National JACL Board Reaffirms “American Concentration Camp”


Photo: Power Of Words II Committee/JACL
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by Mako Nakagawa and Andy Noguchi

We welcome and congratulate the National Japanese American Citizens League Board, under intense community interest, as it reaffirmed the three National JACL Council votes to fully implement the recommended terms American concentration camp, incarceration camp, and illegal detention center. By doing so, it rejected suggestions from some national JACL leaders to drop American concentration camp in order to form a coalition with the American Jewish Committee and others who have lobbied against the JACL using the term.

The National JACL Board, chaired by JACL President David Lin, and composed of 15 members, addressed this controversy on Saturday, February 23, at its quarterly meeting in San Francisco. Craig Tomiyoshi, Vice President of Public Affairs, presented the JACL Board position of fully implementing the National Council policy.

Northen Calfornia-Western Nevada-Pacific JACL Governor David Unruhe also shared a strong resolution from his District urging no omission of terms. Andy Noguchi, NCWNP JACL District Civil Rights Co-Chair, represented the concerns of Power of Words advocates.

To be clear on the policy implementation, Noguchi twice stated to the National Board that this meant that no coalition will be formed on the basis of dropping American concentration camp. No one contradicted this meaning.

We wish to thank the many people around the country who shared their concerns with the National JACL in the days and weeks leading up to the Board meeting. Some of them include:

  • Bruce Embrey, Co-Chair of the Manzanar Committee (Los Angeles)
  • Tom Ikeda, Director of Densho (Seattle)
  • Tetsuden Kashima, Author and Professor, University of Washington (Seattle)
  • Soji Kashiwagi, Playwright and Pasadena Human Rights Commissioner (Los Angeles).
  • A. Hirotoshi Nishikawa, 2011-2012 National JACL Power of Words Committee (Philadelphia)
  • Stan Shikuma, Co-Chair, Seattle JACL Power of Words Committee
  • Hiroshi Shimizu, President of the Tule Lake Committee (San Francisco)
  • Barbara Takei, Co-Author of Tule Lake Revisited (Sacramento)

Lin specifically expressed his appreciation to them and others at the National JACL Board meeting for their valuable input.

This policy reaffirmation validates the democratic vote of the National Council in three successive years after prolonged thoughtful discussion, debate, research, and writing. This also sets the stage for the JACL further implementing the Power of Words.

For example, the National JACL can join ongoing discussions with the National Park Service on preservation of confinement sites and how they’re described, freshly re-armed with the Power of Words. Leading groups such as the Manzanar Committee and Tule Lake Committee, that have led these efforts for several decades, will welcome this increased backing from the JACL.

The past three years of the Power of Words movement, initiated by the Seattle JACL Chapter and the Pacific Northwest JACL District, has gathered tremendous steam from hundreds of educators, writers, historians, organizations, JACL Chapters, community leaders and others across the country. We believe that the JACL and this much broader coalition now have a great opportunity to further educate the public, agencies, media, and others about the injustice of the Japanese American World War II incarceration.

Misleading government euphemisms like relocation camp, assembly center, and internment camp should no longer be an insurmountable obstacle to understanding. Ridiculous notions that we were being protected or pampered will diminish.

Honest terms like American concentration camp, incarceration camp, illegal detention center, forced removal, and others, can now truthfully tell a story: How the government used language to cover up the denial of constitutional rights, the racism, force removal, incarceration, and oppressive conditions directed against 120,000 innocent people of Japanese ancestry.

As some, including Tom Ikeda of Densho point out, the term American concentration camp offers the JACL a teachable moment about how a racial, religious, ethnic, or other unpopular group can be targeted, imprisoned, and oppressed.

This is also an opportunity to talk of the inhuman extremes of Nazi Germany when it imprisoned, tortured, and murdered 11,000,000 innocent people, including 6,000,000 Jews. We understand that using the term concentration camps, in that case, is a misleading euphemism for horrendous crimes against humanity and that many people instead use the terms death and extermination camps.

Let us hope to now move ahead with full implementation and that there will be no need to again reaffirm the National JACL Council’s policy on the Power of Words.

Thank you,
Mako Nakagawa
Seattle JACL Chapter
Seattle Power of Words Committee
National JACL Education Committee (2013)

Andy Noguchi
Civil Rights Co-Chair
Youth Co-Advisor
Florin JACL Chapter
NCWNP JACL District Civil Rights Co-Chair
National JACL Power of Words Committee (2011-2012)

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

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4 Responses to National JACL Board Reaffirms “American Concentration Camp”

  1. Floyd Shirk says:

    As an old “hakujin” who was around when the camps were established, I am not eligible for JACL membership. But I am able to applaud their stance on calling a rose a rose so to speak.

    The politically correct terms “relocation camps” and “internees” are far too mild to properly fit the actual events of WWII. Much more accurate words are “concentration camps” and “prisoners.”

    Actually, the whole removal act should more properly be referred to as an American version of Hitler’s holocaust dealing with Jews. Both events started exactly alike. For the gas chambers of the German version were not in the Nazi leader’s original plans. He simply wished to hold the Jews until they could be “relocated” – there’s that word again – to territories outside Germany which he would invade and conquer. That plan was changed and the ovens built only after he realized that the logistics of such a move were far too formidable. And, after Germany started to suffer severe manpower shortages in the defense industry.

    When people are forcibly removed from their homes for no legal reason and placed in barbed wire enclosures with the machine guns pointed inward, they are, in fact, prisoners in a concentration camp.

    Floyd Shirk

  2. Jerome Krase says:

    there were many terms for nazi camps (variations also by language used) in which extermination was not the primary function so the use of the term ‘american concentration camp’ makes perfect sense despite some sensibilities such as to the use of the ‘diaspora.’ having read about concentration camps globally and having met ‘survivors’ of both nazi and american versions i must say that the broad psychological effects vary only by degree. the term is also important to remind ourselves of what we, as a people, are capable of doing to our friends and neighbors when stimulated by mass media appeals to ignorance as well as envy and greed.

  3. Pingback: JACL Statement on the Power of Words | Manzanar Committee

  4. Pingback: JACL Statement on the Power of Words | Minidoka Pilgrimage's Blog

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