I posted this as a comment in response to a series of comments I received for Friday’s Blog, “Dennis Prager is an Ass.” But it’s jjust so spiffy a comment I find myself compelled, in my ego, to publish it as a whole blog:
A word or two on the meaning of words. Dictionary.com defines “concentration camp” as:
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) – concentration camp–noun: a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc., esp. any of the camps established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II for the confinement and persecution of prisoners. [Origin: 1900–05, applied orig. to camps where noncombatants were placed during the Boer War]
As the entry points out, the concept of the concentration camp was not developed by the Nazis but by the British to incarcerate Boer civilians during the Boer War so as to deprive Boer guerillas of the support from said civilians. Given that the internment centers for American’s of Japanese descent were a series of “guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities…” the use of the term “concentration camp” to describe them is factually accurate. It is, also, emotionally loaded, admittedly. But, then so to is the legacy of that policy.
“Racism,” meanwhile, is defined as:
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) -rac·ism [rey-siz-uhm] –noun
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3.hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
Was slavery racist? Was segregation? Or were these institutions based on legitimate security concerns or sound policy initiatives based on the historical contexts of their times? My father told a joke about his experiences as a swarthy-skinned Sicilian doing military training in the deep south: A swarthy Sicilian-American gets on a bus in Biloxi, Mississippi during WWII. The bus driver looks at him and says “Back of the bus, back of the bus.” The Sicilian-American fellow says, “I’m not black, I’m Sicilian.” The bus drive looks at him and says, “Off the bus, off the bus.”
Did my father experience anything that might meet the dictionary definition of racism in his experiences in the South during WWII? Are you, Mr. Nolan, arguing that America has never experienced intense, institutionalized racism in its history?
Mr. Nolan, you dismiss my argument as being “based on an irrational hatred for your country and an over-zealous eagerness to see racism at its heart.” Many people profess to “love” their country when what they are really in love with is their sense of self. Such people, having no empathy for the problems of others, reject any criticism of any reason for the country they “love” because it is an assault on their own ego. To love someone is to want the best for them—not one’s self. Criticism of one’s country when that country is legitimately wrong, with the hope of making one’s country an even better place, is far more of a demonstration of “love” than is willful ignorance of mistakes and injustices simply for the ego-satisfaction of saying “my country is perfect and, by inference, so I am. This is not love of country. It is the love of Onin disguised as patriotism.
Three last points. First, you state in your third post that “Nearly half of those interned were of European ancestry.” That statement is simply in factual error. An estimated 11,000 people of European ancestry (primarily German) were interned during the war (as opposed to over 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent). Most of these were foreign German nationals who, in many cases, had family members voluntarily accompany them into internment. There was nothing voluntary for the Americans of Japanese descent who were overwhelmingly American citizens. Given the small number of Americans of Japanese descent in the overall population, especially given the huge percentage of Americans at the time of German descent, to argue that the treatment of these two groups was equal is simply ludicrous.
Third, you ask “Why not take your argument a step further and say that our entire involvement in WWII was a pretense for stealing land from Japanese Americans?” That is also a ludicrous non-sequitur. Well, actually, the US did enter the war to protect property – our battleships, to be precisely, bombed at Pearl Harbor. American entry in to WWII was, by any measure, a just and noble cause. But what we did to Americans of Japanese descent—and the fact their properties were seized and never returned—was simply neither just nor noble.
And, given all the justifications of the internments you provide, why do you then hesitate and say it was “probably a mistake?” What is the basis for your reversal? Why do you simply not have the courage of your convictions to argue that yes, indeed, the internment WAS justified and that under similar circumstances a similar policy might be justified in the future (or even the present)?
Finally, you advise me to “be careful when throwing around the term ‘disingenuous’.” Here I must agree with you. Dictionary.com defines disingenuous as:
lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity; falsely or hypocritically ingenuous; insincere: Her excuse was rather disingenuous.
As such, it is an inaccurate word to use to describe Mr. Prager’s remarks. Ultimately, I fear, he—and you—actually believe you can reinterpret words and history at whim to make them comport to whatever world view you hold. “Delusional” would, therefore, be the appropriate adjective to describe Mr. Prager’s—and your—opinions.