This evening I heard the phrase “concentration camp” on NPR and starting thinking about what that phrase means. In common use, “concentrate” is both a noun and a verb. Juice comes in a concentrate, it's pushed together in a small space. Or students are told to concentrate, to focus on what they should be doing. Either of these are an incredible euphemism for Nazi death camps, but which euphemism have we adopted? Do concentration camps concentrate people? Do they force people to concentrate? Do they concentrate death? And why is there an English-language euphemism for an atrocity carried out by Germans anyway?

The answer to the latter question, from Wikipedia: the term “concentration camp” was first used to describe British internment camps in the Second Boer War. After gold was discovered Transvaal, British citizens flocked to the country, where they found the native population less than hospitable. To secure the rights of their own resource-exploiting citizens, the British entered a war against a Boer insurgency.

The conditions in the camps were very unhealthy and the food rations were meager. The wives and children of men who were still fighting were given smaller rations than others. The poor diet and inadequate hygiene led to endemic contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery. Coupled with a shortage of medical facilities, this led to large numbers of deaths — a report after the war concluded that 27,927 Boers (of whom 22,074 were children under 16) and 14,154 black Africans had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps

So when the Germans later rounded up a group of people they didn’t like and started killing them, the phrase “concentration camp” was used because it had already been used as a euphemism for similar British atrocities. On top of the story of a superpower invading another country to control its natural resources, the word “insurgency” particular caught my attention here, with thoughts of the insurgency in Iraq. Were concentration camps a standard means of fighting insurgencies?

Indeed they were. The list of concentration camps throughout history is full of attempts to contain insurgent populations during armed invasions. Most recently, in 2001 the Russian military gathered up twenty thousand men and boys in Chechnia. Over 80% died. More immediately, the US military continues to entertain the idea of registering and rationing food to Iraqi residents, in the interest of controlling the insurgent population.

Lieutenant Colonel James S. Corum of the US Army recently wrote about various strategies for dealing with insurgencies, in the context of possible application to America’s military activities in Iraq, in FIGHTING INSURGENTS--NO SHORTCUTS TO SUCCESS [PDF, 3kb]:

International law and the traditional rules of war allow for some very firm tactics employed to coerce and control populations. For example, to cut off support for rebels in pro-insurgent districts, Kitson advocated that government forces commandeer and carefully control all food stocks. Food was rationed by the police and army only to registered village residents, and whole villages would be cordoned off to prevent extra food from being brought in. If the villagers wanted to give food to the rebels, they could do so only if they starved themselves. The British also figured that, if the insurgents came in the night and took the peoples’ carefully rationed food, people would eventually inform on the insurgents rather than face hunger. Such tactics were not only effective, but also legal.

The good thing about Kitson’s approach to waging a counterinsurgency campaign strictly within the rule of law is that it generally works. The downside is that such an approach to counterinsurgency and intelligence takes a long time, and success is measured not in any dramatic terms but in small, local, and incremental victories. It should be no surprise that some of our intelligence personnel and leaders might instinctively opt for the Trinquier approach with its promise of quick and decisive results, when our military doctrine is filled with adjectives such as “rapid” and “decisive” to describe the American mode of warfare. Yet the traditionally successful counterinsurgency doctrines are peppered with adjectives such as “methodical,” “systematic,” and “long-term.”

Emphasis added. The downside of internment under threat of starvation, according to the US Army’s assessment, is not that it’s morally reprehensible; it just takes a long time to starve people to death. Our national unwillingness to concentrate on the “victory” some would imagine in Iraq has prevented us from establishing concentration camps. May our impatience save our souls.

where would you put sanctioning in this picture?
"Sanctioning" covers a broad spectrum of behavior, from special tarrifs to halting trade with a single country, to imposing an embargo on trade with other countries. I think on one end of the spectrum, it's basically a luxury tax. You pay more to enjoy cigarettes, or you pay more to enjoy policies America doesn't like. On the other end, it's starvation. But even that has gradients, depending on how difficult it is for the target population to emigrate.

If you're thinking specifically about the sanctions against Iraq prior to the military invasion, I think those were about as bad as sanctions get. They prevented all trade with any country, while neighboring country refused to accept Iraqis as refugees. So Iraqis were stuck in an area where they without the means to survive, which sounds a lot like a concentration camp.
I think that what the Janjaweed are doing in Darfur is just as bad as any of the things that you mentioned in your post (great post by the way!) The thing that bothers me is that no Western government will ever intervene in Africa unless it involves (a) oil or (b) huge sums of money. So I doubt that the U.S. or any European country will do anything to help Sudan. It will be like Rwanda all over again.
You are mistaken with your description of British concentration camps in the Boer war. It is a myth that they were death camps like the Nazi camps. The word ‘concentrate’ in this context is to bring together.
These camps were created to house and protect families from farms that had been destroyed by the British as they were supplying the Boer army. The Boer leader De Wet understood this campaign as he had attacked the British lines of supply also. He said that the British would look after the dispossessed families.
The camps were set up but then very badly administered, which resulted in lack of food and clean water. The sites were not moved, so sanitation failed and disease spread, mainly enteric fever. This tragic loss of women and children was down to incompetence and was NOT a government policy. The POW camps in USA during the American Civil War where men died in their thousands, not maliciously, but by incompetence were a similar example.
It must remembered that the Boer war was the last war to be fought by the British where more soldiers died from disease than from enemy action.
I didn't say anywhere that it was government policy to kill the people, nor did the Wikipedia article I quoted. But it was government policy to burn down civilian homes and to detain people by force in conditions that caused their death. I don't personally see a big difference between that brand of treating people like livestock and the Nazi's brand of treating people like livestock, but if you think it's a significant difference, it's now duly noted. Personally, that strikes me as an awfully inhumane nit to pick.
I think you'll find that the difference between:

1) A government policy of extermination, involving the whole military-industrial complex of a nation, with ideologocal backing from the main political party and intellectual support promoting the idea of racial superiority and
2) An overwhelmed administration, asked to do something they couldn't resulting in incompetance, desease and eventually death, is perhaps, on reflection, not a 'nit'.

In the former, that is Nazi Germany, concentration camps were part of a policy of concious racial extermination - defined as 'genocide'. It involved railway technicians designing carridges so that people could be efficiently gassed inside. It involved companies like I G Farben and Bosch testing and producing the gas that could kill in the shortest possible time, it invoved local authorities at all levels being complicit in rounding up the victims, having heard Himmler's speeches on the 'Final Solution. The gas ovens had to be designed and build. And 6 million people died. I've visited Sudeten homes where items from jewish victims was brazenly displayed. Distribution companies were set up to dispose of the thousands of shoes, clothes and spectacles from the victims. Hitler took possession of a lamp shade made from human Jewish skin.

In the latter, there was a war in South Africa - not over gold, but over a series of conflicts between two very different philosophies. I'm not going to argue which side were morally best. But in 1868, a conflict appeared because the British interviened following an appeal from Moshesh the leader of African refugees, who sought British protection against the Boers. The Boars were prepared to invite conflict with the British by marking up railway seating to separate themelves from blacks. The Boars objected to the British policiy of racial integration and the one-man one vote constitution they introduced in the 19th centuary.

It took the Germans 40 years to deal with the wrong they had done: for years, in the 60s and 70s it was common to hear Germans use the phrase 'it's in the past, we should forget it and move on' - a policy of not talking about it was in force until braver liberal German polititions began to deal with this horror in the late 70s and 80s. So if you're going to make historical comment you might want to look at what was being said in the British newspapers of the time: the free access to facts as they emerged, the discussions and different points of view and the changes of government policy that resulted. Look at the hand-wringing of British Fawcett Comission that was then sent to investigate these Boar camps. This was a British Government commission which far from white-washing the British, insisted that rations should be increased, that additional nurses be sent out immediately and a host of reforms. In fact, most of what we now know about these camps comes from the very British who were genuinely working to improve conditions.

It is estimated that perhaps 20,000 Boars died 'avoidable' deaths in the British camps through an incompentance that was corrrected as soon as the facts became known. A figure and reason the Boars themselves accepted. As a previous poster recognised, British deaths, even though they were outside the camps, were also greater than combat deaths.

In Germany, approximately 6 million people died and were exterminated through a deliberate policy to wipe out a racial/religious group, a genocide which continued in many cases even though the allies (including the British at Belson) were mere hours away from liberating the camps.

After the Boer war, far from hating the British: families of those same Boers sent their sons to fight with the encouragement of the Boar Prime Minister alongside the British, under British commanders in WW2 against Nazi Germany. They laid down their lives alongside the British at Tobruk, at Gazala, at El Alemein and in Normandy and their desendants remember their British association at that time with pride.

Scott - the internet is not peer reviewed - books are. The difference between British and Nazi camps 'nit' picking? I'm sorry, no.

There is simply no comparison.

Nice site.

oh my god i feel so bad for those people!
3000 adults + 23 000 children murdered: Not genocide?

Be number 9:

knows half of 8 is