Originally published by The New York,
Like many arguments, the fight over the term “concentration camp” is mostly an argument about something entirely different. It is not about terminology. Almost refreshingly, it is not an argument about facts. This argument is about imagination, and it may be a deeper, more important conversation than it seems.
In a Monday-evening live stream, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, called the U.S.’s detention facilities for migrants “concentration camps.” On Tuesday, she tweeted a link to an article in Esquire in which Andrea Pitzer, a historian of concentration camps, was quoted making the same assertion: that the United States has created a “concentration camp system.” Pitzer argued that “mass detention of civilians without a trial” was what made the camps concentration camps. The full text of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet was “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying. This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.” Hackles were immediately raised, tweets fired, and, less than an hour and a half later, Representative Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, tweeted, “Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.” A high-pitched battle of tweets and op-eds took off down the much travelled dead-end road of arguments about historical analogies. These almost never go well, and they always devolve into a virtual shouting match if the Holocaust, the Nazis, or Adolf Hitler is invoked. One side always argues that nothing can be as bad as the Holocaust, therefore nothing can be compared to it; the other argues that the cautionary lesson of history can be learned only by acknowledging the similarities between now and then.