I wrote this during last week’s coverage of this new crime against humanity perpetrated by the Republican Party and Department of Homeland Security, but a big problem around these child concentration camps is that we have come to misunderstand the term.
What the Nazis ultimately killed the Jews and other minority groups inside of were not concentration camps. They were extermination camps. The “ghettos” that Jews were initially concentrated inside were concentration camps. We’ve been doing Nazi PR by calling early Dachau (the first concentration camp) and Auschwitz (where at least 1.1 million were murdered) the same thing.
Our Nazi assist may seem preposterous, but it’s perfectly in line with our American values. Per Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf:
There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but [the US], in which an effort is made to consult reason at least partially. By refusing immigrants on principle to elements in poor health, by simply excluding certain races from naturalisation, it professes in slow beginnings a view that is peculiar to the People’s State.
While we deviated a bit from Hitler’s vision in the years after he wrote that, we have now circled back around to it. This is America.
These are concentration camps. Encyclopedia Britannica defines the term as an “internment centre for political prisoners and members of national or minority groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or punishment, usually by executive decree or military order.” Our leaders are lying about a war crime, which may seem ridiculous, but again—it is right in line with American tradition.
We call Nazi extermination camps “concentration camps,” yet conveniently forget about our own concentration camps which imprisoned Japanese-American citizens during the same time. True freedom in America is a lie. Plenty of supposed “respectful” Republicans are cautioning us about being too hyperbolic and comparing these to Nazi war crimes, but that's not the point (the implication, as always, is that liberal hysteria is to blame for Trump, not conservatives making conscious decisions).
In fact, arguing over the degree of awfulness misses the point entirely. Concentration camps sprung up in early 1930's Germany. Extermination camps soon followed.
Given that the Chief Nazi was encouraged by America's “progress” on his Final Solution, we don't need to travel that far to compare our child concentration camps to a piece of shameful history. We are repeating the madness we displayed during World War II (and before)—except this time with a wholly invented global cataclysm to push back against. Americans interned around 120,000 of our own during World War II. Now that Trump has established that anyone branded as an MS-13 member is an “animal” (with a huge assist from some supposed respected conservatives—again, tone policing is all the powerless #NeverTrump GOP faction has left), we can easily eclipse that figure given our current political climate. We're expected to be imprisoning 30,000 CHILDREN BY AUGUST.
This is going to get worse. The president's son liked a tweet falsely accusing these children locked in cages of being crisis actors. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen “We don't put children in cages—except we need to in order to enforce the law” Nielsen, pushed a watered-down version of the same line this morning.
Stop saying “we are better than this,” or “this isn’t America.” This has always been America—with this spirit enthusiastically embodied by the Republican Party of the last half-century, and being realized to its logical ends with the Trump Administration.
We built a global superpower on the graves of the natives and on the backs of slaves. We have always been able to use rhetorical tricks—like “Manifest Destiny”—to justify our crimes against humanity. Here’s Jeff Sessions—a ranking member on the Senate Budget, Judiciary and Armed Services Committees before becoming America’s most powerful lawman under Trump—praising the same racist Immigration Act of 1924 fawned upon by Hitler at the top of this story:
When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly, we then assimilated through the 1965 [Immigration Act] and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America. We passed a law that went far beyond what anybody realized in 1965, and we’re on a path to surge far past what the situation was in 1924.
America is a “democracy” built on the principle of exclusion. Women have had the vote for 40% of our history—African Americans for 61% at best. We have proven that we are capable of extreme fascism well before the word “Nazi” was a thing. Hell, even when we were doing good for the world by fighting the Nazis, we kept their dream alive by throwing over a hundred thousand Americans inside the very kind of camps we sacrificed American lives to liberate in Europe. In some ways, Hitler won before the fight was over.
Not even a century later, as our last World War II veterans pass away, we are reconstructing prisons in subservience to the same ideology which buoyed the Nazis. Call these camps whatever you want. We spent the entirety of our post-WWII years proving that words don’t mean anything (hence why we now call them internment camps, prison camps, etc…). These crimes against humanity are emblematic of both Nazi and American World War II concentration camps. Anyone who believes they should exist is part of the problem.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.