If calling migrant detention centres 'concentration camps' makes you that upset, ask yourself why

This entire conversation is a tremendous disservice to our moral intelligence

Lauren Duca
New York
Thursday 04 July 2019 08:25 BST
Jewish people block entrance to Trump administration's 'concentration camps' for migrants

Let’s get right to the point: They are f**king concentration camps.

There is an ongoing debate over how to refer to the migrant detention centers at the border, which began this past Monday, when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said that the Trump administration “has established concentration camps at the southern border.” The emerging debate has been rhetorical cacophony regarding historical accuracy and proper terminology.

I see no reason to squander hundreds of words on those semantics, when there is a perfectly good Wikipedia entry for Godwin’s Law. We may have different interpretations of the extent to which this moment is a 2019 remix of that Martin Niemöller poem, but when it comes to our collective culpability, the most pressing question is whether we should be as terrifically uncomfortable when the words “concentration camps” are uttered. In terms of public apathy allowing for government-perpetrated atrocities, the answer is yes.

To be quite clear: None of the hard facts on this matter are up for the debate. The inhumane conditions at migrant detention centers have been corroborated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General. According to the New York Times, official government findings depict “standing-room-only cells, children without showers and hot meals, and detainees clamoring desperately for release.” All of that is to say nothing of the emotional horrors at stake.

It is also indisputably true that the United States government is ripping children from the arms of their parents and putting them in cages. State funds are being used to trap fragile young minds in the anguish of wondering whether they will ever know love again. That fate would be a psychological nightmare even if it took place in a ball pit filled with Skittles, though surely it doesn’t help that hearts are broken on concrete floors allegedly smeared with feces.

Instead of wondering whether those conditions warrant the term “concentration camps,” we must ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with this as a country, and, more importantly, how we make things right. Truly, where the hell is our soul, America? I do hope that we find it soon. That will only happen once we reckon with the reality that no one is coming to save us from this mess.

Last week, the ineptitude of the old guard was on display yet again, when Ocasio-Cortez aired her livestream. Wisconsin Representative Liz Cheney, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House, responded on Twitter and in a press conference. “Allegations that somehow the United States is operating in a way that is in any way a parallel to the Holocaust is just completely ludicrous,” she said, before a declaring that this is “real Congress… not model Congress.” On MSNBC’s Meet The Press Daily, Chuck Todd aired his own take on that tsk-tsk-young-lady scolding, calling Ocasio-Cortez’s comments a “tremendous disservice” to detainees.

"You can call our government’s detention of migrants many things, depending on how you see it,” he said. “It’s a stain on our nation maybe, a necessary evil to others, a deal with untenable situation perhaps. But do you know what you can’t call it?”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks out against 'unconscionable' living conditions in migrant detention camps

This entire conversation is a “tremendous disservice” to our moral intelligence. The concentration camp debate is about whether things are “that bad,” which is to say, “as bad as the Holocaust.” There is no forced labor or routine executions at the migrant detention centers, but gas chambers are not required for moral atrocities. Arguing about what is “worse” is a slippery slope of relativism, and it leads straight to hell, where I suppose we can ask Hitler’s ghost to weigh in all of this. Insofar as we have stood by and watched while human beings are deprived of the requirements for basic survival: it’s that bad, it’s been that bad, and it is only going to get worse if we continue having a slap-fight with a thesaurus.

If we’re distributing blame, the lion’s share goes to the Trump administration, and there’s a hefty portion to be split among such equivocating cowards as Liz Cheney and Chuck Todd — but we all participate in upholding the status quo that has given birth to this crisis. Take responsibility for your statistically non-significant role in setting room temperature, and insist on choosing action over despair. Speak up, in real life and online. Contact your representatives in Congress, and let them know they must prioritize this issue. Donate, if you’re able — I recommend RAICES — and join a local protest, or organize one of your own.

It is easy to relegate the guilt of Second World War-era Germany to a distant “them,” but as long as we do nothing, that same condemnation falls on us. I don’t really care what you call the migrant detention centers at the southern border, but to my eyes they are f**king concentration camps, and we are all complicit.

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