The National Park Service wants Congress to remove the word “internment” from the name of a national park commemorating a World War II prison camp for Japanese-Americans.
In a management plan for the Minidoka Internment National Monument finalized this week, the Park Service says the term legally means imprisonment of civilian enemy aliens during wartime and does not accurately reflect the government’s forced relocation of thousands of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent.
The agency wants the name changed to Minidoka National Historic Site, which would match with the only similar prison camp under its protection, California’s Manzanar National Historic Site.
Monument superintendent Neil King and the leader of a group of Minidoka internees and their descendants said former camp residents have been divided over the name.
Some felt “internment” did not accurately describe what happened there, while others wanted to emphasize the injustice by changing the name to “Minidoka Concentration Camp National Historic Site,” King said.
James Azumano, leader of the internees’ association, said his group plans to discuss the name during a pilgrimage there next month.
“It is a real dilemma and a constant challenge: How politically correct do you want to be over what at the time was a civil rights atrocity?” said Azumano, of Salem, Ore. “It’s a struggle with terminology that continues today. What are you going to call Guantanamo 50 years from now?”
At its peak in 1943, the Minidoka camp became one of the largest cities in Idaho, housing 9,397 people, primarily from Seattle and Portland, Ore. It closed Oct. 28, 1945, and was dismantled. The 73-acre park was created in early 2001 by President Clinton.
Today, it remains a ghost town in rolling wheat fields, with only a portable toilet for visitor facilities. The management plan recommends creating an interpretive center in a warehouse still standing from the camp.