What, if any, civil rights did we lose during WWII?

I was recently emailed a long piece of “War on Terror” propaganda that had been originally written by a Dr. Vernon Chong, Major General, USAF, retired. In it, Chong makes a number of assertions that I find hard to accept. I will focus on just one…

He proclaims that we must be willing to give up some of our civil rights for the duration of the “war on terror”. He insists this is not a “slippery slope” because, he claims, we lost/surrendered some of our civil rights temporarily during WWII and after the war we got them right back.

So my question is, what, if any, formal civil rights did most Americans willingly forgo or were taken away during WWII?

Certainly the government abused the civil rights of Japanese and Italian Americans (I’m not sure about German-Americans). But this isn’t the kind of thing that Chong seems to be talking about; he very much seems to mean that we must accept things like warrantless wire-tapping, warrantless library, medical, and financial record searches, no privacy protection of Internet activity, etc. Did anything similar happen during WWII?

I know some mail was searched as I saw some letters that has words blacked out by the Gov’t, but I know for a fact that email was not monitored :wink:

Anyway this war is nothing like WW2, in WW2 we were surprise attacked on our own soil.

Well, it’s not quite like WWII, and we of course should wait until we are attacked on our own soil. Yeah, that’s it. We shouldn’t go to war with anyone until there’s a smoking crater in downtown Manhattan, for example. Or until one of our military centers, or one of our ships gets fired upon. Oh, wait…

AFAIK, no civil rights were formally repealed for the duration. People were less likely to rock the boat about them, but they were in place. There were also abuses (like the Japanese internment) and special war regulations (like rationing), but those weren’t any suspending any basic civil rights.

The blacked out letters were military censorship, not a general reading of US mail – all letters from servicemen back home were read by military censors to make sure nothing was there that might fall into enemy hands (or even into the hands of friends who might blab). The government did not had a system to read letters by private citizens (the logistics would have been impossible to set up).

I don’t know, but I think that those United States citizens who were interned might have thought that their basic civil rights were being infringed upon.

And those military censors didn’t know nothin’, The censors were officers in the unit. I know because I was given letters to censor from time to time, as were all other officers in the group. We were given no training or guidelines as to what was taboo and the only thing we could do was wing it. I don’t know if our experience was typical but it seemed to me a total farce then and it still seems that way now.

The major civil rights infringement was the Supreme Court going along with the incarceration of many US citizens, the children of Japanese residents, for no reason other than that they were Japanese. I was all for it at the time but even before the war was over had changed my mind.

Without specifics of what Chong was talking about it’s hard to refute. Possibly he was referring to wage and price controls, rationing and things like that. Hardly on a par with monitoring phone calls or listening in on them in some cases. Figures in authority will always want civil rights restricted. It makes their job easier and who doesn’t like his or her job made easier? Claiming that national security is at risk is an easy way to get people to accept such restrictions. :frowning:

According to cites linked on this page about 11,000 German-Americans and Latin-Americans of German descent were interned in the US.

German-Amricans and Italian-Americans were intered, but only those with direct connections to Germany & Italy. Everyone with any Japanese ancestry was intered. If they applied this to German-Americans a very large portion of the white population (including the Amish) would have been intered.

Right. Gemans and Italians were interned as enemy aliens on an idividual basis. For instance, Enrico Fermi was technically an enemy alien but was one of the big time contributors to the Manhattan Project. Japanese were interned* en masse* solely on the basis of belonging to a particular class.

The Office of Censorship was created to monitor (and censor) any communications that might benefit the enemy. At its peak, it had more than 14,000 employees. Publication of photos of dead U.S. soldiers was prohibited until 1943. Most of the major news organizations adopted a code of self-censorship in 1942.

The better-known Office of War Information monitored plays, radio dramas and motion pictures in an effort to promote official American positions. It’s interesting that the OWI acted only in an advisory capacity until the release of Little Tokyo, USA in 1942. That movie implied that all Japanese-Americans were traitors. At the same time the U.S. government was interning Japanese-Americans, the OWI strenuously fought sterotyping of them as traitorous.

Very interesting timeline here. Note particularly the paragraph for the years 1942-45, the one for 1947, and then this for 1948:

According to Senator Russ Feingold in a Senate hearing October 16, 2002:

You can imagine what became of “enemy aliens.”

Included in the group of German Americans, of course, were Jews.

What was Gen. Chong’s argument again? WWII makes it right? And just as soon as there is an end to all terror in the world, we’ll get our civil rights back?

I don’t know all that much about the violation of civil liberties in Word War II, but I know a little bit. As I understand it, there was some curtailment of civil liberties in World War II, but when the war was over the curtailment by and large stopped. In contrast, the civil liberties that Americans gave up during World War I were not immediately given back following the end of the war.

I’d very much welcome someone correcting me if I’ve got anything wrong and/or filling in details that I missed.

Yup, as fatuous as that sounds to sane people, that’s just what he’s arguing. We must destroy America in order to save it.

Can you be more specific, please? Are you referring to something other than the relocation or internment of “enemy aliens”, as we’ve discussed here previously?

What were those civil liberties, precisely? Were they formally repealed for the duration, or was it more like the abuse of still-enacted civil liberties? And can you tell us more about which were not restored right after the war and what official justification was given?

What you bring up seem like just what I was looking for, but I’m afraid you haven’t provided any useful details. I strongly encourage you to elaborate for us.

FDR asked Walt Disney to make a film with Donald Duck asking people to allow the government to take part of their paycheck for taxes, instead of having people write a check to the government every two weeks. It’s patriotic! It will fund the war effort! The gov’t will get their money that much faster!

If people really knew how much their tax obligation was, by having to write a check vs having the money withheld prior to their even getting the money, I believe there would be much hue and cry for accountability in gov’t. But since they take it before you even get it…

The War Between the States
Lincoln setup military courts far from the frontlines. Lincoln had people arrested for speaking out against his policies and held without trials. He sent Federal troops to close newspapers that opposed the war.

Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, which forbid anyone from discouraging service in the Armed Forces. Followed by the Sedition Act of 1918, which forbid anyone from speaking out against the government. Socialist Presidental candidate Eugene Debs went to jail in 1919 for violating the Espionage Act. Dozens of newspapers were also closed because of these laws.

Italian- American associations in the 1990s( after the Japanese internment settlement) claimed that if you were of Italian descent on the East Coast during WWII, that neither the Federal nor the local law enforcement recognized your civil rights. Warrantless searches, detainment without a criminal charge, and confiscation of property at the whim of the police were just a few of the problems you faced.

Korean War
President Truman seized steel mills to avoid a strike.

It is my opinion that every chance the government gets, it takes power it doesn’t have. In three of the four examples I have listed, it was the Supreme Court that saved us from tyranny.

Feel free to express your opinion in IMHO or Great Debates, but why don’t you leave political opinions out of General Questions.

samclem GQ moderator

From WWI on, (and maybe before) “Enemy Alines” ahve been interned or exchanged. The USA interning German Citizens wasn’t wrong, illegal, or immoral, nor did anyone give up their rights for this. (After all, they are foriegn citizens and any host nation has the right to ask any foriegn citizen to leave at any time). What was wrong, immoral, racist and of doubtful legality was our internment of US Citizens of Japanese descent.

There were Blackouts, rationing and other such.

In addition, the hearing of the Nazi saboteurs who were then (mostly) executed without a full Criminal Trial by jury has led, according to some- to Gitmo and such stuff.

It’s even more basic than that. The federal income tax was supposed to be a temporary measure, to fund WW1.

Are you saying that this war DIDN’T start with a surprise attack on U.S. soil? I’m sure the residents of Manhattan and Washington will be surprised to hear that.

And war rationing was a huge curtailment of civil rights. It was the government injecting itself into the economy and telling people exactly how many various goods they could buy, and when.

As for censorship, this is an interesting read: Secrets of Victory: The Office of Censorship and The American Press and Radio in World War II.

Another good link here (warning: PDF), has a timeline of various domestic intelligence and monitoring programs.

So yes, there were substantial curtailments of civil liberties in WWII. But that really begs the question as to whether or not WWII is comparable to today’s war on terror. The obvious, huge difference is that this war is open-ended. There’s no way to tell when it’s over, or whether it can ever be over. Therefore, it’s totally inappropriate to claim that the WWII experience justifies any kind of civil rights violations today.