On the Absurd Talking Point that Trump Is Sending Kids to a 'Japanese Internment Camp'

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 14: The 75th division color guard from Fort Sill hold flags before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 14, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images for NASCAR)
June 12, 2019

The Health and Human Services Department announced yesterday that it plans to use Fort Sill in Oklahoma as a shelter for unaccompanied migrant minors, a temporary measure prompted by a full-blown humanitarian crisis at the border. Most media outlets covered the news with the appropriate level of nuance, but a few, uh, didn't. The real story, as they saw it, was "TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TO SEND MIGRANT CHILDREN TO FORMER JAPANESE INTERNMENT CAMP!!!!"

The outlet that got the talking point rolling, as best as I can tell, was TIME Magazine, who headlined their piece "Trump Administration to Hold Migrant Children at Base That Served as WWII Japanese Internment Camp." The Daily Beast, The Hill, HuffPost, and Rolling Stone all ran with similar headlines, while CBS News made reference to Japanese internment in the body of the piece.

Fort Sill was indeed a former Japanese internment camp, by the virtue of the fact that it has been a continuously operating Army base for 150 years and the Army was involved in Japanese internment. But as with American history in general, that represents a small sliver of the fort's history. It housed and trained soldiers in every major U.S. war since the Civil War, including the "Buffalo Soldiers," the highly-regarded African-American calvary regiments. It was a key outpost during the Indian Wars, and boasts of being the birthplace of U.S. Army combat aviation. Geronimo is buried there (sans his skull, supposedly, thanks to Dubya's granddad). Mel Brooks lived there. So did Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Today Fort Sill is a National Historical Landmark, houses the U.S. Army Field Artillery School, and maintains a population of more than 75,000 troops, families, and civilians.

All of which is to say, distilling Fort Sill down to a "former Japanese internment camp" is ridiculous, and arguably tars thousands of current and former servicemen with guilt by association. You might as well say "Donald Trump Lives In Building Where Japanese Internment Orders Were Signed."

Per Lexis Nexis, there have been tens of thousands of mentions of "Fort Sill" in English language news sources in the past few decades, literally too many for the service to count. Exactly six mentioned both "Fort Still" and "Japanese internment," and all six stories were about Japanese internment. That Japanese internment is a defining moment in Fort Sill's history, warranting prominent mention in stories even having nothing to do with Japanese internment, appears to be a notion born sometime in the past 24 hours, evidently by a reporter with an agenda, a deadline, and access to Wikipedia.

It's obvious why the focus is where it is. The Trump administration is detaining thousands of migrant children, that is bad, and just like Japanese internment. Got 'im! You expect that braindead framing from the HuffPosts and TPMs of the world, but my understanding was that CBS News, Daily Beast, The Hill, TIME, etc. are ostensibly nonpartisan outlets. Why are they so blatantly coloring their coverage?

Their retort I assume would be that the bad optics of the choice of base and the similarity in housing large groups of people makes it newsworthy and worth noting. But as most of the stories acknowledge, President Barack Obama did the exact same thing. Facing a similar surge in unaccompanied minors on the southern border in 2014, Obama sent 1,200 to Fort Sill, only slightly fewer than the 1,400 the Trump administration plans to send.

Obama's 2014 move appears identical to Trump's today. And yet, CBS's coverage of the children being held in Fort Sill didn't mention Japanese internment. Neither did The Hill's. Neither did TIME's. Needless to say, most of the other outlets running with the "Japanese internment" angle didn't even bother to cover Obama sending kids to Army bases, and certainly didn't muster outrage at the prospect. If the irony and bad optics of detaining migrants at Fort Sill is so obvious as to deserve top billing, one wonders why it escaped the media's notice when a Democrat was doing it.