Reducation Camp in a Seminar Form

I used to rent a house from the retired warden of Cook Som Kay, which is kind of famous being the big jail of the capital city. It was a very pleasant and modest house, the yard was walled and we had a jackfruit tree. Our kids were small and it was a quiet single story residence off the street behind other houses. Our only neighbor was the warden and his wife who used to putter in the garden and feed the chickens.

Just after the war the jail held over a thousand people at a time, terribly over crowded, mostly awaiting processing before being shipped to other destinations. My grandfather in law was sent to "boy island" in the reservoir a couple hours north of the capital. There is also a "girl island". The two islands used to be for short term residents, young hipsters from the capital whose hair was too long or worked in hotels or bars, etc.

All members of the armed forces or civil servants were sent to "seminar camps" a euphemism for re education, or hard labor. Thirty to fifty thousand people were sent to the camps, there are no official numbers. At first people were dying like flies. Extreme malnutrition made people especially vulnerable to malaria. Higher level officials were sent to worse camps. The royal family and a few other high officials were sent to a camp that only had one survivor. The Lao are a Buddhist people and it's much easier to allow people to die than to kill them.

Most people were released after ten or fifteen years. It's not known how many died, a lot. If you look in Wiki under "concentration camp" you'll find a long list of countries and the types of camps. No mention of Laos.

Even today there are political prisoners, though few. Pro Democracy types from the late 90s and some religious folks, who knows. There is no free press, best not to make trouble. People still die from lack of medicine and food.

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thanatokephaloides's picture

The Lao are a Buddhist people and it's much easier to allow people to die than to kill them.

Most people were released after ten or fifteen years. It's not known how many died, a lot. If you look in Wiki under "concentration camp" you'll find a long list of countries and the types of camps. No mention of Laos.

Even today there are political prisoners, though few. Pro Democracy types from the late 90s and some religious folks, who knows. There is no free press, best not to make trouble. People still die from lack of medicine and food.

Sounds like a Laos-y place to live!

[ducking]

Sad

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mimi's picture

accompanying my then husband on a mission there, organized by the IMF. I didn't get much of what was happening in that country and its history, but it definitely didn't feel like a country where you had freedom of speech. I remember having to toast a chinese looking apparatchik from the communist party. He was smiling all over the face and was funny. I guess he knew of his power and the farce the mission members were engaged in. We were allowed to stay only in one certain hotel and were accompanied on our trips to Luang Prabang by 'guides with eyes'.

My son was with us and was totally bored. It's the place where we got him his first guitar. Music helps to stay sane. The landscape and climate reminded me a lot of Cameroon and Benin in Africa. Humid, hot, lush green. I remember also having seen the hmong rebel tribes in the mountain area. Never again followed what was happening in Laos after that trip.

It seems that there is still something cooking.
Hmong face military in Laos jungle in fallout from Vietnam war

I still have a skirt of those hmong people from that trip. I got it as a souvenir. Today it's more a fashion thingie exploited to make money from the tourist industry, I guess.

The Art of Hmong Embroidery

May be you can teach us more about the history of Laos after wwII and the Vietnam War. It was too much for me to understand it back then.

Thanks for posting here.
Give rose

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Good, but sad, information. I cannot begin to imagine being a prison warden or even living next door to one.

Due to a recent discussion here of concentration camps in connection with a remark made by Representative Ocasio-Cortez, I did google for concentration camps that had nothing to do with Nazi Germany. As a result, I did see the wikipedia list. I did not notice that Laos was missing. Thank you for telling us, from your heart and personal experiences.

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Lookout's picture

Basically, what a concentration camp is, is a place where a governing power concentrates a civilian population that has not been accused of or committed any crime, but rather imprisoning people, concentrating people not because they have been imprisoned for and judged and charged for committing a crime, but rather simply because of who they are, removing them from where they want to be and forcing them to live in some kind of a prison camp where the reason that they have been imprisoned is because of who they are. Now, this has happened over and over again in world history and in US history— the Nazi death camps being only one historical example.

https://therealnews.com/stories/are-immigration-detention-centers-concen...

Thanks for your story about Laos.

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

@Lookout

an issue on Ed Mass's thread. On this one, there cannot possibly be a claim that "concentration camp" does not automatically reference Nazi Germany and only Nazi Germany (an unsound claim in any case).

That said, I don't know if focusing on the prisoner defines a concentration camp "definitively." A concentration camp is a physical location, with physical characteristics that obtain regardless of who is imprisoned there or how or why he or she was imprisoned there. IOW, if no one were in a concentration camp because of who they were, as opposed to something he or she did to displease an arbitrary government, a concentration camp would still be a concentration camp.

I don't think that the absence of accusations, or even absence of a trial is dispositive, either. I'm not even sure no thug official accused people of anything as they grabbed them and took them to concentration camps.

If governments somehow got into serious trouble for imprisoning people without accusing them of anything or trying them for any crime, they'd likely have no trouble coming up with accusations, or conducting kangaroo court trials. Neither would change the nature of the camp, though.

One clue is in the name. I would go with something like:

A concentration camp is a place where a government "concentrates" and imprisons people in an area that is too small and, in many ways, too inadequate for their number. In concentration camps, people are imprisoned, perhaps indefinitely or for life, without due process or other protections of law. Those in concentration camps typically are forced to work and submitted to overly harsh treatment and punishments.

With sufficient motivation, I could probably come up with something more elegant and precise, but it's early Monday morning. And no one is offering motivation.

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mimi's picture

@HenryAWallace
sure to use the word 'concentration camps' (Konzentrationslager = KZ) just for the Nazi time camps where Jews and other population groups were systematically exterminated, ie killed and gassed. The word genocide was not used in Germany til the seventies or before, at least not in the news or in the schools. (Though we learned about the Genocide in the KZ, but without using the word genocide) I heard that word in the US for the first time.

There is another German word for prisoners of war camps, it would be called 'Gefangenenlager' (Gefangene = Prisoners, Lager = camp). There the prisoners might have been badly treated with regards to food and hygiene supplies and forced to labor, but they were not gassed or exterminated as Jews and others were in the KZ. You could survive such camps, if you didnt get sick.

There was also the word 'Arbeitslager' (Forced Work Camps), they could have been for any undesirable immigrant to Germany during the Nazi times, and were more of an 'Education Camp' to prepare Germans to become "valuable members" for the Third Reich's. My father was forced into such a camp in what is Netherland today directly after highschool and was then forced into the German Wehrmacht in 1939.

I think the camps the US has concentrated their Japanese population would have been called in German not a KZ, but an 'Internierungslager', which basically would mean a camp you physically transferred a part of a population into, without specifics about what happened with those 'transferred' people.

At least if someone uses the word concentration camps, to Germans it is a KZ and that the place the Jews got gassed. I would not use the word lightly at all for any other kind of camps or prisons.

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@mimi I'm unfamiliar with how to reply to comments here but username mimi's comment caused me to change the title. The camps in Laos were re education camps or that's what we commonly call such things. Most people lived through them, they weren't like what I think of when people say concentration camp. Thank you mimi.

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@Lookout
So, did US Indian reservations qualify under that definition? Or Medieval European Jewish ghettos?

There was an Italian version of the ghetto but I forget the word.

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gulfgal98's picture

@The Voice In the Wilderness This is according Merriam Webster.

The etymology of Italian ghetto was formerly the subject of much speculation, but today there is little doubt that the word comes from the Italian dialect form ghèto, meaning “foundry.” A foundry for cannons was once located on an island that forms part of Venice, where in 1516 the Venetians restricted Jewish residence. The word ghèto became the name for the area and was borrowed into standard Italian as ghetto, with the meaning of “section of a city where Jews are forced to live.” From there it passed into most other European languages. Since the late 19th century, the meaning of ghetto has been extended to crowded urban districts where other ethnic or racial groups have been confined by poverty or prejudice.

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@gulfgal98
Meaning "little city"
But I thought there was another word too.

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travelerxxx's picture

@The Voice In the Wilderness

I wonder whether you're thinking of Ghetto di Roma or whether you mean something concocted by the Italian fascists under Mussolini? The Ghetto di Roma existed for hundreds of years prior to the jack-booted right-wingers taking control of Italy. If I recall correctly, it was started by other racists long before Il Duce.

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@travelerxxx
OTOH, being locked up in a ghetto is better than being burned at the stake as a heretic.

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Dawn's Meta's picture

need to know this kind of thing, but we should dig until we understand the concept very well.

Just in passing, it would seem the Palestinians are in that category since the end of WWII. I can't even imagine having a life in that situation and especially having kids. I am amazed at the resilience.

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@Dawn's Meta

I assume that the Palestinians are not forced at gunpoint to continue living where they live? Palestinians living in Israel under woefully inadequate conditions may, as a matter of practical reality, have little choice but to remain there. However, the only choice for residents of an actual concentration camp would be to be shot or otherwise punished very severely--maybe even consequences to loved ones outside the camp--if he or she tried to escape.

The OP shared a personal experience and personal pain relating to an actual Laos concentration camp.

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edg's picture

@HenryAWallace

You don't think the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are forced to live there at gunpoint? Are they merely vacationing there?

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@edg

the country will, if observed, be shot because of that alone, no. Much as my heart goes out to them, no, I don't think that is the literal truth. (And my prior post did distinguish practical reality.) Would a resident of a concentration camp get permission to leave the country in which the camp is located?

As I've hinted on several posts on this thread now, I also think we should respect the topic of the very painful and heartfelt OP, rather than turning this thread into one about concentration camps in general or about Palestinians, but that is a personal opinion, not a matter of record or fact.

I also don't think that, whether my comment was correct or mistaken, I deserve condescending sarcasm, a personal conclusion based on my posting record.

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edg's picture

@HenryAWallace

The Israeli government continued to enforce severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians’ human rights; restrict the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip; and facilitate the unlawful transfer of Israeli citizens to settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli army limits travel out of Gaza to what it calls “exceptional humanitarian cases,” meaning mostly medical patients, their companions, and prominent businesspersons with permits.

Israel and Palestine Events of 2018

But you're right. Let's not talk about the Palestinian situation as though Gaza is an example of a concentration camp. After all, some Gazans do get out without having to exit through a gas chamber.

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@edg
I don't think we can call Tijuana a concentration camp because the US requires permission to cross the border. My question above about Indian reservations was in reference to the past ala "Trail of Tears" when native Americans were forced to leave their homes and were confined to reservations West of the Mississippi. I may be wrong, but I believe that today they can leave their reservations but not in the past.

Being denied entry is completely different from being denied permission to leave.

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@The Voice In the Wilderness
Gaza is blockaded.

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The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01, a Boeing 757 (AA Flight 77) flew into the Pentagon.
If you can't accept these indisputable facts, I can't fake an interest in your opinions about anything else.

@edg

the country, not to emigrating from the country. My posts specifically referenced leaving the country to live elsewhere, though. And condescending sarcasm is still unwarranted.

https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Palestinians-reveal-emigration-statist... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_diaspora; https://hcef.org/106-report-on-christian-emigration-palestine/

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edg's picture

@HenryAWallace @HenryAWallace

Israel does not allow operating air and seaports in Gaza, in violation with subsequent agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. The Gaza Airport, funded by donor countries, has been destroyed by Israeli bombardments and bulldozers. A Gaza Seaport project, started in 2000, was destroyed by the Israeli army, a few months after the construction had begun.

Also, as long as you support, justify or excuse the actions of the brutal apartheid regime that exists in the form of the Israeli government, any and all condescending sarcasm is well justified.

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earthling1's picture

the "internment camps" for those of Japanese ancestry during ww2 akin to concentration camps.

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edg's picture

@earthling1

If you exclude German concentration camps and Laotian concentration camps and several others from your definition, and if you only include those camps that didn't have death or great bodily harm as their ultimate purpose, and if you consider refugee camps such as those in Jordan for Palestinians and Syrians as examples of concentration camps, then I suppose you are at least somewhat correct.

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earthling1's picture

@edg
they couldn't walk away from them. And conditions were appalling, hunger, disease, little protection from the elements. And they pretty much lost all their belongings and property.
Plus, they were interned indefinately OR until the war was over.
To a lessor degree than Auschwitz or the Russian gulag, yet the same. Wouldn't want to be in any of them.
As a juxtaposition, I can think of better democracies to live in than here in this American one. But we are still a democracy, right?

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@earthling1
In the '90s, a co-worker passed on a newspaper article that said the Roosevelt administration also considered interning Italians but gave it up as a logistic nightmare that would consume too many resources. They briefly (one meeting) discussed interning Germans but gave it up because Germans made up about a third of the population.

Getting rid of German spies on the New York waterfront was handled much easier by simply passing the names to Lucky Luciano.

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@The Voice In the Wilderness

The term itself originated in 1897 when the "reconcentration camps" were set up in Cuba by General Valeriano Weyler

Until I just found this, I had thought it was the coinage of some obscure British bureaucrat, a few years later, during Boer War.

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The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01, a Boeing 757 (AA Flight 77) flew into the Pentagon.
If you can't accept these indisputable facts, I can't fake an interest in your opinions about anything else.

@UntimelyRippd

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