on the Subject of Human Rights in the United States
Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights
in the United States (1991)
American Book Award
“In recognition of outstanding literary achievement
from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse
and multicultural community”
Before Columbus Foundation (1992)
Zelindo and Elena Picchi
The War on Italian Americans in 1942
‘An intelligent and important study of a neglected subject.’ - John Morton Blum, Yale University
‘Under Siege! adds fascinating new pieces to the puzzle of American wartime concentration camps. It is tragic history told by survivors in poignant anecdotes.’ - John Christgau, author of "‘Enemies’: World War II Alien Internment"
‘By utilizing interviews and widely scattered records, Fox has brought to life the completely neglected relocation of an entire national group during World War II. Those of us who have written histories of Italians in America have dealt with this episode, but only in a sketchy way. Bravissimo!’ - Andrew Rolle, Occidental College, author of "The Italian Americans: Troubled Roots" and "The Immigrant Upraised"
‘A first-rate work of research in oral history that recaptures the poignant emotions of a people whose experience would have been forgotten had it not been for the sensitive scholarship of Stephen Fox.’ - John Patrick Diggins, University of California, Irvine
Under Siege! powerfully demonstrates oral history's ability to challenge common assumptions. While the relocation of Japanese Americans in 1942 has been extensively reported, few are aware that for a period of six months the federal government also pursued a program that forced thousands of West Coast Italian and German aliens and their families to leave their homes and jobs. Other Italians, including American citizens whose loyalty was deemed doubtful, were interned or excluded without due process.
Under Siege! is an oral and documentary history. It uses the words of those affected by the relocation order to tell the human side of the story omitted by the government, and it presents documents that testify to the struggle of a country trying to square its actions with its values.
The Giuseppe Spadaro Family
Why were Italian and German Americans spared the fate of Japanese Americans?
Removal of Italians and Germans from the civilian work force would disrupt the economy, especially in the large urban areas on both coasts and destroy postwar morale.
Economics, politics and morale drove U.S. relocation policy during World War II, with race as a reinforcing factor. The withdrawal of perhaps millions of Italians and Germans from civilian production jobs, many in heavy industry—or even the shutdown of fishing in California—was judged too high a price to pay to thwart potential sabotage.
The cessation of Asian immigration in 1924—but not European—and the resulting numerical disproportion across the country, not the attack on Pearl Harbor and its bitter emotional legacy, determined what happened to the Japanese in 1942 and why Italians and Germans did not experience the same fate.
What happened in 1942 happened because people seem unwilling or incapable of looking at human beings as individuals rather than members of groups.
Forty-eight years later the United States said to the Japanese, ‘We made a mistake. We’re sorry.’ Have American attitudes and reactions changed since 1942? Is the country likely to act with greater prudence to a national emergency?
"I tell you it was a crazy thing. Whoever thought up that law
had screws loose someplace." - Mary Tolomei