Don’t Be Outraged They’re Being Called Concentration Camps. Be Outraged They Exist.Roundup
tags: immigration, concentration camps, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Liz Cheney
Eladio Bobadilla is an assistant professor of history at the University of Kentucky. He is an expert in immigration history and policy and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. He tweets from @E_Bobadilla_PhD.
On Tuesday, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, tweeted an indignant condemnation of Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who earlier had denounced what she called “concentration camps” on the nation’s southern border, referring to detention centers where thousands of mostly Central American asylum seekers continue to be being held in accordance with the Trump administration’s Draconian border policy that has already produced tens of thousands of detentions, thousands of family separations, and two dozen deaths.
Cheney is not alone. Other conservative commentators have objected to the characterization of border holding facilities as “concentration camps,” claiming that the use of such terminology is inaccurate and “demeans the memory” of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. But these commentators are wrong, both historically and morally. Not only is it historically accurate to call these detention centers concentration camps, but the uproar reveals a curious and cruel irony: conservatives are more outraged by the terms used to describe the detention camps than they are by the conditions inside them.
First, as several historians and journalists have already pointed out, it is important to remember that although the two terms are often used interchangeably, concentration camps are not the same as death or extermination camps. As Andrea Pitzer —who wrote a book about the history of concentration camps— has shown, the concept and use of concentration camps did not originate during (or even in reference to) the Holocaust.