Use of terminology

For the California State University Japanese American Digitization (CSUJAD) Project, archivists, scholars, and technical experts gathered in June 2014 to discuss the controversial topic of terminology as it applies to the Japanese American experience during World War II. A general consensus was reached about the group’s preferred terminology for this project, which is summarized below.

Often, before delving deeply into the history of the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the general public has tended to associate the term “internment” or “internees” with the camps and the people living in them. Government officials, politicians, and journalists have tended to use euphemistic language to refer to this incarceration of Japanese American citizens as demonstrated by the archival work of Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga (2010 in five parts) in “Words Can Lie or Clarify”.

Roger Daniels (2005) provided a legal and historical perspective on the use of these terms in “Words Do Matter” and continues to persuasively argue that “incarceration” and, by extension “incarceree,” are the appropriate terms to use for the 80,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry, and 40,000 Japanese nationals barred from naturalization by race, imprisoned under the authority of Executive Order 9066 in War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps.

Approximately 11,000 people were actually interned following a recognized legal procedure and the forms of law. All were citizens of a nation against which the U.S. was at war, seized for reasons purportedly related to their behavior, and entitled to an individual hearing before a board, whereas the 120,000 Japanese American men, women, and children in the WRA camps had no due process of law and this violation of civil and human rights was justified on the grounds of military necessity. This legal differentiation was the basis for the redress movement, which led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 involving an apology and $20,000 payment to more than 80,000 camp survivors.

The Tule Lake Unit of the National Park Service provides links to the key readings related to the terminology controversy. And the Densho Project has an extensive discussion of the issues as well as a thorough glossary of terms and comprehensive online encyclopedia.

These resources outline the many different types of camps used for incarceration during WWII, including

  • assembly centers or temporary assembly centers
  • incarceration camps
  • Department of Justice internment camps
  • citizen isolation centers
  • U.S. Federal prisons
  • U.S. Army internment camps
  • immigration detention stations

The reader or researcher is referred to these rich resources for differentiation and more clarification about the associated terminology.

For the reasons outlined above, when using the CSUJAD collection online, users should use the terms “incarceration” and “incarceree” rather than “internment” and “internee” for better search results. The latter terms are correctly used to refer to the Department of Justice and U.S. Army internment camps.

The planners and catalogers for the CSUJAD project relied heavily on the Densho glossary and encyclopedia as well as the organization’s digitization and preservation manual for the terminology used and has been invited to contribute to their expanded thesaurus work. Sincere thanks to executive director Tom Ikeda and Densho Project staff for generously sharing their extensive experience and work on terminology.