George Orwell was born 116 years ago today and to celebrate let’s look at the importance of words. Presently, there are a lot of people upset when referring to the US (actually corporate run for the US) “detention centers” as “concentration camps.” Concentration camps conjures up gassed inmates and consequently some people think the term is hyperbolic. In truth, the Nazis recognized the difference between concentration camps and death camps and referred to each differently. The death camps were built for the specific purpose of genocide. The concentration camps were considered prisoner camps and built before World War II and were where the Nazis tossed “undesirables” including political opponents.
Concentration camps housed death from both hunger and poor sanitary conditions. The previous sentence holds for both the Nazi camps and the present US camps being vigorously defended by Republicans. “Concentration camp” is, indeed, the real, accurate word to use here. This information is trivially available in well-known places like Wikipedia – or even the official Auschwitz site. It’s not hard to find. People upset by using this phrase for the US camps are likely upset that the US is devolving – at about the same speed as Germany – into the type of social structure where there is no rule of law. These people may also be upset that only a single US political party, the Republicans, is responsible for defending these camps today. Words have meaning, as Orwell pointed out so well. If a person resists in calling the US camps “concentration camps,” that person is likely part of the problem in the US today. Those unsettled feelings should be a call to action, not a knee-jerk of denial.