"This enemy hides in shadows and has no regard for human life.
This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people,
then runs for cover, but it won't be able to run for cover forever.
This is an enemy that tries to hide, but it won't be able to hide
forever." - George W. Bush, 09/12/2001
In his remarks the day after the WTC tragedy, George W. Bush spoke
of the stealth of America's enemies, their ability to "hide in the
shadows", the difficulty of identifying who the enemies are and
yet the urgency of finding them and punishing them for their crimes.
Hearing those words, one understands the desperate need to take
action, to achieve accountability, to identify the enemy. But
where is the enemy to be found? It is precisely this ambiguity
about where these attacks came from that makes the current situation
so disorienting and confusing. As so many have noted, this is a
new kind of war, fought not between nations, but between groups
which operate outside and beyond national borders.
Implicit in Bush's remarks is a concern that the enemy might well
be in our own backyard, that these terrorists, although foreign
born, were working in the United States, had "hidden in the shadows"
within our own communities, even if their actions can be linked
back to some international organization. In a context where the
enemy is a specter, a ghost, a shadow, it is very easy to imagine
enemies where they do not exist and especially easy to direct those
suspicions towards strangers in our midst, people who come from
other cultures, who have other values. The image of a shadow implies
something else - something that is a part of us and yet separate,
something that is neither black nor white, something that is hard
to discern or define. Shadows are blurry and unclear.
Such fears can turn expressions of "national unity" into exercises
of exclusion and historically, war has led many Americans to direct
their hostility against immigrant communities. In the heat of the
moment, Bush made no attempt to caution Americans from directing
their anger towards immigrants or foreign visitors. Bush spoke that
following day of "patriotic Arab-Americans" but this very phrase
reminds us that previous generations have had great difficult deciding
where immigrant's loyalties lay - with their mother countries which
they have left behind or with their new homes in America.
In his classic study, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American
Nativism, 1860-1925 (New York: Atheneum, 1971), John Higham
describes how in other moments of war or national crisis, political
leaders have sought to draw sharp lines between "100 per cent Americans"
and "hypenated Americans" - a term we often think emerges from contemporary
multiculturalism but actually can be traced back at least as far
as 1915 when the Literary Digest discussed "the hyphenate issue."
Nativism, in this case, refers to a fear of foreign influence on
American culture, which often got translated into an anxiety about
the presence of immigrants in the United States. For example, at
the outbreak of WWI, Theodore Roosevelt denounced "alien sympathies,"
describing immigrants as having "poured the poison of disloyalty
into the very arteries of our national life," as "creatures of passion,
disloyalty, and anarchy" who "must be crushed out." In another speech,
Roosevelt tried to distinguish between "German-Americans who call
themselves such" as opposed to "the Americans of German origins,"
asking citizens to decide, once and for all, where their loyalties
lay. His criticisms, he suggested, were directed against "those
who spiritually remain foreigners in whole or in part". A spokesman
for the Iowa Council of Defense captured the spirit of this anti-immigrant
fervor when he explained, "We are going to love every foreigner
who really becomes an American, and all others are going to ship
This desire to promote Americanism resulted in outbreaks of violence
against German-Americans during the First World War, attacks on
German-Americans and Japanese-Americans during the Second World
War - not to mention the "zoot suit riots" which were directed
against urban Hispanics in Los Angeles, and the investigation of
non-native-born Americans as part of the rise of McCarthyism in
the Cold War Era, and against Iranian-, Iraqi- and Arab-Americans
in our most recent disputes. In each context, the image of enemy
stealth led towards a fear of people within our own communities
and as people sought to act on the beliefs being expressed by their
governments, indiscriminate violence directed against people on
the basis of their race or national origins.
Several discussions of the potential attacks on Arab-Americans
reflect this history of nativist backlash:
Questions to Consider
- How can we maintain "national unity" within a multicultural
society without fragmenting our own communities, turning one segment
of the population against another?
- What steps should the government take to protect the safety,
dignity, and freedom of non-native born citizens during a time
of crisis or war?
- How might someone be both a "German-American" and an "American"?
What does such language suggest about the complexity of our identities
and affiliations? Are these categories necessarily opposed or
is it possible for one to feel connected to several groups at
- Why is it dangerous to assume that all people from a country
share that country's views and support all of its actions? Do
you support all of the actions taken by your government? Do all
Americans share the same views, values, and beliefs?
- Is it possible to be proud of your own national identity without
that pride being directed antagonistically about people from other
countries and backgrounds?
- How do we reconcile this history of "nativism" with the words
carved at the base of the Statue of Liberty, for example, or other
statements in American political history which stressed our status
as a nation of immigrants, as a refuge for huddled masses of exiles,
and as a place where "all men are created equal"?
- Ron Dorfman's "The
Media and the New Nativism", first published in 1986, suggests
the ways that older anxieties about "alien influences" still shape
much media representations of immigration.
- One important example of the ways that the issue of immigrant
loyalties played itself out during World War II was the Zoot Suit
Riots which occurred in Los Angeles. These
sites provide some basic background on this incident, which
has been seen as a defining moment in the Hispanic community's
struggle to define its own identity and its own place within American
- This is a
helpful classroom exercise designed to get students to reflect
on the causes and consequences of the Zoot Suit Riots:
- The Zoot Suit Riots regained public visibility just a few years
ago when the neo-Swing band, The Cherry Poppin' Daddies performed
a top 40 song, "Zoot Suit Riots," which many felt trivialized
the incident, turning it into party music. This
interesting site was created by UCLA musicologist Charles
Sharp in response to that controversy.
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