However, all citizens should know that our government is only as good or bad as the people we elect and the departments we allow to operate. Our government is not a secret operation. Our government has a history of doing the right thing.
Nearly every major improvement in human rights and human dignity; nearly every freedom we have are the results of national laws providing equality for all American citizens.
It has not been easy. We had to fight to win the right to vote for women. A civil war was fought to abolish slavery and provide freedom for black citizens. And even then, a 100 year struggle took place to wipe out prejudoce, mis-treatment, and in-equality for our black citizens.
So just as I am proud of the government of our United States of America, I also understand that mistakes have happened. One of the bleak periods in our history took place after World War Two. The House Committee for Un-American Activities was (and still is) an embarassment of the US Government that we should all be ashamed of.
The ball started rolling during the war, when official paranoia grabbed some of our national leaders and we locked up Japanese people living in America in detainment camps.
The internment of Japanese Americans in the United States was the forced relocation and incarceration during World War II of between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the Pacific coast in camps in the interior of the country. Sixty-two percent of the internees were United States citizens. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the incarceration shortly after Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
Incarceration was applied unequally due to differing population concentrations and, more importantly, state and regional politics: more than 110,000 Japanese Americans, nearly all who lived on the West Coast, were forced into interior camps, but in Hawaii, where the 150,000-plus Japanese Americans comprised over one-third of the population, 1,200 to 1,800 were interned. The interment has been determined to have resulted more from racism in the West Coast rather than any military danger posed by Japanese Americans.
In 1980, under mounting pressure from the Japanese American Citizens League and redress organizations, President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation to determine whether the decision to put Japanese Americans into internment camps had been justified by the government. He appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to investigate the camps. The Commission's report, titled Personal Justice Denied, found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty at the time and, concluding the incarceration had been the product of racism, recommended that the government pay reparations to the survivors. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each individual camp survivor. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." The U.S. government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to 82,219 Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs.
National paranoia also struck some of our national leaders as "blacklisting" became popular.
The first systematic Hollywood blacklist was instituted on November 25, 1947, the day after ten writers and directors were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. A group of studio executives, acting under the aegis of the Motion Picture Association of America, fired the artists—the so-called Hollywood Ten—and made what has become known as the Waldorf Statement.
On June 22, 1950, a pamphlet entitled Red Channels was published. Focused on the field of broadcasting, it identified 151 entertainment industry professionals in the context of "Red Fascists and their sympathizers." Soon most of those named, along with a host of other artists, were barred from employment in most of the entertainment field.
The blacklist lasted until 1960, when Dalton Trumbo, a Communist Party member from 1943 to 1948 and member of the Hollywood Ten, was credited as the screenwriter of the highly successful film Exodus, and later publicly acknowledged by actor Kirk Douglas for the movie Spartacus. A number of those blacklisted, however, were barred from work in their professions for years afterward.
One of the leaders most often associated with this paranoia is Senator Joe McCarthy. Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) was an American politician who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957. Beginning in 1950, McCarthy became the most visible public face of a period in which Cold War tensions fueled fears of widespread Communist subversion. He was noted for making claims that there were large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the United States federal government and elsewhere. Ultimately, his tactics and inability to substantiate his claims led him to be censured by the United States Senate.
I have a strong interest in the unionization of America and the folk music and protest movement associated with the formation of unions and increasing the political awareness of private citizens in America. And just as Hollywood suffered under the "red scare" some folk musicians suffered as well. Pete Seeger was one of them.
From the 1940s through the early 1970s, the US government spied on singer-songwriter Pete Seeger because of his political views and associations. According to documents in Seeger's extensive FBI file—which runs to nearly 1,800 pages (with 90 pages withheld) and was obtained by Mother Jones under the Freedom of Information Act—the bureau's initial interest in Seeger was triggered in 1943 after Seeger, as an Army private, wrote a letter protesting a proposal to deport all Japanese American citizens and residents when World War II ended.
Seeger, a champion of folk music and progressive causes—and the writer, performer, or promoter of now-classic songs, including as "If I Had a Hammer," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," Turn! Turn! Turn!," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "Goodnight, Irene," and "This Land Is Your Land"—was a member of the Communist Party for several years in the 1940s, as he subsequently acknowledged.
The Seeger investigation apparently petered out after he was transferred to an airfield in Texas. But Seeger was not sent abroad as an aviation mechanic. Instead, he did become part of the Army division responsible for entertaining the troops. In the summer of 1944, he shipped off to the Pacific Theater, and he sang his way through the rest of the war.
Pete Seeger remained an FBI target for many years after the war. In the early 1950s, Seeger was a member of the Weavers folk group, as it became a national act with a string of hits. The group sold an estimated 4 million singles and albums. But as the Weaver reached this height, Seeger became the target of the blacklist banning entertainers suspected of Communist Party ties. A Senate committee investigated the Weavers. The demand for Weavers shows diminished.
In 1955, Seeger was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Asked if he was a communist, Seeger defiantly replied, "I am not going to answer any questions as to my associations, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs or how I voted in any election or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked." He did not plead the Fifth Amendment.
The congressmen running the commie-hunting committee were not pleased. In 1957, Seeger was cited for contempt of Congress for not answering the questions about his political associations. Four years later, after much legal wrangling, he was found guilty after a three-day trial. Seeger was sentenced to a year in prison. He remained free on bail, and a year later, the conviction was overturned when a federal appeals court determined the original indictment had been defective. After that, the Justice Department dropped the case.
While his FBI file gathered dust, he received numerous honors. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972. President Bill Clinton in 1994 awarded him the National Medal of Arts. Seeger entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, as an early influencer. He won Grammy awards. He performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during an inaugural concert for President Barack Obama.
Seeger was 94 years old when he died. His wide-ranging impact on popular culture, music, and politics had survived all the efforts—behind closed doors and in the public—to brand him a subversive and an enemy of freedom. This was seven decades after he first became a target of government snoops merely because he was upset about a racist and unconstitutional idea and, as a private citizen, wrote a letter about it.
These mistakes are corrected as reasonable people realize they have been made. The lesson here is that wrong-minded people can cause bad things to happen and our freedoms can suffer. However, I believe that right wins out over wrong in the long run.
As Woody Guthrie (a friend to Pete Seeger) sang - This land was made for you and me!