Grateful Crane’s Soji Kashiwagi Weighs In On Use Of “Concentration Camp”

Another voice in the debate on the use of euphemistic terms to describe the Japanese American Internment experience is that of playwright Soji Kashiwagi, Executive Producer of the Grateful Crane Ensemble.

Responding to Rafu Shimpo columnist George Yoshinaga, who has, for many years, argued that concentration camp is not an appropriate term to describe the camps that Americans of Japanese ancestry and their immigrant parents were imprisoned in during World War II, Kashiwagi criticized Yoshinaga’s stance in a piece submitted to the Rafu Shimpo and to the Manzanar Committee blog.

The following is Kashiwagi’s response:


Since “Horse” Yoshinaga is now using the dictionary to define the word “opinion,” let’s take a look at the term concentration camp.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines it as “a camp where prisoners of war, enemy aliens, and political prisoners are detained…typically under harsh conditions.”

Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, in her essay entitled, Words Can Lie or Clarify: Terminology of the World War II Incarceration of Japanese Americans, defends the use of the term to accurately describe our community’s World War II camps of confinement:

“At what point are we, as Americans of Japanese ancestry, going to cease to resist having our history written for us by others? Is our empowerment so weak that we must capitulate and surrender our right to state our own history in our own words?”

Government written euphemisms, she found after years of research from the National Archives and University libraries, “…were deliberately used to obscure and conceal what was done to American citizens under the fraudulent rationale of ‘military necessity.’”

Euphemisms such as “relocation center” and “non-aliens” (to describe Nisei American citizens) cleverly covered up the truth that its action against our community was unconstitutional, it was wrong and it was a complete betrayal of American citizens.

For members of our community to continue to call what is commonly referred to as “camp” a “relocation center for non-aliens,” years after the U.S. Government has already admitted its mistake, apologized and paid redress and reparations, is to continue to cover up the truth. The truth, as uncovered by scholars inside and outside of our community, is these were “American-style concentration camps for U.S. Citizens,” and not “relocation centers for non-aliens.”

It’s time for us to define this story ourselves and tell it like it was, without sugarcoating and euphemisms. Our younger generations need to know and understand the truth, and be able to respond accordingly to prevent something like this from ever happening again. We also need to tell the truth to our fellow Americans so they will understand that the scapegoating and violence toward Muslim Americans today happened to our community 68 years ago, and that we cannot stand by and let it happen again.

“Horse” has his story (Rafu Shimpo, September 9, 2010), and I’m sure he’s sticking to it. He’s entitled to do so. But I don’t believe his experience of leaving camp and being “free” on the “outside” is representative of the entire Japanese American community, spread out over ten camps. Based on his experience, he wants to be “…rid of all this crap” about the use of the term concentration camp. I believe we should call “a spade a spade.” Instead of “crap,” let’s call it the “truth” and tell it. This is our responsibility now and for our future.


The views expressed in this story are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.


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8 Responses to Grateful Crane’s Soji Kashiwagi Weighs In On Use Of “Concentration Camp”

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