Concentration Camp
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Basic Information

A concentration camp is a form of open air prison generally intended for the mass internment of civilians.

These camps generally arise when a state perceives the need to remove the liberty of a large number of people without actually killing them (for that you generally want an extermination camp, with which these are frequently but inaccurately conflated) - often because they are enemy aliens or the civilian population of a group engaged in guerrilla warfare, although other motives (for example quarantine or the prevention of mass migration) are also possible. In general concentration camp inmates will not be criminals by any reasonable definition of the term (although some regimes have been known to promiscuously mix criminals and internees) and prisoner of war camps are different type of institution.

Unsurprisingly such things have an unpleasant history. The detention of large numbers of innocent people is not generally a meritorious act in its own right, and even when no brutality is intended towards the inmates conditions often become very unpleasant. Some of the earliest recorded examples of the camp occurred during the second Boer War when the British colonial forces removed the Afrikaner population from the South African countryside and concentrated them (hence the name) into a series of secure camps to prevent them from giving aid and succour to Afrikaner guerrillas1. Unfortunately the inmates received the same sort of casual neglect that was lavished on the British Army fighting the war - food was of poor quality and often only partially delivered, sanitation and medical care were far below what was required and the camps were overcrowded. Disease ran riot and large numbers of the inmates - mostly women, children and the elderly - died. Despite such a poor start, the camps did achieve their basic objective and the principle was taken to heart in future conflicts. Later examples were better and worse. Probably the best were those used by the Western Allies to intern Axis civilians during WW2 - most of these were merely miserable - whilst their mirror images in Axis territory tended to exhibit deliberate starvation, cruelty and slave labour.

As has been demonstrated historically, the dividing line between one of these and a ghetto can be slender - in fact, in some cases, all that is required is that the ghetto gates be closed from the outside.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Obvious fodder for a dystopia - if someone is setting these up, assume that something has gone badly wrong.
  • Worryingly likely to be sold as a positive act - historical concentration of native populations by settlers has often been portrayed (and sometimes intended) as benefiting them in the eyes of the perpetrators.
  • Can also be used for what measure is a non-human and related values-dissonance in fantasy settings.
  • Adding the two together a post-pseudomedieval fantasy setting might well see orcs being cleared from areas that humans want to live in and "resettled" into "communities" where "the benefits of peace and civilisation can be brought to them".
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