Monday, March 19, 2018

Chopas's "Searching for Subversives"

Mary Elizabeth Basile Chopas has published Searching for Subversives: The Story of Italian Internment in Wartime America (University of North Carolina Press):
When the United States entered World War II, Italian nationals living in this country were declared enemy aliens and faced with legal restrictions. Several thousand aliens and a few U.S. citizens were arrested and underwent flawed hearings, and hundreds were interned. Shedding new light on an injustice often overshadowed by the mass confinement of Japanese Americans, Mary Elizabeth Basile Chopas traces how government and military leaders constructed wartime policies affecting Italian residents. Based on new archival research into the alien enemy hearings, this in-depth legal analysis illuminates a process not widely understood. From presumptive guilt in the arrest and internment based on membership in social and political organizations, to hurdles in attaining American citizenship, Chopas uncovers many layers of repression not heretofore revealed in scholarship about the World War II home front.

In telling the stories of former internees and persons excluded from military zones as they attempted to resume their lives after the war, Chopas demonstrates the lasting social and cultural effects of government policies on the Italian American community, and addresses the modern problem of identifying threats in a largely loyal and peaceful population.
Among the many interesting features of the book is Chopas’s discovery in the papers of Erwin Griswold files relating to that future Harvard law dean’s service on Boston’s alien enemy hearing board.  TOC after the jump.
A Note on Terminology and the Subject Group

The Legal and Political History of Italian Immigrants in the United States before 1941

The Face of Selective Internment and the Impact of Other Wartime Restrictions

The Struggle for Justice in the Internment Process

Bocce behind Barbed Wire
Checks on Government Power in the Camps


Appendix 1. Italians apprehended per month
Appendix 2. Regions/Territories of origin of Italian civilian internees
Appendix 3. Occupations of Italian civilian internees
Appendix 4. Timing of remedial instructions from Attorney General’s Office in relation to Italians apprehended per month

1 comment:

Shag from Brookline said...

The book description reminded me of growing up in the late 1930s and '40s in Boston's Roxbury District. My neighborhood was primarily Irish with Italians in second place. (I'm neither Irish nor Italian.) In 1943, I was a freshman at Boston English High School, a central all boys school in the South End of Boston. The student body came from all sections of Boston, with many ethic, racial groups. My group from Roxbury dined in an area that included students from Boston's North End and from East Boston, each section highly populated with Italians. There was a lot of competition about who had the better sandwiches for lunch. The conversation was about food, sports, girls, etc. I developed such a fondness for Italians that they were my favorite ethnic group (other than my own). There was a great sense of hospitality. WW II was still in progress and I was not aware of suspicions of Italians as subversives. Politically in Boston there was a competition between the Irish and the Italians, but intermarriage cured that to a great extent over the years. Boston being close to Europe on the Atlantic coast, we had our air raid wardens warning us to pull shades down at nighttime. I would go to the North End to engage in sports with a team from my neighborhood. We all had a great time, win or lose, as all could enjoy a pizza and/or a meatball sub.

And over the years, practicing law in Boston, when time would permit, I'd go to the North End with fellow attorneys for long lunches of great Italian cuisine and on the way back stopping off at the candy store to stock up on various "penny candies" (at higher prices) to stock the candy jar in my law suite.

As I grew older, I heard stories about what actions were being taken noted in the book description. Yet I don't recall in real time complaints from the Italians I got to know growing up. Boston was a great baseball town with the NY Yankees as the enemy. NY had Joe D, Phil Rizzuto, and the Red Sox had Ted Williams, an Anglo (though he was Mexican-American, raised by his mother after his dad left, but few Bostonians knew of this at the time). The competition was in good spirit. Basically, we all got along.

The story of this book is important about how the US reacted - or overreacted - as with Japanese Americans. Also, there is the story of the reaction to Germans in America. I had a few German-American friends growing up in Roxbury and I do recall some sensitivities on their part during WW II. When we played ball and later had a cold drink and a bite to eat, we were enjoying ourselves. We were friends.