Paranoid xenophobia in America

I write today in Financial Times that it is hardly surprising that Americans shun foreigners in light of the threat posed by global terrorism:

Virtually every nation state goes through episodes of paranoid xenophobia, and the US is no exception. After the Haymarket bombing in Chicago in 1886, for example, it was revealed that most of the suspects behind the attack were of German descent. Immigrants across the city were then promptly rounded up and arrested by the police.

A similar logic led President Franklin Roosevelt, after the attack on Pearl Harbor during the second world war, to order that more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the west coast be forcibly removed from their homes and put in internment camps surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire. It did not matter that most of them were American citizens. Meanwhile, in Europe, thousands of Japanese-Americans were sacrificing their lives to protect their country against fascism while serving in the ethnically segregated 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Infantry Regiment.

During the same war, America also severely restricted migration flows from Europe, again citing national security concerns. Fear of Nazi infiltration was reflected in public opinion; Gallup released a poll that asked whether the government should permit “10,000 refugee children from Germany — most of them Jewish — to be taken care of in American homes”. More than 60 per cent said no.

Read the full piece here.

Simon Hedlin

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