I claim that the Japanese Americans forced into concentration camps during WWII are POW'S. I don't see this violating the definition of POW: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prisoner%20of%20war. It simply pushes the definition to the edge. I believe that is fair considering the situation pushed what it took for a person to be taken prisoner to the edge.

I made the claim in response to a question about POW conditions: What kinds of WW2 POWs were treated best?

Maybe it wasn't the answer the user was looking for, but I really enjoy looking into the dark parts of history. So I ask the question, what are the Japanese Americans forced into concentration camps considered?

In addition this is a very unique event, can anyone provide other examples where citizens of a state were turned on like this so quickly?

Taking another example from the period, the Jews held in concentration camps is similar, but there was hatred in Jews for a long period of time before then.

  • 6
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because purely as a matter of English definitions, Japanese American internees are not prisoners of war.
    – Semaphore
    Aug 11, 2015 at 6:06
  • I do not believe that historical sources & methods will help us to answer this question.
    – MCW
    Aug 11, 2015 at 8:27
  • This is not a discussion forum. Aug 11, 2015 at 15:09
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it invites unfocused discussion. Aug 11, 2015 at 15:11
  • 4
    I would like to add that using a dictionary as part of an ad verecundiam argument rubs me badly. If you try that on the English stack, you will likely similarly find your post modded down to oblivion (as has happened there once already this morning). In English, dictionaries are descriptive of general use, not authoritative. They are good guides for learners, but tend to be woefully incomplete, obsolete, or just plain wrong to someone who truly knows the word from extended use. If you've found a way that a definition somewhere allows the use you are attempting, then that definition is wrong.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 11, 2015 at 18:39

1 Answer 1


There are international agreements on the definition of POW dating back to the Lieber Code declared by Lincoln in 1862

Art. 49.

A prisoner of war is a public enemy armed or attached to the hostile army for active aid, who has fallen into the hands of the captor, either fighting or wounded, on the field or in the hospital, by individual surrender or by capitulation.

All soldiers, of whatever species of arms; all men who belong to the rising en masse of the hostile country; all those who are attached to the army for its efficiency and promote directly the object of the war, except such as are hereinafter provided for; all disabled men or officers on the field or elsewhere, if captured; all enemies who have thrown away their arms and ask for quarter, are prisoners of war, and as such exposed to the inconveniences as well as entitled to the privileges of a prisoner of war.

Art. 50.

Moreover, citizens who accompany an army for whatever purpose, such as sutlers (sic), editors, or reporters of journals, or contractors, if captured, may be made prisoners of war, and be detained as such.

The monarch and members of the hostile reigning family, male or female, the chief, and chief officers of the hostile government, its diplomatic agents, and all persons who are of particular and singular use and benefit to the hostile army or its government, are, if captured on belligerent ground, and if unprovided with a safe conduct granted by the captor's government, prisoners of war.

Art. 51.

If the people of that portion of an invaded country which is not yet occupied by the enemy, or of the whole country, at the approach of a hostile army, rise, under a duly authorized levy en masse to resist the invader, they are now treated as public enemies, and, if captured, are prisoners of war.

and through to the Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoner of War, 12 August 1949:

Art 4. A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy: (1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions: (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

(3) Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

(4) Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces, provided that they have received authorization, from the armed forces which they accompany, who shall provide them for that purpose with an identity card similar to the annexed model.

(5) Members of crews, including masters, pilots and apprentices, of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law.

(6) Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

B. The following shall likewise be treated as prisoners of war under the present Convention:

(1) Persons belonging, or having belonged, to the armed forces of the occupied country, if the occupying Power considers it necessary by reason of such allegiance to intern them, even though it has originally liberated them while hostilities were going on outside the territory it occupies, in particular where such persons have made an unsuccessful attempt to rejoin the armed forces to which they belong and which are engaged in combat, or where they fail to comply with a summons made to them with a view to internment.

(2) The persons belonging to one of the categories enumerated in the present Article, who have been received by neutral or non-belligerent Powers on their territory and whom these Powers are required to intern under international law, without prejudice to any more favourable treatment which these Powers may choose to give and with the exception of Articles 8, 10, 15, 30, fifth paragraph, 58-67, 92, 126 and, where diplomatic relations exist between the Parties to the conflict and the neutral or non-belligerent Power concerned, those Articles concerning the Protecting Power. Where such diplomatic relations exist, the Parties to a conflict on whom these persons depend shall be allowed to perform towards them the functions of a Protecting Power as provided in the present Convention, without prejudice to the functions which these Parties normally exercise in conformity with diplomatic and consular usage and treaties.

As there is no category in either the Lieber Code or the current Geneva Convention that would qualify the "Japanese Americans forced into concentration camps during WWII " as POW's, it is simply a gross misuse of the language to claim otherwise.

  • Yes. They were interned as security risks, and could get out of the camps on various paroles, such as by moving to inland states to live and work. It was the West Coast they were emptied out of. Highly suspected persons could not and were often kept segregated. There were German and Italian internees as well as Japanese ones. These were completely separate from PWs (as the period term was).
    – Zither13
    Aug 15, 2015 at 10:54

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