MANUFACTURING HYSTERIA by Jay Feldman, 400 pages, $28.95, Pantheon Books

September 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

a History of Scapegoating, Surveillance and Secrecy in Modern America

“…Oh, a lawless people is bad enough, but a lawless government is infinitely worse.”-Alabama congressman George Huddleston, quoted in Chapter seven, “A Lawless Government.”

(Unattributed quotations in this review are the words of Jay Feldman.)

Before I read Jay Feldman’s disturbing new book about the illegal actions and extra-legal regions of our government, I tended to think that violations of the constitutional rights of individuals and groups were a sidelight of American history, isolated incidents like salmonella outbreaks, extreme examples of systemic failures that proved the system worked reasonably well most of the time.

I can no longer view this country’s history with the same equanimity.

Like Steven Kinzer’s OVERTHROW, Jay Feldman’s MANUFACTURING HYSTERIA deftly narrates a half-buried through-line of American history, turning over rocks, shining a flashlight on dark corners. Feldman’s book is well documented, including a small number of footnotes, a large number of endnotes and an extensive bibliography. This is not an extended opinion piece, but a thorough review of the historical record. Feldman pulls together information from a variety of sources, from well-known books to obscure pamphlets, archival documents, congressional hearings and reports.

The numbered chapters also have titles (a tradition I wish more authors would observe) taken from key quotations that clearly express the subject and catch the spirit of the prose.

If Studs Terkel were alive today, he would be talking about this book, jumping at the chance to interview its author. (I often listened to his radio show on WFMT FM while driving downtown to call on Kroch’s and Brentano’s. Come to think of it, his show outlasted K&B by a couple of years, as they went belly-up in 1995.)

Jay Feldman

Feldman begins with the story of how the United States government, in concert with private interests, whipped up public support for war against the Kaiser, using fear of foreign subversion to attack “hyphenates”—German-Americans and other immigrants—which broadened into a campaign against political dissent and a war on labor.

While not yet supporting war with Germany overtly, Woodrow Wilson’s December 1915 address to Congress captures the mood of American xenophobia, and here I am quoting just a portion of Feldman’s citation:

“…There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, born under other flags…who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life; who have…sought to destroy our industries…and to debase our politics to the uses of foreign intrigue…We are without adequate federal laws to deal with it. I urge you to enact such laws at the earliest possible moment…Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out…”

As the “preparedness” movement gained steam, and war fever took hold in the country, anyone who, like Wisconsin’s Senator Robert La Follette, opposed the war was vilified. Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a letter to a friend that La Follette “had shown himself to be an unhung traitor, and if the war should come, he ought to be hung.”

In April of 1917 Wilson addressed congress to request a declaration of war.

Woodrow Wilson

“The repression” Feldman says, “began immediately after Congress declared war, as the Wilson administration unleashed an all-out assault on dissent, with a three-pronged attack of legislation, propaganda, and surveillance.”

An updated version of the Alien Enemies Act was passed. Feldman notes that Wilson secretly issued an executive order on April 7th that gave the heads of civil service departments the power to dismiss any employee who they felt might be a security risk, and many people lost their jobs.

Wilson created a propaganda arm, “the Committee on Public Information” to foster support for war among the populace. Despite Attorney General Thomas Gregory’s statement that “talk of spies” was “hysteria,” Gregory recruited members of “patriotic vigilance organizations” like The National Security League to inform on their neighbors. Cornelius Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Simon Guggenheim, the Koch Brothers of their age, funded this group. Furthermore, says Feldman, people everywhere were “actively encouraged to spy on their neighbors.”

Cornelius Vanderbilt

“The government” he tells us “also instituted a practice of factory surveillance called the Plant Protection Section in companies with defense contracts which may have amounted to thirty-seven thousand firms.” Not only did workers spy on workers, but also “PPS members infiltrated unions, filing reports on organizing efforts, strike tactics, and leaders’ activities, and often causing dissention in the ranks. They opened mail, broke into homes, and employed a variety of other illegal tactics in gathering information on ‘suspects.’ ”

A mob mentality ruled the country, and innocent people were beaten, imprisoned and even, like Robert Paul Prager and Frank Little, lynched for their political beliefs or their nationality. The American Protective League, another “patriotic” group, worked with law enforcement agencies to raid public places in search of draft dodgers.

The Sedition Act of May,1918 made it illegal to say or write anything negative about the government, the constitution, the flag or the military.

The political and social repression of Wilson’s war years set the gold standard for ensuing crises.

The end of the war caused or added to economic uncertainty. “Inflation soared as prices and the cost of living doubled from what they had been before the war.” The job market was flooded with returning veterans. Labor unions, which had “for the most part patriotically suspended in support of the war effort,” resumed efforts to improve the lot of their members.

“The resulting clash between labor and management” Feldman says, “would become one of the primary fronts on which the government waged its new battles against radicalism. In this campaign, the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Investigation, and the General Intelligence Division would function as outright instruments of capital, defending management against the upstart ambitions of labor and fanning the public’s fears of radicals.”

The International Workers of the World served as a perfect bogeyman and its members were blamed for violent acts they did not commit, attacked verbally and physically by vigilantes and the government and eventually the group was destroyed.

One of the great strengths of this book is in the amazing quotations of politicians, government officials, prominent citizens, newspaper editorials, and policy documents. Here’s one from Ole Hanson, the mayor of Seattle, quoted in the New York Times of May 2, 1919:

The government, Hanson said, “was on the wrong track in starting conferences instead of cemeteries in dealing with the I.W.W….I trust Washington will buck up and clean up and either hang or incarcerate for life all the anarchists in the country. If the government doesn’t clean them up I will. I’ll give up my mayorship and start through the country. We will hold meetings and have hanging places…The conspiracy to overthrow the government is widespread. It permeates every State in the Union.”

A series of bombings by an obscure group of anarchists gave the fear mongers just what they needed. Even though government officials knew the source of these violent acts, they chose to use the bombings as an excuse for repression against groups of which they disapproved. And Race riots in the summer of 1919 were blamed on Bolsheviks accused of stirring up “negro rioters.”

Out of the boiling cauldron of the red scare J. Edgar’s Hoover, like a sour scum, rose to the top.

A. Mitchell Palmer

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer saw communist conspiracies everywhere, and he appointed Hoover, who had been working for the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation, to head the newly created General Intelligence Division.

“Using the skills he had learned as a cataloger at the Library of Congress, Hoover established a cross-referenced index-card system called ‘the Editorial Card Index.’ ” By the end of 1920 it contained over 200,000 cards with information on individuals, groups, and publications. One year later the index had grown to 450,000.

Who could have predicted that library science would provide the government with tools of political repression?

After WWI was over and the Sedition Act expired, the government concentrated on the deportation of “alien radicals under the Alien Act of October 16, 1919.” In a sweep by immigration officers in February of 1919, just before a general strike in Seattle was to begin, 40 men were arrested and deported. The Chicago Tribune described them as a “motley company of IWW supporters, bearded labor fanatics, and Bolshevist agitators.”

The Seattle Times said immigrants had to be taught, “This is a country of Americans, by Americans, and for Americans.”

The Washington Post described the action as the “serious cleaning up” of “bewhiskered, ranting, howling, mentally warped, law-defying aliens” and “international misfits.”

“The fall of 1919” Feldman says, “saw three landmark labor strikes, each of which was seized upon by the government, business interests, and the press as evidence of a radical conspiracy in the labor movement, thereby adding fuel to the already hotly blazing red scare.”

Attorney General Palmer’s round-ups of suspect individuals (the “Palmer Raids”) were, by his own admission in a public address on December 31st, 1919, calculated to forestall the spread of radical ideas, rather than to arrest criminal activity.

The assistant secretary of labor, Louis Post, wrote in his journal, “At present there are signs of an overthrow of our government as a free government. It is going on under cover of a vigorous drive against ‘anarchists,’ an anarchist being almost anybody who objects to government of the people by tories and for financial interests.”

Because Post canceled many illegitimate deportation warrants, Palmer and Hoover did their best to discredit him, compiling a file of 350 pages, almost as long as the book I am reviewing here. When they failed to find anything incriminating, Congress called for his impeachment, and the House Rules Committee summoned Post to hearings. But the proceedings backfired (having an effect not unlike the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings) as Post’s testimony made monkeys of his inquisitors and helped turn public opinion against Palmer.

“The red scare balloon was rapidly deflating, but the purposes behind the witch hunt had been accomplished. First, the radical movement had been quashed. Membership in the two Communist parties took a precipitous drop from seventy thousand to sixteen thousand, and the parties were driven underground. The IWW was all but finished. The Socialist Party moved toward the center and ceased to be a factor in American politics.”

In 1921 a Senate subcommittee investigated “allegations of illegal activities by the Justice Department.” The final report, deliberately delayed by Sen. Thomas Sterling of South Dakota, the subcommittee’s chairman, was a whitewash.

Sen. Thomas J. Walsh of Montana issued the committee’s minority report, and the passage quoted in this book is one for the ages:

“It is only in such times that the guarantees of the Constitution are of any practical value. In seasons of calm no one thinks of denying them; they are accorded as a matter of course. It is rare except when the public mind is stirred by some overwhelming catastrophe or is aghast at some hideous crime, or otherwise overwrought, that one is required to appeal to his constitutional rights. If, in such times, the Constitution is not a shield, the encomiums which statesmen and jurists have paid it are fustian.”

Our legal system and attendant experts endlessly and with great passion dispute what constitutes free speech: the case of the Nazis in Skokie, the gay-haters at military funerals, etc. Meanwhile, illegal wiretapping past and present goes unpunished, as if “freedom of speech” applies only to the question of what one is allowed to say in public.

But back to the book…

In 1924 Attorney General Harry Daugherty used the Bureau of Investigation to search for incriminating material about Montana Senator Burton Wheeler who had “called for an investigation into the Justice Department’s failure to prosecute both antitrust cases and the celebrated Teapot Dome case, in which Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall received $400,000 for secretly leasing U.S. Navy oil reserves in Wyoming and California to private oil companies….”

J. Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar Hoover along with the Bureau of Investigation’s director, William Burns, worked on this case. Wheeler was indicted on a bogus charge and later cleared of any wrongdoing.

The Brookhart Committee, chaired by Senator Smith W. Brookhart of Iowa, appointed Wheeler as its prosecutor. This committee found out that the Bureau “had been investigating critics of the Justice Department since 1921.” Not only did they investigate legislators, but also private citizens. The BI tried to get a lawyer named Zechariah Chafee fired from his Harvard teaching position.

After the hearings, President Calvin Coolidge asked Attorney General Daugherty to resign. In his place he appointed Harlan Fiske Stone, a political conservative and staunch advocate of civil liberties. Stone put an end to the Bureau of Investigation’s political investigations, firing Director Burns, and appointing J. Edgar Hoover as the acting Director. Stone’s policy asserted that the activities of the bureau had to be limited “strictly to violations of law.”

Hoover fell in line, abolishing the General Intelligence Division, and putting on such a convincing show that he was concerned about civil liberties, that the head of the ACLU endorsed his appointment. Because Attorney General Stone was unable to get the person he wanted to take the appointment, Hoover ended up as Director.

Hoover’s career provides some of the glue that holds this book together. The steady growth of his power through the building of a huge network of domestic surveillance and covert action set precedents that appear to have ensured the recurrence of nightmares past.

Feldman tells us that the 1920’s was “a relatively open and tolerant time….” but “the phantoms of xenophobia and antiradical hysteria unleashed during the war and red scare were not completely laid to rest.”

As the depression took hold Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were attacked by various groups, vilified and blamed for the unemployment suffered by American citizens. Estimates vary as to how many people were deported (citizens and non-citizens alike) in the early 1930’s (and many fled), but it was somewhere between half a million and a million.

Immigration officials under the authority of the Department of Labor carried out this massive effort using secret proceedings, and the suspects had no right of appeal.

Back to Hoover: Even as he “kept the bureau from becoming too deeply involved in the investigation of radicals between 1924 and 1934, other developments” increased his agency’s power. “It became a clearinghouse for fingerprints” built “a state-of-the-art crime laboratory” and was assigned “greater responsibilities” by new federal crime bills passed in 1934.

Not quite halfway through the book, we learn that in 1934 President Franklin Roosevelt asked the Bureau of Investigation and other agencies to investigate the German-American Bund and other Nazi groups. While this directive was “a distinct break” with Stone’s prohibition, FDR limited his investigative order to “the connection of German diplomats in this country to the domestic Nazi movement…” But Hoover extended the boundaries of this order. “The Pandora’s box was open…The Bureau of Investigation was on the threshold of reclaiming its role as the nation’s secret police force.”

FDR called Hoover in August, 1936 for another meeting during which FDR said he wanted information about subversive activities by fascists and communists. (At this point the Bureau’s name had been changed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.) “…In sanctioning such secret investigations of ‘subversives,’ FDR started Hoover down a path the FBI director would zealously pursue for four decades, a path that would soon lead to serious abuses of power and invasions of privacy by the FBI as it carried out covert and often illegal scrutiny of tens of thousands of individuals and organizations, the vast majority of whom were guilty of absolutely nothing.”

Hoover deceived Roosevelt and Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, whose cooperation was needed to make technically legal what was essentially illegal activity, and all three of them deceived congress. Hoover went on to start a new Editorial Card Index and reestablish the General Intelligence Division as the General Intelligence Section.

Cordell Hull and FDR

As another world war approached, FDR “issued a directive appointing the FBI to take charge of investigative work in matters relating to sabotage, espionage, and violations of the neutrality regulations.”

Hoover now compiled a new list—the Custodial Detention Index—of the names of people who might prove a danger to the country “in time of war or national emergency.” This list became known as the “ABC list” because it contained “the A list of supposedly irrefutably dangerous individuals; the B list of the potentially dangerous; and the C list of those who merely merited surveillance.”

There was no legal basis for such a list during peacetime. Neither was there a legal basis for FDR’s secret order allowing Attorney General Robert Jackson to wiretap “persons suspected of subversive activities against the Government of the United States, including suspected spies.”

Internment camps were set up in Montana and North Dakota. Hoover, working with the Office of Naval Intelligence, and The Military Intelligence Division, added rapidly to his list of names. Attorney General Jackson wrote to Hoover early in 1941, to remind him of the Stone guidelines of 1924, and that matters of opinion could not be the basis for FBI action.

“…None of these persons today” Hoover responded to Jackson, “has violated a specific Federal law now in force and effect, but many of them will come within the category for internment or prosecution as a result of regulations and laws which may be enacted in the event of a declaration of war. To wait until then to gather such information or conduct such investigations would be suicidal.”

“By December 10th, three days after Pearl Harbor, nearly 2300 individuals had been taken into custody including 1,291 Japanese, 857 Germans and 147 Italians. On December 17th, Hoover officially widened the net to include U.S. citizens.” Thousands of “utterly harmless individuals” were arrested. (The genuine spies who were arrested—450 Japanese Intelligence agents for example—were not planning acts of Sabotage or the “fifth column strategy” that Hoover had warned of.)

Detainees were not allowed to have lawyers during the hearings held after their arrest. According to Edward Ennis, head of the Enemy Alien Control Unit, Doubts were resolved “in favor of the government.” By the end of 1942, the entire Japanese and Japanese-American populations of the west coast— approximately 112,000 people, almost 70% of whom were U.S. citizens—had been ‘relocated’ to ten inland concentration camps.”

In the chapter entitled, “A Jap is a Jap,” (the words of Fourth Army Lt. General John L DeWitt) Feldman shows that the plan to intern the Japanese was not simply a direct result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but grew out of the Alien Enemy Control Program and that, “the process began at least five years before Pearl Harbor, with concerns over national security, and was originally aimed at Communists, Fascists and Nazis. By December, 1939 it had evolved into hysteria directed at German, Italian, and Japanese Aliens, as J. Edgar Hoover began compiling the notorious ABC list. After Pearl Harbor, the idea of rounding up all the Japanese aliens and Japanese Americans on the West Coast gained incremental acceptance.”

“Suspicion and surveillance of Japanese aliens and Japanese-Americans had been building for decades. As early as 1920” he explains, “when the Bureau of Investigation’s General Intelligence Division was responsible for monitoring the Nikkei community in the United States, the BI conducted extensive investigations of Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans throughout the West, South, and Southwest—not for having committed any illegal activity, but merely for being of Japanese descent.”

Such investigations continued throughout the 1930’s. Investigative reports of the early 1940’s that suggested most Japanese Hawaiians and Japanese Americans were loyal to the United States were ignored.

Feldman clearly outlines the U.S. government’s internal debates and the politics leading up to the imprisonment of the Japanese residents and citizens in America. For example, he explains that Attorney General Frances Biddle had qualms about rounding up the entire community based on the Constitution and intelligence reports showing the lack of a threat from these communities. It was Major Karl R. Bendetsen, an aide to the Army’s provost marshal general Allen Gullion, who was the most racist and effective of those pushing for mass internment, telling Father Hugh T. Lavery of the Catholic Maryknoll Center in Los Angeles that children in his orphanage “If they have one drop of Japanese blood, they must go to camp.” Father Lavery described him as “a little Hitler.”

On January 25, 1942 the War department published the report of the Roberts Commission on Pearl Harbor, which incorrectly concluded “that there had been espionage leading up to the attack by both “Japanese Consular agents…and other persons having no open relations with the Japanese Foreign Service.” This increased the climate of anger towards the ethnic Japanese.

The virulently anti-Japanese rhetoric flew from many sources, newspaper columnists among them:

“Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off and give ‘em the inside room in the badlands. Let ‘em be pinched, hurt, hungry, and dead up against it…Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.”

And another: “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched…So, a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions…almost inevitably and with the rarest of exceptions grows up to be a Japanese not an American.”

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, before the Roberts Report was released, had endorsed the idea of relocating Japanese aliens and Japanese Americans. Congressman Leland L. Ford of California said, “other loyal Americans are enlisting in the Army and Navy and Air Forces and are willing to give their lives for their country, and if these men are willing to make their contribution to the safety and welfare of the country…it is not asking too much of the Japanese to make theirs in the form of permitting themselves to be placed in concentration camps, although they may be loyal.”

Nonetheless, says Feldman, “the commonly accepted understanding of the relocation and internment as having been based exclusively on racism-–a constantly perpetuated interpretation—is one of the most serious misunderstandings of World War II domestic history…” You must read the book to fully understand the underpinnings of this persuasive argument.

FDR was fully on-board with the plan to intern the Japanese and refused to speak out against his Secretary of the Navy’s false reports of Japanese “fifth column” activity in Hawaii. Indeed, one of the themes of this book is the failure of many liberal politicians and activists to stand up for civil liberties.

Several groups representing “powerful agricultural interests” wrote to California’s attorney general, Earl Warren, in support of mass evacuation as these interests coveted the rich agricultural land owned by Japanese farmers. (It would have been interesting to know if any of them ever got their land back.)

Pressure from various quarters combined with war hysteria led to physical attacks on Japanese, and despite the opposition of attorney general Frances Biddle and others, FDR issued order 9066 in February, 1942, and the evacuation of Japanese, aliens and citizens alike began on March 31st. Thousands of German-Americans and Italian-Americans were also detained, “and in some cases held up to three years after the end of the war.”

Another shocking piece of forgotten history discussed in this book is that “the United States conspired with the governments of more than fifteen Latin American countries to identify, arrest, and deport to the United States, with little or no evidence and no legal proceedings, more than sixty-two hundred Latin Americans of German, Japanese, and Italian ancestry, including eighty-one German Jews, some of whom had spent time in Nazi concentration camps.”

The end of WW II brought the cold war and Harry Truman, like FDR before him, opened the door to another round of surveillance and illegal activity by the FBI. Just as J. Edgar Hoover ignored attorney general Biddle’s 1943 order to end the keeping of the Custodial Detention Index (or ABC list), assistant FBI director Milton Ladd came up with the idea in 1946 for a secret program (the attorney general would not be notified) to produce propaganda about the extreme dangers of American Communism and to isolate communists from any strong supporters of civil liberties such as liberals, labor unions and religious leaders. In this way, Communists might be detained, if necessary, without any significant public outcry. The “Custodial Detention Index” was renamed the “Security Index.”

The FBI, with the help of the House Un-American Activities Committee, launched this sequel to the red scare. While many books have covered HUAC’s activities, Feldman’s work provides an overview of the historical attack on civil liberties, explaining the politics and highlighting little-known facts.

In 1945 congress voted to make HUAC a permanent House committee. During the 207—186 vote in favor of this action, “forty New Dealers—including Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas—were reluctant to take a stand and voted a neutral ‘present.’ ”

By endorsing anti-communism and “red-baiting” by “anti-New Deal Republicans seeking to recapture the government after fifteen years of Democratic control” liberal Democrats were “eager to disassociate themselves from any taint of Communist leanings or affiliations. In so doing, they validated the FBI’s strategy of eliminating liberals’ traditional support for radicals and radical ideas.” In other words, by softening up the liberal stomach for unqualified support of the U.S. constitution’s bill of rights, Hoover and his allies were able to control the expression of ideas. One could argue that we are still suffering the consequences of these actions today.

Labor unrest and spy scandals in 1945 and 1946 helped the Republicans win control of congress, and Truman created The Employees Loyalty Program that “called for a loyalty investigation of every potential new employee of executive branch departments and for the termination of ‘disloyal’ employees,” who could be dismissed without due process. This plan “was used as a model for state and municipal loyalty programs, and the practice of blacklisting crept into private industry as well.”

In 1948 a federal grand jury in New York “indicted twelve high-level Communist Party officials charging them with violating the Smith Act…In effect, Communists were now being indicted simply for being Communists, even though the Communist Party was not outlawed…”

Feldman quotes Fred J. Cook (author of The Nightmare Decade), who said that the attacks on Communists were a “smoke screen,” and that “the real foe, was always the American liberal—the New Dealer, the innovator, the idealist who saw injustices in American society….”

“Through intimidation” Feldman tells us, “the great majority of these voices were silenced.”

A few days after the New York indictments the greatly expanded staff of HUAC “launched a sensational inquiry into espionage within the federal government.” Three days later the Justice Department sent the FBI a secret plan referred to as the Department’s Portfolio, that “provided for suspending habeas corpus; arresting all individuals on the Security Index under one ‘master warrant,’ without any criminal charges…in its intentions and provisions, the Justice Department Portfolio was a blueprint for a police state.”

After Mao came to power in China and the Soviet Union developed the Bomb, “the primary threat to national security was now perceived not to be an external power, but unpatriotic and disloyal Americans.”

In this atmosphere, Senator Joe McCarthy saw his chance to break out of his obscurity as a little-known Senator from Wisconsin. He gave his famous speech in Wheeling, West Virginia in February of 1950 charging that the State Department was infested with Communists. The more the department denied his allegations, the wilder his claims became. On the evening of February 20th McCarthy addressed a nearly empty senate chamber for five hours. “The entire speech was a bluff, one of the most fraudulent and mendacious presentations ever witnessed on the floor of the U.S. Senate.”

Senator Joe McCarthy

Once McCarthy became a national figure, portrayed in a positive light in many newspapers, J. Edgar Hoover began working with him, supplying him with information.

The Republican Party, with a few exceptions, backed him.

The Korean War and the Rosenberg spy case fed a “new wave of panic” and “congress passed the Internal Security Act of 1950 on September 12th.” The law required groups considered Communist-influenced to register with the government and created a Subversive Activities Control Board that had the power to label groups unfit to work for the government or private companies “engaged in defense work.”

“The most ominous aspect of the law…” says Feldman, “was the provision for a preventive detention program –proposed by seven liberal Democratic senators, including Hubert Humphrey…Estes Kefauver …and Herbert Lehman…that empowered the president, in time of national emergency, ‘to detain…each person as to whom there is reasonable ground to believe…probably will engage in, or probably will conspire with others to engage in, acts of espionage or sabotage.” Although Truman vetoed he bill, he was overridden.

The bill was, according to Republican Senator William Langer (ND), “one of the most vicious, most dangerous pieces of legislation against the people that has ever been passed.”

The GOP, while still in the minority, gained strength in the 1950 congressional elections based on attacking the opposition as soft on communism. Responding to pressure, Truman decided in April of 1951 to “tighten the loyalty program criteria,” which meant that “reasonable grounds” for dismissal from executive branch employment became “a reasonable doubt.” Feldman quotes Athan Theoharis, who points out that this seemingly minor change “legitimized the tactics of McCarthy” and contributed to “an escalatory process that could not be reversed.”

A few months later Truman attacked McCarthyist tactics without mentioning the powerful senator by name. McCarthy became even more powerful after the Republicans swept the 1952 presidential and congressional elections, “becoming chairman of both the Senate Committee on Government Operations and that committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.”

McCarthy went on to attack “the State Department’s communications arm, the International Information Administration” and its radio network, Voice of America, for promoting Communist authors. His list included John Dewey, Edna Ferber, Dashiell Hammett, W.H. Auden, John Paul Sartre, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Theodore H. White among others. As a result, the International Information Administration purged hundreds of books from its library shelves “and in some cases they were even burned or pulped.”

McCarthy’s ambition and recklessness led him to attack anyone who dared criticize him or resist his demands. When he attacked Eisenhower and the Army he had gone too far.

As we all know, the Army-McCarthy hearings (beginning on April 22, 1954) televised by ABC, ended his career, and he was “condemned” by the senate in October.

“McCarthy was done, but McCarthyism lived on.”

Entitled, “There Were Many Wrecked Lives,” chapter thirteen begins with the information that in 1953 Eisenhower had made it even easier for the government to fire someone for “disloyalty.” Employees of the government could now be fired for “alcohol abuse, homosexuality, psychological disorders, associating with radicals” or anything that struck department heads as suspicious or showed that person to be untrustworthy.

Attacks on teachers and the apparatus of higher education started with the cold war and increased during its campaigns. Communists had to be removed from the educational system at all levels. In 1949 HUAC demanded lists of textbooks from eighty-one colleges and universities, and Truman endorsed the National Education Association’s policy that “members of the Communist Party shall not be employed in America’s schools.”

In 1953 Eisenhower fed this fire with statements at his second press conference, and J. Edgar Hoover took up the theme, while HUAC and its senate equivalent held hearings in major cities, exposing “communists” in the schools. In Flint, Michigan auto workers “who had been subpoenaed and appeared before the committee were dragged from their factories and beaten by mobs. Some families were evicted from their homes and forced into hiding…” Rep. Kit Clardy of Michigan, a HUAC member, praised these actions, saying, “This is the best kind of reaction there could have been to our hearings.”

There is more, but I do not wish to be accused of recounting the entire book, so I’ll leave the important subject of purges against the educational system in the hope that you will read the book.

McCarthy and some of his supporters liked to talk about “communists and queers.” Feldman says, “the ‘queer hunt’ now became an integral facet of the larger witch hunt.”

Nearly “a thousand State Department employees were dismissed for ‘sex perversion’ during the Cold war years.”

But hunting for undesirables, political and otherwise didn’t stop with government employees. The CIA began in February of 1953 “keeping track of all correspondence sent between the United States and the Soviet Union that passed through the New York postal facilities.” Over time this activity “grew to encompass much wider parameters. By the Vietnam War, the program was targeting domestic dissenters and war protesters, and its main purpose had become bolstering the FBI’s internal security functions.” These actions were “in direct contravention of the CIA’s charter.”

The Rockefeller Commission report on the CIA makes it plain that, in Feldman’s words, “the CIA was fully aware of the illegality of the program…By 1959, the CIA was opening 13,000 pieces of mail a year. The New York City project continued until 1973, and in its final year alone CIA agents handled 4.35 million pieces of mail, examining the outsides of 2.3 million of them, photographing the exteriors of 33,000, and opening 8,700. Mail interception was also carried out for shorter periods of time in San Francisco, New Orleans and Hawaii.”

MANUFACTURING HYSTERIA is a work of history, but also a warning about the precarious nature of the civil liberties most Americans take for granted. One has only to read two recent newspaper articles, “CIA Examining Legality of Work With Police Dept.” and “FBI Focusing on Security Over Ordinary Crime”   to find cause for alarm about the safety of the rights and privacy of our citizens.

Although “the second great red scare had subsided by the end of the 1950’s…the undemocratic methods used to crush the Communist Party and hound gays would continue to be used against political minority groups for another decade and a half.”

Chapters fourteen and fifteen are rich in detail about how the law enforcement ethos of the first red scare of 1919-20 was applied to ordinary citizens in the 1960’s and 1970’s by the FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, Army Intelligence, and other departments and agencies of government. “Abuses by the FBI alone included extortion, mail and wire fraud, inciting violence, and sending obscene materials through the mail.” The ramped-up Counter-Intelligence Program or COINTELPRO created in 1956 to disrupt the functioning of the Communist Party of the U.S., was expanded in 1960 to include the NAACP and the Boy Scouts of America, among many others, and, “by the time the decade was out, the FBI had files on more than 430,000 law-abiding individuals and organizations…”

Hoover’s constant surveillance of Martin Luther King and his attempts to discredit King and drive him to despair provide a window on the modus operandi of the FBI and its many enablers in government. King was sent an anonymous note suggesting he commit suicide, and a recording of King’s sexual activity in a hotel room was mailed to his wife. A similar FBI campaign was waged against the Black Panther Party and many others, including nationalist groups and individuals in Puerto Rico.

But when the Bureau launched CONITELPRO-WHG (White Hate Groups), right-wing groups like The John Birch society and the White Citizens Councils were never investigated.

The Church Committee investigation called COINTELPRO “a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association and the propagation of dangerous ideas…”

Both LBJ and Richard Nixon approved of Operation CHAOS, a CIA operation aimed at “supporting the FBI’s internal security work.”

These are just a few of the things discussed in this book.

I would like to add that as a politically active high school student in the 1960’s it was easy to see how the culture of repression filtered down to me. A Chicago Policeman threatened me with arrest for leafleting downtown in support of the Conspiracy 8, (later, the Conspiracy 7) “without a permit.” I did as he ordered and took the train home. A right-wing history teacher called Mrs. Derry at New Trier High School East, caught me passing out handbills in support of a “moratorium” against the Vietnam War, and snatched the paper from my hands.

New Trier East High School

My former high school English teacher told me years later that the Principle of New Trier had asked him to report “any seditious activity” on the part of students. These are very minor incidents, but they illustrate how widely repressive forces can cast their nets.

My only criticism of the book is that the Epilogue might have contained a bit more substance about the Bush (and Obama) years, but of course, many books have been written about the trashing of the constitution under Bush.

Oh, and one small quibble. The discussion of the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark fails to mention Edward Hanrahan, the cook county state’s attorney who was a key figure in the murder. My recollection is that state’s attorney’s police carried out the raid, not the Chicago Police Department.

Fred Hampton

I believe MANUFACTURING HYSTERIA ought to be taught in every high school and undergraduate American history program in the land. Until a broader public understands the patterns of repression and thought control exercised by the government in times of crisis, we are all at risk of becoming the victims of such repression.

[Buy this book at Seminary Coop, or your favorite independent bookstore.]


§ 2 Responses to MANUFACTURING HYSTERIA by Jay Feldman, 400 pages, $28.95, Pantheon Books

  • Cary Loren says:

    Wonderful review! I’m gonna read and feature this book this fall (something I had probably overlooked before) you’ve hooked me, well done!

  • Mark Kohut says:

    liked a lot. learned much. I have been quite interested in the ways “anarchism”, the non-violent strain has been discredited in american history. And, spying—see the works of Thomas Pynchon–a dehumanization of life.
    Thanks. I am posting this on the pynchon reading group site…

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You are currently reading MANUFACTURING HYSTERIA by Jay Feldman, 400 pages, $28.95, Pantheon Books at brucejquiller.