Wesley Clark Calls for Modern Day Incarceration Camps Styled After Those Used During WWII

Retired US Army General Wesley Clark
Retired US Army General Wesley Clark

Retired US Army General Wesley Clark — who ran unsuccessfully to represent the Democratic party in the 2004 presidential primaries — said in an interview on Friday to MSNBC that he believes it is time for America to once more incarcerate its citizens in concentration camps (see JACL’s “Power of Words” Handbook), as the American government once did during World War II.

In the interview — conducted by MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts in the wake of the Chattanooga, Tennessee mass shooting by American citizen Mohammad Abdulazeez that targeted military sites and personnel, killing five — Clark talks about the disloyalty of “self-radicalized” American ISIS sympathizers (a friend of Abdulazeez’s says the perpetrator of Thursday’s shooting thought ISIS was a “stupid group”) and suggests that it’s time to revive World War II-era incarceration camps. He says:

In World War II, if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put them in a camp. They were prisoners of war.

So, if these people are radicalized and they don’t support to the United States and they are disloyal to the United States as a matter of principle — fine, that’s their right. It’s our right and our obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.

And, I think we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this, not only in the United States but our allied nations like Britain and Germany and France are going to have to look at their domestic law procedures.

What in the actual fuck?

What Wesley Clark is saying here might sound reasonable (actually, no, it doesn’t), but this is the exact same reasoning that propelled President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 9066, which eventually led to the forcible incarceration of over 100,000 mostly Japanese American American citizens and families; only a small fraction of those incarcerated — just over 11,000 — were German nationals, representing less than 1% of the country’s German-born population. Clark’s invocation of Nazi Germany in his discussion of World War II incarceration camps is a red herring: when we talk about World War II incarcerees, we are talking about Japanese Americans.

Clark suggests that forcible incarceration of American citizens today would be somehow justified because of concerns regarding disloyalty. Yet, the same loyalty question served as the chief justification for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during the 1940’s — Japanese Americans were believed to be a sleeping “fifth column” of potential Japanese spies and militants, despite an overabundance of evidence now showing that this theory was completely unfounded. In particular, Japanese Americans were classified as “enemy aliens” because many remained Japanese nationals: yet, this wasn’t a question of loyalty. Rather, this was a consequence of racist immigration laws that prevented non-White immigrants from naturalizing as American citizens: a third of Japanese American incarcerees remained Japanese nationals because they literally could not give up their Japanese citizenship.

Nonetheless, to shore up the rationale for the camps, a loyalty questionnaire was administered to incarcerees in 1943 designed to rate Japanese Americans based on their degree of “Americanness”; in practice, many of the questions were confusing and insulting. Those who responded — by accident or by choice — in an unpreferred manner were deemed “disloyal” and shipped off to the harshest and most inhumane concentration camps, where they lived in ramshackle huts under the unrelenting watch of armed guards.

These are the camps Wesley Clark believes need to be revived. But, before we argue that he only wants to house known terrorists in them, we can again turn to the lessons learned during World War II: when the federal government builds camps to house potentially disloyal “enemy aliens”, a very small minority will be imprisoned following due process analysis of their actions and ideology. The vast majority of those incarcerated will find themselves forced behind barbed wire based on their superficial resemblance — whether with regard to race or culture or religion — to those with whom we are at war. Presumed disloyalty will be the stated reasoning, but this will be nothing more than an empty, unsupportable rhetoric. In actuality, incarceration camps have never been anything more than a mechanism by which xenophobic racist stereotyping and fear becomes manifest to condone the institutionalized victimization and terrorism of members of the (non-White) citizenry.

In the 1940’s, the victims were Japanese American families. In Wesley Clark’s near-future America, it would be Muslim American mothers, fathers, and children.

What should be even more frightening to us is this: despite the federal government’s subsequent apology for the World War II-era concentration camps that imprisoned over a hundred thousand Japanese American citizens, the federal government has never formally declared such camps unconstitutional. Incarceration camps remain a legal tactic by which the federal government could forcibly imprison thousands of its citizenry without due process.

All of us must stand against this kind of fear-mongering and hate. Japanese Americans know all too well the deep scars left behind by American concentration camps. We cannot let stand even the faintest hint that such camps would ever again be acceptable.

Update (7/23/2015): The JACL has issued the following statement on Wesley Clark’s remarks:

General Wesley Clark’s call for internment camps for “radicalized” Muslims is troubling. In 1988, the United States apologized to Japanese Americans for the injustice of summarily incarcerating our community during World War II. It was a time of fear and backlash toward Japanese Americans stemming from causes even beyond race.

The true character of a nation is evident during troubling times when our security, real or imagined, is threatened. In 1942, the threat of an internal enemy was made to appear real when our government knew otherwise through findings from the FBI and other intelligence agencies. As a result, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes, dispossessed of their property and confined in concentration camps located in remote and desolate places. This action ignored due process and equal protection, rights guaranteed by our Constitution.

It’s important to draw lessons from the Japanese American experience. An apology by government is exceedingly rare. Its offering attests to the scale of governmental wrongdoing that was embedded as law in the case of Fred Korematsu, which caused Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson to caution, “The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need…”

The threat of terrorism is real, but we must remain circumspect about the solutions we pursue. The apology to Japanese Americans says that we owe it to ourselves, to our own sense of honor that we do not go down a path that jeopardizes the rights of Americans. A response of mass segregation was wrong in 1942, and is no more right today.

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  • 1maybeso

    So you would follow some post 9/11 guidelines to secure infrastructure vulnerabilities. Such as buildings, bridges and railroads? I’m not getting a whole lot from your explanation.

  • Yes, as a start. Effective gun control is another obvious and long overdue solution. Resources focused on better and more accessible long term mental health care might help. Fundamentally, this is about identifying structural vulnerabilities and closing them to make violence more difficult, and creating support for people at-risk for radicalization before they are targeted by extremists, not locking away ‘social undesirables’.

    But why exactly do I need a five-point plan? It’s a totally evasive logical fallacy to argue that Clark’s proscription is moral or reasonable on the basis that alternative solutions either don’t exist or more complicated; neither actually validate Clark’s proposed approach and instead evade the debate altogether. Even so, it’s clear that alternatives to thought policing exist.

  • 1maybeso

    I don’t ask because I think Clark’s solution is the the only viable option. I ask because I am fascinated by the know-all-arrogance you are displaying. Your tone seems to indicate you have it all figured out. So I was curious to see if you had some greater insight.

  • You’re “fascinated” that I have better ideas than locking people away in camps for thinking bad thoughts? That’s not being a “know-it-all”, that’s having basic common sense.

    My point remains, however, that this is an evasive tactic designed to shift focus away from the question of incarceration camps by demanding that I tell you “everything I would do to fight terrorism”. Come on. Do you really think this is a compelling — or even interesting — tactic on your part? Seems to me you’re only demonstrating how little substantive rhetoric you’ve got to back up your rather boring trolling of this site.

  • 1maybeso

    Actually, I did not find your ideas facinating. Just your disposition. Genuine disagreement is not trolling, Jenn. I asked a legitimate question. If that offends you, so be it.

  • Yet you did not respond to the question posed to you in this comment.


    Or this one


    Or this one


    Genuine disagreement is absolutely not trolling. I’m not entirely convinced that what you’re doing here is “genuine disagreement”.

    Your question would be legitimate if it were not posed as a poor effort to draw the conversation into a tangent that distracts from the fact that thought policing through resurrecting WWII era American concentration camps is basically an indefensible position.

  • 1maybeso

    I may not have answered all your questions, but I also did not accuse you of trolling.

    Let’s see…

    1. Here is a list of known terrorist groups including groups such as ISIS, al Quaeda, and Boko Haram. Collectively, given their global spread. I think they do a good job of representing sentiments of a large percentage of Muslims. Even if you personally don’t consider them part of Islam, that still doesn’t change the fact that most Islamic communities are very mysogynistic and homophobic. Honor killings are way too common, etc. So yes, ISIS is part of Islam.


    2. The concept of a internment camp/ detainment center my be the same in name, but the execution the General is explaining is quite different. He made no mention of imprisioning entire families or communities because that is not what he intends to do. The reality is we do have a number of radicalized lone wolves in this county and he is explaining what he would do once they were identified. If you make threats of unprovoked violence against fellow citizens, wether by mouth or over the Internet, that is no longer about thought policing, but about protecting public welfare.

    3. For the Chattanooga shooting, I would have preferred to prevent it by severely limiting immigration from Muslim countries to begin with. Since that is not an option, I would agree that less guns, and better screening for gun ownership is required.

  • i wrote answers to the other questions but deleted them because:

    3. You want to limit immigration based on national origin and/or religious identity?!?!?!? Holy jeebus….

    Your position is so far gone it is actually not even worth wasting my time by continuing this conversation.

  • 1maybeso

    It is not far gone, it is practical. It is a reality that small Europe is waking up to. Our size, and ocean buffer us comparatively, although we have more than our share of immigration problems. I am sure that if you took a survey of the American people, at least half would agree that restricting immigration from Muslim countries is a prudent idea. That is not far gone, Jenn.

  • I guess it would make sense that one of the only people supporting Wesley Clark and his idea to reopen American concentration camps would be the person also advocating a return to nineteenth and early twentieth century immigration law, which most of the country agreed was both senselessly racist and unnecessarily self-sabotaging (this country’s economy underwent a massive surge when they stopped restricting immigration by national origin).

    You should look up the reason why the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act was passed. Then you should rethink coming onto an Asian American blog talking about how a return to the logic of the Chinese Exclusion Act is a good thing.

    Your idea is so far gone it literally belongs in 1882.

    So, yes, your uninformed xenophobia demonstrates a clear disinterest in basic reason and indifference towards history, making this a total waste of my time.

  • 1maybeso

    It is not a waste of your time, but an opportunity to convince those who disagree with you. Are you hoping that only people who agree with you will comment? Please, by all means, explain to me why America HAS to accept all immigrants? Should we have a border or should we issue citizenship to everyone who comes? With over 300 million citizens, many already neglected and underserved, how many more new citizens do we need?