FAS Homepage | Gov't Secrecy | Moynihan Commission || Index | Search | Join FAS

Appendix A

5. The Experience of the Second World War

The Great War resumed in 1939. The combatants were much the same; war, however, was changing with the advent of aerial bombardment. The very idea had once seemed repellent. The First Hague Conference banned bombing from balloons, but the Germans went ahead even so to develop the first strategic bombing force, using dirigibles. Soon actual "bombers" were developed; for which the all-important appurtenance was the "bombsight."

In the 1920s an American inventor, Carl L. Norden, had developed a device that promised precision high-altitude bombing. The "Norden Bombsight" became America's most important secret. By November 1937, German spies had stolen the complete plans. The theft was part of a large German espionage operation that would be known as the "Ritter Ring" for Colonel Nikolaus Ritter, who directed it from Hamburg. The Norden operation was carried out by Hermann Lang, a 36- year-old native of Germany, now a naturalized U.S. citizen living in a German-American neighborhood in Queens, New York. He worked as an assembly inspector at the Norden plant on Lafayette Street in downtown Manhattan. (An equivalent facility today would be located in New Mexico and surrounded by electrified fence. But we were learning!) Lang evidently considered himself a German patriot, and he copied the bombsight plans as an act of German patriotism.79

Soon, however, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was onto the operation. Another participant in the Ritter Ring was one Fritz Duquesne, an Afrikaner of Huguenot descent, born in 1877 in the Cape Province, and so a witness to the Boer War. By the 1930s, he was a naturalized U.S. citizen, but was willing to spy against the United States if in so doing he would be "working toward the destruction of his hated enemy, England."80 On June 29, 1941, 23 members of the Ritter Ring--nineteen in New York and four in New Jersey--were arrested in what J. Edgar Hoover termed for Walter Winchell's broadcast that evening "the greatest spy roundup in U.S. history."81

At some level, espionage was becoming entertainment. There would be a movie in 1945, loosely based on the activities of the Ritter Ring, The House on 92nd Street. The Federal Bureau of Investigation now acquired a firm place in the national imagery as the nemesis of sovereign subversives, with German and later Japanese spies taking the place of 1920s gangsters. This was partly the personality of the Director, but also intrinsic fascination with the subject of espionage, as evidenced by the spy novel and any number of moving pictures of the 1930s. Much of this was entertainment, and no more; some part reflected anxieties. But also, and with far greater consequence, the United States Government was acquiring--principally in the FBI, but not exclusively-- an organized capacity to defend against foreign attack and, most importantly, was beginning to learn the art of infiltration where there was a "domestic" component to the foreign attack.

Note two uniformities. Twentieth century war requires, will be seen to require, measures directed against enemies both "foreign and domestic." Such enemies, real or imagined, will be perceived both in ethnic terms and ideological terms.

A further uniformity: Government responds to domestic threats by regulatory measures to ensure the loyalty of the government bureaucracy and the security of government secrets, and by statutory measures to protect against disloyal conduct on the part of citizens and, of course, foreign agents.

We do well to be wary of rules of organizational behavior, much less of political affairs. But then, are we not equally obliged to be mindful of the view of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution that they had discovered, in James Madison's phrase, "a new science of politics" which brings stability to the constitutional government they devised? (As noted, in secret!)

The record of 1917 and the years immediately following is instructive. President Wilson looked up the rules, in this case the law of the sea, and decided that Germany was in gross and criminal violation. Whereupon the United States Government declared war. New laws and regulations were dutifully enacted. But events got out of hand. In time, it was the conduct of the United States Government that approached the illegal. A possible explanation for this is that the Government at this time had no organized means of assessing danger and dealing with it.

It is notable that there was little anti-German hysteria during the Second World War, in great contrast to the First. In measure, this may be accounted for by the success of the first round in suppressing the German presence in American culture, largely defined.

To return for just a moment, the anti-German hysteria--not too strong a term--of the First World War was unlike anything previously known in the ethnic history of the United States. Consider this passage from the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups:

Even so, German Nazis made a considerable effort to establish an American base. The Harvard Encyclopedia records: "Recruiting began as early as 1924, but the first large-scale organization was the Friends of New Germany, organized in July 1933 after orders from Berlin dissolved the existing Nazi cells."83

A new immigrant, Fritz J. Kuhn, promptly joined. By 1936, Kuhn had become leader of the Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund, formed at Buffalo, New York, thenceforth a not insignificant political presence popularly known as "the Bund." On George Washington's Birthday, 1939, Kuhn and his allies organized a mass rally in Madison Square Garden in New York; the newsreel coverage was stunning. A Nazi rally, uniforms, salutes: arouse the masses to the struggle against "Rosenfeld's Jew Republic." Robin Edwin Herzstein estimates that the Bund "probably" consisted of some 6,500 "activists" at this time, with a combined pool of 50,000 to 100,000 sympathizers, family, and friends.84 In about the same range, that is, of the early Communist Party. The differences were perhaps not that different. Herzstein describes the same immigrant core, with much the same apocalyptic fantasies:

There was even the reaching out to other ethnic groups reminiscent of the earlier experience: White Russians, Italians, Irish. The differences, however, were decisive. At the end of 1939, Kuhn was jailed for embezzlement; by 1941, Nazi Germany had declared war on the United States; and by 1945, the Third Reich was crushed. There was not time for the impact Soviet Communism had, nor anything like the range of receptive audiences.

That said, the onset of the Second World War found the United States significantly better organized to deal with subversion, real or imagined. After war broke out in Europe in 1939, the government posted FBI agents in embassies in Latin America to compile information on Axis nationals and sympathizers. (A practice that continuously expanded thereafter.)86 The FBI was, of course, active at home as well as abroad. Within three days of Pearl Harbor, some 1,291 Japanese, 857 Germans, and 147 Italians had been taken into custody.87 However, the Federal law enforcement agency was much restrained in contrast with the public and some state officials, notably California Attorney General Earl Warren. On February 3, 1942, Director Hoover wrote to Attorney General Francis Biddle:

Which was indeed the case.

On February 13, 1942, Congressman Clarence Lea of California, the senior West Coast Representative, wrote to President Roosevelt on behalf of the Members of Congress from California, Oregon, and Washington:

Such views prevailed.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, "Authorizing the Secre-tary of War to Prescribe Military Areas." The Order gave the Secretary of War the power to exclude persons from designated areas, in order to provide "protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material."90

No group was singled out, but the result was that Japanese aliens, along with American citizens of Japanese descent and Alaskan Aleuts, were prohibited from living, working, or traveling on the West Coast of the United States. Between May 8, 1942, and March 20, 1946, a total of 120,313 persons of Japanese descent living on the West Coast were interned in relocation camps in the West, the last of which was closed on March 20, 1946. In Latin America, some sixteen countries interned at least 8,500 Axis nationals. Where governments were reluctant, the United States did the job for them. In 1942 Peru deported some 1,000 Japanese, 300 Germans, and 30 Italians to the United States. Some Japanese were in American custody as late as 1949. 91

Some argued that Germans and Italians should be dealt with in much the same way. But the Germans and Italians were far more numerous, making internment prohibitive, and their political influence was more formidable. On May 15, 1942, Secretary of State Stimson recommended to the President at a cabinet meeting that particular individuals should be excluded from militarily sensitive areas, but not entire classes of Germans or Italians.92 On October 12, 1942, Columbus Day, Attorney General Biddle announced that Italian aliens would no longer be classified as enemies.93 Germans remained technically enemy aliens, though by January 1943, most restrictions on Germans had been removed.

By comparison with the public arousal and resistance that accompanied the "red-baiting" period of the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was little protest at the internment of Japanese and others during World War II. The Roosevelt administration never experienced any loss of reputation; Earl Warren went on to become Chief Justice of the United States. In time--more than four decades later--Congress made amends by means of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which states that the Japanese internment was:

The Act provided redress for about 80,000 survivors of the internment, who were eligible to receive $20,000 each. More importantly, they received an apology from Congress, on behalf of the American people.

Extend the term "racial prejudice" to include ethnic and religious prejudice and we see a pattern of response to crisis that seems fairly fixed. In 1943, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, Western Defense Commander, issued Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942, which contains this passage:

The latter statement verges on clinical paranoia, in which the absence of overt threat is interpreted as a means of allaying suspicion in a situation of real danger. This can be the mark of a troubled mind. It can also, however, be the mark of profound insight into the ways of the world. Hence the impulse to secrecy by befuddled minds as well as vigilant ones.

79 Art Ronnie, Counterfeit Hero: Fritz Duquesne, Adventurer and Spy (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1995), 208-09.
80 Ibid., 214.
81 Ibid., 2.
82 Kathleen Neils Conzen, "Germans," in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, ed. Stephan Thernstrom (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 423.
83 Ibid.
84 Robert Edwin Herzstein, Roosevelt & Hitler: Prelude to War (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 189.
85 Ibid., 190.
86 Don Whitehead, The FBI Story (New York: Random House, 1956), 212.
87 By 16 February 1942, these numbers had expanded to a total of 2,192 Japanese, 1,393 Germans, and 264 Italians. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied, Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1992), 55.
88 Ibid., 73.
89 Ibid., 81.
90 President, Executive Order 9066, Federal Register 7, no. 38 (25 February 1942):1407.
91 Personal Justice Denied, 308.
92 Ibid., 287.
93 Stephen Fox, The Unknown Internment: An Oral History of the Relocation of Italian Americans during World War II (Boston: Twayne, 1990), 136.
94 Civil Liberties Act of 1988, 102 Stat. 94 (1988). U.S. citizens of Aleutian descent also were relocated. The Act said of them, "The United States failed to provide reasonable care for the Aleuts, and this resulted in widespread illness, disease, and death among the residents of the camps."
95 J. L. DeWitt, "Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942," in Personal Justice Denied, 83.

Proceed to Part 6 of Appendix A

Go Back to the Top Page of the Commission Report

FAS Homepage | Gov't Secrecy | Moynihan Commission || Index | Search | Join FAS