'Against All Enemies'

Inside the FBI Roundup of German Americans in World War II

A fascinating and chilling account. The oral histories breathe Kafkaesque life into the written record .... The oral histories make credible what is otherwise an almost unbelievable tale. —The Oral History Review   

 

     Through personal interviews and letter collections, underpinned by thousands of documents, Fox tells America's shameful story. Must reading for all concerned about a repetition and erosion of American civil liberties. —Society for German-American Studies Newsletter

Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth.... Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. — Bertrand Russell

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  While the American fleet burned in Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt, with indispensable assistance from J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, unleashed the Army and Justice Department on resident nationals of Germany, Japan, Italy and American citizens with connections to those countries. The President’s action joined him and his administration to the ranks of those who, since the 1790s, have made the fear of aliens a vital component of national security.Hoover's FBI rounded up nearly 11,000 people of German ancestry, including Jewish refugees from occupied Europe and over 4,000 residents of Latin America and imprisoned them in a nationwide gulag.

Critics praised Stephen Fox's America's Invisible Gulag as "must reading for all concerned about a repetition and erosion of civil liberties." Now, the award-winning author presents 'Against All Enemies', a revised and expanded edition of the original, including new chapters on the role of German spies at Pearl Harbor and the forced deportation of Germans from Latin America.

Weaving together first-person interviews and government records in this unique study, Fox relates the inside story of internment and exclusion, and suggests answers to many key questions. Among them: What methods did the Justice Department and FBI employ? Why were some Germans nabbed but not others? Why were Jewish refugees and Latin Germans included? Why did internments continue for four years after the end of the war?

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Individual rights must give way to some degree to self-defense when democracies go to war. But the precise location of that fulcrum is not at issue here, nor is Roosevelt’s successful role as Commander in Chief.

What is at issue are quasi-secret deeds, not words, not hagiography. Close, thorough analysis of Justice Department and FBI behavior during the war precludes any presumption that the treatment of German Americans and Latin American Germans brought to the United States to be interned was strictly precautionary. Instead, internal security in the 1940s fell to men of grand ambition and to those, including the president, who harbored class, nationalistic, and ethnic prejudices. The quiet resort to fearmongering by these disingenuous men, kept largely out of sight of the general population, exposed the absence of toleration.

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Most readers will be surprised to discover here—if they have not elsewhere—that throughout the Second World War and as late as 1949 the U.S. government operated a nationwide gulag for ‘dangerous enemy aliens’ other than Japanese Americans. This network crisscrossed the republic from Honolulu to Ellis Island, from the Great Bend of the Missouri River in North Dakota to the Rio Grande and deep into Latin America. Seventy years later the government still refuses to provide a full accounting of this gulag’s existence and operation.

The story of this archipelago would have remained hidden indefinitely if not for the memories of its human commerce and the Freedom of Information Act. Who were these archipelagonauts? The answer is alarmingly simple. Everyone: mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, friends, classmates, co-workers, business associates or neighbors. But—and importantly this is how they differed from the general population—they were also:

 

Men, women and children whose troubles began because of where they were born.

Men, women and children denied the right to ordinary due process because they belonged to an alien, constitutionally unprotected class.

Men, women and children who had escaped Hitler’s Europe and the impending Holocaust.

Men, women and children of Latin America deported to and interned in the United States, whose property the United States expropriated to its advantage and to that of ‘cooperative’ republics.

 

Men, women and children forced to bear the stigma of disloyalty for the rest of their lives.

 

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President John Adams acquiesced in the passage of the Alien Enemies Act in 1798, by which Congress gave him and his successors discretionary executive control over enemy nationals during wartime or national emergency. Adams, who commanded only a so-called quasi war with France at the time, simply ignored the law. But not President Franklin Roosevelt who, a century and a half later, in more dangerous times, used the authority to ‘apprehend, restrain, secure and remove’ enemy aliens, either to internment camps or back to their homelands. The statute is still the law of the land, and except for the second president, its lure has proven irresistible. Among other things, this work suggests why Roosevelt found it so compelling. FDR, who most biographers cast as idealistic and progressive, had by 1941 forgotten—or deliberately shelved—his earlier prescient warning about fear. (I don’t dispute Roosevelt’s well-documented liberalism in some matters, but he was a complicated man, and to ignore his weaknesses betrays both the man and history.)

© 2016 Stephen Fox

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