EDITORIAL

No, it's not just words

Posted

Now that it’s June, we’re at the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season — luckily something we, as New Yorkers, don’t have to lose a lot of sleep over.

But we identify hurricanes by giving them male and female names, like Hurricane Barbara, for example. In fact, two (or even three or more) hurricanes in different years could indeed carry the same name, because the World Meteorological Organization — the group responsible for naming — rotates all of them on a six-year basis.

Well, almost all of them.

Since 1954, the WMO has retired nearly 90 names, from Carol to Michael, with storms like 2012’s Sandy taken out of rotation along the way.

The reason? They were associated with massive storms that sullied their name.

Look at Andrew. In 1986, it was nothing more than a tropical storm that, at one point, threatened the Carolinas, but never making landfall.

Yet, the storm we remember as Andrew was the Category 5 hurricane that killed 65 people in 1992, wiping out more than $27 billion of property.

The WMO immediately retired “Andrew” — even though it wasn’t the first storm to carry the name. But associations to “Andrew” changed in the six years between the storms, and because of that, we will never again have a Hurricane Andrew.

Although there is no official body retiring other phrases we use, society does it for us. One such phrase is something U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used to describe the detention centers keeping illegal immigrants: “concentration camps.”

That term has created considerable controversy — and rightfully so. Sure, the camps that ultimately killed 17 million Jews and other minority groups were not the first to carry that designation, but they are the ones most closely associated with it.

And that’s why we must be careful about how we use terms like this. Yes, the detention centers the Trump administration has created are horrific and must be shut down. Yes, one could technically use the term “concentration camp.”

But as terrible as these detention centers are, as accurate as the definition is, we just can’t make that comparison. Not because the lives of those in these detention sites don’t matter — they do. But so do all the lives lost during the Holocaust.

Before World War II, what society associated with “concentration camps” was certainly much different.

It’s all changed, however. And while Rep. Ocasio-Cortez should be commended for working to bring light to how terrible detention centers are — calling them “concentration camps” only distracts from the message she’s trying to disseminate.

Time has taken many Holocaust survivors away from us, but not the memory of what happened.

Hopefully, we’ll never have to compare anything again to what happened 70 years ago. But let’s not dishonor that history by being insensitive.

 

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