As tensions rise with North Korea, Brian, Ed, and Nathan return to our episode on enemies. What distinguishes friend from foe – both at home and abroad – and how has America dealt with our adversaries across time?
View Full Episode Transcript
Note: Transcript is from an earlier broadcast and may contain some inaccuracies.
PETER: This is BackStory. I’m Peter Onuf.
LYNN WESTMORELAND: We used to say, the enemy of your enemy is your friend. In this case, the enemy of our enemy is our enemy.
PETER: That’s Georgia Republican, Lynn Westmoreland, on Fox News, arguing that America shouldn’t trust Iran in a nuclear deal or in a mutual struggle against the so-called Islamic state. Sorting out friend from foe has long been a challenge. Even George Washington took heat when as president, he tried to cozy up with the British. Many Americans saw that as selling out their new ally, the French.
ED: And there were people marching in the streets singing French revolutionary songs. Many people thought a new revolution and a new civil war was imminent.
PETER: On today’s show, we’ll unpack how Americans have thought about their enemies, from drawing them in wartime comic books, to covering them in tar and feathers. Coming up on BackStory, a history of America’s enemies. Don’t go away.
MALE SPEAKER: Major funding for BackStory is provided by an anonymous donor, the University of Virginia, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.
MALE SPEAKER: From the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, this is BackStory with the American Backstory hosts.
BRIAN: Welcome to the show. I’m Brian Balogh.
ED: I’m Ed Ayers.
PETER: And I’m Peter Onuf.
SHAH OF IRAN: Mr. President, Mrs. Carter–
MALE SPEAKER: On New Year’s Eve, 1977, the Shah of Iran hosted a banquet for the President of United States.
SHAH OF IRAN: This reception is particularly auspicious, since it takes place on the eve of 1978. Since the distinguished guest tonight is such a person of good will and achievement, nationally, we consider it as a most excellent omen.
ED: In hindsight, this may have been a case of wishful thinking. Seeds of discontent were already visible in Iran. Street demonstrations against the Shah had started cropping up the previous fall. But when Carter stood up to toast his counterpart, it was evident that he didn’t think much of those protests either.
PRESIDENT CARTER: Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, your majesty, and to the respect, and the admiration, and love which your people give to you.
BRIAN: Carter was in Tehran to discuss, among other issues, a deal that had been in the works for years, the sale of nuclear processing equipment to Iran. The agreement had been initiated under the previous President, Gerald Ford. It was pushed by Ford’s chief of staff, a young Donald Rumsfeld, as well as by Rumsfeld’s successor, a man named Dick Cheney. Most of the Shah should be taken at his word when he said that his oil rich country needed a renewable energy source for the future. Of course, not everybody in Washington agreed.
GARY SICK: There were a number of people who were very concerned that the Shah secretly wanted to build a nuclear weapon, and that in fact, we were giving him the capability of doing that.
BRIAN: This is Gary Sick. He was a member of the National Security Council who accompanied Carter on his New Year’s trip. And Sick says those voices of caution, well, they didn’t have much of an impact. The Shah was a trusted ally. There was a lot of money to be made, billions of dollars, in fact. And as for the possibility that these enrichment facilities could one day fall into the wrong hands, Sick says nobody gave that much thought.
GARY SICK: There really was not any great concern. The Shah was not an old man. He had lots of experience. He seemed to be in complete control of everything. He had a powerful army. He had a very sinister and effective security service. He had everything that you could imagine going for him, and there really was no speculation about the Shah falling.
BRIAN: The deal never came off.
MALE SPEAKER: The Ayatollah Khomeini appears tonight to have come to full power in Iran, as he said he would, in another of those bloody convulsions that have recently swept the country.
BRIAN: In just over a year, the Shah of Iran would be fleeing his country, with the Iranian revolution on the brink of victory. Within a few years, Iran’s new leaders had secretly jumpstarted their nation’s nuclear processing capabilities. And when discovered, they claimed they were doing it for peaceful purposes, and the regime has maintained that line in the year since. Now, Gary Sick doesn’t take their claim at face value. But he’s quick to point out that when it comes to nuclear enrichment, their ulterior motives do have a precedent.
GARY SICK: The policies they’re pursuing basically are no different at all than what the Shah was pursuing. In the Shah’s case, I think what he wanted was for everybody to know that he could go for a nuclear weapon if he needed to. And I would say that the present government in Iran has the same view in the back of their mind. They want everybody to know that Iran is a real power, that if you push them around, they are going to have the capacity to respond to you.
BRIAN: There is one more similarity between then and now, the cast of characters on the American side. People like Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. It’s just that in the first case, they were advocating for the nuclear deal. But in recent years, they’ve been some of the biggest skeptics of Iran’s claims.
GARY SICK: It is ironic. But basically, if you have a real problem with hypocrisy, you’re in the wrong business of international relations. Basically, that’s the way the game is played. It’s not a matter of principle. It’s a matter of whether you’re friends or not friends.
ED: Whether you’re friends or not friends. In other words, huge international policy decisions often come down to a matter of trust. In the case of Iran’s success, that trust was all but hollowed out during the hostage crisis of ’79 and ’80. At the same time, he’s very hopeful about a new deal that would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for allowing nuclear processing there to continue on a limited basis. If this deal is approved, as expected this week, Sick says Iran will have its first opportunity in 35 years to demonstrate that it can indeed be trusted.
GARY SICK: I think a lot of the people who are highly critical of the agreement right now as being less than perfect in the sense, Iran will find a way to cheat. That’s their whole criticism of the agreement. If it turns out that Iran doesn’t cheat, then in fact, it will take the wind out of those criticisms. And I think slowly, but surely, there will be some kind of a change.
BRIAN: So you can imagine the day when Dick Cheney returns to his roots and is back in Tehran, selling nuclear technology to Iran?
GARY SICK: Not Dick Cheney.
ED: That’s a bridge too far obviously?
GARY SICK: That’s a little too far. But I can imagine a US president going to Tehran, as Jimmy Cartier did, and basically, discussing technological exchange. I can imagine that situation at some point in the future.
BRIAN: As of 2015, there are a very small handful of nations with whom the US does not have diplomatic relations. Iran is one. Cuba is another. Many Americans believe it should stay that way, but many don’t. And for the first time in decades, it appears that those people may soon succeed in edging both nations off our nation’s enemies list.
For the rest of the hour today, we’re reflecting on what it means to be America’s enemy. Why have some former enemies become fast friends, while others cannot seem to shake the enemy label? We’ll begin on a frigid Boston night in January, 1774. Things were about to get ugly for a man named John Malcolm.
ED: John Malcolm was perhaps the only person in all of revolutionary North America to be tarred and feathered twice.
PETER: This is historian, Ben Irvin, who has studied the history of tarring and feathering. He says above all, the practice was meant to humiliate. In Malcolm’s case, that involved the crowd parading his befeathered body throughout the city.
ED: But at every stop, they forced him to apologize to the crowd, and they forced him to drink tea until he vomited.
PETER: And despite the cold, the mob had stripped him of his clothing.
ED: His skin was frostbitten. And allegedly, this is gruesome. It allegedly pulled off as he attempted to scrub the tar from his body afterwards.
BRIAN: Malcolm was targeted for a few reasons. For one, many patriots thought he was a jerk, often harassing them in public. But even more damning, he was a British customs agent, the guy who enforced unpopular tax policies. At the beginning of the revolt, royal officials, like Malcolm, were popular targets for tar and feathers. But as the revolution wore on, Irvin says, American patriots found new targets.
ED: As the nature of the resistance movement changes, the nature of tarring and feathering changes, as well. In the mid 1770s, we begin to see groups of individuals applying tar and feathers to their internal enemies. One of the unique things about the American Revolution was that it was a civil war. It was an internal war. There were no clearer ethnic, or racial, or even necessarily religious boundaries between patriots and loyalists. And so within the former colonies, it was very important to the Patriots to distinguish their friends from their foes.
And tarring and feathering was one of the ways that they did that.
BRIAN: In dramatic fashion.
ED: Dramatic fashion. Spectacular fashion, if you will. And so in Savannah, in 1775, the Sons of Liberty tarred and feathered a man named John Hopkins, who was allegedly drinking offensive toasts. We might imagine that he drank to the King’s health, and that was enough to earn him tar and feathers.
ED: In Charleston, South Carolina, in August, 1775, a crowd tarred and feathered a man named George Walker for cursing and abusing America and all her committee men. One of my favorite episodes, in Kinderhook, New York in September, 1775, the young women who had gathered for a patriotic quilting bee tarred and feathered a boy who came amongst them and began to speak against Congress. These young girls, they didn’t have access to tar and feathers. So instead, they used molasses and the tops of flags that grew in the meadows.
BRIAN: So when did tarring and feathering peak?
ED: Well, tarring and feathering, during the Revolutionary Period, will peak in the mid 1770’s. After the Continental Congress urges people to boycott British goods in 1774, but before perhaps the Declaration of Independence, when there are real questions about allegiance, and loyalty, and national identity. It will peter out as the war continues, as loyalists throughout British North America continue to flee for safety. As energies became redirected to the war effort, we’ll see fewer episodes of tarring and feathering. But tarring and feathering persists in American history throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
BRIAN: Wait a second. Hold on. You mean tarring and feathering goes past the Revolutionary War?
ED: Absolutely. Tarring and feathering is stitched through every major social crisis in US history. We see tarring and feathering in the 19th century repeatedly. Temperance advocates were tarred and feathered by their opponents. Abolitionists were tarred and feathered, as were defenders of slavery. In the Jim Crow Era, African Americans were tarred and feathered. Civil Rights activists were tarred and feathered. During World War I, German sympathizers were tarred and feathered. Throughout this whole period, persons who were suspected or accused of violating sexual taboos or domestic relations were tarred and feathered.
So prostitutes, adulterers, cohabitators–
BRIAN: So this expands well beyond what we might call political ideology, or even political interest to all kinds of social concerns and social morays.
ED: Absolutely, it does. I would argue though that it never is entirely divorced from the association of meanings that it acquires during the Revolutionary Period.
ED: To impose the tar and feathers is to lay claim to ultra American status. We, the crowd who tars and feathers are the true Americans. And that’s why it’s so important to cart these people through town and say, this is the behavior that we denounce. These are the individuals that we denounce. And for that reason, it’s really, really useful for crowds that want to assert their moral superiority and to lay claim to a particular set of American ideals.
Ben Irvin is a historian at the University of Arizona. He’s the author of Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty; The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors.
PETER: It’s time for a short break. But stay with us. When we get back, America’s fledgling government is nearly brought down over a French Connection.
BRIAN: You’re listening to BackStory. We’ll be right back. We’re back with BackStory. I’m Brian Balogh.
PETER: I’m Peter Onuf.
ED: And I’m Ed Ayers. Today on the show, as tense nuclear talks with Iran come down to the wire, we’re looking at the ways Americans have to find their enemies. As you probably know, Iran’s status as an adversary has gotten complicated lately, because both countries see a common threat in ISIS. Some call it frenemy status, a situation only American politicians might have recognized.
BRIAN: Back in 1793, France and Great Britain, the world’s two superpowers at the time, were locked in war. They were battling over among other territories, their colonies in the Caribbean. As an ally of France, the United States found itself again in the crosshairs of an old foe.
And there had been increasing outbreaks of violence on British ships. The Navy would stop American ships and would be impressing its soldiers. And the last thing really that the country could afford was a new war.
PETER: This is Francois Furstenberg, a historian from Johns Hopkins University. He says after a costly revolution against the British, the young, fragile United States needed to stay on the sidelines to survive. So President Washington quietly sent Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay to London to negotiate a treaty that would keep the new nation out of harm’s way. When the press eventually caught wind of Jay’s treaty, it created quite a stir. Administration officials tried to explain the logic of the secret agreement to the American public. And Furstenberg says it wasn’t exactly well received.
FRANCOIS FURSTENBERG: Alexander Hamilton harangued crowds in New York, trying to mobilize popular opinion. He was stoned in response to that. People talk about the kind of bitter polarization in politics, as though this is something new or unprecedented. But from the perspective of 1790’s, politics today looks pretty tame.
PETER: John Jay himself quipped that he could travel from Boston to Philadelphia, guided by the light of his own burning effigies. The treaty he negotiated quickly became one of the most hotly contested issues of the day. The thing is it wasn’t just that Washington had to cut a deal with America’s one time nemesis. Many believe he also stabbed the young country’s French allies in the back. After all, only a few hours before, the French had drawn inspiration for their revolution from the American example. And Furstenberg told me, this love for France went back to the time of the American Revolution.
FRANCOIS FURSTENBERG: All of a sudden, France became– the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is the logic behind it. So that is to say that Great Britain, the British Empire and the French empire, had been fighting wars for over a century by the time of the American Revolution. And when the American colonists began their rebellion against Great Britain, this presents a real opportunity from the French perspective and from the American perspective. From the French, they get a chance to detach the British colonies which had done so much to increase the wealth of Great Britain. And from the American perspective, they can gain support.
This is a really unlikely rebellion when they launch it. Britain was a major power. And the colonists had a handful of untrained soldiers. So turning towards France and this alliance with France became the vehicle through which Americans secured their independence. And this generated a huge amount of goodwill, goodwill towards France, goodwill towards the French King. A portrait of the French King actually hung in the US Senate in the early days the republic. I came across some diaries where farmers would say, I need to learn how to read French.
So there was an incredible outpouring of pro-French sentiment, which only increased with the French Revolution.
PETER: So at the very moment in which there’s a rising love affair with the French, the Washington administration plays the neutrality card in a way that alienates the French.
FRANCOIS FURSTENBERG: That’s right. Washington, when he did this, he was really going against American popular opinion. He thought that this was in the interest of the United States. In fact, this was a necessary diplomatic maneuver for the United States, that it couldn’t sustain a war with Great Britain. This would mean the end of the United States itself. So for him, there was no choice. But it meant opposing the force of American popular opinion, which was really pro-French. And the French ambassador at the time, a really colorful character named Edmund Charles Genet, he came to the United States. And he saw the force of this pro-French popular opinion, and he sought to mobilize it to overturn Washington’s policy.
There were people marching in the streets singing French revolutionary songs. There were French officers and French soldiers all over from these ships, which were coming down to the Caribbean. And they were in all these American port cities. And they would be marching in the streets, and celebrating the French Revolution. And this is in the American capital in Philadelphia, and so Washington was really going starkly against American popular opinion.
PETER: And that’s reinforced by his keeping the treaty provisions secret until the last moment.
FRANCOIS FURSTENBERG: Absolutely. For him, this was a matter of necessity. And he was willing to confront popular opinion this way. But it wasn’t a comfortable moment for him. In fact, as the Jay Treaty was ratified by the Senate, it had just the votes that it needed to pass the Senate. He actually left Philadelphia in the morning of that, because he knew that the response would be terrible.
PETER: So this was really a moment in which the government could have been brought down, and we don’t know what the implications would have been.
FRANCOIS FURSTENBERG: In retrospect, from our perspective, 200 and more years later, it seems hard to imagine. But at the time, people were really fearful. John Adams would recall Genet marching with thousands of people, at the head of thousands of people, threatening to drag Washington out of his house, in effect, a revolution. And many people thought that a new revolution and a new civil war was imminent.
PETER: And so first of all, as a Franco American yourself, who has written an excellent book on the French presence in the early American republic, what’s your take on the Jay Treaty, as a partisan? Would you have been a partisan?
FRANCOIS FURSTENBERG: I probably would have opposed the Jay Treaty. I’m torn. I see why people felt so betrayed by the Jay Treaty. It really was turning its back on France. The French had risked a great deal. In fact, the French crown had gambled so heavily on the American Revolution. It was in many ways, what led to the French Revolution. That is to say, the debt taken on in intervening in the American Revolution helped bring about the crisis that led to the French Revolution. So the French had really put everything on the line to secure American independence. And it did seem like a huge betrayal of America’s closest friend.
PETER: But of course, the French shared the sense of betrayal. Genet was surprised, since he thought the American people were behind him, and this was a people’s government.
FRANCOIS FURSTENBERG: Genet fundamentally misunderstood how the American politics worked. He imagined that the American government, as a republic, as a government based on popular opinion, would have no choice but to submit to this overwhelming pro-French sentiment. And he didn’t quite understand that the Constitution and given a great deal of power to the president and to direct foreign relations. And that was, in many ways, the beginning of the divide between the United States and France. And then after the Jay Treaty, France became more aggressive towards United States, and they began to attack American shipping the way the British had been attacking American shipping.
And they began to become much more aggressive in their Western policy, beginning to eye Louisiana Territory, and beginning to imagine a new French empire in North America. And so this was destined, in a sense, to push popular opinion itself, which had been so pro-French, against the French. People began to fear a new French presence in the Americas.
PETER: So the story isn’t over with the ratification of the treaty by the Senate. What, at the end of the day, did Washington get from this treaty?
FRANCOIS FURSTENBERG: What he most got was peace. That is to say, he managed to avoid war with Great Britain, a war that threatened to destroy the United States, at this point.
FRANCOIS FURSTENBERG: The essential context is the fragility of the United States. It’s only just established itself as a new nation, as an independent nation. And its future was really unclear. These are 13 former colonies, loosely allied, with very little in common with each other. They’re huddled between the Atlantic and the Appalachian Mountains. And it’s operating in our context of great power rivalry between France and Britain. These are the two dominant powers in the Atlantic world in the Americas. And the only way for the United States to survive, and Washington was very smart about understanding this.
These early politicians were very smart about understanding this. The only way that it could fundamentally survive was by playing each power off the other. And this was at the heart of Washington’s neutrality policy, of this idea of no permanent alliances. It was to understand that the United States would only carve its own way by being able to play France off against Great Britain.
PETER: Francois Furstenberg is a historian at the Johns Hopkins University, and author of When the United States Spoke French; Five Refugees Who Shaped A Nation.
ED: So Peter, I’m a little confused. Maybe you can help me understand this. In the interview, the advocates of the French proclaimed that they are the voice of the people. They’re in the streets of Philadelphia protesting. But on the other hand, you have a 2/3 majority in the Senate, as well as George Washington, who seems to be pretty popular.
PETER: He’s the father of the country
ED: Exactly. Isn’t he representing the power of the people? It seems to me that popular support here is unclear.
PETER: Well, Ed, you win the jackpot. That is the big and the best question. What is the people? And how do we know what their will is? We might know now, in the 21st century, with opinion polling. But you don’t know that. So yes, George Washington is enormously popular. He has a lot of authority. One of the things that we don’t remember, it’s one of the dirty little secrets of American history, is that during his second administration, there was concerted opposition to him, and his reputation was tarnished.
He was seen to be a cryptomonarchist, if not a king himself, somebody who was sucking up to the Brits.
ED: Well, the Jay Treaty suggested that’s true, isn’t it?
PETER: That seemed to be definitive evidence.
ED: Yeah. So it’s not so clear who gets to define who our enemies are.
ED: Is it the people in the streets? Or is diplomats? Or is it presidents? Or is it Congress? A lot of American history, a lot of American foreign policy has been a fight over that. Who gets determined? And by the way, our enemies have something to say about. That they are not just sitting by and watching.
PETER: And you’re exactly right Ed. And it gets so the second big problem. And that is there is no clear distinction between foreign and domestic policy. We are our own enemy. And so that confusion, that inability for Americans to recognize their common interest against foreigners, well, that’s what we take for granted in the conduct of modern foreign policy. We don’t achieve that, but that’s the goal. Well, that’s anything but the reality in the 1790’s.
ED: And when we see a breakdown, as in the War in Vietnam, it’s one of most painful things of all, when you can see that we simply cannot come to an agreement among ourselves about who our enemies and friends are. Then the country tears itself apart.
BRIAN: When the United States was thrust into World War II in 1941, Franklin Roosevelt’s administration took on the work of defining the enemy in this new fight. The Office of War Information printed posters, churned out film reels, and promoted a united front against fascism. But the administration knew it had to be careful, especially considering the role that propaganda played for the enemy.
PAUL HIRSCH: They wanted to make sure that American state sanctioned propaganda did not look like propaganda coming out of fascist countries like Germany, or Japan, or Italy.
BRIAN: This is historian, Paul Hirsch.
PAUL HIRSCH: It was called the strategy of truth. And what Roosevelt and his administration wanted was to focus on dry facts and figures. And so as a result, the Office of War Information really focused on factual, dry, almost clinical propaganda.
BRIAN: But for some in the administration, the facts simply were not enough. They thought there had to be an emotional appeal if America was to defeat its enemies. So in order to sidestep this strategy of truth, they turned to a hugely popular medium of the early 1940s, comic books.
PAUL HIRSCH: They realized, this is the perfect camouflage for propaganda. All of the ads for cheap toys, and wait bulking kits, and all of these things in comic books. And they looked at the violence and the sexuality and said to themselves, there’s no way anyone would ever look at a comic book and think that the US government had anything to do with this.
BRIAN: And comics could reach a large audience. At the time, sales reached a billion copies a year. And it was not just children who read comics. More than 40% of servicemen read them to. So the administration created an organization called The Writer’s War Board. Its novelists and journalists produced lots of war related popular culture, including comic books, and they also set policy for the industry.
PAUL HIRSCH: The board was supposed to be independent. It was ostensibly separate from the government. But that wasn’t really the case. It got funding and support from the Office of War Information. But because it looked independent, it was able to say things that government propagandists couldn’t.
BRIAN: Comics allow for dramatic plots, extreme violence, and a demonized enemy, things harder to get away with in the office of war information. From the beginning, The Writer’s War Board had no problem portraying Japanese characters as inhuman. As for Germans, well, at first the board drew a distinction. They wanted Americans to see Nazis, not the German people as the enemy.
PAUL HIRSCH: At the beginning of the war, there is a difference between the way Germans and Nazis were portrayed in comic books. Germans, that is, non-members of the Nazi party, were very often presented as sympathetic characters, as people very different than the tyrannical Nazis who were ruling them.
BRIAN: Hirsch says one example of this can be found an issue of the comic book, War Heroes. Protagonist and American soldier is captured by a German U boat, where the Nazi captain tortures him relentlessly.
PAUL HIRSCH: While all of this is happening, the German sailors who are explicitly not Nazis who are on this U boat sympathize with the American sailor. They secretly help him behind the back of the Nazi officer. They tend to his wounds. And then ultimately, they help him escape.
BRIAN: Because Nazi ideology was so racially motivated, board members didn’t want to commit the same mistakes in their own anti-German propaganda. But all this changed as the war intensified. In 1944, comic book publishers started getting new memos from The Writer’s War Board, explicitly reversing this policy.
PAUL HIRSCH: The board condemns all Germans as members of a degenerate nation, whose people, throughout the centuries, have always been willing to follow their military leaders into endless, bloody, but futile warfare. They actually give comic book publishers a template on how to present Germans and Nazi’s.
BRIAN: Soon, the pages of comic books had no sympathetic German characters. That’s because The Writer’s War Board rejected plot lines that didn’t fit the template. One of the starkest examples was produced at the home of Batman and Superman, DC Comics. It was called this is our enemy, and had been drafted and redrafted by the board. This comic book showcased familiar superheroes, like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and The Flash. These superheroes taught Americans about a millennium of apocryphal German history. The scenes were gruesome.
PAUL HIRSCH: They see a German gazing over a battlefield full of injured and dying soldiers. And he gloats. He says, this is what we Germans have always been taught. And then he laughs at all of these young men dying on the battlefield. And the implication is that there’s something inherent in the German mind that causes them to be violent.
BRIAN: This reversal came at a time when the war seemed to have no end in sight. As The Writer’s Board [INAUDIBLE] says, the stakes had gotten too high for any subtlety in its propaganda.
PAUL HIRSCH: The war is dragging. The United States and its allies invade Italy, and they’re having a very tough time of it. The Soviet Union is losing enormous amounts of men and property on the Eastern Front, and what the propagandas at the war board realize is that if they are going to build support for this long term war, they have to explain it to Americans in very stark terms, as a war of annihilation.
BRIAN: Now, it’s not like The Writer’s War Board didn’t recognize that representing an entire people as evil was a problem. In fact, they set out to juxtapose the Nazi’s racial intolerance with comics praising racial unity in America, despite deep segregation in the Jim Crow South. The results, says Hirsch was a cognitive dissonance at the heart of the messages conveyed in these comic books.
PAUL HIRSCH: The US propagandist at The Writer’s War Board are asking Americans to fight hatred and fascism by themselves, hating on the basis of race and ethnicity. And the way this is put across is by explaining that it’s a unique American kind of hatred that’s acceptable in the context of a war, that Americans hate the Germans, because the Germans are a threat to the world.
BRIAN: At the war’s end, The Writer’s War Board shut down, and the pages of comics like “This Is Our Enemy,” ended up as mostly a forgotten fiction. Policy had changed in a postwar world. America’s enemies could no longer be seen as hopelessly despotic people. Instead, West Germany and Japan received billions of dollars in US aid to help build a new future.
[MUSIC PLAYING – THE BEATLES, “I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND”]
We had help on that story from historian, Paul Hirsch, a resident fellow at the Institute for Historical Study at the University of Texas at Austin.
PETER: It’s time for us to take another break. When we return, Americans riot over a shadowey foreign threat, the pope.
ED: You’re listening to BackStory. We’ll be back in a minute. This is Ed Ayers. We’re working hard on a slate of new episodes this summer. We have one about the history of happiness, one on American satire, and another on fire. Head over to backstoryradio.org to let us know your questions and stories. Also, for a special treat in our “History of Happiness” show, we’d love for you to share in one sentence, if you would, how you’d pursue happiness.
Leave us a voicemail at (434)260-1053. Don’t forget your name and where you’re calling from. You can also share on Facebook or Twitter. Our handle is @backstoryradio.
PETER: This is BackStory. I’m Peter Onuf.
BRIAN: I’m Brian Balogh.
ED: And I’m Ed Ayers. Today, we’re spending an hour considering how
BRIAN: Past generations have labeled one group or another as an enemy, and the consequences of that label.
PETER: In the mid 19th century, many Americans saw shadowy foreign enemies within our own borders. These enemies had sheer numbers on their side, and were powerful enough to undermine democracy itself. Who were they? Catholics.
MAURA FARRELLY: Catholics were ill prepared to handle the responsibilities of living in a democracy. That is to say, they were ill prepared to handle the responsibilities of freedom, is what the belief system was in the 19th century.
PETER: This is Maura Farrelly, who has written about the history of Catholicism in the United States. She says that many Americans believe that Catholics didn’t posses the individual reason necessary to be a good citizen.
MAURA FARRELLY: The thought was that they were supposed to always do whatever it was that their priests told them to do, that they were a bit like children, in some respect. And so giving children the right to vote or the right to run for office could be dangerous, because they don’t know how to think for themselves.
PETER: In the 1840’s, the Catholic population in cities like Boston and Philadelphia surged with new immigrants. Rumors flew that these new arrivals were ordered to the United States by the pope himself. His plan? To overrun the electric with voters who could bring America under his control.
BRIAN: This anti-Catholic sentiment often turned violent over seemingly small issues. In 1844, riots broke out in Philadelphia over of all things, footnotes. The Catholic Bible had them to guide readers. The Protestant King James Bible did not. Some Protestants took the annotated Bible as another sign that Catholics were incapable of free thought. When Catholic leaders tried to introduce their version of the Bible to the city schools, many residents saw this as evidence of an enemy invasion.
MAURA FARRELLY: Newspaper editors started spreading rumors that what Catholics were really trying to do was remove the Bible entirely from the public schools.
BRIAN: So did they begin to portray these Catholics as basically enemies of good American school children?
MAURA FARRELLY: Absolutely, that this was a part of the pope’s plan. He had sent Catholic see the United States and the first place to undermine democracy, and that involved an awful lot of different things. But one of the things it involved was getting the Bibles out of the public schools, because the thought was that Protestant morality is the best way cultivate the kind of virtue that democratic citizens need. And so if Catholics are trying to remove the Protestant Bible from the public schools, which they weren’t, but again, this is how it was perceived, if they’re trying to remove it, they’re really threatening the success of democracy.
BRIAN: How many people really believed that this was a real threat? That behind this Bible issue was really a foreign enemy, really a pope pulling the strings over from Italy?
MAURA FARRELLY: Oh, it was pervasive. I can’t necessarily give you numbers. But what I can tell you is that this threat was pervasive, and it was respected and respectable. In fact, in Philadelphia, there was a newspaper editor by the name of Lewis Levin. And it might be a little bit inaccurate to say this, but at least as far as Philadelphia’s concerned, he really was the Rush Limbaugh, or the Mike Savage of his day. He ran a newspaper that was called The Daily Sun, and he editorialized frequently about the growing Catholic threat in the city of Philadelphia. And a few months before the riots actually broke out in Philadelphia, he published an editorial in which he fretted that our government is changing to a monarchy, he told his readers.
And then he went on to say when His Holiness, the pope, will have a king ready sprinkled with holy water to mount the throne in the name of Catholic liberty, this is what he predicted would be happening in Philadelphia as a consequence of all of the Catholic immigrants who were moving into the city.
BRIAN: Got it, which it was not the case, but that was the fear.
MAURA FARRELLY: Right. Rhetoric and reality.
BRIAN: Right. So did folks act on that fear?
MAURA FARRELLY: They acted quite violently. They burned houses. They burned churches. At one point, the priest of one of the churches that was threatened became so concerned that he started stockpiling armaments in the church, which then just only exacerbated the situation.
MAURA FARRELLY: It’s not really clear the numbers. It’s believed that at least 15 people were killed, but it may have been more than that. More than 50 people were injured. And at least $150,000 in property damage was done. And just to put that in perspective, at this point in time, in Philadelphia, average household income was about $900 a year.
BRIAN: Maura, I know that there was violence against Catholics in the 19th century, and it even bled into the 20th century. And surely, there’s prejudice against Catholics, even today. But what I really want to know is when did Catholics stop being seen as enemies of the state?
MAURA FARRELLY: Until recently, I was under the impression that there was no more anti-Catholicism in the United States. But I did recently publish an article online that was about the history of anti-Catholicism. And woo, let me tell you some of the trolls that have posted comments to that article have alerted me to the fact that there is still some element of anti-Catholicism in the United States today.
BRIAN: You’re talking about and some guy sitting in his underwear in the basement there. You’re not associating that with respectable opinion anymore?
MAURA FARRELLY: Not at all. But that was respectable opinion in the United States really up through the election of John F. Kennedy and a little bit beyond. It’s really only been within the last 50 or 60 years or so, I would say, that anti-Catholicism has not become a respectable fear.
BRIAN: But in spite of that, Maura, there are those who see Muslims today, those who practice the Islamic religion, as being controlled or dominated by foreign religiously motivated fanatics. Do you think America needs to have enemies like, and you can fill in the blank, we talked about Catholics today. But it could’ve been the Mormons. It could’ve been atheistic communists in the 1950s.
MAURA FARRELLY: It was atheistic communist.
BRIAN: So would you say that Americans have a need to have an enemy of the state who is controlled by some kind of power from outside of America?
MAURA FARRELLY: Well, I would throw it back to you. And I’d say, when you tell somebody that you’re an American, when you say, I am an American, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that we have a common ethnicity, a common race, a common religion. We do have a common history. But I think American an identity is at its core, just an idea. That’s what we root ourselves in is we are an idea.
BRIAN: And is that idea independence?
MAURA FARRELLY: Freedom. I was going to say freedom. I’ll take independence, freedom defined as independence.
MAURA FARRELLY: And I do think that we need to self-consciously define ourselves as a nation in a way that the residents of many other nations do not have to and never have had to. And there is a really quick, and easy, and dirty way to define yourself, and that’s to point to what you are not, and to say, we are not that.
BRIAN: But what about what we’ve become? What about the history of these Catholics seen as the enemy by many in the 19th century, turning into some of the best Americans? Why do we remember that when we’re so worried about control of folks who think a little bit differently or appear to think a little bit differently?
MAURA FARRELLY: Well, maybe we could say we have the freedom to do that, because new enemies have moved in. We really can’t let go of our old enemy until we have a new enemy. And so it is not without reason that era of good feeling that I talked about is developing in the last 50 years or so happened when it did. It happened really at some of the most salient parts of the Cold War, when we were more concerned about communists in Russia than we were about Catholics in the United States. Say what you will about Catholics, at least they believe in God.
BRIAN: Maura Farrelly is a professor of American studies at Brandeis University. She’s the author of Papist Patriots, The Making of an American Catholic Identity. We’re going to shift away from imagined enemies to ones that have walked among us for centuries, spies.
OLEG KALUGIN: My name is Oleg Kalugin. I’m a former Soviet intelligence officer. That was my main job, to recruit Americans to work for the Soviet Union.
BRIAN: Oleg Kalugin says he knew he wanted to be a spy as early as his teenage years. When he graduated high school in 1953, he joined the KGB. The KGB, like the CIA, took advantage of the cultural exchange programs established between the Eisenhower and Khrushchev administrations at the time. When Kalugin landed in New York City in 1958, the Soviet intelligence agency told Kalugin to get acquainted with the city and the American people.
PETER: He found Times Square’s ubiquitous advertisements to be vulgar, and was shocked at the homelessness in lower Manhattan. But Kalugin found the American people quite friendly.
OLEG KALUGIN: I was not supposed to recruit anyone, that I was in training for the Soviet’s intelligent system. But I just accidentally almost recruited the man, an American, who had access to classified information. This man I bumped into on the campus of Columbia University, and we struck a conversation. And he said in the first minutes of our conversation that he hates Khrushchev, because he betrayed the cause of communism. Khrushchev was the leader of the Soviet Union at the time.
I said, come on, listen. Why don’t we go to the cafeteria, and we’ll talk about what’s happening. So I told him, if you want Russia to become, or the Soviet Union to become a stronger, more powerful nation, why don’t you share your knowledge or experience with the Soviets, and that will be your contribution to the better life of the Soviet people?
PETER: It turned out the man worked for a major American military contractor and had access to classified information about advanced weaponry. The KGB thought Kalugin might have an FBI agent on his hands, but they gave him the go ahead for another meeting.
OLEG KALUGIN: He brought some samples and documents, classified at that time. And that was the beginning of my career.
PETER: Kalugin’s job, after that moment, only got more interesting. He traveled around the country, recruiting other informants, while under the cover of a journalist for Radio Moscow.
BRIAN: By the 1970’s, Kalugin was a big shock. He helped run the KGB’s Washington office, becoming the youngest general in that agency’s history. He eventually returned to Moscow as head of foreign counterintelligence. When the Soviet Union crumbled, Kalugin forged a new life, as a businessman. He served as Vice President of a Russian telecommunications partnership with AT&T, and he continued to navigate between the two worlds of Russia and the United States, until 2001.
OLEG KALUGIN: I was summoned by the prosecutor of the United States to come down to Florida as a witness at the trial of Colonel Trofimoff, the man who was a Soviet source for many years.
BRIAN: Kalugin testified against a retired American colonel and fellow Soviet spy. Now, you might assume that a decade after the Soviet system fell apart, there wouldn’t be much danger of retribution. Unfortunately, for Kalugin, Russia had a new leader.
OLEG KALUGIN: At some point, one of my former subordinates, by name, Vladimir Putin, called me once publicly a traitor. And I said, how could you call me a traitor without due legal process? Aren’t you a graduate of the law school of Leningrad University? I am ashamed of you, people like you.
BRIAN: Kalugin and Putin threw barbs back and forth in the press. Kalugin even accused the new president of having committed war crimes in Chechnya in the mid 1990s. Kalugin soon realized that he would not return to Russia.
OLEG KALUGIN: And a few months later, the Russian military tribunal charged me officially with treason.
BRIAN: And so after a life spent trying to get Americans to betray their own country, Kalugin was labeled a traitor in his own homeland. Yet, even in his spying days, Kalugin says he didn’t quite see the US as an enemy. What he enjoyed most about the work was an ideological, he says. It was the mechanics of the job. It was traveling around the United States. It was chatting up strangers. It was building relationships.
OLEG KALUGIN: Meeting hundreds of people, just trying to select those who may be eventually of use to you and your service. That’s a great job, I tell you. I liked it.
BRIAN: Kalugin told us that the warm welcome he received wherever he went, made his intelligence work easy. Ultimately, it was that same warmth and trust that made it possible for Kalugin to call America his home. Oleg Kalugin teaches at the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies in Alexandria, Virginia.
[MUSIC – JOHNNY CASH WITH THE CARTER FAMILY, “DON’T TAKE EVERYBODY TO BE YOUR FRIEND”]
PETER: That’s going to do it for us today. But you can keep the conversation going online. We’d love to hear what you thought of today’s show, and also want your help in shaping our upcoming episodes. We’ve got shows in the works on the history of happiness, American satire, and even fire. Drop us a line at backstoryradio.org, or send us an email at email@example.com. We’re also on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter at Backstoryradio. Whatever you do, don’t be a stranger or an enemy.
BRIAN: BackStory is produced by Tony Field, Nina Earnest, Andrew Parsons, Kelly Jones, Emily Gadek, and Robert Armengol. Jamal Millner is our engineer. We have help from Henry Wiencek. A special thanks this week to Joseph Henning and Sam Haselby. BackStory’s executive producer is Andrew Wyndham.
[MUSIC – JOHNNY CASH WITH THE CARTER FAMILY, “DON’T TAKE EVERYBODY TO BE YOUR FRIEND”]
Major support for BackStory is provided by the anonymous donor, the University of Virginia, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Additional funding is provided by Weinstein Properties, by the Tomato Fund, cultivating fresh ideas in the arts, the humanities, and the environment, and by History Channel, history made every day.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Brian Balogh is Professor of History at the University of Virginia. Peter Onuf is professor of history emeritus at UVA, and senior research fellow at Monticello. Ed Ayers is president and professor of history at the University of Richmond. BackStory was created by Andrew Wyndham for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.
[MUSIC – JOHNNY CASH WITH THE CARTER FAMILY, “DON’T TAKE EVERYBODY TO BE YOUR FRIEND”]
BRIAN: Backstory is distributed by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.