The World War II Era 1939-1946

excerpted from the book

The Tree of Liberty

A Documentary History of Rebellion
and Political Crime in America

edited by Nicholas N. Kittrie and Eldon D. Wedlock, Jr.

The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998


As war approached, Congress enacted legislation to secure the loyalties of federal employees and to prevent interference with the military and war objectives. Ironically, the laws were enforced more often against those of communist or other leftist leanings than those of rightist persuasion, who in the minds of most people appeared to be the potential wartime enemies. At the onset of war the loyalties of the citizenry similarly were subjected to scrutiny at the state level. Those who routinely declined either to swear or to discuss their allegiance to the country and its Constitution, or who refused their services to the war effort, were subjected to quasi-criminal pains and penalties.

"the overthrow of our constitutional form of government" (1939) (The Hatch Act)

President Roosevelt's January 4, 1939, message to Congress emphasized the threat that the growing strength of the totalitarian nations posed to world peace. In March 1939, the Spanish Republic fell to the Fascist forces, and Germany moved into Czechoslovakia, claiming disorder in that country threatened German nationals. After concluding a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler, on September 1, commenced a blitzkrieg against Poland.

On August 2, 1939, Congress passed the Hatch Act, sponsored by Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico, forbidding federal civil servants from taking an active part in political parties and campaigns. But the first prohibition of federal employment based on party membership was written also into this civil service reform. The Civil Service Commission, responsible for administering the Hatch act, interpreted Section 9A, which prohibited federal employees from being members of a party that advocated "the overthrow of our constitutional form of government," to preclude federal employment of members of "the Communist Party, the German Bund, or any other Communist, Nazi or Fascist organization." By 1942, the Civil Service Commission concluded that being a "follower" of Communism raised a "strong presumption" against one's loyalty to the government of the United States.

To "teach the . . . propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force" (1940) (The Smith Act / Alien Registration Act)

Congressional concern over foreign influences in the United States also manifested itself through passage of the Alien Registration Act of 1940, requiring all aliens to be fingerprinted and register annually. Nevertheless, Title I of this enactment, the so-called Smith Act, was not restricted to aliens. This act, named after Congressman Howard W. Smith of Virginia, was the first peacetime federal sedition law since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Congress modeled the act after the New York Criminal Anarchy Act of 1902 and prohibited speech or publications that advocated or taught the "duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety" of overthrowing any level of government "by force or violence." Enacted in the year in which Hitler occupied Paris, the Smith Act, reminiscent also of the 1917 Espionage Act, was one of many steps which began to make Americans expect that war was virtually at hand.

"All alien enemies are enjoined to preserve the peace" (1941) (Alien Enemies Act)

On December 7,1941, Japanese naval and air forces attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing to an end the peaceful but strained American-Japanese relations that had existed since the 1937 Japanese drive into China. The United States declared war on Japan the following day. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Proclamation Number 2525 restricting the travel and other movements of Japanese aliens in the United States and authorizing civil and military authorities to detain all suspicious aliens. Subsequent proclamations affected German and Italian aliens at the commencement of war with their countries. The United States authorities initially directed security measures against all alien enemies. But as the War Department gradually assumed control over this program, it directed more resources toward the Japanese.

During the first year of the United States' entry into World War II, 12,071 alien enemies were arrested. Of this number, government attorneys released 3,567 after a preliminary investigation. On the recommendation of the hearing boards, the attorney general placed 2,933 on parole, released 1,048 outright, and ordered 3,646 interned for the duration of the war. Of those interned pursuant to this proclamation, 1,974 were of Japanese ancestry. These detentions differed from the subsequent evacuation programs, which applied to all Japanese collectively and permitted no individual determinations of loyalty until after the detainees reached Relocation Centers.

"every possible protection" (1942) (Japanese Internment Act)

On February 19,1942, two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the establishment of defense zones within the United States. The order further gave military commanders unbridled discretion to exclude persons from such zones or to restrict their activities therein. Most of the states of California, Oregon, and Washington officially constituted the Pacific Defense Zone.

The speed of the Japanese takeover of the Western Pacific after Pearl Harbor was shocking, and the fear of a Japanese invasion was very strong. False alarms of approaching Japanese submarines and bombers affected West Coast cities. Although no acts of sabotage by Japanese-Americans were ever reported, some believed the racial and cultural loyalties of this easily-identifiable ethnic group would supersede their political allegiance and "a nationwide tornado of destruction" would ensue.

Under the authority of this seemingly simple order, United States military forces evacuated all persons of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific Coast. The armed forces removed 112,000 Japanese, some 70,000 of whom were American citizens (many native-born), from their homes, placed them in temporary collection points, and subsequently shipped them to barbed-wire-enclosed Relocation Centers for internment.


President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066

3.C.F.R. 1092 (Feb. 19,1942).


WHEREAS the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities....

Now, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order.

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