Miller Center

Colloquium - German Enemy Aliens in the First World War and the Making of Modern American Citizenship

Chris Capozzola
September 7, 2007
12:30PM - 12:30PM (EDT)

Chris Capozzola
Chris Capozzola

Chris Capozzola, Associate Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

During World War I, in the midst of an ongoing national debate about citizenship, immigration, and radicalism – and following in the wake of several high-profile attempts by German agents at sabotage and espionage – the United States government and the American public placed German Americans under official and unofficial surveillance. Approximately 6,000 people were interned over the course of the war, only a handful of which were German soldiers or sailors; in fact, many were non-citizen radicals condemned as “pro-German” and destined for deportation in the postwar Red Scare. These years represent a historical moment when the power of the American state was not yet fully articulated, and just as importantly, a time when the meanings of citizenship – both in the legal and institutional sense as well as in public political discourse – were contested and contingent. The regulation of German citizens during the war provided key precedents for U.S. policy during World War II and the Cold War, and contributed to the foundation of such modern 20th-century institutions as the FBI and INS. Deciphering this wartime policymaking is crucial for a broader understanding of the conception of citizenship in 20th-century America. This paper, part of a larger study on citizenship and coercion in World War I, draws on official government documents as well as the writings of enemy aliens themselves, to examine how the modern American state was constructed at its borders.

Chris Capozzola is the Lister Brothers Career Development Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He specializes in the political and cultural history of the United States from 1861 to 1945 and is currently completing work on a book, which is tentatively titled Uncle Sam Wants You: The Politics of Obligation in America's First World War. In addition he is also researching the experiences of Filipino soldiers and sailors in the armed forces of both the United States and the Philippines for a future publication, Following the Flag: Filipino Soldiers in America’s Pacific Century: 18982001. His articles and essays have appeared in many journals, including American Quarterly, Georgetown Law Journal, and Journal of American History.

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