Terminology of World War II Japanese American Removal from the West Coast of the United States

Since World War II, the terminology used to describe the removal and detention of Japanese Americans by the United States government has been debated. Many terms for the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, for the facilities in which they were detained, and for the people themselves have passed in and out of usage. The debate continues today.

Below is a selection of terms used during and after World War II to describe the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. The terms are defined and quotes illustrating the use of the terms are listed.

Assembly Centers

Assembly: "a company of persons gathered for deliberation and legislation,

worship, or entertainment."

-Webster's Dictionary, Tenth Edition

The term assembly center was used by the Wartime Civilian Control Administration (WCCA) and the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to describe the temporary camps established to detain Japanese Americans and resident aliens until more permanent facilities were constructed.

Assembly Center: "A temporary enclosed area maintained by Army where

persons of Japanese ancestry were housed and fed during primary stages

of evacuation prior to transfer to War Relocation Projects."

- War Relocation Authority, Final Report: Japanese

Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942.

Some people object to "assembly center" since the people detained in the camps were forbidden to leave and prefer the terms "temporary incarceration camp" and "temporary prison camp."

Concentration Camp

Concentration camp: "a camp where persons (as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained."

- Webster's Dictionary, Tenth Edition

The term "concentration camp" was used by a number of government officials, during and after World War II, to describe the detention facilities where Japanese Americans were held during the war. The term was also used to refer to Department of Justice camps where "enemy aliens" were detained during the war.

"…it is felt by a great many lawyers that under the Constitution they can't be kept locked up in concentration camps."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

discussing Japanese Americans during a press conference

November 21, 1944

"the present procedure of keeping loyal American citizens in concentration camps on the basis of race for longer than is absolutely necessary is dangerous and repugnant to the principles of our Government."

Attorney General Francis Biddle

December 30, 1943

"I have made a lot of mistakes in my life . . . One is my part in the evacuation of the Japanese from California in 1942 . . . I don't think that served any purpose at all . . . We picked them up and put them in concentration camps. That's the truth of the matter. And as I look back on it - although at the time I argued the case - I am amazed that the Supreme Court ever approved."

Tom Clark, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

quoted in the San Diego Union

July 10, 1966

The term concentration camp dates to the Boer and Spanish American Wars at the turn of the nineteenth century. However, some people feel that the term has become associated with the Holocaust and the German death camps of World War II and that its use has such emotional connotations that it obscures the nature of the Japanese American detention camps in the United States more than it clarifies.

Evacuation Centers

Evacuate: "to remove esp. from a military zone or dangerous area." "to withdraw

from a place in an organized way esp. for protection."

Webster's Dictionary, Tenth Edition

The term evacuation center was used to describe both the temporary WCCA centers and the more permanent WRA centers, however the terms "assembly center" and "war relocation center" were more common. "Evacuation" was commonly used during World War II to describe the removal of the Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast and "evacuee" was used for the people who had been removed and detained.

Evacuee: "A person of Japanese ancestry excluded from Military Area No. 1

and the California portion of Military Area No. 2, by proclamation of the

Commanding General Western Defense Command."

War Relocation Authority, Final Report: Japanese

Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942.

The term "evacuation" to describe the removal of Japanese Americans during World War II (as well as the related terms "evacuation center" and "evacuee") is objected to by some on the grounds that "evacuation" implies removal for the protection of the people involved such as with a natural disaster. The terms "removal" or "exclusion" are preferred.

Internment Camps

Intern: "to confine or impound esp. during a war."

Webster's Dictionary, Tenth Edition

During World War II, "internment camp" was primarily used for the Department of Justice Camps used primarily to detain people considered "enemy aliens." The people held in these camps were "internees." These camps are not part of the removal under Executive Order 9066. However, "internment camp" was also used for all camps that detained Japanese Americans during World War II whether they were run by the Department of Justice, the War Relocation Authority, or the United States Army.

Internee: "An alien enemy interned by order of the Attorney General. (NOT

to be confused with evacuee.)"

War Relocation Authority, Final Report: Japanese

Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942.

It is sometimes argued that "internment camp" and "internee" should only apply to Department of Justice and Army Camps that detained "enemy aliens" since they were established under a separate authority that dated back to 1789 and the two types of camps should not be lumped together.

Relocation Centers

Relocate: "to locate again; establish or lay out in a new place." "to move to a

new location."

Webster's Dictionary, Tenth Edition

The term "relocation" was used by the U.S. government for the removal of Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes to camps outside the exclusion areas. The War Relocation Authority termed these camps "War Relocation Centers." The term "relocation" was also used by the WRA for Japanese Americans leaving the camps and settling in the mid-west and east (outside the exclusion areas) under the WRA's leave clearance program.

Relocation Project: "(War Relocation Project). Temporary community established

and conducted by War Relocation Authority where evacuees under jurisdiction

of War Relocation Authority are housed and fed. It has boundaries established

by the Commanding General."

Relocation Center: "(War Relocation Center). The populated section of a War

Relocation Project Area."

War Relocation Authority, Final Report: Japanese

Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942.

"Relocation center" is often objected to as a euphemism of the War Relocation Center, much to mild to describe camps surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by armed military policemen. "Relocation" is considered to imply voluntary movement and resettlement. Other terms suggested in place of "relocation center" are "incarceration camp" or "prison camp."

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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