Terminology Guide

The Power of Words is a grassroots campaign to identify, discuss and implement a plan within the organization of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) to identify euphemisms and misnomers and encourage the use of more accurate terminology as it relates to the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II.

Which Words are Problematic? Which Words Should We Promote?

  • Evacuation/Relocation -> Forced Removal
  • Internment -> Incarceration
  • Japanese Internment Camp/Assembly Center/Relocation Camp -> American Concentration Camp

Why?

  1. Evacuation refers to “the process of temporarily moving people away from an immediate and real danger, such as a fire, flood, shoot-out, or bomb threat.”  In 1942, over 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from the West Coast; they were not “evacuated” to protect them from a disastrous environment.
  2. Relocation euphemistically suggests that people were moved from one location to another.  It does not recognize the fact that the people were forced to leave their homes and many of their belongings behind.
  3. Internment literally refers to the confinement or impounding of enemy aliens during a war (Merriam-Webster, 2011).  Although thousands of people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated during World War II, they were not “enemy aliens.”  Moreover, they were not simply “confined” into camps.

Note: If the terms Assembly Center or Relocation Camp are used, they should be placed in quotation marks (ex. “Assembly Center”) to indicate that they are government euphemisms.  Also, the complete term American Concentration Camp should be used to distinguish the concentration camps from those in Europe.

“‘Evacuation’ and ‘relocation’ are the two most commonly used terms to describe the World War II experience of Japanese Americans.  A close examination of the definitions of these words, however, reveals the underlying propagandistic intent.  “Evacuation” is the process of temporarily moving people away from an immediate and real danger. Similarly, “relocation” is the process of more permanently moving people away from a long-term hazard. Both terms strongly suggest that the movement is for the protection or safety of the affected people.  It was precisely for this reason that the government selected such words.  There is no hint in either term that people are to be confined, detained, imprisoned, or restrained in any way.  Thus if these terms are accepted at face value, complaints and lawsuits about false imprisonment or unlawful detention are effectively precluded.”

-The American Concentration Camps:  A Cover-up Through Euphemistic Terminology

Raymond Y. Okamura
The Journal of Ethnic Studies
Volume 10, Number 3, Fall 1982

This information was adapted from materials prepared by the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).  For more information about the “Power of Words” project, click here.