Say their names. Those who are being detained and subject to inhumane policies of family separation, those who die in the arms of frightened parents who cannot protect them, those who are terrorized in prisons built for little children. Say their names… Do not let the amnesia of profit fill the ether.Yes, I have again been reflecting on the state of the world…
As the Black Lives Matter movement has shown us in the past decade, we cannot forget the humanity of those murdered, tortured or detained arbitrarily by the neo-liberal state and it allies, white supremacy and corporate greed. We must say their names and build a world in which their lives are valued and respected. We must say their names and build a world that does not resort to the violence and bullying of right-wing dictatorships.
I have been thinking about concentration camps — what I have come to realize is that this tactic of demoralizing, dehumanizing, and destroying the bodies of the Other is a long-standing strategy deployed by dictatorial individuals in the service of nation states. From colonial powers like Generals Sherman and Weyler; to twentieth century National Socialists and their collaborators; to the U.S. Republican party in the twenty-first century, concentration camps exemplify the moment when the consensus of ruling is fully and visibly disrupted in favour of coercion.
In 1896, General Weyler in Cuba, is credited with establishing the precursor to the modern day concentration camps by rounding up nationalist and anti-Spanish Cubans, largely people of afro-descent and poor people. Since nearly eighty-five percent of the Cuban liberation army against the Spanish Crown, was made up of black and afro-descended peoples at the time, the approach of Weyler was to block the support that the nationalist insurgents had among the people of the country side. He did this, by forcibly displacing and “reconcentrating” the local populace in concentration camps. The seperation of “rebels” from the civilian population, masked a racialized impact of the concentration camps as well.
More than 300, 000 Cubans were interred in these spaces as a tactic to maintaining Spanish power in it’s colony. By 1898, historians estimate one-third of the entire population of the island was relocated to these camps. Estimates are that 400, 000 people died in the concentration camps first implemented by the Spanish Crown.
According to Wikipedia,
“He [Governor Weyler] came to the same conclusions as his predecessors as well: to win Cuba back for Spain, he would have to separate the rebels from the civilians by putting the latter in safe havens, protected by loyal Spanish troops. By the end of 1897, General Weyler had divided the long island of Cuba in different sectors and relocated more than 300,000 into areas nearby cities. Weyler learned that tactic from studying General William Tecumseh Sherman’s campaign while he was assigned to the post of military attaché in the Spanish embassy in Washington D.C. … from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valeriano_Weyler#Cuba.
Weyler…”implemented the first wave of the Spanish “Reconcentracion Policy” that sent thousands of Cubans into concentration camps. Under Weyler’s policy, the rural population had eight days to move into designated camps located in fortified towns; any person who failed to obey was shot. The housing in these areas was typically abandoned, decaying, roofless, and virtually unihabitable. Food was scarce and famine and disease quickly swept through the camps. By 1898, one third of Cuba’s population had been forcibly sent into the concentration camps. Over 400,000 Cubans died as a result of the Spanish Reconcentration Policy”, from https://www.pbs.org/crucible/tl4.html.
Thus, the strategy of rounding up, separating, and dehumanizing sectors of the population in order to achieve specific political, economic, cultural and ideological goals of subjugation is one with clear military roots and historical antecedents. Administrative detention “policies” which necesitate rounding up, and incarcerating people in a quest to dehumanize them and delegitimate their struggles for social justice and inclusion are birthed as military strategies implemented by the most coercive and apparently, unaccountable, arms of the state.
Consensus is no longer necesary, when it cannot be built. And the divide and rule tactics of physical partition between citizens found in the camps has also been deployed in order to create tiered citizenship to accomodate black wage labour after slavery. This tiered citizenship can be seen in contemporary and historical practices such as urban racial segregation, and setting up Indian reservations in the United States and Canada.
World War Two
“Another instance of interning noncombatant civilians occurred shortly after the outbreak of hostilities between Japan and the United States (December 7, 1941), when more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were taken into custody and placed in camps in the interior,” according to https://www.britannica.com/topic/concentration-camp.
In Canada, people of Japanese descent were interred in concentration camps as well. From 1942-1949, Japanese Canadians were rounded up in concentration camps, and also prisoner of war camps in Canada. The community recieved a formal apology from Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1988 after a spirited multi-decade movement for redress by Japanese Canadians and human rights supporters.
I am not going to go into the details of European and other Camps in the theater of war during World War Two. There is a massive amount of information on such camps and the Nazis’ persecution of Jews, Roma, Slavs, homosexuals, the disabled, Communists, and Anarchists both on the internet and in books. Instead I share some cultural resistance to fascism and the concentration camp through the heartbreaking Ballad of Matthausen performed by Mikis Theodorakis and Maria Farantouri.
Rather, at this moment, I think we need to examine the use of these tactics in the Americas, where we reside– and where this is taking place in front of a mainstream media that is quick to normalize it. The following is an interesting discussion on the issue:
In the 1970s, the right wing Chilean dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, was accused of holding people in camps and underground prisons, banishing opposition supporters into internal exile, torturing and raping political prisoners, and producing the largest mass migration (refugees) out of Chile since its inception as a Spanish colony and then, independent state. Pinochet took power in a CIA and corporate -backed Coup which was one of the first attempts to put neoliberal practices in action through the auspices of economic models churned out by the Chicago School of Economics and devotees of Milton Friedman.
The destruction by Pinochet and his ilk– supported by the United States government, of Chilean democracy, has never been repaired. The crisis of mass impoverishment, a shrinking middle class, the fulfillment of neoliberal strategies (Chile has privatized water— so far the only country to have done so completely) and colonization and the informal apartheid of the Mapuche people, have led to socio-economic and environmental disaster. This situation has been compounded by endemic sexism, the defunding of education, and a burgeoning women’s rights movement, facing social, economic and political opposition.
If you’ve stuck with my musings long enough to get to the end of this piece, you might be asking with me, where do we go from here?
Tactics from ballots to civil disobedience are being deployed by refugee, migrant, and human rights activists. Some faith groups have also joined the U.S. struggle to offer sanctuary, not imprisonment and deportation. I lament that we are entering into an era of anomie, where our moral compass is being made to lose its center.
An update from today’s news: racial profiling and detention