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Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern Americaby Jay Feldman
Synopses & Reviews
A wide-ranging, provocative study of how our notions of democracy, freedom, and tolerance are threatened during political, social, and economic crises.
In this ambitious history, Jay Feldman takes us from the run-up to World War I and its anti-German hysteria through the September 11th attacks and Arizona’s current anti-immigration movement. What we see is a striking pattern of elected officials and private citizens alike inflaming pervasive American fears and prejudices to ostracize minorities, silence dissent, and stem the growth of civil rights and liberties. Among the many examples Feldman discusses are the government’s first efforts, during the Depression, to deport and "repatriate" Mexicans and Mexican Americans; President Franklin Roosevelt’s order of "summary apprehension" of 112,000 people during World War II; and the viciousness of the Cold War anticommunist campaign and the consequent Lavender Scare, in which thousands of gay government employees were fired on suspicion of "moral weakness."
Feldman considers these and other events not as a series of discrete moments, but as part of a continuous vein that runs through American life. In Manufacturing Hysteria he gives us a timely and powerful reminder of the vigilance required to preserve our most basic ideals.
"Critics of the recent Bush administration's infringements on civil liberties — from the detentions of citizens of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin to the Patriot Act — will find a shameful legacy in Feldman's compact history of 20th-century American political repression. Feldman (When the Mississippi Ran Backwards) charts the federal government's 'all out assault on dissent, with a three-pronged attack of legislation, propaganda and surveillance' from the early 20th century on, revealing how 'the safeguards of our liberty are in danger not so much from those who openly oppose them as from those who, professing to believe in them, are willing to ignore them when found inconvenient for their purpose,' as Idaho Sen. William Borah observed during the red scare of 1919. Feldman ably sketches out instances of the trampling of the constitutional rights of Japanese-Americans during WWII and the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s, and offers especially fine analyses of the McCarthy era as 'once again, the American people fell in line with the government, as liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans all joined in the scapegoating.' Feldman's history offers a sharply revisionist view of 20th-century America that eschews triumphalism, and ends on the disheartening note that while 'we have managed to right the ship of state each time' democracy is challenged, 'one of these times we could reach a point of no return.' (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A vital, engaging, and sometimes troubling story of modern America's struggle to live up to its ideals.
In this ambitious and wide-ranging history, Jay Feldman takes us from the run-up to World War I and its anti-German hysteria through the September 11 attacks and Arizona's current anti-immigration movement. What we see is a striking pattern of elected officials and private citizens alike using the American people's fears and prejudices to isolate minorities (ethnic, racial, political, religious, or sexual), silence dissent, and stem the growth of civil rights and liberties.
Whether it's the post-World War I persecution of radicals; the Depression-era deportations of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans; the World War II internment of 112,000 ethnic Japanese along with thousands of German and Italian aliens; the Cold War campaigns against Communists, gays, and civil-rights activists; or the Vietnam-era COINTELPRO operations, we see how economic, military, and political crises have been used to curtail the rights of supposedly subversive minorities.
Much of the story can be laid at the feet of J. Edgar Hoover, but Feldman goes deeper to show how these tendencies have been part of a continuous vein that runs through American life. Rather than treating this history as a series of discrete moments, Feldman considers the entire programmatic sweep on a scale no one has yet approached. In doing so, he gives us a potent reminder of how, even in America, democracy and civil liberties are never guaranteed.
About the Author
Jay Feldman is also the author of the critically acclaimed When the Mississippi Ran Backwards. He is a widely published freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Smithsonian, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Gourmet, The New York Times, and many other national, regional, and local publications. He has written for television and the stage, and is the author of the novel Suitcase Sefton and the American Dream. His Web site is www.jfeldman.com.
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