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LA Times Drops Use of Word ‘Internment’ to Describe Mass Incarceration of Japanese Americans

The paper made the distinction between internment and incarceration in an article by staff writer Teresa Watanabe

The Los Angeles Times will no longer use the term “internment” to describe the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the paper announced Thursday. 

An article by Times staff writer Teresa Watanabe described the distinction between internment and incarceration and the historical context the terms have in connection to the result of Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. 

“Instead, The Times will generally use ‘incarceration,’ ‘imprisonment,’ ‘detention’ or their derivatives to describe this government action that shattered so many innocent lives,” wrote Watanabe, whose parents and grandfather were detained in the days after Pearl Harbor.

“My parents, Shigeo and Joanne Watanabe, were U.S. citizens born and raised in Seattle — she a student at Seattle University who loved parties and red painted fingernails, he an aspiring accountant with a golden glove and killer smile,” wrote Teresa Watanbe. 

Watanbe continued: “In the aftermath of Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, they were imprisoned in an incarceration camp — not an internment camp.”

Just two months after Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order entitled Executive Order 9066, claiming it was an effort to curb potential Japanese espionage. That order included the unjust mass incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II. The U.S. has referred to the event as the Internment of Japanese Americans. 

The Times’ decision to no longer use the term comes eighty years later, and after the news organization apologized for campaigning for the unjust imprisonment of Japanese Americans. 

“We are taking this step as a news organization because we understand the power of language,” Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida said in a statement, Watanbe wrote. “We believe it is vital to more accurately describe the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans in the 1940s, and to do so in a way that does not diminish the actions our country took against its own citizens and the experience of those who were held captive.”

The statement to Los Angeles Times continued, Watanabe wrote: “The Los Angeles Times itself supported the incarceration at the time, and this style change reflects our commitment as an institution to better represent the communities we serve. We hope this will help bring closure to the families of those unjustly incarcerated and deepen our society’s understanding of that period.”

Watanbe goes on to explain that “internment” reduces the role the U.S. government played in event, an issue the publication’s previous assistant managing editor, Henry Fuhrmann, brought to the forefront in a tweet in 2020.