The Internal Enemy: Wartime Loyalties in the United States from the Civil War to World War II

AHA Session 148
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Continental C (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
Bruno Cabanes, Ohio State University
Mary Louise Roberts, University of WisconsinMadison

Session Abstract

This panel aims to explore wartime loyalties in the United States by focusing on the theme of the internal enemy from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, concentrating on the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. How have understandings of certain populations as internal threats during wartime changed over time? How have they been influenced by preexisting hierarchies of race, gender, and class? How have these perceived disloyalties triggered state surveillance, growth, and political and legal measures to contract the boundaries of citizenship? In contrast, how have these communities understood their own behavior and positions in society?

In reflecting on these questions, the panel will look to both consider the specificities of the three conflicts—understanding debates about security and opposition to the wars (both real and imagined) on their own terms—and highlight the deep continuities spanning them. There is an irresolvable tension between the particularity and universality of various manifestations of the internal enemy over time: while the process by which certain groups were marginalized and identified as being disloyal could unfold in very different ways, it was always influenced by operative categories of racial, gender and class difference. Idiosyncrasies of those groups’ self-advocacy and of the state’s responses were also connected as points along longer historical trajectories like those of federal expansion, the evolution of immigration and internment policy, and the institutional and personal memory of specific groups of internal enemy figures in the aftermath of conflicts. In short, this exploration of the internal enemy in wartime will highlight a phenomenon both deeply rooted to the historical moment and simultaneously transcending time and place.

Indeed, exploring the complexities of wartime loyalties in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and how they were shaped by the particularities of American history and culture looks to elicit questions on how the phenomenon unfolded at different points of time and in different national contexts. While this panel seeks to use the internal enemy as a framework to knit together work on the Civil War, World War I, and World War II, it has greater ambitions to promote and unite conversations that can remain separated by conflict, country and subfield. Within military history, the chronological bookmarks of wars can too often serve as interpretive boundaries, while, within the wider field, there are many connections yet to be drawn between the cultural history of war and wartime societies and other subfields’ investigation of how regimes of social, racial and gender differences have structured past lives. Similarly, a discussion of what was, or was not, specifically American about the marginalization of certain communities should invite historians of other national contexts, as well as transnational historians, to reflect on the process both outside and across any one set of national borders. The theme of the internal enemy, therefore, presents the opportunity to bring together conflicts, approaches, historiographies and, most importantly, historians themselves in a conversation on its storied past and its problematic legacies that are still so visible today.

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