and extermination camps. Auschwitz largely belonged to the former; the Japanese had them too and the Dutch had one on New-Guinea (called Upper Digul). The extermination camps were Chelmno, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor. See Operation Reinhardt. Auschwitz had three parts; Auschwitz II, aka Auschwitz-Birkenau was also an extermination camp. Auschwitz I and Auschwitz III were used for slavery. Majdanek was a concentration camp until late 1942 and then became an extermination camp.
    Nazi-Germany had dozens of concentration camps. Death toll was high in all of them, especially after D-Day, but survival chance obviously was still better than in the extermination camps. So @4 Doubtthat and @6 Rietpluim got it wrong too.
    However Liz Cheney is a revisionist and every single revisionist is a PoS. The point she should make is that death toll in nazi-camps was much higher than in any American camp. Though the 19th Century camps were the Indians were concentrated tried very hard.

    @12 Rietpluim: “now I couldn’t care less about the exact definitions ”
    Good for you. For many victims of the nazis it meant the difference between immediate death and some chances of survival. Be sure they cared.

  19. says

    “a place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor or to await mass execution.”

    You mean like Palestine?

  20. jacksprocket says

    The US right are closely associated with Holocaust denialistm. This is a sort of reverse denialism- the rewriting of history to claim that ONLY the Jews suffered, and it’ only their suffering that matters. This of course suits the temporary alliance between the US nutty right and the Israeli ditto, and Cheney is attempting a sort of hyperachiement in trying to claim all references to persecution for Jews- next it will be other peoples’ genocides that are devalued. The British right succeeded recently in portraying the left as antisemitic, the evidence presented being largely a concentrated howling from the Tory press.

  21. says

    When you are trying to split hairs over whether your camps are concentration camps or some other kind of extrajudicial imprisonment, you are already so far off the reservation that the light from real humanity isn’t going to reach you for several years.

    How about “Never do anything that could be at all similar to concentration camps”?

  22. nomdeplume says

    What a fool Cheney is. But also perfectly illustrating the Republican approach “words mean what I want them to mean”. And also illustrating the Republican inability to learn from history, or even inow that history exists.

  23. says

    German Jews weren’t even the first people put into KZs. Those were tge communists, socialists, trade unionists, quickly followed by gay people and other “undesirables”.

  24. rietpluim says

    mnb0 If you’re insinuating that I don’t care about the victims then you are now cordially invited to go fuck yourself.

  25. says

    Waves back
    No, those are, while equally horrible, different institutions, though towards the end they basically merged.
    The first KZ, Dachau, was opened in March 33(!) for political opponents who had been arrested after the burning of the Reichstag.
    The first law against disabled and mentally ill people came in July 33 and at first targeted their reproductive freedom (though, of course, many disabled and mentally ill people had been institutionalised, which means that they were already separated from the general population) with forced sterilisation. Later the structures were parallel to the KZs and extinction camps, as for example Hadamar, which was specialised in murdering disabled people.