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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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September 11, 2005

Not "Relocation." Not "Evacuation." Internment.

Defenders of the Japanese internment bombard me with the statement that I am absolutely wrong (and a complete idiot, dimbulb liberal, etc.) to say that 110,000 West Coast ethnic Japanese were interned in World War II. They say it was far less than that, and fewer even than the number of Germans, Italians and others. In making this claim, they are using the legal definition of internment, which applies only to citizens of foreign countries.

One of my critics--one of the few well-mannered ones--writes:

Someday, Bruce, when you have a little free time may I suggest you read Title 50, Section 21 of the U.S. code. You will then have a precise and legal definition of internment.

I responded to him (and his peanut gallery):

The Websters New Collegiate Dictionary defines intern as "To confine or impound, esp. during a war" <-enemy aliens>"

The Concise Oxford Dictionary deflines intern as "confine; oblige (a prisoner, alien, etc.) to reside within prescribed limits."

The Oxford defines relocate as "move to a new place (esp. to live or work)." It defines evacuate as "remove people from a place of danger to stay elsewhere for the duration of the danger."

I read that the U.S. Code doesn't call what was done to the Japanese Americans "internment." There is a natural tendency to euphemism when people are doing a morally questionable thing--a thing that might raise objections if called by its right name. I have not read the U.S. Code, but I read my own newspaper from the first months of 1942, and the people then didn't call it internment, either. They talked about "evacuating", "relocating" or "moving."

These are not the right words, because they do not imply the use of force. People may relocate themselves. They may evacuate themselves, and generally when the government evacuates them, they're thankful, because they are being saved. The Japanese Americans were ordered out by the Army. Legally they were not aliens, but they were treated as if they were. They were forcibly confined in camps in the desert. Some of them got permission to leave in the following three years, but most of them didn't. By the dictionary, they were interned.

I use the dictionary word. So do historians. "The Japanese internment" is the name that virtually everyone calls it. That is what Michelle Malkin calls it. In her book, which argues that it was justified, she explains that it was not legally internment--and then she calls her book "In Defense of Internment." Why? So that when people see the book on the bookstore shelf, they know what it's about. She did not call her book, "In Defense of Evacuation."

You can continue on, citing Title 50, Section 21 of the U.S. code, if you like. I repeat: You are playing games with words.

Repond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at September 11, 2005 07:59 PM



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