What term to use?
When one reads about the history of the Japanese-American internment program, it becomes obvious that there's a controversy about what terms should be used. For example:
The U.S. government, while it was contemplating the relocation of the Issei and Nisei, itself used the term "concentration camp" in its communications. Some authors use that term, others uses other terms when naming their books.
The terms most often used are Internment Camp and Concentration Camp. The use of the term "concentration camp" naturally stirs a lot of emotions, so let's look at some comparisons.
In both internment camps and concentration camps, people are jailed illegally. They are held without charge and without trial and in full violation of their rights as citizens (assuming they are not "enemy aliens.")
In both case the area is almost always surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.
In both cases the people are held for an indefinite length of time.
In both cases the people in the camps are in their for their racial and/or their religious convictions (although some were added to concentration camps since they were gay or political prisoners, and some were interned in the U.S. as German or Italian non-citizen aliens.)
In both cases people were forced to leave their homes and their occupations little or no warning.
So it's obvious that the targets, methods and means of interning the people are almost identical in both concentration camps and in internment camps. There is one crucial difference, though, and that is in the ultimate purpose of the camps.
The ultimate purpose of the camps holding Japanese aliens and Japanese-Americans was to remove them from the West Coast since they were considered a military threat to the area, with the goal being to relocate these people in other parts of the country or, in the case of "troublemakers," to put them into isolation centers and outright prisons.
The purpose of the concentration camps, on the other hand, was outright extermination of a group of people. Those camps were set up as killing machines, not holding places. So in that one sense the internment camps and the concentration camps differed radically.
Thus, in my opinion, anyway, the term "internment camp" is the better of the two to use in describing the holding of the Japanese aliens and Japanese Americans, and the term "concentration camp" should be held historically for what the Nazis established for the Jews, gays and political prisoners.
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Japanese-American Internment Camps index page
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