Many today argue that these euphemisms should be replaced with phrases that reveal
the truth of what happened. Some historians go so far as to argue that the camps should
be called “America’s Concentration Camps.”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “concentration camp” as “a facility where
persons (as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined.”
Lane Hirabayashi, Professor of Asian American Studies at UCLA, distinguished
three major types of concentration camps in a “Power of Words” workshop during
the National JACL Convention in 2012: Nazi death camps, Soviet labor camps, and
Japanese American camps. They vary in severity but all are concentration camps.
Abbie Salyers Grubb also addressed this dilemma in her PhD dissertation1. Although
the camps holding Japanese Americans during WWII meet the technical definition of
concentration camps, she argues that that term has become so inextricably linked with
Nazi death camps that it misrepresents conditions in American camps.
The NVN’s interest is in historical accuracy, not advocating a point of view on what to
call the camps. Therefore, throughout this web site, we will simply refer to the camps as
camps, describe conditions inside them, and let readers supply their own adjectives.
Words have the power to reveal truth and obscure it. To preserve democracy and
prevent future abuses of freedom, it is important for future generations to understand
what truly happened.