1940 July 15

War Preparations Threaten Civil Liberties, Says ACLU


An ACLU report, “In the Shadow of War,” released on this day warned that preparations for war (which had already broken out in Europe and Asia) were threatening civil liberties. “No such critical situation has confronted democratic liberties” since World War I, the ACLU charged. Propaganda against “fifth columnists,” it said, had encouraged intolerance against alienists, German-American Bund members, and Communists. Across the country, mob violence had been directed against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The ACLU also “deplored” President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s September 1939 order (September 6, 1939) that the FBI investigate “subversive activities.”

The ACLU report, however, did not anticipate the greatest violation of civil liberties in World War II, President Roosevelt’s order, on February 19, 1942, to evacuate all Japanese-Americans from the West Coast following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Learn more about the ACLU during World War II: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

And more about the Japanese-American tragedy: Peter Irons, Justice At War: The Story of the Japanese-American Internment Cases (1983)

Learn about free speech in WW II: Richard W. Steele, Free Speech in the Good War (1999)

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