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What Is A ‘Concentration Camp?’ AOC and Liz Cheney Debate Sparks Questions

What Is A ‘Concentration Camp?’ AOC and Liz Cheney Debate Sparks Questions

A debate between two members of Congress sparked a spirited discussion on what exactly a concentration camp really is.

Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The issue is an important one, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) believes that conditions for immigrants presently being detained by the U.S. government at the nation’s southern border fit the definition of what a concentration camp is. Others, such as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), blast such assumptions, believing these comparisons belittle events like the Holocaust during World War II.

The matter began when video spread online with Ocasio-Cortez claiming that the U.S. “is running concentration camps on our southern border,” alluding to detention centers housing migrants seeking asylum and entry into the country, per reporting from the New York Post.

Ryan Saavedra, a reporter with The Daily Wire, shared the video on his social media account, directly stating (wrongly) that AOC was citing the Holocaust in her remarks. Cheney then quoted Saavedra’s tweet in one of her own, chastising Ocasio-Cortez while doing so.

“[D]o us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history,” Cheney said to Ocasio-Cortez, tagging her in the post. “6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.”

Cheney’s argument appears to be a straw-man argument — Ocasio-Cortez had been discussing concentration camps in general, not the specific Nazi-led ones. The New York lawmaker responded with a series of rhetorical questions.

“Hey Rep. Cheney, since you’re so eager to ‘educate me,’ I’m curious: What do YOU call building mass camps of people being detained without a trial? How would you dress up DHS’s mass separation of thousands children at the border from their parents?” AOC asked.

Cheney quipped back by again alluding to Holocaust survivors and reading some of the literature on that event to “educate” Ocasio-Cortez. AOC again responded to Cheney: “Hope you enjoy defending concentration camps. I won’t back down fighting against them,” she wrote.

Who is right on this matter? History tends to favor Ocasio-Cortez’s point-of-view.

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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, for instance, defines a concentration camp as “a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard,” and while the term is “especially in reference to camps created by the Nazis in World War II,” it is not exclusively for that event that the phrase is used for.

In fact, the dictionary noted that the first time the term was used in reference to the definition it gave was in 1897 — when future Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler was just 8-years-old.

Experts who have studied the history of concentration camps around the world agree that the U.S. is currently implementing them for migrants seeking entry into our nation. “We have what I would call a concentration camp system,” Andrea Pitzer, author of “One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps,” said, per reporting from Esquire. “[T]he definition of that in my book is, mass detention of civilians without trial.”

Pitzer went onto say that “Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz.”

“Concentration camps in general have always been designed — at the most basic level — to separate one group of people from another group. Usually, because the majority group, or the creators of the camp, deem the people they’re putting in it to be dangerous or undesirable in some way,” Pitzer added.

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