At first glance, a title like Inside America’s Concentration Camps: Two Centuries of Internment and Torture seems a little excessive. This is the good old USA we are talking about after all, not Nazi Germany. But after reading investigative journalist James L. Dickerson’s latest expose, I understand his choice of words. While the term “Concentration Camps” is unquestionably inflammatory, it does get your attention. And what has occurred in these places over the past 200 years is deplorable.
Dickerson’s book is laid out in three parts. Part one deals with the treatment of Native Americans. Part two comprises the bulk of the text, and concerns the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and to some extent the imprisonment of Italian and German Americans during this time. Part three considers the present-day conditions at Guantanamo Bay.
The chapters dealing with the various policies the US government imposed upon Native Americans in the 19th century are pretty sketchy, due to less than perfect record-keeping at the time. Still, the chapter “Walking The Trail Of Tears,” is heartbreaking. It concerns the 1,200 mile march that the Cherokees were forced to take in the dead of winter, in 1838. Of the approximately 22,000 who started out, only around 2,000 actually made it.
The documentation of the internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor is extremely thorough. In many cases, the author was able to speak directly to survivors, many of whom were children at the time. Their stories are eye-opening, to say the least. While I was aware of the practice, the extent of it was much bigger than I had previously been led to believe. The procedure of separating families is a particularly sad element, as many children did not see their parents for years after being rounded up.
Dickerson concludes with some of the horrors that are occurring even now at Guantanamo. I was as horrified as the rest of the world on 9/11, but the revelation that the torture methods currently being used originated in Communist China during the Korean War was astounding. What is even more shocking is that these techniques were used on captured Americans at the time, and even then were deemed unreliable. The confessions were almost always false, given by prisoners who had cracked under the pain inflicted. The routine of waterboarding was considered the most useless of all, as the average time a person “confessed” to a crime was 12 seconds — just to get his interrogators to stop.
Inside America’s Concentration Camps is a deeply troubling look at one of the darker sides of the country’s history. Aside from the intentionally eye-catching title, it is not a hysterical anti-American diatribe. It does lay out some pretty sobering facts though, and is recommended to anyone interested in some of the lesser known events in our nation’s history.