The Many Faces of Disloyalty: Fear and the Internal Enemy in First World War America

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:50 AM
Continental C (Hilton Chicago)
Cameron Givens, Ohio State University
This paper examines the construction of various internal enemy figures in the United States during World War I, exploring how reconstructing the landscape of fear can merge the stories of various populations often told in isolation and highlight the connections and continuities between that war and others. German aliens and German-Americans became perhaps the most prominent, countrywide manifestation of the enemy within, as widespread social fears and state-driven intelligence gathering worked in tandem to concretize their disloyal status on both the popular and official levels. The resultant culture of loyalty, however, also drew from preexisting racial hierarchies, gender codes, and labor relations to elaborate the threat of disloyalty around other internal populations. Longstanding racial tensions made African Americans targets of popular suspicion and the state’s expanding surveillance apparatus. The desire for social purity and efficiency led to a harsh repression of female sexuality nearby training camps. And concerns of sabotage at the hands of German agents morphed into policing and suppressing labor activity on a broader level. Through the lens of fear, the stories of these diverse groups begin to appear as variations on a theme.

The framework of the internal enemy, then, offers a way to think of loyalties during World War I in several dimensions: on the different vertical levels of wartime discourse reaching from popular anxieties to official policy; and across various categories of difference like race, gender, and class and how they organized American fears around certain communities.