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Reviews in American History 32.3 (2004) 413-421
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Economic Warfare, Enemy Civilians, and the Lessons of World War II
Regina U. Gramer
Given the United States' long and proudly proclaimed history of immigration, it is rather sobering to reflect on the federal government's treatment of resident aliens and foreign nationals in times of war. During the Palmer Raids in 1919, the Wilson administration interrogated, arrested, and detained as many as ten thousand resident aliens based on their political ideology. During World War II, the Roosevelt administration interned more than one hundred thousand men, women, and children based on their ethnic Japanese identity. During the Cold War, the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950 prohibited foreign Communists from entering the United States and authorized secret prison camps for the detention of domestic subversives; after China intervened in the Korean War, the Justice Department sought to deport several thousand Chinese citizens studying and working in defense-related fields. And again, in the aftermath of 9/11, the current war on terrorism has led to "preventive" detention based on ethnic identification.1 The Bush administration questioned about 130,000 Arabic and Muslim immigrants and alien visitors, deported 9,000 undocumented individuals, arrested 800 criminal suspects, and detained 11 suspected terrorists. All of these domestic measures purportedly enhanced U.S. national security.
In the age of globalization, however, "homeland" security measures do not suffice any longer as the United States has begun to detain enemy aliens in foreign countries. And little did we know before Max Paul Friedman's path-breaking and most timely Nazis and Good Neighbors, purely domestic security measures did not suffice in World War II either. Based on meticulous multi-archival and multi-national research, covering 16 archives in 7 countries, Friedman documents how the United States initiated the deportation of 4,058 German civilians from 15 Latin American countries and interned them in [End Page 413] various camps located mainly in Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas. Prompted by the United States and in "defense of the Panama Canal," Panamanian authorities alone arrested one thousand Axis nationals during the first eight days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (p. 108). State Department officials presumed that "all German nationals without exception . . . and more individuals than might be expected among the political and racial refugees from Central Europe are all dangerous" (pp. 119-20). Among the ethnic German internees were at least 1,600 children, an unspecified number of single women, and more than 80 Jewish refugees—of which at least eight had spent time in German concentration camps before being able to flee to Latin America. Even after the official end of World War II, by November 1945, there were still one thousand Germans held in United States camps. Friedman argues strongly that the American deportation program "should be at the center of any history of the war and Latin America, and especially U.S.-Latin American relations in this era" (p. 3).
While the history of the Japanese and Japanese-American internments during World War II was an instance of "a universally accepted practice" and has been widely discussed during recent decades, Friedman reveals an entirely novel, inter- and transnational, dimension of the American search for national security as he focuses on the almost completely hidden history of the deportation and internment of ethnic Germans from Latin America (p. 106). The "seizure of enemy aliens in foreign nations was new," Friedman asserts, an "exceptional step" that violated national and international lawsand proved Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy a "myth" (pp. 106, 231-33, 3). "It is like selling Uncle Tom down the river," remarked a federal judge in a postwar pretrial conference (p. 227). The deportations, Friedman concludes, "were worse than unjust: they were ineffective"—only between 10 and 15 percent...