The Holocaust, Comparison, and Malkin on InternmentI will probably post a few comments on Michelle Malkin’s new book defending internment (see www.isthatlegal.org for attacks on her book and links to her responses). My first issue has to do with Holocaust comparisons.
Is it legitimate to compare internment with the Holocaust? Certainly it seems unfair to claim the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was equivalent to the Holocaust. They aren’t even close to each other in terms of the human horror of the events. But what about comparing more narrow criteria, such as the construction of camps, images of Jews and Japanese, and conduct of guards? Any such comparison is going to yield distinct and important differences. At the same time it must be interesting to historians, that at the same historical moment that America was engaged in internment, the Germans were conducting a final solution, and the Soviets were sending class traitors off to work camps in Siberia.
Malkin seems to come very close to arguing that discussing internment and the Holocaust at the same time is evidence of a claim for equivalence. In her defense of her book, Malkin explains what annoys her so much about “anologizers”:
No, I did not quote anyone making a specific comparison of “Manzanar to Auschwitz” or "Manzanar to Buchenwald." The analogizers are a little more slippery than that. Those who use modern “concentration camp” rhetoric when discussing the evacuation/relocation/internment measures meekly disavow a direct moral equivalence between relocation camps and death camps, but then proceed to indulge in the offensive moral equivalence that they say they reject.
What exactly is a “slippery” comparison and what makes it illegitimate? It’s not really clear from her statement what she thinks constitutes a fair or an unfair comparison of the Holocaust and internment, but the two examples she provides give some clue. First she quotes Roger Daniels:
The American camps were not death camps, but they were surrounded by barbed wire and by troops whose guns were pointed at the inmates. Almost all the 1,862 Japanese Americans who died in them died of natural causes, and they were outnumbered by the 5,918 American citizens who were born in the concentration camps. But the few Japanese Americans who were killed “accidentally” by their American guards were just as dead as the millions of Jews and others who were killed deliberately by their German, Soviet, or Japanese guards.
It’s hard to see where the offense occurs in this. Daniels seems to be very explicit that the Holocaust was much worse than internment (so much worse, that it’s hard to come up with a phrase that doesn’t sound like an understatement). I suppose it must be the last line where he makes the point that dead is dead, even if the events that lead to death aren’t nearly as horrific.
I can’t really justify getting outraged at Daniels comparison here. It seems responsible, candid and accurate. Certainly one can say that both internment and the Holocaust resulted in deaths without claiming they are equivalent.
Malkin has one further example of “anologizers” in her defense:
But please let’s not be so clueless about the concentration camp analogizers. They honestly do see WWII ethnic Japanese as grievously wronged victims on par with Holocaust survivors. On p. 116, I cite one of the most prominent and critically acclaimed anti-evacuation researchers, Japanese-American author Michi Weglyn, who championed reparations for WWII ethnic Japanese “similar to one offered by the German government which allowed ‘a sizable number of former victims of Nazi-ism [to] continue to collect lifelong annuities,” regardless of where they lived in the world."
Again this quote wasn’t all that shocking. Weglyn seems to merely be stating that the form reparations took in Germany may be a good example. He is not claiming that the event reparations are being made for is in any way equivalent. One, for example, might study how Los Angeles deals with traffic to design a traffic grid in Omaha. This isn’t because Omaha traffic is anywhere near the same order of magnitude as Los Angeles traffic, but merely because Los Angeles may have devised some useful strategies that are applicable elsewhere. Drawing analogies between very different things is not a problem, so long as those differences are properly understood.
The Holocaust is an important historical event that should not be cut off from comparison. Some may worry that comparing the Holocaust to other historical events (and even other acts of genocide) cheapens its memory. I don’t agree. This worry often seems to stem from a concern about creating a moral equivalence of the Holocaust and internment. I’m not even sure I know how one could meaningfully come up with a moral scale to represent the slaughter of millions of innocent people, and thus I don’t know how to compare it with other events in terms of morality. I do know that it’s clear the Holocaust was much worse than internment. At the same time it seems that ignoring the similarities may prevent us from pursuing a fuller understanding of both events. And that understanding is worth the effort.