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  • Writer's pictureTetsu

Concentration camps: what are they?

Magister Quinn: Good morning all.

Today we'll talk about... concentration camps. As you, probably, all heard, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, congresswoman for NY-14, called children detention centers, where Trump's administration puts kids of asylum seekers, concentration camps. Which caused rage and fury in another camp – the camp of Republicans. So this is a good opportunity for us to talk about what concentration camps are and how they appeared in the history of the humankind.

A bit of history

The term "concentration camp" was introduced by—

Tetsu: I know! By Nazi!

Magister Quinn: No, Tetsu, not by the Nazi. The origin of this word-combination goes back to the Spanish campos de concentración, which were build by the Spanish general Valeriano Weyler during the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898). Weyler, who was made Governor-General of Cuba at the beginning of 1896, had to fight a wide-spread insurgency – surely, a very difficult task. The insurgents used hit-and-run tactics and were supported by the local population. General Weyler, quite an experienced "suppressor of rebellions", came to the conclusion that, in order to successfully fight the insurgents, the local population needed to be separated from them and concentrated in certain areas and cities, hmm... "safe havens, protected by loyal Spanish troops". How safe were those "havens" – you can judge by yourselves: the civilian losses were estimated as 155,000–170,000 deaths, nearly 10 percent of the total population.

Although the term “concentration camp” (or “reconcentration camp”) appeared during the Cuban War of Independence, it wasn’t used much at that time. The term became common later, in the times of—

Tetsu: Second World War!

Magister Quinn: No, Tetsu, not the Second World War. It happened much earlier, in the times of another second war: Second Anglo-Boer War (1900–1902). In that war, the British Empire fought two Boer states (the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State) over influence in South Africa. Initially, the British Army was setting "refugee camps" – with a goal to provide shelter for the civilians driven from their homes by war. The situation changed, however, when the commander of British forces Lord Frederick Roberts began to apply the tactics of “Scourged Earth” to break the resistance of Boers, who were wielding a guerrilla campaign. As a result, crops were destroyed, livestock slaughtered, homesteads and farms burnt down and the population (mostly women and children) forcibly moved into the camps, which had already become concentration camps.

The tactics of “Scourged Earth” was later expanded by the successor of General Roberts, Lord Herbert Kitchener – and the influx of civilians into the camps increased dramatically. Consequently, the living conditions in the camps worsened – also dramatically. Inadequate shelter, starvation, poor hygiene and, as a result, epidemies – people were dying in masses.

Thus, as we can see, concentration camps appeared initially as a cruel and inhumane – albeit, some would say, effective – tactics of regular troops against guerrilla war. There was another war-related phenomenon, which some scholars also consider as a prototype of concentration camps: prisoner-of-war camps (POW camps). The first war, in which POW camps assumed some features of concentration camps was—

Tetsu: Second World War!

Magister Quinn: NO, Tetsu. NOT the Second World War. It was the American Civil War of 1861-1865. At first, both sides fighting in that war: Unionists and Confederates – used the traditional European system of parole and exchange of prisoners. A prisoner on parole gave a promise not to participate in the fighting until his name was "exchanged" for a prisoner on the other side. Then both of them could rejoin their units. This noble exchange system, which originated from the medieval traditions of knighthood, collapsed in 1863 because the Confederacy refused to treat black prisoners the same as whites. They said they were probably ex-slaves and belonged to their masters, not to the Union Army. As a result, the exchange of prisoners was ceased, and the prison populations on both sides soared. As you already have probably guessed, the conditions in those POW camps were terrible.

Varieties of concentration camps
Varieties of concentration camps

The 20th century came on the rise of nationalistic and imperialistic mentality, and it brought a lot of wars: colonial, civil – including two world wars. Revolutions, the crash of the colonial system, the emergence of totalitarian regimes – all those cataclysmic events resulted in the appearance of new varieties of concentration camps, including the most abhorrent ones: Nazi camps. But before discussing these varieties, let us define the notion of concentration camp.

The definition of "concentration camp"

So, what is concentration camp?

Tetsu: It's a camp where Nazi imprisoned and killed Jews!

Magister Quinn: TETSU. I understand that the moment you hear the phrase "concentration camp", you can only think about death camps built by the Nazi – but are you listening what we are talking about? Can you, please, think a bit more before you start speaking? And don't try to mimic Ben Shapiro, okay? You are not that fast.

Tetsu: Haaaai, sumi masen...

Magister Quinn: Good. Now, the American Heritage Dictionary defines the term concentration camp as:

"A camp where persons are confined, usually without hearings and typically under harsh conditions, often as a result of their membership in a group the government has identified as dangerous or undesirable."

This is quite a general definition, and you should have noticed that it is pretty careful and non-categorical: "usually without hearings", "typically under harsh conditions", "often as a result...". This is not some kind of academic prudence. There are a lot of cases when a camp does not meet all the criteria of this definition, and yet it is clear that it should be considered as a concentration camp. Now lets briefly overview the varieties of concentration camps.

Prisoner-of-war (POW) camps

American POWs liberated from a Japanese prison camp at Santo Tomas University. Manila, Luzon, Philippines, by Carl Mydans, 1945

The first POW camps were constructed during Napoleonic Wars – long before the time when some of them assumed the character of concentration camps. At the end of the 19th – first half of the 20th centuries, the international community tried to regulate the treatment of prisoners of war (Hague Peace Conference of 1899; Hague Convention of 1907; Geneva Conference of the Red Cross of 1917; Geneva Convention of 1929). Those conventions established a number of provisions about the treatment of prisoners of war, and it did help to improve the conditions in POW camps during the 1st and 2nd World Wars – in the cases when the governments abode by those rules. Unfortunately, there were many cases when the rules were violated. The causes, you ask? Well, sometimes it wasn't on purpose: the authorities simply couldn't cope with the number of prisoners, who suffered from the starvation, diseases etc. That's what happened during the American Civil War, 2nd Anglo-Boer War, and in many wars afterwards. A more generic cause: care about prisoners has never been a top-priority task during wars. The military goals – that's the highest priority of generals, and how could they care about prisoners when their own soldiers were dying from typhoid fever and other epidemies? But the most heinous cause of bad treatment of prisoners of war was when it happened on purpose, out of sheer hatred to the enemy. Vivid examples of this are POW camps constructed by the Imperial Japan during the 2nd World War and, of course, Nazi camps, which we'll consider separately.

Internment camps

Internment camps are camps where governments imprison people (commonly in large groups) whom they suspect to be dangerous or "undesirable" to the country. Usually, internment of people occurred in the times of war, when the government suspected people of a certain category (defined by their ethnicity, nationality etc.) to become disloyal and support the enemy – but it may also happen in the times of peace (for example, in the case of terrorists suspects or illegal immigrants). A characteristic feature of internment is that people are imprisoned without trial. By the definition, internment camps fit most accurately in the notion of "concentration camps", and these two terms are even considered synonyms. Other types of concentration camps, like communistic labor camps or Nazi camps can be viewed as specific varieties of internment camps.

A propaganda cartoon by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) depicting Japanese Americans on the West Coast as prepared to conduct sabotage against the United States, 1942.

The camps constructed by the British Empire during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War and many camps built during the 1st World War are typical examples of internment camps, in which governments imprisoned civilians suspected of loyalty to the enemy. Even a suspicion that people of a certain nationality might become disloyal in a hypothetical case of invasion could be enough to fuel the flames of nationalistic hatred. A vivid illustration of this is the internment of Japanese Americans by the United States during the 2nd World War. Read, for example, what Los Angeles Times wrote in their editorial in 1942 about imprisonment of Japanese Americans in the concentration camps: "A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched... So, a Japanese American born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere...notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship almost inevitably and with the rarest exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, and not an American... Thus, while it might cause injustice to a few to treat them all as potential enemies, I cannot escape the conclusion...that such treatment...should be accorded to each and all of them while we are at war with their race."

Tetsu: Ugh... "A viper is nonetheless a viper"... They sound like Grand Maester Pycelle from the "Game of Thrones"... "TREASON IS TREASON!" Bleaaah...

Magister Quinn: *sigh* Tetsu... Could you, please, stop thinking about "Game of Thrones"?

Tetsu: S-sumi masen...

Magister Quinn: Okay. Lets move further.

Labor and re-education camps

The White Sea–Baltic Canal was the first major project constructed in the Soviet Union using forced labor.

In many concentration camps built in the 20th century, people were subjected to forced labor. However, a certain category of labor camps stands out: the labor camps built by the totalitarian communistic regimes. Those regimes, e.g., the communistic regimes of the Soviet Union and China, imprisoned millions of people in labor camps. Of course, the staunch supporters of communistic dictators would vehemently oppose to calling their camps "concentration camps". "They were a part of the judiciary-penitentiary system! Only criminals were imprisoned in those camps, and that's what they deserved! It was fascists who built concentration camps, and we were the ones who defeated them! How dare you compare our camps to their camps!" – that's what they'd say. The truth is, most of the people imprisoned in those labor camps weren't criminals; they were political opponents of the regimes, often wrongly accused – just by suspicion or slanderous denunciation. The judiciary machine, however, was working in the automatic mode, convicting people without any real legal investigation. A self-incriminating statement knocked-out under torture was considered the ultimate proof of guilt. In China and Vietnam, those labor camps were called "re-education camps", which actually meant that there wasn't any specific terms of imprisonment. People were imprisoned until they'd have become "re-educated", and who decided if they had? Their prisoners, of course.

Nazi camps

The concentration camps constructed by the Nazi Germany before and during 2nd World War became one of the most horrific phenomena in the history of the humankind. The outburst of nationalism fueled by the resentment of Germans after their defeat in the 1st World War, fascistic rule, Nazi ideology, totalitarian state – combined, all those factors gave rise to an unprecedented machinery of dehumanization, exploitation, torture and extermination of people – on a scale unseen before.

Nazi camp ID-emblems in a 1936 German illustration

In their camps, the Nazi imprisoned people of various categories, whom they labeled with so-called "shame badges", triangles of different color:

  • Red triangle – political prisoners;

  • Green triangle – convicts and criminals;

  • Blue triangle – foreign forced laborers and emigrants;

  • Purple triangle – religious pacifists (mainly Jehovah's Witnesses; over 99%);

  • Pink triangle – homosexual men and, in a much smaller number, "sexual offenders";

  • Black triangle – so-called "asocial and work-shy elements" (female gypsies; mentally ill and mentally disabled; alcoholics and drug addicts; vagrants and beggars; pacifists and conscription resisters; prostitutes; lesbians; some anarchists);

  • Brown triangle – gypsy males;

  • Uninverted red triangle – prisoners of war, spies/traitors, military deserters/criminals;

  • Yellow triangle superimposed with another triangle, forming the Star of David, a Jewish symbol, were for various subcategories of Jews.

The Nazi constructed all kinds of concentration camps.

  1. Early camps – also known as “Wild camps” – sprang up everywhere in Germany after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. Usually, they were set up without proper infrastructure in any suitable places: engine rooms, brewery floors, storage facilities, cellars, etc. They were overseen by Nazi paramilitaries, political-police forces and, sometimes, local police authorities.

  2. State camps (e.g. Dachau, Oranienburg, Esterwegen) – prototypes for the future SS concentration camps – were guarded by the state authorities and hold a total of 107,000 prisoners as early as 1935.

  3. Hostage camps (e.g., Sint-Michielsgestel and Haaren) were camps where hostages were held and later killed in reprisal actions.

  4. Labor camps held interned captives, which were forced to perform hard physical labor under inhumane conditions and cruel treatment.

  5. POW camps were concentration camps where enlisted prisoners-of-war were held after capture. Officers were kept separately, and privates were often transferred into labor camps.

  6. Camps for the so-called "rehabilitation and re-education of Poles" were camps where the intelligentsia of the ethnic Poles were held and "re-educated" according to Nazi values as slaves.

  7. Collection and Transit camps were camps where inmates were collected or temporarily held and then routed to the main camps.

  8. Extermination camps. Nazi Germany built extermination camps (also called death camps or killing centers) during the Holocaust in the 2nd World War, to systematically murder millions of Jews. People of other nationalities: Poles, Soviet POWs and Roma (gypsy) – were murdered there as well. The victims of death camps were primarily killed by gassing, either in permanent installations or gas vans. In some of the Nazi camps, such as Auschwitz and Majdanek, people were exterminated not only by poison gas, but also through extreme work under starvation conditions.

In the period from 1933 to 1945, the Nazi Germany constructed about 42,500 ghettos and concentration camps throughout Europe. The total number of people who died or were imprisoned there is estimated to be from 15 to 20 million.

Please, think about these dry numbers.

Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez right?

Now, back to the beginning. Was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez right when she emphatically called children detention centers concentration camps? No doubt, the term "concentration camp" is strong and emotionally charged. Hence, some people object to its use, stating the following arguments.

  1. When people hear the phrase "concentration camps", they automatically think – just like Tetsu does – about Nazi camps, and this association is wrong.

  2. The sheer magnitude of horror and inhumanity, which we observe in concentration camps, is incomparable to the conditions in children detention centers.

These arguments are valid – and that's why it's important to learn more about the history of concentration camps. Yet the objective answer to the question posed above is – yes, because if you carefully read the dictionary definition of "concentration camp", you'll see that the children detention centers fit the definition in every detail. True, we can argue about connotation of the term "concentration camp", but there is no doubts about its denotation. So the conclusion is:

Detention centers used for imprisonment of refugees, illegal immigrants, asylum seekers or their children are a variety of concentration camps.
I really don't care, do U?
The infamous jacket worn by Melania Trump when she was on her way to visit detained children symbolizes the attitude of Donald Trump and his circle to the problem

The moral side of the problem

Now, lets speak about motivation of those who call children detention centers "concentration camps" and those who oppose the use of this term. The motives of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her allies are on the good side of this moral dilemma: they want to draw attention to a disgusting practice, which should be cancelled as soon as possible. This is especially important because Trump and his administration have little interest in solving the problem they created. Their priorities are somewhere else – and even when they turn their faces to the US southern border, they don't think about children separated from their families. No, they are concerned about some far-fetched stories, like "caravans of illegal migrants", threatening to "invade" the United States and "capture the lands and property of white men". The attitude of Trump and his circle to the detained kids is symbolized by that infamous "I-really-don't-care" jacket, which was worn by Melania Trump on her way to visit the children separated from their families.

Sometimes, Trump's supporters – certain anchors at Fox News, for example – live in a kind of "Fantasy World".

In contrast to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her opponents are not particularly concerned about detained children: they are consumed with much more pressing matters. First and foremost, they want to whitewash Trump's administration, to protect it from what they regard as "unfair criticism". Some of them go to great lengths to achieve these goals, even insisting that there is nothing wrong with the children detention centers. The Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham, for example, came to the point of saying that Texas detention centers are basically... "summer camps"! Another Fox News anchor, Brian Kilmeade, sank to the claim that insanitary conditions at the children detention centers are totally okay – it's like "house parties", he said, when kids stay overnight at someone's house!

The most notorious attempt to justify Trump's practice of family separation, though, was the speech of Jeff Sessions (at that time, the US Attorney General – i.e., the one who enforced the practice) that he delivered on June 14, 2018 in Fort Wayne. After speaking in some detail about how lawful the practice was, the honorable gentleman from Alabama cited the Bible. Beaming with virtue and delight, Jeff Sessions said something along the line that we were commanded "to obey the laws of the government" because that's what God ordained us to do. And that, according to Attorney General, justified the enforcement of the policy of family separation.

An illustration of the Russian saying "to stare into a book and see a fig", which means "to read a book and understand nothing". Isn't this how Jeff Sessions reads "His Bible"?

Apparently, Mr. Sessions wasn't very successful in convincing people that the family separation policy was according to God's wishes. He did manage to prove a couple of things though. Namely,

  • the honorable gentleman has a booby's look while consulting "His Book";

  • the "Bible of Jeff Sessions" has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Thus, we have come to, arguably, the most important point of our discussion: what unites all those cases when governments imprisoned innocent people in concentration camps? The answer is – deep immorality disguised by what the governments considered "high and lofty goals". In all those cases the states, the governments, the authorities believed that they had a "holy right" to trample upon freedom and life of people because this was for the sake of... of what? The British Generals, scorching the lands of Boers, believed it was for the sake of the Empire. The communistic dictators claimed that millions had to die for the sake of the "bright future". The Nazi didn't even try to hide their inhumane plans of world dominance under the rule of the "supreme Aryan race". And what are the goals of the Trump administration? Actually, they are not that different from the goals listed above. Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller – they enforced the policy of family separation to "deter" immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from the US southern border. Their goal is to close the borders for "brown immigration" from the countries that Trump once characterized as "shithole". Their "high dream" is to make America – oh, the Empire! – great again – oh, the bright future! – that is, to return to the days when a White Man looked down upon other races – oh, the sweet, sweet days of white supremacy!

And with this, we'll end our discussion for today. Thank you all.


Tags: #TetsuScribbles; #Politics; #AOC; #DonaldTrump; #JeffSessions; #ConcentrationCamps; #InternmentCamps; #LaborCamps; #NaziCamps; #DetentionCenters; #FamilySeparation; #AsylumSeekers;

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