Either word is sometimes just a way of sugar coating the truth.
Dr. James Hirabayashi, was a Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. An ethnic pioneer with a scholarly family, all connected to a U.S. relocation camp. More than 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes during WWII in the month of December 1942 and taken to a concentration camp. He wrote an article in 1994 where 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 incarcerees. 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.
A place called “Manzanar.” This camp grounds sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California. Now, the National Park Service keeps its history alive by preserving its past.
During the summer of 2017 I passed by this historical landmark, its dusty grounds and penetrating heat. I have never visited the park but I intend to do so soon. But I did have the privilege of meeting a friend of a friend the other night. As we all gathered to enjoy the food in front of us and share some stories and good conversation she commented that her mother and father were a part of this act of unkindness inflicted upon her culture. Her stories were both fascinating and entertaining, even with moments of pitted sadness. Her parents have crossed over now into a new place.
While I was doing a small bit of research about this place I discovered that two of my most favored photographers spent time there photographing many of the images that emerged from there.
Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange.
Dr. James Hirabayashi died in May of 2012 at the age of 85.