As you read our A1 Revisited project — and we hope you’ll spend time with not just the stories in print but our project online — you might notice a change in the language we use around the U.S. government’s treatment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II. Forced to abandon their homes and businesses and most of their belongings, the men, women and children taken to prison camps were often referred to as “internees,” and their experience for decades was commonly referred to as “internment” by newspapers, authors and historians.
However, internment refers to something different than what Japanese Americans endured; “internment” historically has referred to detention, usually short-term, of “enemy aliens.” The 100,000-plus people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, were kept against their will, convicted of no crime. They were incarcerated. Out of the public eye, President Roosevelt referred to the places they were sent as “concentration camps.”
After researching inside and outside the newsroom — research that included discussions with family members of those who were incarcerated — we decided in early 2020 to update our usage to more accurately reflect what was done. We are not alone; news organizations large and small as well as experts nationwide have also made this change, referring to Japanese American incarceration.
Another note: The Seattle Times used words in 1942 that are abhorrent and painful now. It does no service to repeat them. If a particular term or phrase from our past pages is absolutely necessary to a reader’s understanding — after all, this project is, in part, about how news coverage matters — it will be replaced with a bracketed word or two describing the actual word for context.