Americans' Misuse of 'Internment'

14 Seattle J. Soc. Just. 797 (2016)

42 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2016

See all articles by Yoshinori Himel

Yoshinori Himel

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: September 5, 2016


This law journal article is part of an ongoing scrutiny of words used to minimize the injustices of the United States’ wartime imprisonment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans. Many Americans call the War Relocation Authority’s mass incarceration of the west coast Japanese American community an “internment.” But “internment” is a term of art in the international law of war that does not apply to the mass incarceration. Internment targets selected aliens, not an entire community. Its misuse for the mass incarceration falsely implies legal protections for U.S. citizens who had none, and lends false moral acceptability to an action that members of all three branches of government have condemned.

Finally, misusing “internment” for mass incarceration frustrates accurate discourse: it ignores the actual internment of over 7,000 selected Japanese American immigrants, obscures the government’s transformation of over 5,000 Japanese American citizens into alien internees, and obfuscates the transformation of one place of mass incarceration, Tule Lake, into an internment camp. The article concludes that we as lawyers and Americans should use “internment” only with its original and correct meaning.

Suggested Citation

Himel, Yoshinori, Americans' Misuse of 'Internment' (September 5, 2016). 14 Seattle J. Soc. Just. 797 (2016) , Available at SSRN:

Yoshinori Himel (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States
(916) 418-4567 (Phone)
(916) 721-2347 (Fax)

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