Alexandria “Tide Pod Evita” Ocasio Cortez claimed yesterday that ICE runs “concentration camps” for illegal immigrants, and that makes our treatment of illegals the equivalent of the Holocaust.
MSNBC drone Chris Hedges leapt to her defense:
If you spend a few minutes learning some actual history, you will find out that concentration camps are different from death camps and have a history that both predates and extends far past the Nazis. https://t.co/Bccy3SaXW0— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) June 18, 2019
And he is right on three levels.
Historically and Semantically, the term “Concentration Camp” dates to the Boer War, when the Brits, waging a scorched earth campaign against Boers in South Africa, began rounding up the families of Boer soldiers away at war against them and concentrating them in camps. They were frightfully unpleasant, and a human rights violation at a time when the concept really didn’t exist – but they were expressly intended to kill people (although many died).
Likewise, America’s internment camps were “concentration camps” in that same sense – concentrating those who it was believed needed eyes kept on them at wartime; the camps where German and other Central Power nationals, Turks and Bulgars and Austro-Hungarians, were kept during World War I, and German, Italian and Japanese nationals (and, infamously, US citizens of Japanese birth and ancestry) during World War II.
For that matter, German “concentration camps” – Konzentrazionlslager, or “KZ” camps, were a widely mixed bag, run by a variety of members of the Nazi bureaucracy for a variety of reasons. Most were labor camps, not designed specifically to kill inmates (although they did die in droves, especially at the end of the war when disease, starvation, exposure on forced marches, and last-minute massacre killed people in droves. And some “KZ”s were holding camps for people before they were sent off to the death camps.
Which were another entire wing of the Nazi bureaucracy. Run by the SS-Totenkopfverband, or “Death’s Head Department” – the SS department that ran the Final Solution – they were designed and built for the sole purpose of murdering people in industrial lots, as befitting their name, “Vernichtungslager“, or “Extermination Camp”, abbreviated “VZ”.
The vast majority of people who were sent to “Extermination camps” died. The majority who arrived at a concentration camp left alive (although huge numbers of them were sent to their deaths in VZs).
And the term lost all linguistic nuance in the west – justifiably so – when footage from camps like Buchenwald, Dauchau and Bergen-Belsen showing bodies stacked like logs and emaciated wretches covered in lice, barely recognizable as human, showed in their newsreels – unaware that the Soviets had liberated places far, far worse.
So Hayes is right.
But in modern-day terms, nobody on the southern border is being put to work for 16 hours a day with 400 calories of bread and soup; nobody is shot if they flee; nobody is driving illegal immigrants into gas chambers and choking them to death with diesel fumes.
And hinting as much proves not so much that Ocasio-Cortez and Hayes are stupid and evil, as it indicates they don’t expect their audiences to have the historical, intellectual or moral firepower to check them on such a depraved claim.
And they’re not wrong.