Welcome Jay Feldman (JFeldman.com), and Host Jeffrey Feldman (FrameShopIsOpen.com)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America

Returning after my annual holiday pilgrimage to visit family, I once again felt the American police state churn up the bitter taste of authoritarian humiliation. A decade after 9/11, my routine is mechanical. This year, as I was holding my arms in the air for my holiday dose of full body radiation, I noticed a family of South Indian ethnic background being marched one by one to a back room for frisking: first mom, then the grandma, then 5 year-old daughter, and then, finally, dad. As I grabbed my carryon and walked away, the fully-frisked family now stood submissively as an agent conducted an item-by-item search of their bags: bottle of cologne, toothpaste, nightgown, one shoe, pair of underwear. The bitterness hit me as I caught the expression on the mother’s face as the agent held up a bottle of perfume. “Perfume,” she said. “My god,” I muttered to myself, walking towards my gate. “What the fuck is wrong with this country.”

As historian Jay Feldman describes in his brilliantly researched and artfully written new book, Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America, there have indeed been a great many things wrong with this country specifically with respect to government attacks on civil liberties. Feldman pulls together a jaw-dropping historical catalogue of 20th Century examples where the United States government not only trampled the Bill of Rights, but did so while whipping up class warfare, xenophobic hysteria, and political mob violence, all on the pretext that war or the threat of war necessitated the abrogation of liberty.

For anyone who looks at post-George W. Bush era with alarm, Manufacturing Hysteria is a must read. In chapter after chapter, Feldman recounts government initiatives that targeted ethnic groups, immigrants, political activists–stripping American citizens of their Constitutional guaranteed rights on the premise of vague threats to national security. In just a few hundred pages, Manufacturing Hysteria describes the history of the American police state as an ongoing project, a long-standing problem at the heart of our democracy. Anyone who thinks the United States crossed a definitive authoritarian rubicon sometime around 2001 will suddenly feel their outrage meter reset as they are thrust onto a much bigger landscape.

Was the Patriot Act of 2001 with all of its violations of civil liberties bad? Heck yeah. But the 1918 Sedition Act seems to have been worse by half.

An Extension of the Espionage Act, the Sedition Act made it illegal to speak, print, write, or publish just about anything negative about the US government, including the Constitution, the flag, and the military forces or their uniforms. Moreover, the Sedition Act gave the postmaster general the power to return any mail to its sender–just because he suspected therein a violation.

Of course–as if you hadn’t guessed–what lead the postmaster general and his agency to suspect a violation in 1918 followed much the same pattern as what leads TSA agents to suspect a violation in 2012: politics and appearances.

After 2001, a person need only look Middle Eastern to trigger suspicion from the TSA. In 1918, a person–or one’s return address–need only look German or, as the case may be, syndicalist.

Seeing government attacks on civil liberties as extending deep into the roots of the 20th-Century, rather than being a symptom of the current decline–that is the most profound insight of Feldman’s book and worth every page of getting there. A second lesson about political partisanship, however, is perhaps even more important.

In the simple “red state, blue state” logic that now saturates most political discussion of our day, far too many Americans have grown comfortable with the idea that authoritarianism is the vice of the hardcore political right. After 9/11, we watched as a Republican President beat the drums to war, whipped up hatred against American citizens of a particular ethnic background, and used vague threats of domestic attack to euthanize whole sections of the Constitution. And while this description is accurate, we all too often mistake partisan affiliation for the corruptions of power itself.

As Feldman reveals with aplomb, what we lose when we view the history of liberty through partisan-colored glasses is the extent to which government limits, represses, and incarcerates political dissent that refuses to accept party lines, particularly on the subject of war and the economy.

The victims of government surveillance and scapegoating, in other words, are not just ethnic minorities, but minority voices who dare express opinions held far beyond their radical ranks. Opinions held, that is, but not expressed.

For many decades now, a majority of the American public has drifted through their lives hearing little from political voices outside the mainstream. Curiously, as Wall Street and the Military Industrial Complex continue to tighten their grip on both political parties, a new diversity of dissenting views has begun to circulate again.

The Occupy Wall Street movement in particular has started to percolate perspectives up from the depths of silenced anarchist, socialist, and libertarian traditions. Having perused the history of how American political power has responded to dissent over the 20th Century, it should come as no surprise that new waves of state sponsored hysteria have tried to hush the debate. The real question is will the scales tip this time just as far they did the last time–or farther?

For now, I would still feel comfortable keeping your copy of Manufacturing Hysteria in your carryon bag as you pass through airport security. As for your books by Kropotkin, Proudhon, and Goldman, well–it might still be better to pack those in your checked luggage. The jury is still out on this new century.

104 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Jay Feldman, Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America”

BevW January 8th, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Jay, Welcome to the Lake.

Jeffrey, Welcome back to the Lake and for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 1:57 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Thanks. Glad to be with you. Hello Jeffrey.

dakine01 January 8th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Good afternoon Jay and Jeffrey and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon.

Jay, what lead you to write this book? While I vaguely recall hearing about the Sedition Act in 1918 in US History classes, it was not something that got much attention. I do believe it was used to put Eugene Debs in prison but I think the original Alien and Sedition Act from John Adams days has gotten more play.

Of course, I also am nearly 60 years old and have many memories of the Red Scare and all the demonization of “them damn long-haired hippie type freaks and Commie anti-war types” of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Hello, FDL! It’s been too long. Glad to be back.

A hearty welcome to our author, Jay Feldman, thanks so much for being with us, today. And congratulations on Manufacturing Hysteria. Fantastic book, amazing resource. It’s been at the top of my reading list on my iPad and iPhone Kindle app for some time. I’ll give everyone a minute to file in and then kick off with a first question in my next comment.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

My first question, Jay: I’m curious to hear your take on the most salient–and most disturbing–connections between the 20th Century episodes of civil liberties trampling you chronicle and the examples we already see in this nascent 21st Century. What are, for you, the strongest connections? What should we be following very, very closely given the historical record you bring together so well?

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

The book started with the internment of German, Japanese and Italian “enemy aliens” during WW II, and my editor thought that would be better treated as part of a larger story, so I took on the broader canvas with relish.

dakine01 January 8th, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 6

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. clicking the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier for everyone to follow the conversation.

Note: some browsers don’t like to work properly if you click the Reply after refreshing the page but before the page completes loading.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:07 pm
In response to Jeffrey Feldman @ 5

Manufacturing Hysteria is the story of how the government scapegoats minorities in times of crisis and then uses the hysteria generated by that scapegoating to justify a wider crackdown on civil liberties and the suppression of dissent — which inevitably lead to widespread surveillance of civilians and secret practices in government.

The scapegoating of Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans that began even before 9/11 and continues today, is reminiscent of the persecution of Germans and German-Americans during WW I, and of the discrimination directed at Japanese and Japanese-Americans during WW II.

The anti-immigration hysteria aimed at Latinos today is not new. Twice before — during the Great Depression and during the Eisenhower administration — half a million or more Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were deported or “voluntarily” repatriated.

So all these issues, including secret practices by government have been going on for quite some time. Are they worse now than in the past? In at least one area, certainly — thanks to electronic devices, surveillance capabilities far exceed anything we’ve ever seen before.

Since I’ve been speaking about Manufacturing Hysteria, it’s come to my attention that many people — young people in particular but not exclusively so — are of the opinion that the surveillance state began with 9/11. But it’s actually been around much longer than that. It had its beginnings in World War I, and except for two brief periods since them, has only intensified.

There’s also the new FBI’S “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.” The first version of the DIOG, which was controversial in its own right, allowed FBI agents to conduct surveillance, enlist informants, and interview friends of suspects, all without a supervisor’s approval. Many privacy advocates felt the wide-ranging surveillance powers it authorized would inevitably lead to abuses and have a negative effect on ethnic and religious minorities.

The revised guide relaxes the rules even further, granting agents significantly broader powers, including the authority to administer lie detector tests, pick through people’s household garbage, and use surveillance teams to investigate “suspicious” individuals — all without a search warrant, the opening of a formal investigation, or even any concrete evidence of prior wrongdoing on the part of the “suspect.”

When you put the new DIOG together with the National Defense Authorization Act, you have a very scary situation. A page out of Kafka.

Jim White January 8th, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Thanks so much for being here, Jay I found your book nearly impossible to put down. Thanks, Jeffrey for hosting, and, as always, thanks Bev for organizing.

As Jeffrey points out above, the book does an outstanding job of walking us through the sad history of the last hundred years of civil rights abuses by our government. I admit that I alternate between pessimism and resigned determination as I contemplate that history. It seems no matter how many times the reactionaries are shown to be profoundly wrong, they always manage to ascend to power yet again. Do we celebrate the fact that they haven’t yet destroyed our country and the world (and continue to fight them), or do we just give up, realizing that their ability to play to the basest of instincts always trumps reality and rights? Jay, did any thoughts like these cross your mind while writing? And if so, how did you find the resolve to carry on?

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to Jim White @ 9

My old friend R. Crumb once said to me, “There’s no hope, but you have to act as if there is.” I’m also guided by Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a Young Activist.” It’s very relevant, even if you leave out the God stuff. That said, I have to admit that it wasn’t easy for me to write this book, and when it was done, I was both relieved and depressed.

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 6

When did the project start? And specifically, what was the relationship of the post 9/11 stuff to it?

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Jay: I want to ask you specifically about the rhetorical techniques we now call McCarthyism. From your chapter, I was amazed to learn exactly how well other Senators/Congressmen understood what McCarthy was doing with his language to generate fear and chaos–vagueness, innuendo, etc. But still they seemed unable to figure out how to stop it. So, my first question is: Where did McCarthy learn to do what he did? It’s never been clear to me how he got so good at it–because…basically…he was not a mental giant. Second question: Why were other Senators so helpless against these techniques?

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 2:15 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 8

Correct me if I’m wrong, the DIOGs aren’t in the book?

I ask because they’re one area where Obama clearly hasn’t “stemmed the all-out assault” on civil liberties, as you suggest. The use of geolocation, the plan to implement copyright-excused censorship online, the increased deportations (though DOJ admittedly is fighting state-based persecution). There’s a lot of ways where Obama has pushed further.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 11

I started in Winter 2007, expecting it to take 2 years. It took 3-1/2. The post-9/11 era is treated briefly in the epilogue. I felt it was too close to see with any perspective, that future historians will have a much better perspective.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 10

Putting in my request right now that the second edition of your book should DEFINITELY be illustrated by Crumb.

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to Jim White @ 9

Or to ask the same question somewhat similarly: having written this history, what do you think has worked best at combatting this kind of hysteria? For most of the last decade, it has been hard to get Americans to realize their own civil liberties are threatened here. So what has worked in the past?

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 14

Thanks. In doing the book tour have you commented much on how we stack up now (as you did here with the DIOG changes)?

There are so many parallels that I suspect most people don’t see.

Jim White January 8th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 10

Thanks so much for that, it helps a lot.

Given your extensive research on the WWII internments, do you see parallels between that program and the indefinite detention aspects of the new NDAA that Obama signed on New Years Eve?

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:19 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 16

Just going to add to Jim and EW’s question: “What has worked in the past” …besides going through one of these epidemics of hysteria and only doing something after coming out the other end beaten and bruised.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

He seems to have just made it up as he went along. He may not have been a mental giant, but he was a master bully. He got away with it because Democratic and liberal Republican senators were completely intimidated and because conservative Republicans saw his campaign as good for the GOP, so they indulged him.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 13

The DIOGs are not in the book because they’re too recent. The new DIOG went into effect Oct. 15.

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 2:22 pm
In response to Jim White @ 18

Just wait until we fully adopt terrorism approaches (which, admittedly, largely come from war on drug approaches) under the new “Transnational Criminal Organization” approach.

Cause then they can merge their existing system of deportation with the cry of national security to get rid of bucketloads of Latinos.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to Jim White @ 18

The WW II internments were far more extensive. Not only the Japanese-American internment, but also the internment of German, Japanese and Italian enemy aliens. I doubt that we’ll see that with the NDAA.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 17

Yes, I tried to make that clear when I was on the book tour.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

That is a great question. I think it takes courageous individuals like Louis F. Post, the Acting secretary of Labor, who almost single-handedly brought the first Red Scare and the Palmer raids to an end. Like Daniel Ellsberg. Like Bradley Manning. People who are willing to take the consequences of standing up and speaking truth to power.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I wonder if the nature of the radical left over the past 50 years is an issue at all, here, too? I mean, it’s only been 6 months or so since a left remembered that direct action is actually a legitimate part of politics. My guess is that the return of direct action as a widely embraced tool of the Left will also mean that we’re likely to see more and more calls for the kind of broad sweeping powers to control “dangerous types” that the book chronicles.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:31 pm


Jim White January 8th, 2012 at 2:32 pm

One bit of history that stood out for me in the book was the point that one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon was based on his giving the go-ahead to the Houston Plan that would have given much broader surveillance of citizens. It is very interesting that Nixon later withdrew this authority but the intelligence agencies implemented many of them anyway without providing notification to Nixon. Do you think that if Nixon hadn’t resigned and the impeachment actually went forward, more attention would have been given to abusive surveillance? In other words, would a Nixon impeachment process have focused more attention on this issue than the subsequent Church Commission hearings did?

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Yes, yes, of course. OWS hearkens back to the earlier days and is a very hopeful development.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I’d like to go back for a moment to the question of internment, because I think many Americans just assume this could never happen again, here. Which is to say–the public education about the nature of America during WWII etc. has led people to believe that internments are, somehow, against American character (as opposed to being intrinsic). So, what was, in your opinion, the point-of-no-return that turned this country from a place that feared Japanese living among us to a country that confiscated property and shipped people off to Manzanar? And did you seen that point-of-no-return come and go anytime, say, since 9/11?

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
In response to Jim White @ 28

Hard to say. The Church Committee was pretty damned thorough. Of course, one of the articles of impeachment was Nixon’s signing of the Houston Plan, so maybe that would have shone the spotlight more brightly on the matter.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

The answer to that question is very complex, but the simple answer is Pearl Harbor – although keep in mind that it took two months after Pearl Harbor until the decision was made to evacuate, relocate and intern the West Coast Japanese-American population. It happened in small, incremental steps.

No, I haven’t seen the same thing since 9/11.

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

One point you make in your coverage of the WWII internments is that Japanese-Americans were targeted in a way that Italian- and German-Americans were not bc they were landholders, and a bunch of powerful landholders were happy to see them removed as competition.

Did you see such push anywhere else? For example, the SWIFT stuff is now targeting just one kind of money laundering, while letter the American banks use the same tactics (Robert Mueller first asked to use SWIFT during the BCCI investigations, when he was in charge of money laundering). And Chase and Wachovia have both helped terrorists and criminals launder money, but have not been treated with the same criminal approach as used with Arab-Americans in the same stance.

Any sign financial self-interest is a pattern?

hackworth1 January 8th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

While Obama, Congress and the States seek deeper cuts to medicare, medicaid and Social Security, apparently, there is mucho dinero for Homeland Security.

A TSA officer who works in a regional airport requested a transfer to a larger city for personal reasons.

I suggested that this move would be helpful to the agency b/c the small airport does not need him – while a larger airport might.

(He always tells me there is not much to do at the tiny airport.)

Then he said, re: the small airport he is leaving “They just hired six more people. Can you believe it? They have to spend the money.”

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 33

Sorry, but I’m just not up on that area, so I can’t comment.

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

As I suggested upthread, we’re already heading there with deportation detainment, which can go on years (as the case of that 15-year old American the other day made clear, there are a small but persistent number of American citizens who get detained and deported, bc the due process is so low). And I expect that can, and likely will, get worse in the near future.

dakine01 January 8th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Jay, forgive me if you address this in the book but how does the so-called “War on drugs” fit into all this?

Since this is where the no-knock laws, car searches on the flimsy pre-text of a traffic stop, profiling (both racial and “damn hippies”), and the stop and frisk that minorities have to face every day, it seems this is an aspect of the loss of civil rights for sure

hpschd January 8th, 2012 at 2:45 pm

How does the effort to gin up support for war with Iran compare with other programs. The Iran ‘threat’ has been worked on for quite a long time. Doesn’t seem to be working (I hope!)

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 37

I didn’t write about the war on drugs in the book, but no doubt you’re right about it’s being part and parcel.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to hpschd @ 38

Well, the type of rhetoric is always the same. The crucial point will be when and if it’s necessary to mount organized opposition. Then we’ll hear what we’ve always heard: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us; if you’re against us, you’re for them.”

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 35

Let me ask another way. In an era when companies are making huge profits off this surveillance/detainment/homeland security contracting etc, to what degree do you think the financial motive is growing here? I only recall the parallel with the Japanese-American internment, but was there any earlier period where the profit motive is in play too?

Jim White January 8th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Jay, in the book you highlight a number of cases where various government agencies manufactured evidence against those whom they wished to silence or detain. Which instance stands out to you as the most disgusting, and why?

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 41

Sure. One of the main reasons we got involved in WW I was because of the huge profits to be made by the arms manufacturers and industrialists in general.

TomR January 8th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Thank you for this book salon. Great topic!

What disturbs me is the ability to market hysteria, so that what was once considered radical behavior by those in power becomes normalized. Then when citizens demand that the rule of law or Constitution be adhered to, that gets framed as a radical request.

In past examples through our country’s history, how were citizens able to turn the framing back to right-side up again? Is there a pattern to the conditions in which the powerful give in? Or is power simply reclaimed by the citizens?

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to Jim White @ 42

I think perhaps the worst was the FBI’s COINTELPRO-BLACK NATIONALIST HATE GROUPS, which was nothing more than a calculated (and successful) effort to break the momentum of the black pride movement.

hpschd January 8th, 2012 at 2:53 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 40

There was a great deal of organized opposition to the Iraq war – all over the world. It was easily ignored.
What sort of opposition has worked in the past?
(I’m sure that you have dealt with this in your book, which I have here, but have not gotten too far into)

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I wonder if part of the problem is what I think of as the “Cheney effect”–meaning: we now have people in office who look at episodes like the Huston Plan and, rather than avoiding it, task a team of lawyers to do it again so that nobody gets caught this time. So we end up with a Bush Administration that doesn’t just violate civil liberties, but creates these new legal packagings for the whole affair. And then the next administration comes along and says, well…maybe we don’t want to violate civil liberties, but can we really afford to abandon this form of power crafted by the last administration? How would that hurt us politically if we do, etc. So, getting back on firm footing where government actually protects civil liberties again means dealing with political and legal impasses in addition to just dealing with situational ethics. The task seems insurmountable.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

We talked about that a bit earlier. See posts 25 and 29.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Late to the thread and I haven’t read all the comments yet, so ignore this Q if it’s already been asked and answered.

What is the purpose of the surveillance state?

Being an economist, I think of it as a method of the rich looting the others.

I also understand there is RAW POWER as a strong motivator.

Are those it, or is there something else?

Jim White January 8th, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 45

Yes, that stood out to me, as well. I was especially disturbed by some of their setting factions against one another that lead to several killings.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to hpschd @ 46

Well, the most obvious was the opposition to the Vietnam War, which built slowly, over years, and finally reached critical mass. Two factors which no longer apply, of course, were the draft and the nightly televising of the war, including the returning body bags.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Yes, but as Howard Zinn wrote, you can never predict how, when, and how quickly things can change. Also remember my earlier references to Crumb and Merton.

Knut January 8th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

In 1918, a person–or one’s return address–need only look German or, as the case may be, syndicalist.

My mother’s family were among the 30,000 German immigrants invited to settle south Texas in the 1830s. A couple of decades later they were the first family to settle around Santa Cruz. They were a German community with their own newspapers, marriage and death announcements in German down to the First World War. My mother told me that they emigrated to Washington State in 1918 because of the anti-German sentiment in San Francisco. People forget that history.

World War I was a bonanza to the Right. It provided the instrument for suppressing the growing labour movement and its political wing in the Socialist under Debs. It is heart-breaking to go back through the literature of that time. It really was the start of the national nightmare we now find ourselves in.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 49

I think you’ve pretty well hit it. I tend to put more emphasis on the power component – controling the populace.

Phoenix Woman January 8th, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 23

Thanks for mentioning the internments of German Americans during World War II:


eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 54

Do the USG perps recognize their own behavior in terms of other countries that they condemn for the same behavior or are they blind to the comparison?

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 55

Not only German but Italians as well. Also, nearly 5,000 conscientious objectors were interned during WW II – 75% were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Knut January 8th, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 8

“suspicious” individuals

My wife and I were re-watching the BBC series ‘The Nazi’s’ last night. There is a section about how the Gestapo was able with so few people to control so many. People turned each other in. The example they showed was a woman who was probably a lesbian, whom her neighbors considered anti-social. She was turned in on nothing more than that accusation and died in a camp.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 56


hpschd January 8th, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 51

It has to be better (and hopefully easier) to stop a war before it starts. There was a lot of ‘isolationism’ and opposition to getting into WWI, your book covers the intense propaganda program that got the US into it , but did that really have majority support at the time? The MoTU wanted to get into WWI and made it politically expedient. The same is happening right now.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 57

Zinn points out that wars are almost always games of the PTB with 99ers being almost always opposed (Civil war draft riots being a big example). That’s the power part of the equation. Power over domestics (who are much more threatening in the U.S., and other countries too) than foreign threats. Would you add some color?

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Add in the part that many of the same people are still in place: Mueller is still in charge of the FBI, which is asking for new infringements of civil liberties, Brennan’s groups were in charge of targeting for Cheney’s illegal wiretap program.

But I also think, now, that a kind of technological determinism is in place: every time the spooks say, “here’s a new technology we can use to spy”–as presumably they did w/geolocation–it’s hard to say no.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:07 pm
In response to Knut @ 58

That sort of thing – neighbors turning in neighbors – happened in this country many times over during WW I, WW II, and the Cold War.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Knut @ 53

Thanks so much for this comment.

One of the things that struck me about Jay’s book is how it frames the entire discussion around re-seating our current concerns over civil liberties in a broader swath of history. And by doing this, we are able to see exactly how large the gaps are in the historiography. Literally, there are huge tracts of history that are still trapped in memory–have never been recorded and translated beyond family stories. This is definitely one of the great points of shame in our national education since WWII. We have spent so much time and resources teaching ourselves that we were good and the Germans were bad, that we have barely taken the time to remember how we acted in the episodes like the one that your family experienced. Or Manzanar: the number of people who even know what that word means is shamefully low.

So, I think Jay’s book–in addition to bringing together a series of chapters–also, implicitly, calls for another project a la Studs Terkel, where we can once again reclaim the vast diversity of voices that were on the receiving end of these bouts of hysteria.

Jay’s book has a good bibliography for anyone who wants to get started in this direction.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to hpschd @ 60

At first, there was minimal support for the war, but after Wilson formed the Committee for Publlc Information and they went to work, public opinion shifted quickly.


Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 61

I’m not sure I understand the question.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 63

I’m of the impression that neighbor turning in neighbor is not yet widespread in the U.S. Am I deluded, just bc it hasn’t been reported, even in the ‘leftie’ blogs?

hpschd January 8th, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 65

MotU – masters of the universe, PTB

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 67

Today, it’s probably not widespread, but as I noted, it happened commonly in WWI, WWII and the Cold War.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Something I heard in my research, but was never able to confirm, was that some of the same German “alien enemies” who were interned during WW I were also interned during WW II. As I say, it was only anecdotal – I could never find an actual case.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 67

As a New Yorker, I can certify that we have a “Please turn in your foreign-looking neighbor” program called “If you see something, say something.” My guess is that most of these reports are protected within sealed police files and that most urban centers in the US have tons of files of this kind.

One of the things that happened in WW II under fascist regimes in Europe was that citizenship privileges were revoked through legislation, and then mass arrest actions took place. So, when historians talk about neighbors turning in neighbors in that context, they are referring to moments with a very different script than we have had here…so far (at least not since WWII).

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:20 pm

I’ve seen the “see something, say something” at airports as well.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:22 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 70

And this experience is “out there” in popular literature, albeit sparsely. Steinbeck, for example, in East of Eden depicts a family of local merchants of German ethnicity who become the objects of suspicion as WWI approaches. And that’s probably based on his personal experience growing up in the Salinas Valley. So, it’s out there and can be recovered. The question is getting the public to the point where these stories are seen as important again.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:25 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 66

Let me try again.

The PTB want to conduct wars unimpeded as one of the most important ways of projecting power. Even when the ‘foreign threat’ is nearly nonexistent, as is the case with terrorism.

The 99ers don’t like wars, and the domestic antiwar movement thus becomes a bigger threat to their power than any foreigners.

That was true, for example, in Hitler’s Germany to pick an extreme example. No other country was threatening to invade Germany before Hitler launched his domestic suppression. But Hitler wanted free reign to conduct all actions aimed at bolstering his universal power without any internal ‘threats’ that could challenge him.

Propaganda (‘lebensraum’ etc.) was insufficient to convince 99ers in Germany (terrorism in U.S.) to go along with the power hungry at the top, so domestic suppression had to be pursued to achieve the power objective.

Thus domestic opposition to PTB are a much bigger threat than anything outside the country’s borders.

Agree? Disagree? Or am I framing the issue incorrectly?

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

This goes back to your comment earlier about how huge chunks of our history have been airbrushed out. There are two serious issues here. First, there is the distortion of the past – which leaves us with no context in which to understand the present. Second, there is the threat to democracy. When you curtail the civil liberties of any particular minority, you’ve taken the first step toward curtailing the civil liberties of all.

Kelly Canfield January 8th, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 72

I live in Denver and traveled to 13 Western cities last year, and rode public transpo in each of them.

“See Something Say Something” is ubiquitous here and in those airports and public transpo systems in my experience.

Same logos and everything. I found that very creepy.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Jay, I want to ask a question about American anarchists because your book does a nice job weaving those personalities (e.g. Goldman) back into the fold. Is it fair to say that one of the unfortunate successes of 20c efforts to suppress the Left has been the near elimination of anarchist political thought from American consciousness–a political current that has ultimately proved extremely helpful, today, viz helping people think/see past our current dilemmas?

Phoenix Woman January 8th, 2012 at 3:29 pm
In response to hpschd @ 68

Yup, and “PTB” = “Powers That Be”.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 74

Okay, now I understand. In many cases, yes, that’s certainly true. The one notable exception, of course, would be WW II, where Nazi Germany did indeed pose a colossal threat. Of course, there are those who contend that Hitler could have been contained had he been halted early on.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

i was 5 miles away when first plane hit WTC. I would report an untended bag if I saw one, but I often asked other airline-in-waiting passengers to look after my bag while I bought a book or a water. Didn’t run into any oppo to that in the last decade, though I am a senior white woman so get positively profiled both by my ‘fellow’ citizens, as well as “law” enforcement.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I hadn’t thought of that, but, yes, I think you’re right. All we hear of anarchists now are the guys who dress in black and commit vandalism – many of whom, I suspect, are agents provocateurs. Anarchism as a strain of political thought has unfortunately been pretty much forgotten.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:37 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 79

One didn’t know the threat of Nazi Germany, either internally or externally, until its invasion of Poland. Hitler never garnered more than 38% (+ or -, I forget the exact #) of vote before he captured complete internal power and thus free reign to invade all other countries. At least W was closer to 50%! when O’Connor anointed him.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:38 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 74

The framing seems fine, here. But I think this goes back to a theme underling this discussion: what’s the purpose or goal of these surveillance/suppression episodes? Wealth? Political power? Personal power? It’s a tricky question, because in any given situation there are going to be several factors.

I want to again recommend Chapter 12 in this regard “A Neurotic Nightmare”–Jay’s chapter on McCarthy. Reading this chapter, it’s really hard to figure out what McCarthy wants besides just…attention. Does he think he’s building something? Does he think he’ll get something at the end? I mean, does he think he can ride this all the way to the White House? Does he think he’s clearing the ground to eventually seize power and cleanse the globe of Communists? Who knows. These episodes seem to take on an internal life of their own. What we do know is that results. Unlike motives, the destruction they leave is very concrete and specific. Beyond that, wealth, power, and ego are probably always hand in hand for each of these crises.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to Jay Feldman @ 81

Ah yes, agent provacatuers. One of the fave tactics of PTB as thin threads to weave a vast conspiracy against all ‘our’ freedumbs.

Kelly Canfield January 8th, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 76

And of course a quick google reveals it was a national campaign on the part of Homeland Security, and part of their SAR (Suspicious Activity reporting) initiative.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Excellent points. I hadn’t thought about how McCarthy expected to personally benefit from his fear mongering. Will ponder that more closely. And read the book for sure.

I was in my youth (pre-teen) during that era, very politically unaware. Yet my memory of it was that it was crazy.

Seems to be one of life’s binaries. You either ‘get it,’ i.e. that you are being taken for a ride by jerks at the top, or you are scared to death by the alleged threats.

Knut January 8th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

The group who strike me as the most likely to be the next major object of government attention are American Chinese (John Yoo, are you listening?). The foreign policy establishment are ginning up for another Cold War, and there is only one obvious adversary. It still seems ridiculous, even to me, but logic and historical precedent point in that direction. And as we all know, they all look alike.

laurastrand January 8th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

And if he does even half as masterful a job as he did on the Old Testament, well then, the book would surely resonate with the young’ins who are all caught up in that graphic novel genre, and then we’re really off to the races!

On a semi-related vein, I’d love to know if you have read Frank Kofski’s “Harry S. Truman and The war-scare of 1948″ (which I was one of a number of proud student contributors)?

It also points out the need to induce fear into a population for a threat that may or may not exist, and then manipulate that fearful public into supporting the kind of egregious crap that out “betters” believe to be in someone’s best interest.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:45 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 84

See pp. 288-89 for a partial list – there were more – of some of the loathsome activities carried out by agents provocateurs on the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Jay: I was left intrigued by the figure of USAG Edward Levi who, in a sense, rides in to save the day with his 1976 guidelines near the end of your book. Am I right in assuming you have much more to say about him that just didn’t all fit into the book?

hpschd January 8th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

This is all terribly depressing. The propaganda machines seem so effective, public opinion has been so easily pulled toward hatred, fear, and aggression. Is humanity so quickly lost? Is empathy the second casualty of war?

Writing this book must have taken a serious toll.

Thanks for the R. Crumb,“There’s no hope, but you have to act as if there is.”

I’ll keep trying.

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to laurastrand @ 88

I somehow missed Kofski’s book, but thanks for pointing it out to me.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to Knut @ 87

The Yoo situation occurred to me a long time ago. But he is one of the members of a disadvantaged class who was chosen to prove that PTB are NOT racist and force opponents into a situation where they can be accused of racism.

Not that it makes Yoo’s position unassailable. PTB would turn on him instantly if it were in their interests. Look at how quickly Powell was dumped after U.N. speech.

Knut January 8th, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I recall reading Richard Rovere’s book on McCarthy many decades ago. It is all very dim in my mind. I have the faint impression that he was making it up as he went along, and that other people were using him to bash the Truman administration as long as it was convenient. He was a loose cannon.

The question of the purpose of the surveillance state is to my mind a key one. Is it simply bureaucratic inertia, as was suggested above? I think there is a lot of that, especially given the number of Cheney holdovers lodged in the recesses of the FBI and other surveillance agencies. It’s hard to believe the PTB are actually that worried about their future: they control all three branches of government plus the propaganda machinery. The taming of Obama shows that they have nothing to fear from elections.

I would grant that there are some real crazies out there, just as there were in Germany, and that if they were to come into power (think of the Republican Presidential candidates) we might be in for real trouble because they are, actually, batshit crazy. But the PTB don’t want that to happen. It’s not like at the end of 1932 in Germany, when they figured they had to use Hitler to keep the Communists and the Left out of power. Without that fear, I don’t see the totalitarian state coming in.

To quote Fats Waller, `But one never knows, does one?’

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Basically what happened was that the Church Committee recommended legislation, and in fact, a bill was drawn up by a Senate committee (I forget which one). In order to prevent that legislation from going forward, Levi issued his guidelines, which were excellent and very close to the Harlan Fiske Stone guidelines of 1924 that attempted to rein in the FBI. The problem was that both those sets of guidelines were not law, and so subsequent Attorneys General were free to modify them as they saw fit, which is what happened in both cases.

eCAHNomics January 8th, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to Knut @ 94

I have noticed that the more powers the PTB obtain, the more worried they become about maintaining them. Ditto riches. Would take a psychologist (not me) to explain this, but it is observable.

BevW January 8th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Jay, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book.

Jeffrey, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Jay’s website and book

Jeffrey’s website

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Next Week –
Saturday – Tom Englehardt The United States of Fear
Sunday – Dylan Ratigan Greedy Bastards: How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, and Other Vampires from Sucking America Dry

If you want to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to BevW @ 97

Thanks for your interest. It’s been a pleasure.

Jim White January 8th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Jay and Jeffrey, thanks so much for a tremendous discussion and for the work that you do. Wishing you all the best in your future endeavors.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Folks, we are getting close to the 7:00pm EST mark–the point at which the discussion is set to close. I’m sure FDL will leave this thread open for at least a little while longer. So, if you have more questions/comments for Jay, please continue to post them.

Jay: Thank you so much for your work and your time this evening. You are, of course, welcome to stick around as long as you like.

FDLers! Stay positive and keep fighting! And don’t forget that Jay’s book is available for PURCHASE. I have it in hardcover and electronic formats. So, don’t be shy. Authors need to eat and, incidentally, to drink.

Speaking of which…

Jay Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to Jim White @ 99

Very much appreciated, and best to you as well.

Jeffrey Feldman January 8th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

And a hearty thanks back to Bev and our hosts at FDL.

emptywheel January 8th, 2012 at 4:38 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 76

It’s a DHS program, not local.

HotFlash January 8th, 2012 at 7:11 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 93

aned to Knut at 87 — John Yoo is Korean.

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