The Language of Incarceration

"We gave the fancy name of ‘relocation centers’ to these dust bowls, but they were concentration camps nonetheless."

–Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, 1946

In the 1940s, the War Relocation Authority, charged with implementing Executive Order 9066, used bureaucratic terminology to describe its operation. Scholars and members of the Japanese American community have since raised questions about how this language shaped or even distorted perceptions of the federal government’s actions. They have developed alternate terminology to more accurately describe what happened, terms that are gradually becoming more widely accepted. We use these new terms throughout the exhibit.

Original term  

Assembly center
Relocation center

Current term

Forced removal
Temporary detention center
Incarceration camp*

*One of the most contested proposed changes in terminology is to designate the incarceration camps as concentration camps—a term still closely associated with Nazi death camps.