Intervention, Immigration, and Internment
George Szamuely
New York Press


America’s elite finds itself in a bit of a bind today. On the one hand, it wants to get as rich as possible as fast as possible. On the other hand, it also wants to dominate the world. The two aspirations are in conflict. To get rich quick it has encouraged the arrival of more and more immigrants to the United States. The effect has been to drive down wages. Lower wages mean bigger profits. Bigger profits mean higher share prices. But there is a downside. The more immigrants that come in, the more the United States is stuck with minorities whose ultimate loyalties will always be suspect. And nothing is less conducive to an imperial foreign policy than a populace full of potential subversives.

For the rich, US immigration policy has unquestionably been a wild success. Over the last thirty years wealth has been transferred from the poor to the rich at a nice, steady clip. In 1968 the share of America’s aggregate income held by the poorest fifth of the population was 4.2 percent. The share held by the top 5 percent was 16.6 percent. By 1998, the share of the aggregate income held by the poorest fifth had gone down to 3.6 percent. The share of the top 5 percent, however, was now 21.4 percent. In 1968 the mean income poorest fifth of the population was $7,921. The mean income of the top 5 percent was $125,592. In 1998 the mean income of the poorest fifth was $9, 223. The mean income of the top 5 percent, however, was now $222,283. In other words, the income of the poorest had hardly changed. The income of the richest had, however, practically doubled. It is not hard to figure out what is going on here. Look at the income of Hispanic households: In 1972 (there are no statistics available for years before that) the mean income of the poorest fifth was $8,440. The mean income of the top 5 percent was $103,795. In 1998, the mean income of the top 5 percent was $167,944. The mean income of the poorest fifth however was now down to $6,891.

Of course, America’s elite would never publicly admit that it owes its good fortune to a steady supply of cheap labor. Instead, we are forced to listen to a cheery, heartwarming tale that, though told and retold frequently enough, never seems to loses its power to uplift. Recent immigrants, according to the story, will follow the path of earlier immigrants. They will overcome the prejudices of the native population—whose ancestors had themselves once been immigrants—and within a generation or two will be part of the American mainstream earning huge amounts of money and wielding lots of political clout. Too bad, reality refuses to follow the official script.In November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act. The legislation directs the government to prepare a full account of what happened to Italian-Americans during the Second World War. In 1941 there were about 600,000 Italians living here who had not yet become US citizens. Following Pearl Harbor, the US Government classified them as “enemy aliens” and imposed a variety of restrictions on them. Some were prohibited from traveling more than five miles from their home without government permission. Some were subjected to curfews. Some were interned. Some had their property confiscated. Fishermen had their boats impounded. Italians living in coastal areas were deemed a security risk and forced to leave their homes. You could have a son serving in the military and still be forced to relocate or, worse, get sent to a detention center.

Read George Szamuely's Exclusive Column

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from the New York Press

Intervention, Immigration, and Internment

Home-Grown Terrorism

Who Benefits?

Laws of Return

Embassy Row

Selling Snake Oil

Chinese Puzzle

That Was No Lady, That Was the Times

The Red Tide Turning?

Pat & The Pod

United Fundamentalist States

Let Them All Have Nukes!

Liar, Liar

Gangster Nations

Puerto Rico Libre – and Good Riddance

Leave China Alone

A World Safe for Kleptocracy

Proud To Be

All articles reprinted with permission from the New York Press

This then is not the usual agreeable “melting pot” story. An ethnic group was singled out for persecution though no evidence existed linking its members to Mussolini’s “war machine”—if one can even say that with a straight face. No matter how American mainstream, any ethnic group can at a moment’s notice become classified as “enemy alien," At the turn of the century German-Americans were about as mainstream as you could get. Yet after 1914 anti-German feeling was so intense that even before the United States entered the War, German books were being removed from library shelves and public schools were no longer offering German classes. Violence against German-American became an everyday occurrence. During the Second world War about 11,000 German-Americans were interned. No charges were proffered. Neither subversion, nor treason, nor espionage was ever proved against anyone. The Germans stayed in detention through the War and, in a number of cases, even beyond. The detention had one objective only: to intimidate the German-American population.

The Japanese-Americans had it particularly rough. FDR’s Executive Order 9066, signed in February 1942, ordered “enemy aliens” (people of German, Italian or Japanese ancestry) to evacuate the West Coast. They posed a security threat, ran the official line. They might spy on, or sabotage, US military installations. They might even kill US military personnel. They therefore had to leave their homes and move inland. However, anti-Japanese feeling in the country was so strong that the Japanese found they had nowhere to move to. So they ended up in Army-run relocation camps, which soon became detention centers. Of the 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry who ended up in detention camps 77,000 were US citizens. At least, the interned Italians and Germans, though they obviously posed no security threat, were not US citizens.

Officially-sanctioned persecution of unpopular minorities continues to this day, of course. For years the Clinton Administration and its media toadies shamelessly whipped up anti-Serb hysteria. Naturally, Americans of Serbian origin had a wretched time of it. One newspaper story described how a 13-year-old Serbian-American girl, having been repeatedly ignored by her teacher even when she was the only one to have her hand up asked him “I know the answer. Why don’t you give me a chance?," His response: “Well, why don’t you give the Croatians a chance?” Still it could be worse. While the United States was pulverizing Belgrade earlier this year, the FBI trotted up to announce the dramatic discovery of an unsigned, undated “letter” sent to Serbian Orthodox Churches. “The letter”, according to the FBI, “requested that all Serbian nationalists living in America take action…by killing as many American soldiers in the United States as necessary," Here was a ludicrous story if ever there was one. Yet the threat to Serbian-Americans was all too clear. “As the war continues” explained an FBI spokesman, “we receive a lot of threats in here…This [the letter] is not just an isolated situation. We look at threats; we take them all seriously.” If ethnic groups do not want the Japanese or Italian treatment they had better prove their innocence by vociferously supporting US policy.

The US Government bombs the demon du jour—Qaddhaffi one day, Saddam Hussein the next, Osama bin Laden the day after that, with Hamas and Hezbollah as permanent targets-in-waiting—and uses our groveling media to put out lies so as to whip the country into line. The result, Arab-Americans complain, is that the American people have come to see them as madmen or terrorists. Asian-Americans complain that the American people see them all as spies.

It has been estimated that in 1998, 9.7 percent of the US population was foreign-born. In 1980 the foreign-born share of the population had only been 6.2 percent. In 1970 it had only been 4.8 percent. By 2025 the foreign-born share of the population is projected to be 14 percent. Clearly, the United States will find it increasingly difficult to pursue global domination. The more Americans picks fights with just about every country under the sun, the more this policy will meet with opposition at home. Is it realistic to expect Chinese-Americans to endorse a policy to force China to give up Tibet? Will Russian immigrants cheer on a US Government that sheds crocodile tears over Chechens or Georgians? Will Indian-Americans loudly echo US demands that India give up its nuclear weapons? Will Arab-Americans, having seen the power of the Jewish lobby, eschew using their clout to force their agenda on the US? Will Mexican-Americans demand that the United States impose sanctions on Mexico for insufficient zeal in pursuing drug traffickers? Of course not.

Indeed, Mexico may be blazing a trail of sorts. The Mexican government would like to make it possible for the nearly 5 million Mexicans living legally in the United States to maintain their Mexican nationality even after taking the US oath of allegiance. Mexican-Americans would thus be able to vote in both Mexican and US elections. The Mexican government would thus have at its command a huge voting bloc in the United States. Mexico may get to impose its agenda on Washington.

America’s elite does have another option. It can do to the minorities what FDR did to the Germans, Japanese and the Italians.

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