Diane talks with Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy.
Guest Host: Derek McGinty
In the years following 9/11, conversations about the threat of terrorism, and debates over the role of government in keeping us safe have been constant. Political scientist Matthew Dallek says there’s many parallels to the late 1930s and ’40s when fears of a Nazi attack in the U.S. were high. In a new book, “Defenseless Under the Night,” Dallek explores the history of the Office of Civil Defense, a precursor to the Department of Homeland Security. It was led by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, whose competing visions set the stage for the debates we are still having today about security and democracy. Guest host Derek McGinty is joined by author Matthew Dallek to discuss the origins of homeland security.
- Matthew Dallek Assistant professor of political management, Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University
MR. DEREK MCGINTYThanks for joining us. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm. She is on vacation. Well, it seems that we live now in an age of great anxiety. The threat of a possible terror attack or mass shooting have created what feels like an unprecedented climate of fear and an often raucous debate about how we ought to be keeping ourselves safe. But my guest here today says we've actually been down this road before. In the late 1930s and early '40s, Americans were watching Nazi Germany roll through Europe and grew deeply fearful that they might be next.
MR. DEREK MCGINTYAnd they were asking the exact same questions we asked, who can keep us safe and how much liberty will we sacrifice for that security? Author Matthew Dallek explores the debate and the famous figures behind it in his brand new book. It's called "Defenseless Under The Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security." Matthew Dallek's a professor of political management at George Washington University and he is here in the studio. Thanks for coming in.
MR. MATTHEW DALLEKThanks, so much, for having me.
MCGINTYWe're really glad to see you and we'd also be glad and grateful to have your phone calls at 800-433-8850. Drop us a line via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or join us via Facebook or Twitter. So Matthew, interesting book and you begin it with something a lot of people are familiar with, that is the "War Of The Worlds" broadcast, which came at a particularly bad time for the American psyche.
DALLEKYeah. It was on Halloween Eve, shortly after the Munich conference, the Munich appeasement and Americans were reading news of what was happening in Europe, the rise of Hitler. And even though the panic was likely exaggerated by newspapers, that event set off a robust kind of debate and a lot of hand-wringing among people like Eleanor Roosevelt and others who said, what kind of country are we that we are so fearful that we would run for the hills.
MCGINTYYeah. But you also noted that there was actually a radio show that was even scarier than "War of the Worlds."
DALLEKYeah. So Archibald MacLeish, a poet and a librarian of Congress, also wrote radio dramas and he wrote something called "Air Raid." And in it you heard the sound of planes, bombs whizzing through the air, children screaming. And remember, late 1930s before television, the Christian Science Monitor said that "Air Raid," this radio drama, was scarier than "War of the Worlds," that it was almost immoral because it was so frightening and it could make people panic.
MCGINTYAnd you noted Eleanor Roosevelt sort of asking the question, who are we? Why is this so frightening to a free country? And what was the answer?
DALLEKWell, look, part of the answer was -- is why I wrote the book in a sense and kind of the year's long struggle to figure out what the answer was. She was very worried that Americans were going to become so fearful and, frankly, fearful along the lines of what she was seeing in Nazi Germany, that they were going to become intolerant. They were going to become angry. They were going to target their fellow Americans and that this was not, as she said, the legacy that the founders had bequeathed.
DALLEKAnd so she believe that democracy, improving life in democracy, social security, social defense, as she called it, is what was going to be at least one answer to this possibility of mass fear and mass panic.
MCGINTYNow, what a lot of people may not know is that she had an actual job with the federal government. Her husband, Theodore -- I mean, not Theodore -- Franklin Roosevelt, appointed her as assistant director of, what is it, homeland...
DALLEKYeah, office of civilian defense.
MCGINTYOffice of civilian defense.
DALLEKYeah, so it's a remarkable story. She struggled for a couple of years to get some kind of social defense program enacted. In May, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt established the office of civilian defense and a few months later, at the request of Fiorello Laguardia, who was running the agency, FDR agreed to appoint Eleanor Roosevelt as assistant director. This was the first time a presidential spouse held and official administration post.
MCGINTYNow, she and the director Laguardia had very different views on exactly how this ought to run.
DALLEKYes. So, you know, the short of it was her view was that we should have security from the bottom up and that security had to be a very broad term, that it must mean feeling secure in your community, secure in your way of life, economic security, social security, a kind of moral security. Laguardia had a vision, what I call national security liberalism, which, in an sense, was an effort to militarize the home front, to enlist millions of people in quasi-military roles and he wanted to build, essentially, a fourth branch of the military through civilians as air raid watchers and fire fighters and auxiliary police force.
MCGINTYI think we need to clarify that term, liberalism, because some people will think that what you just described is not a liberal as we have come to understand the term. But you're really talking about the size of government.
DALLEKI'm partly talking about the size of government. What I'm also talking about, though, is that beginning in around 1938 after, as the new deal was said to start to peter out, a lot of liberals were searching. They were struggling for ways, now do we define what liberalism means in an age of total war when every civilian has to be mobilized, when the country can be attacked. Eleanor Roosevelt gave one very different -- gave one definition against social defense. Fiorello Laguardia gave something quite different, which was this very militarized notion.
DALLEKBut Laguardia was the great New Deal liberal leader of New York City, helped humanize New York City and was really the chief urban proponent of the New Deal in the country. So he certainly had New Deal liberal bona fides, but he was also very much a hardcore militarist.
MCGINTYAll right. So today, we're in a similar climate. The war is different. The tools are different, but the fear feels similar. How is that argument playing out now?
DALLEKWell, look, in some ways -- and, you know, callers can debate this -- but my sense is that people were more afraid then because the threat of Nazi fascism was just on a totally different scale from anything we're experiencing today. How's it playing out now? Well, in the debate about civil liberties, as you said at the beginning of the show, how much freedom, individual freedom, should we have, what steps should we take to keep people safe from terrorism? Donald Trump has proposed, obviously, infamously, building a wall, surveilling Muslim American communities, keeping out, basically, any immigrant from another nation suspected of harboring terrorists.
DALLEKThat's one vision and arguably -- and there's some echoes from World War II and that era, but that's...
MCGINTYWould you compare that to the isolationists of those days, as sort of a Lindbergh kind of a philosophy?
DALLEKYou know, I think that there are some real echoes in what Trump is, you know, I don't think history ever exactly repeats itself, but certainly, first of all, Trump and America First -- I mean, that was the name of the committee, right, that Lindbergh and others lead. There were anti-Semitic overtones to America First during World War II. The sympathy for dictators. You've seen that with Donald Trump and sympathizing, in a sense, with Vladimir Putin, tweeting out something that Mussolini said and yet, there is a difference in that the isolationists during World War II, you know, they believed all you needed to do was keep a kind of strong military and you know, we'd be fine.
DALLEKWe didn't need to be involved in other people's problems. Now, that actually, in some ways, though, Trump is making a similar argument, right? You know, that we need to scale back. We need to take care of our own and not really worry so much about the world.
MCGINTYBut when people are scared, I'd like to say, they make bad decisions. And just like the decision to lock up the Japanese during World War II, that was totally based on fear and I think it's something that the nation, as a whole, deeply regrets today. Are we headed in a direction where we can make some decisions based on fear that the nation may regret later?
DALLEKWell, look, one big difference and I think this is an important difference, which is that the voices of dissent against what, for example, Donald Trump has proposed are much greater today than the dissenting voices were opposed to the internment camps in World War II. One of the things I do in the book, though, is try to trace how fear, in a sense, manifested itself and overran the newspapers, individual citizens, communities. People in Seattle rioted a couple of days after Pearl Harbor because some people had refused to turn out their lights. They refused to comply with the blackout.
DALLEKSo they smashed stores. There was a kind of -- fear was almost like an airborne virus creeping up, especially, the coasts. And it created a climate -- and it was partly fostered by people like Fiorello Laguardia who attacked Japanese Americans in the immediate aftermath with no evidence. And it did have a way of kind of running away with itself and it absolutely, I think, created the political climate that made the internment camps possible. And there are echoes, I think, in Trump's convention acceptance speech in terms of the picture he's painted of the kind of society we're living in, the dangers.
DALLEKAnd, you know, well then, what does that lead to next?
MCGINTYThat is the question. We'll talk about it for the rest of this hour. Matthew Dallek has written a book called "Defenseless Under The Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security." Our phone number, 800-433-8850. I'm Derek McGinty and you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We look forward to your tweets and comments regarding exactly what went down maybe 60 or 70 years ago, but how it relates to what's going on right now.
MCGINTYWelcome back. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm and my guest is historian, Matthew Dallek. He's written a book called "Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security." And we were discussing parallels between the climate of fear in the '30s and '40s and what we're dealing with right now. And one of the things you bring up in the book that caught my eye was a lot of people in the early '30s thought America was impregnable because of the oceans that surround it.
MCGINTYAgain, I think before 9/11, we thought terrorism would never hit here, but then it did and our whole outlook was transformed and we became a lot more frightened.
DALLEKYeah. One of the things I argue in the book is that this consensus, which really dates back to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, that all we need are our two oceans to protect us, that consensus begins to shatter. It doesn't happen overnight, but it erodes and Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt -- I mean, for example, Eleanor Roosevelt goes to a group of liberal pacifists in the late '30s and says, you don't want to go to war, I don't want to go to war, but war may come to us. The technological advances that they were seeing coupled with fascist militarism, they didn't know that there was talk about super bombers.
DALLEKThey didn't necessarily know what was going to happen three, four years out.
MCGINTYI got to tell you, this all sounds very, very familiar.
DALLEKAm I scaring you?
MCGINTYNot scaring me, but you're making me think.
DALLEKWell, look, and Franklin Roosevelt, as part of his internationalist view -- and he became very much interested in air power, he, in June of 1940, or maybe it was May, but in the spring of 1940 as France was being overrun, he went before the country and he gives this remarkable speech in which he lays out the different ways in which the United States could be attacked. He talks about, very specifically, the flying times from Brazil to Caracas, Venezuela, to Cuba, to Tampico, Mexico, and then from Tampico, Mexico, to St. Louis and Omaha.
DALLEKIn February, 1942, after -- a couple months after Pearl Harbor, FDR goes on the radio and he says, New York City could be bombed tonight for that -- actually it was a press conference. He says, New York City could be bombed tonight. For that matter, Detroit, in the middle of the country, the Midwest, could be bombed tomorrow night. And now, we can talk about some of the differences between his style of leadership and what we see today, but the argument was there that -- as FDR said, impregnable fortification no longer exist and he said, we have learned the lesson over and over again.
DALLEKCountries that did not get ready, that were not prepared were overrun.
MCGINTYLet's go to our phones and talk to Bennett in San Antonio, Texas. You're on the air, Bennett, go ahead.
BENNETTYes. I think your guest omits the fact that in the 1930s, Hitler openly stated he was sending his fifth column into the United States and other countries to be spies, to be the eyes and ears of the Third Reich. And he did. And especially on the east coast, there were many, many German enclaves which were very pro Hitler and waiting for Hitler to attack. And then, you go after World War II when we had Senator McCarthy who, rightly or wrongly, and there's two sides to that story, rightly or wrongly, decided that there were Communist infiltrators into the United States that were ready to overthrow the United States and to undermine the United States.
BENNETTThere was some truth and some fiction in that. Now, fast forward to today where we have President Obama sending in all kinds of Muslims, Arabs into the United States. How many infiltrators are included in those?
MCGINTYI think he speaks to a fear that a lot of folks have, but is it as legitimate fear?
DALLEKI would say no. I would say that there is no evidence, you know, this idea that President Obama is somehow sending or encouraging Muslims or Muslim Americans to somehow be a -- I mean, I think that's not just...
MCGINTYBut what he seems to be speaking to more clearly is the idea that by allowing refugees from certain places into this country that perhaps there could be infiltrators among them. Donald Trump speaks to that.
DALLEKHe certainly does. He certainly speaks to a lot of people's fears. My argument is that certainly in World War II there is really not much evidence that there were spies of any kind infiltrating the United States. Now, American officials were worried about spies. You know, there are memos from J. Edgar Hoover to Fiorello Laguardia, for example, saying essentially, you know, we're worried about Germans who are -- were seen photographing U.S. Army bases. We need to investigate. But the evidence was not there.
DALLEKAnd now what Hitler did have, at some point, were plans, fanciable, but still plans to attack the United States. So he certainly had this idea of doing that, but there was never -- even though there was much talk about fifth columns, there was never any -- and this was true of Japanese Americans as well. There was no evidence and there still is not today, because I don't think it existed, that Japanese Americans were somehow a threat. And yet, obviously, most Americans at the time, because of these fears, thought otherwise. And I do think that is a parallel between then and now.
MCGINTYAnd in all fairness, though, we have to acknowledge there have been attacks by single people in this country, lone wolves, whatever you want to call them, and people have gotten scared. And, again, that's when you make, you know, troubling decisions at times, but people do have some reason to be nervous. It's not just a fiction, I guess, is the point I'm making.
DALLEKWell, look, this gets to, in a sense, one of the key themes of the book, which is this, how to find the balance between national security and civil liberties. So sure, there have been these so-called lone wolf attacks, homegrown radicals. So then, does that mean that, as Trump has proposed, that we are supposed to then surveil entire communities or demonize entire communities when the vast majority of people in those communities are not threats to anybody and are just as American as you and me and anybody else?
DALLEKSo, look, these debates that happened in World War II were equally, I think, robust, although, in some ways, lamentably back then, the decision to intern Japanese Americans -- and, again, I think if -- to the extent we can talk about lessons, right, I mean, there's a lesson right there. There was never any evidence that -- and, actually, Eleanor Roosevelt went so far as -- within a week, several days after Pearl Harbor, she was in Tacoma, Washington, and she actually took a picture with Japanese American youth and let it be released to the country.
DALLEKAnd she said, Japanese Americans are just as American as every other citizen. Give them every consideration. So she voiced a message of tolerance. Now, it wasn't really heard. It was ultimately drowned out.
MCGINTYVery much to her credit that she voiced that message, Matthew Dallek. He's a historian. His book is called "Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security." And we're talking about the parallels between the fears of the 1930s and '40s in the age of the Nazis and our fears today in the age of terror. Our phone number here is 800-433-8850. 800-433-8850. So you have these differing visions between Laguardia and Eleanor Roosevelt. How did it play out? What was each able to accomplish?
DALLEKThat's a great question. So ultimately Laguardia focused on trying to militarize people. At the end of the day, this office of civilian defense created one of the largest, if not one the largest, volunteer program in the country during World War II, more than 10 million citizens -- so that was a real achievement. They gave people concrete, defined roles in the war effort. They did things like childcare for defense workers, women going into work in defense factories. Nutrition for women and children. People worked as air raid wardens. Fire watchers. There's a great picture in the book of three women in Detroit on top of a building looking out for air raids or for flyers.
DALLEKSo people, I think, in a sense felt invested. Now, part of what they were responding to was this grass roots disquiet in the country. People wanted roles. They wanted to be part of national defense. So I think they gave them that.
MCGINTYSo is that the version of -- the 1930s version of if you see something, say something?
DALLEKI mean, yes, and no. It's interesting because, you know, one of the great contrasts is that, you know, in this age today, a massive -- we have a massive Department of Homeland Security, but we also have massive skepticism of the federal government. And so the great -- the supreme irony, right is that we now look to Washington to protect us. Back then, in the age of the New Deal, supposedly the apogee, the height of belief in the federal government, it really was an effort -- there were about 300 Washington employees at this agency and more than 10 million volunteers.
DALLEKAnd so the idea was that this was going to be a grassroots effort in contrast to Nazi and Communistic top down, right? I mean, that was the argument. This was a democratic movement. In terms of what they accomplished, look, I think Fiorello Laguardia helped FDR make the case that the country had to mobilize. He did it before World War II and he did it after Pearl Harbor. Eleanor Roosevelt, I think, helped further the notion that social defense, that butter, in a sense, was instrumental to a country waging war, like a democracy, like the United States, and was as important as guns and that we had to project our values to the rest of the world.
DALLEKWe had to live our values and we had to make life worth living at home so that people were invested in democracy.
MCGINTYOn the other side of that, you mentioned that Laguardia was very prepared to use fear, people's natural fear of the Nazis and World War II that was seemingly headed our way, but that was a two-edged sword that cut him, too.
DALLEKIt was -- exactly right. That's well put. Laguardia, in August of 1941, a few months before Pearl Harbor, he writes in the Los Angeles Times addressing Los Angeles residents what air raids -- he describes in graphic detail what air raids could do to them. He said that under an air raid, there would become a frantic mob. He says that they would be dropping like flies. People would be bleeding to death in the streets. And then, he said, next what will happen is you'll experience "a sweeping conflagration of insanity."
DALLEKAnd, you know, I could go on and on. May, 1941, Laguardia had a rally, a pro-internationalist, kind of pro-FDR rally. He tells about 10 or 11,000 people in Philadelphia, he says, I'm no better than 130 million other Americans. I'm not afraid. You're not afraid. And he says, so I say to the Nazis and their murdering ways and kind of the women and the children that they murder and their fascist methods, come on, come on, come on. We're ready for you. So he was absolutely taunting them. He was really a kind of rabble-rouser, a fear monger and that, I think, had a direct or at least an indirect effect leading to the internment camps.
MCGINTYWow. Matthew Dallek, his book is called "Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security." I'm Derek McGinty. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We want to take your phone calls. The number here, 800-433-8850. Hillary in Woodridge, Virginia, you're on the air. Go ahead, Hillary.
HILLARYThank you so much for taking my call. I really appreciate it. I just wanted to say my husband is Japanese American. He was born in D.C. My father-in-law came to this country in the '70s. He actually changed his last name to add a consonant so that it wouldn't look like we were Japanese when you look at our last name. It just looks like you're Asian. So that fear still continued even into the '70s and even today. My husband still fears and we're kind of scared if Donald Trump gets in with the rhetoric that he's been spouting, what it might mean for our family.
HILLARYI'm mixed race. So there's a lot of fear going on and for people who are Muslim, they must be scared, too. And just real quick before I go, I just wanted to mention the Japanese Memorial in Washington D.C., it's on Louisiana and E Street Northwest. Most people don’t go, but it's dedicated to those who served this country, Japanese Americans and the internment camps. Thank you.
MCGINTYThank you, Hillary.
DALLEKThanks for that call. Look, one of the points that I try to get across in the book and I think it is relevant today is that the rhetoric from our political leaders matters, right? It matters how they talk to the country about the threats that we face and not just the threats, but also how we treat other Americans, how we should regard our fellow citizens, how they talk about issues of race and religion and identity. But also, what kind of plans do they have to, you know, one of the interesting things about Eleanor Roosevelt is that she admitted she was afraid.
DALLEKShe said all of you are afraid. She said, but the key is, you know, fear will clutch at your heart, she said, but the key is to not let that fear paralyze you. And she said, we have to act. We have to contribute to the war effort. And she gave people concrete roles, in a sense, psychologically almost, to help them cope with their fear and overcome it.
MCGINTYThe argument I see going back and forth in editorial pages, depending on the political leanings of the paper you're reading is one side says we cannot allow fear to destroy our ideas, our value as Americans that we are a liberal society in the older meaning of the word in terms of freedom and people's ability to express themselves and we should not allow that to go away because we're scared of being attacked. The other side says, yeah, okay, hold onto that until your house blows up and then see what you say.
DALLEKWell, that's, in a way, why we're in such a, I think, a hard place because, you know, the people who are making those arguments have very different world views, right, and very different ideas about the meaning, in a sense, of security, right? As the first caller said, you know, the fears are of particular terrorist threats within the country. The second caller said, you know, demonizing groups and, you know, she said, well, how do Muslim Americans feel when they hear proposals that their communities should be surveilled.
DALLEKSo, you know, look, I don't have an answer, per se, but I think this is part of the dilemma that we are wrestling with. And yet, at the same time, I think that, you know, I hope my book puts in context some of the debates we're having today because back then, you know, the threat, I think, was much more existential than anything that exists today because if Britain went down in the Atlantic, Hitler had control of the Atlantic, the fear was that slowly the United States, as FDR once said, would -- Americans would become, like, locked in a prison.
DALLEKSo the idea that terrorism -- and that's not to minimize the threat in any way, but the idea that terrorism is an existential threat to the United States, I think, is just not comparable to what we faced in World War II.
MCGINTYYet, at the same time, we do get a sense that people are that scared. I mean, when President Obama says ISIS is not an existential threat to this country, I don't know how many people are listening.
DALLEKYeah, look. Obviously, there are millions of Americans who are afraid and it's not just what's happening here in San Bernardino or Orlando. It's also what's happening in Paris and in Iraq and elsewhere around the world. And yet, at the same time -- and, again, you know, I don’t want to minimize the severity of the threat, but you know, at the same time, you know, look, Americans, I think, you know, statistically are probably more likely to die in a car accident than they are by terrorist attack, so...
MCGINTYYou think the media plays a role in scaring people?
DALLEKYes and no. I mean, yeah, look, I think the media has, obviously, an obligation to cover, you know, attacks, to cover these events, but look, you know, during World War II, for example, the media ran huge stories about chemical weapons coming to American cities, being dropped from planes, air raids, super bombers flying across the Atlantic.
MCGINTYAnd it didn't happen. Matthew Dallek is my guest. We're going to continue the conversation with your calls and questions. We'll be right back.
MCGINTYWelcome back. I'm Derek McGinty, sitting in for Diane Rehm. My guest here in the studio is Matthew Dallek. He's a historian. His book is called "Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security," although there are many parallels to what we are going through right now in our fears of terror. Let's get to the phones, Cody in the Middlebury, Indiana, you're on the air, go ahead.
CODYThank you very much for having me on. I'm a 19-year-old private in the Indiana National Guard, and I just have -- I see all the comparisons and similarities you guys are making between terrorism and Nazi Germany, but I see one huge difference in those two things, and that difference is that in World War II, we were fighting countries, and today with terrorism, we are fighting an idea or a belief. And I see that it's a lot easier to defeat a country than it is to defeat a whole belief. And I was just wondering if you guys see an end to terrorism as a whole or if we're just going to be able to slow it down.
MCGINTYYou know, Cody, that's an excellent question.
DALLEKYeah, no, it's a great question, and thank you for that. Look, in World War II, and we haven't mentioned this, but people like Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and most Americans believed that the struggle was so titanic, in part because it was ideological and that existential struggle was not just about the military piece of it.
MCGINTYIt was a war of ideas.
DALLEKIt was absolutely a war of ideas. So fascism, you know, Eleanor Roosevelt, people like the Roosevelts were worried that if, as Florence Kerr said, if men, as she said, if men's -- if children of men did not have enough to eat, the country could go fascist because people would be so upset and riot. And so the idea that fascism or communism could take a hole inside the United States was -- and so one of the things Eleanor Roosevelt argued is that, look, we have to show that basically America is the best hope, in a sense, for the world.
DALLEKI mean, she was very idealistic in that way. In terms of this other important question, and you're right, too, I think there's an ideological struggle in a sense happening today, as well, do I ever -- do I see an end to terrorism? Not -- unfortunately not anytime in the near future, but my sense is that it could be a place where, you know, we don't see very many, if any, attacks for long periods of time in the United States and that the threat is relatively contained.
DALLEKAnd again, I don't want to minimize it, but, you know, certainly a decade from now it'll be interesting to see where we are.
MCGINTYYou know, I think it goes to the idea that a place begins to feel as though it's coming apart. We feel so divided, there's so much anger, there's so much fear, and you just wonder, you know, what's holding this country together, what is maintaining that American exceptionalism that a lot of politicians love to talk about.
DALLEKWell, look, the country is clearly divided, but, you know, arguably, I think, we were more divided in the late 1960s. You know, John F. Kennedy was killed, assassinated in 1963, but then in 1968, Martin Luther King, the great civil rights leader, Robert Kennedy, both gunned down. There were, after King's assassination, there were major riots in almost every American city. There were -- obviously there was a police riot outside the Democratic national convention. So we were deeply divided then.
DALLEKThat's not to -- again, I don't want to kind of gloss over how divided we are today, we are, but, you know, the country does have a way, in part because I think our elections have been relatively and really are nonviolent, expressions for these differences. And so if I can offer any hope, I would say that, you know, it's the political process and voting, as opposed to using guns and weapons to attack people, as is often done in other countries, or as they did in Nazi Germany. That really is something that distinguishes, I think, the United States, and that's something I think we all need to hold onto.
MCGINTYAnd that is why we love historians, Matthew Dallek, thank you for that perspective, we appreciate it. Sherwood in Daytona Beach, Florida, you're on the air.
SHERWOODYes, thank you, Derek, for having me on. I don't necessarily have a question as much as I wanted to relate an interesting side story, if you will, in regards to my parents, who were both first-generation German-Americans. In 1942, when I was born, in Detroit, Michigan, my parents spoke often of having to close their blinds at night because of the fear of air raids. And also my father was arrested during a traffic stop because he had changed his name from the spelling of our last name M-U-E-H-L-M-A-N to M-I-L-L-M-A-N, Millman.
SHERWOODAnd as the story goes, there was a notorious gangster in Detroit at the time named Millman, and my father got arrested because he had Millman as his last name on his driver's license, and he did that because of the German backlash in Detroit or the backlash against German-Americans. And when Matthew spoke of the air raids that could or the bombings that could have taken place in New York and Detroit, that was a real fear at that time.
MCGINTYYeah, I think that's a good point.
DALLEKYeah, no, you make a lot of great points. So first of all, Detroit, the fear of air raids, you know, it's so interesting, right, because there -- Detroit's in the Midwest.
DALLEKMy mom was actually born in Detroit around the same year, and the idea that, you know, the middle of the country could be bombed, at one point, you know, U.S. national security officials, they talked about if the Japanese invaded the West Coast, could they get to the -- how far could they get. You know, could they get to the Midwest? So, you know, fears had a way of kind of building on themselves, especially in times of uncertainty.
DALLEKOn the German-American, you know, being harassed, being jailed, yeah, I mean, Japanese-American internment camps were obviously the most egregious, but there was certainly some, although much limited in World War II than in World War I. In World War I, German-Americans were targeted much more aggressively, and, you know, and names like things like sauerkraut, right, had to be changed, you know, similar to freedom fries.
MCGINTYI was going to say freedom fries.
DALLEKYeah, exactly. So there was much more. But yeah, and I think that there were curfews in some cities on the West Coast for certain communities. So, you know, the times, there was a lot of fear on multiple levels.
MCGINTYYou know, Matthew, it brings me back to that same point I touched on earlier regarding this American exceptionalism. This idea, and I think many, many of us, maybe all of us, have it, that this is a different kind of a place, right, that we don't do that, at least not anymore, right, we don't lock folks up for what they look like, we don't make those decisions.
MCGINTYBut when we become afraid, I worry that we're not any different than anybody else who's afraid.
DALLEKWell, look, fear absolutely, and fear that is whipped up by political leaders can have significant ramifications on what policies we enact. And again, you know, going back to World War II, the lack, the relative silence on the internment camps coming from elected officials, people at the Justice Department, there was very little opposition.
DALLEKAnd so to counter this idea, there was, you know, basically a consensus, yes, you know, Japanese-Americans were a threat. And so the lack of a debate, I think, really made -- and the fears, you know, it just let them run roughshod, and so that's why I think it is important that, you know, our political leaders, especially in a democracy, talk about, you know, concrete ways in which, you know, people don't have to be afraid, people don't -- can take concrete steps to, you know, kind of minimize fear.
DALLEKAnd, you know, I remember Tom Ridge was sort of ridiculed right after 9/11 when he told Americans to go out and buy duct tape in case of, I guess, a chemical weapon going off in their neighborhood, and I think I did that because I was scared, embarrassingly so. But yes, I mean, when we hear be afraid, we often receive it, and we internalize it, and that's one of the hardest jobs I think any president or any elected official has to do.
MCGINTYAnd it's interesting to note that John Kasich has an Internet ad out now where he has someone talking about the fear. And he says, you know, if you're -- you may listen to Donald Trump talk about Muslims, but you're not scared because you're not one, you may hear about him talking about, you know, locking down journalists, but you're not scared because you're not one, you may talk about clearing out Hispanics, but you're not scared because you're not one. he said but maybe sometime they'll come from you -- for you. Let's hope at that point there's someone to help.
DALLEKYeah, no, it's a powerful ad, and I think it was actually released in 2015, and it's made a comeback. And look, I think it speaks to this sense of if a president in particular is unchecked, if the powers of the presidency are not checked because they have so much power, military, investigative, then, you know, they can run roughshod over people's rights.
DALLEKAnd look, in terms of your great question, there are times when the country has clearly not lived up to our ideals, I mean, you know, slavery, Jim Crow, you know, internment camps. So, you know, we have a long history and very tangled and in many ways a dark history of violating, in a sense, these founding notions. And at the same time, though, progress has been made, and we are in a place that is dramatically different from where the country was in the 1930s and '40s, even though it's still a struggle.
MCGINTYMatthew Dallek is a historian. His book is called "Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security." I'm Derek McGinty. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's take another phone call, Patrick in Silver Spring, thanks for waiting, man.
PATRICKHi, thank you for taking my call. Yeah, I'm a 20-year-old, so I guess I've grown up in a post-9/11 world all of my childhood, and for, I guess I might be insensitive to the fear, but I'm most worried about losing civil liberties and the politicians' reaction to, like, the Edward Snowden leaks.
DALLEKYeah, well, look, I think, you know, it's a powerful worry shared by millions of people. You know, earlier we were talking about people who are worried about terrorist threats, but there's also, you know, a lot of people who are I think legitimately worried about, say, the government collecting data, people's data, going through emails. What should the government have access to? And what -- how far are we willing to go to secure the country militarily and keep people safe physically in terms of civil liberties, and I think that is a great question.
DALLEKWhere is that line? Where do we draw that line?
MCGINTYSo where do you think our current leadership draws the line, and where do you think Hillary Clinton draws the line?
DALLEKLook, I think what's interesting about, in a way, the current administration is the extent to which it has in a sense created a kind of consensus about domestic security dating back to the Bush years, that, you know, many of the programs put in place remain in place, although there have been some -- some amendments and some ways in which they've been curtailed. In terms of where Hillary Clinton comes down, look, I think it's a little hard to know. My sense is that she would probably continue most of Obama's policies, I mean in terms of overseas probably using drones, in terms of here trying to be very aggressive about, you know, tracking suspected terrorists.
DALLEKBut my sense is that there's a huge difference between her and Donald Trump. You know, Trump, first of all, it's hard to know what he would do, but to the extent that he's talked about this, it is some kind of massive crackdown and sweeping surveillance, you know, if we're to take him at his word. And Hillary Clinton is not talking about anything like that at all.
MCGINTYDo you think if there is some sort of horrible terror attack linked to ISIS or someone else on this -- in this country that that would make Americans more afraid, more likely to vote for Donald Trump, for example?
DALLEKYes, to your first question. I think clearly people would -- I mean, I was working on Capitol Hill after 9/11, and on 9/12, I saw members of Congress, I saw their faces, and there was fear, understandably, but there was fear, and I was afraid, everybody was afraid. If there was another attack, another major attack, I think we've even seen with San Bernardino and Orlando and Paris how, in a sense, the fear has ratcheted up in the United States just in the past year.
DALLEKIn terms of voting for Trump, that I'm not sure. I think that there's -- it's highly plausible that people would be turned off by Trump because he's so inexperienced, and he's so off the cuff and that more people would see him as being much too wild, much too unfit.
MCGINTYThey'd want a steady hand on the tiller, so to speak.
DALLEKYeah, I could see that going the other way, but obviously you don't know how it's going to play out.
MCGINTYAs you looked historically at how it played out in the '30s and '40s, is there anything that tells you how it might play out in the next 10 years here?
DALLEKI wish I had the crystal ball. Look, I think the hope, to the extent that there is hope, is that, you know, the people who we have, whoever our leaders are, that they have a certain restraint, as well as a certain amount of strength. And what I mean by that is that they speak to the country in a kind of open and relatively straightforward way as what they see as the threats are, and that's not just, by the way, terrorist threats, that's also social threats or economic threats, but that they also propose concrete strategies and plans and that they give people a sense of action, of forward movement.
DALLEKAnd even after, you know, as the Great Depression was becoming less central to the debate, and the fascist -- the fascist threat was becoming more central, the Roosevelts were very brilliantly able to give people I think a sense that the country was moving, that it was mobilizing, that there was an arms buildup, that we were aiding Great Britain, that there was a military draft, a conscription and that all these steps were going to prepare us, preparedness.
DALLEKAnd I think on both the social front and the kind of terrorism-military front, having leaders today who can kind of give us that sense going forward over the next 10 years, I think that really is critical to kind of sort of minimizing the fears and not let those fears run roughshod over us to the point where we're, you know, doing anything approaching internment camps.
MCGINTYI think that's a perfect place to end our discussion. Matthew Dallek, thank you so much for coming in.
DALLEKThanks for having -- thank you.
DALLEKWe appreciate it, and his book is called "Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security." I'm Derek McGinty, sitting in for Diane Rehm. I want to thank you for listening. Bye-bye.
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