Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Three mistakes

Richard Cohen, writing in The Washington Post, asserts that the “immigrant detention centers” on the southern border are not concentration camps:

The internment centers at the border are bad — granted. People have died in them, some of them children. Sleeping conditions can be harsh, and it was White House policy to separate children from their parents — an unconscionable cruelty so patent that even President Trump backed down. The president himself agreed Sunday that conditions at some centers are “terrible.”

Still, no one is being held for political, ideological or religious reasons. No one is being whipped and made to work until dead from exhaustion. There is no crematorium
— and I’ll stop quoting right there.

Cohen makes three mistakes. One is to insist that a place must match a particular historical instantiation of the concentration camp to be called a concentration camp. A second is to minimize the horror of a present reality by the use of the word still. A third is to use still to introduce the utterly fallacious assertion that “no one is being held for political, ideological or religious reasons.” Of course the people being held on the southern border are being held for political and ideological reasons. They have been conscripted as extras in a theater of cruelty whose purpose is to gratify the inchoate fear and hatred of a racist, xenophobic president’s so-called “base.” The cruelty, as many people have observed, is a feature, not a bug.

The Merriam-Webster definition of concentration camp:
a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard —used especially in reference to camps created by the Nazis in World War II for the internment and persecution of Jews and other prisoners.
And the Oxford English Dictionary definition:
a camp in which large numbers of people, esp. political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labour or to await mass execution.
Either definition is a fair description of our twenty-first-century American “detention centers.” If the best Richard Cohen can do is to say that no one is being whipped, no one is being worked to death, he has chosen to see what is not normal as already normal.

A related post
Masha Dessen on “concentration camp”

[And re: the internment of Japanese-Americans, Cohen says, ”Atrocious, but not a concentration camp.”]

comments: 5

Daughter Number Three said...

It's like he's bending over backwards to not make it fit, and purposely didn't consult a dictionary.

Michael Leddy said...

It’s the top look-up at Merriam-Webster right now. And there’s a piece at M-W about that.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this, via the link in your newest post. Wow. These are the kinds of things people say to avoid reality and appear "rational." And so they aid in the furtherance of cruelty and madness.

zzi said...

Any trivialization of the Holocaust is offensive. Do this to fellow Americans, in order to serve their Left-wing politics is worse than offensive. It is immoral.

Michael Leddy said...

Trivializing the Holocaust is immoral. But I don’t think calling a “detention center” by another, more accurate name is immoral.

Here for any reader who might be interested, is Rabbi Brant Rosen’s explanation of why he agrees with the characterization “concentration camp”. Two excerpts:

“We Jews do not own this term. But in fact, I would argue it is imperative that we Jews use this term whenever these dreadful facilities are imposed on groups of people other than ourselves. History has shown us that the concentration of humanity into forced detention invariably leads entire societies to exceedingly dark places. This practice did not begin with Nazi policies against European Jewry — nor did it end there.

“The same is true of AOC's impassioned and all-too familiar call, ‘Never again.’ As a rabbi, a Jew and a person of conscience, allow me to put it as plainly as I can: AOC’s use of this phrase was altogether appropriate. I do not and cannot view this call as ‘Holocaust terminology.’ On the contrary: ‘Never Again’ means never again for anyone, or else it doesn't mean anything at all.

“The fact that we are even debating these terms shows just how twisted the conversation has become. Rather than parsing the words of a human rights champion like AOC for petty political gain, these politicians and Jewish leaders should be directing their criticism where it truly belongs: at a morally depraved national policy that parses out access to human rights according to origin and ethnicity, tears apart families, and cages children in, yes, concentration camps.”