From Munich to Pearl Harbor: FDR’s Progression Towards War

Moyra Schauffler

During the years prior to American entry into World War II (WWII), president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) actions show his instinct of eventual American participation in the war combined with his practical resolve to keep the country neutral until both Congress and the public would be supportive of involvement. Beginning with the Munich Conference and the subsequent crisis of German appeasement, the president showcased his apprehensions of Adolf Hitler’s Germany while still trying to maneuver his country through an economic crisis and the isolationist tendencies that defined this moment in American history.  As the war began with Hitler’s disregard for the agreements established in Munich and the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, FDR reacted by showing his willingness to take steps to protect the Western Hemisphere, but continued to insist on American neutrality.  When Hitler initiated the blitzkrieg, or “lightning war” on Western Europe in the spring of 1940, FDR immediately reacted by attempting to mobilize American popular opinion in the direction of support for the Allied Powers consisting of Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, among other smaller countries.

The American president’s consistent efforts to assist the Allies but remain out of the war resulted in the congressionally approved lend-lease bill in March 1941.  The implementation of lend-lease increased American presence in the North Atlantic Ocean.  The regular presence of United States (US) vessels unnerved German naval forces in the area, eventually leading to the USS Greer incident and the beginning of an undeclared naval war between the US and Germany. Finally, the entire progression of US preparation for entrance into WWII culminated with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The surprise attack on US soil pushed president Roosevelt to urge Congress to declare war on Japan and initiate a new era of American involvement in global affairs.

In order to demonstrate America’s complicated path to WWII, a map is helpful because it can clearly illustrate how global catastrophes lead to clear US reactions directly involving American diplomats and politicians.  Overall, the map displays how FDR and the United States reacted in increasingly aggressive ways that eventually led to complete support and allegiance with the Allies.  Each point on this interactive Google map represents an event or significant change in American foreign policy that led to entry into WWII.  As is evident on the map, the most significant events occurred on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, with the exception of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  That being said, other events occurred, which signaled another war on the horizon and accelerated US involvement, that are not displayed on the map.  For example, Hitler’s 1935 announcement of rearmament in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, and FDR’s invocation of the Neutrality Acts in September 1939 in response to the start of WWII do not appear, but are still important to understanding the motivations and process the United States went through to prepare for war.

The first point on the map represents the Munich Conference on September 28, 1938 in Munich Germany.  In his book entitled From Colony to Superpower, George Herring cites this conference and what later became known has the Munich Crisis, as a major turning point in FDR’s view and opinion on Hitler’s Germany.  Herring says that, “Munich…convinced FDR that Hitler was responsible for Europe’s drift toward war and might be bent on world domination.  The president was no longer casually confident of a British and French victory in the event of war”(Herring, 515).  As this quote illustrates, the idea of German appeasement in Munich and Hitler’s apparent intentions of bringing the European continent to war concerned president Roosevelt.  Herring goes on to explain how Munich forced the president to realize his country was no longer secured by its two-ocean buffer in the event Hitler chose to use military strength to harm the United States (Herring, 515). Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 only reinforced FDR’s growing apprehensions.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland thereby beginning the second great European war. The place mark on the map sits on Wielun, Poland because the town was the first to encounter Nazi bombings.  According to The Atlantic, Poland officially surrendered to the Germans in October 1939 after losing over 60,000 troops and thousands of civilians (Alan Taylor). Immediately following the invasion, on September 3rd, FDR gave a fireside chat entitled, “On the European War”.  In this radio broadcast, the president encouraged his listeners to remember, “You must master at the outset a simple but unalterable fact in modern foreign relations between nations. When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in danger.”  In this instance, the president recognized US abstinence from involvement in the European war, but he emphasized how interconnected the world was in the new era, and that the country could no longer remain unaffected by the conflict.

The next significant transition in this saga occurred in late September 1939 when the US attended a conference in Panama City with other Latin American countries, where they discussed neutrality, hemispheric security, and economic cooperation in connection to the war (Sanders, 232). The most significant agreement created at the conference, was the “Declaration of Panama”, in which the countries in attendance established a “neutrality zone” extending an average of three hundred miles around the hemisphere and thereby outlawing belligerent ships from committing hostile acts within the area (Herring, 528). This declaration is significant because it highlights a clear step towards American engagement in the European war by enforcing its neutrality through the zone encircling the Western Hemisphere.


Image of William Allen White courtesy of Wikipedia

In April 1940, with the initiation of the blitzkrieg in Europe, the bloodiest phase of the war began.  As Hitler’s attacks shocked the world, FDR attempted to tip the balance of neutrality in favor of the Allies.  The most significant of these attempts involved the president endorsing the creation of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDA).  As a way to mobilize public opinion in favor of the Allies, the CDA worked to “educate the nation about the fascist threat and mobilize backing for aid to Britain”(Herring, 521).  Herring goes on to emphasize how the FDR administration, “furnished inside information, making it appear that the government was responding to popular demand…”(Herring, 521). The CDA provides a clear example of FDR maneuvering his country into supporting the Allies and thereby moving closer to war.

The critical turning point in American policy towards WWII occurred in March 1941, when Congress passed the Bill to Promote the Defense of the United States, better known as the Lend-Lease bill or HR-1776 (Herring, 525).  Herring describes lend-lease as the opening of, “the nation’s warehouses to what was now a de facto ally and providing a mechanism for the first U.S. foreign aid program”(Herring, 525).  With the implementation of lend-lease came increased US shipping in the North Atlantic Ocean.  FDR mobilized the Atlantic Fleet on March 15, 1941 and made clear US intentions to protect lend-lease supplies going to Britain (Schuessler, 156).  As lend-lease transports continued throughout the summer of 1941, tensions rose between the American and German vessels in the North Atlantic resulting in the USS Greer incident on September 4, 1941.


Image of the Reuben James courtesy of the National Archives

The undeclared naval war between the American and German naval forces in the North Atlantic began when a German U-boat launched a torpedo attack on the USS Greer.  The torpedoes missed the American vessel, but after that incident several US ships, such as the Kearney and the Reuben James, sank from German torpedo hits (Freeland, 27 & 50).  These attacks comprised the last phase of US “neutrality” in the war because three months after the first attack on the Greer, the Japanese executed their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

Image of FDR signing the declaration of war courtesy of Wikipedia

December 7, 1941 marked the day when the United States could no longer avoid becoming directly intertwined in the ongoing war in Europe and the Pacific.  Herring describes Japan’s attack as, “…a desperate effort to solve their problems and, they hoped, intimidate the United States into acquiescing to their East Asian design, the Japanese mounted a bold attack by carrier aircraft against the U.S. naval and military bases at Pearl Harbor.  They achieved complete surprise…with devastating results, killing 2,500 soldiers…” (Herring, 535).  The attack prompted FDR to submit an immediate request for a congressional declaration of war and a radio address to assure the American people that justice would be served against the Japanese.

In total, the long process towards US involvement in WWII tells the story of how an isolationist nation transitioned to a role of global leadership thanks to the aggressive policies and rhetoric of its president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  As FDR became aware of  Hitler’s tyrannical actions, he stepped in, to at first defend the Western Hemisphere from harm and later to assist Great Britain and the Allies. Following the end of WWII, the nation would never return to the isolationist tendencies of the 1930s, and instead would become one of the most powerful countries in the world.


Works Cited

Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Taylor, Alan. “World War II: The Invasion of Poland and the Winter War.” The Atlantic. June 26, 2011.

Sanders, William. “Consultation Among The American Republics.” World Affairs 102, no. 4 (December 1939):

Schuessler, John M. “The Deception Dividend: FDR’s Undeclared War.” International Security 34, no. 4 (Spring 2010). Project Muse.

Freeland, Stephen. “‘Shoot on Sight!’: FDR and the Greer Incident.” Sea Classics 34, no. 9 (September 2001). Proquest Research Library.

Research Guide to The Rosenberg Case

The story of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg might well be the most dramatic in the history of US national security.  It involves so much –atomic weapons, espionage, treason, blackmail, high stakes legal drama, ethnic loyalties, political beliefs, family betrayal, marriage, friendship, and ultimately, death.  Students in History 282 will be viewing a gripping documentary about the case by the Rosenberg’s granddaughter, Ivy Meer0pol.  “Heir to an Execution” (2004) provides a unique insider’s view of the story, showing the filmmaker as she tries to come to terms with the legacy of the case for her own, broken family.  They will then use the film to inspire their own reflections on the challenges of balancing liberty with security in age of almost perpetual war.

The Soviet Union detonated their first successful atomic bomb test in August 1949.  Within a year, federal authorities in New York arrested Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  They stood trial in 1951, accused of conspiring to steal atomic weapons secrets from the US Army during World War II and sharing them with Soviet intelligence operatives.  They were convicted of espionage and sentenced to death.   The lengthy appeal of their case transfixed the world, but ultimately the Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953.

Here are some helpful resources on this all-important episode:

The Trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg  (wide array of resources from Douglas Linder, Famous Trials Project, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law)

FBI Records on the Atom Spy Case (read the now declassified case files straight from the G-men files)

New York Times coverage (1951-2014), including these highlights:


US Tells How It Cracked Code of A-Bomb Spy Ring (July 12, 1995)

–REVIEW:  Capturing the Rosenbergs (June 13, 2004)

Father Was a Spy, Sons Conclude With Regret (September 16, 2008)

David Greenglass, the Brother Who Doomed Ethel Rosenberg, Dies at 92 (October 14, 2014)

There has also been some excellent coverage of this case over the years from the Los Angeles Times:

–Robert & Michael Meeropol, Essential Lessons  of the Rosenberg Case (Oct. 5, 2008)

–(Profile of Miriam Moskowitz), 64 Years Later, a Battle to Erase a McCarthy-Era Conviction (November 25, 2014)


Google Hangout With Terrorism Experts

New_america_logo14The New America Foundation in Washington DC is hosting a Google Hangout on the ISIS threat with terrorism experts, Douglas Olivant and Brian Fishman.  The discussion will be live online on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 from 2:30pm to 3pm and then archived at YouTube.  Students in History 282 are invited both participate and / or to submit questions in advance of the session.  Here is a message from the NAF social media coordinator, Justin Lynch:

“Hey everyone, my name is Justin Lynch. I work as the Social Media Coordinator at New America, a think tank in DC. On Wednesday, we will be hosting a Google Hangout on where the war against ISIS could go with two experts, Douglas Ollivant and Brian Fishman. Part of why we are doing this is to give students a chance to ask experts questions. We will focus on questions of civil liberties during the debate, and I reach out and ask if you had any questions you’d like to ask during our event. We will try and get all of the questions in, and even if you can’t make it, the event will be saved on YouTube and we will bookmark where questions are asked.If you have a question for Doug or Brian on ISIS as it relates to civil liberties, or just ISIS in general, email me at, and I will ask it. Thanks!”

Liberty and National Security

Kate Martin

By Emilia McManus

As Kate Martin pointed out in her Constitution Day address last week at the Clarke Forum, the dialogue about liberty and national security is as old as our country itself. Many of the actions taken by early presidents created precedents that paved the way for the national security debate we face today. Ms. Martin sketched a path through history to illustrate the development of this conversation. She began by describing the legal limits set out in the Constitution and by Congress to protect privacy, starting with the 4th amendment and ending with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). FISA is the current legislation that governs the NSA. Ms. Martin also discussed the Supreme Court’s role in expanding executive authority in the arena of foreign policy. In US v. Curtiss-Wright (1936), the court describes the executive branch as the sole conductor of international relations. Since then, it has been read as giving the President the authority to do whatever necessary to protect national security.

In his article “The Constitution and United States Foreign Policy: An Interpretation,” Walter LaFeber characterized the turn of the 20th century as a time of “imperial presidencies, weak congresses, and cautious courts” (LaFeber 696). This is not dissimilar to the position we find ourselves in today. Ms. Martin’s main point of contention with federal surveillance was not necessarily due to the threat it poses to our right to privacy, but rather that it was done clandestinely without the opportunity for public debate.

Foreign and domestic policy have always been linked. The United States faced a number of existential threats in its early years. During its undeclared Quasi-War with France in 1798, the Federalist-controlled Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. Although it was intended to protect national security by mitigating the threat of French influence in Congress, it was decried as a “reign of witches” by Thomas Jefferson and seen as an attempt to suppress anti-Federalist voters (Herring 87). One of Ms. Martin’s chief concerns with the NSA is the threat it poses to both private and public dissent. The Seditious Libel Act was regarded as a similar threat. It parallels the discussion today in that it was a response to a very real threat. Ms. Martin was fairly excoriating with regards to the NSA programs. One of her critiques was that that although frequently there are more narrowly tailored potential responses to security threats, there is no mechanism in place to force the government to choose those options. However, while she described the purported mutual exclusivity of liberty and national security as a false dichotomy used as inflammatory rhetoric, she failed to provide alternate solutions or make a case in favor of the NSA as she purported to do at the outset of her talk.

In general, Ms. Martin’s talk provided a comprehensive overview of the development of the debate over privacy and national security. However, she could have done more to elaborate on how the changing global landscape necessitates new approaches to national security. She presented a convincing case against government surveillance but neglected to address measures the government could take to deal with terrorism that do not infringe upon the liberty of its citizens or damage the integrity of the democratic process.

In Praise of Fear

Credit to Mike Luckovich“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

-Muad’Dib; Frank Herbert, Dune

By Austin Barrington

When Americans feel threatened, we react – we fight back. But what happens when we push too far, when we react too harshly? What happens when we, perceiving a threat, overcompensate and suddenly find ourselves offering threats of our own?

Kate Martin recently appeared at Dickinson College and gave an informational lecture on the Constitutionality of secret domestic surveillance by the U.S. government. Early in the speech, she stated that she did not want to argue conclusively for one side or another; rather, she wished to lay down an understanding of both the pros and the cons of NSA surveillance, leaving for us the difficult work of deciding what actually makes sense.

However, she did not flinch from throwing out open critiques of “government officials in this administration”, claiming that they are convinced they are operating legally and constitutionally; they are convinced that the current legal framework has reduced the risk of government abuse; they are convinced that civil libertarians don’t understand how NSA surveillance works (or that “we” don’t appreciate how useful the surveillance is in preventing terrorist attacks).

And then she said it: “We have built the potential for a police state.” That’s a scary thought – a real and tangible threat. But in order to clarify her vision of what the real threat is, Martin quoted Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell; “Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent. The price of lawful public dissent must not be a dread of subjection to an unchecked surveillance power, nor must the fear of unauthorized official eavesdropping deter vigorous citizen dissent and discussion of government action in private conversation. For private dissent, no less than open public discourse, is essential to our free society.”

Does this actually happen? Has the U.S. government ever actually threatened to become a police state and restrict our citizens’ rights to lawful dissent? George Herring argues that it has, in a chapter entitled “None Who Can Make Us Afraid”; in 1798, fearing a war with France, Congress passed “several vaguely worded and blatantly repressive Sedition Acts” (From Colony to Superpower, 87). These Sedition Acts allowed the U.S. government to imprison any citizens who published writings that even smelled of political dissent; and they were allowed to sunset in 1800.

Early American history aside, Martin herself claims that the government has undertaken two “massive abuses” of its powers in her adult life: once to target political dissent and to change the outcome of an election (referring perhaps to Nixon’s illegal surveillance measures); and then again to claim the right to act outside or even contrary to the law and to do so in secret (referring to President George W. Bush’s extralegal Terrorist Surveillance Program).

So what do we do? We are a people of movers and shakers, we are descendants of revolutionaries and are ourselves reactionaries – we fight back. But let us not react too strongly. As a humble undergraduate student, I advise all of us, myself included, to act with wisdom and discretion in responding to this potential threat. And let us not forget that it is just that, a Potential Threat.

That said, Kate Martin, a certified expert on the legal systems put in place to protect our civil liberties, expressed doubt on whether said legal systems are adequate to protect against a police state. However, she also mentioned, exposing a surprisingly Constructivist perspective, that she believed that the legal framework was not the deciding factor, but rather how well the Congress can function and who gets elected to office (I’m assuming she was emphasizing the Oval Office).

I agree with Ms. Martin on both of these points: no legal framework is perfect and I’m sure we can all agree that electing competent leadership is generally a good idea. I also agree with Justice Powell when he asserted that both public and private dissent are vital to sustaining our American society. But let us act (and react) without fear; let us instead show Prudence by suffering what evils we can in order to avoid, if possible, the abolition of those invaluable forms to which we are accustomed.

Historic Relativity: Historical and Contemporary Apprehensions of Surveillance in the United States

Image courtesy of the New Yorker

Image courtesy of the New Yorker

By Moyra Schauffler, ’15

The Constitution Day Address at the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues entitled, “Government Surveillance and the Bill of Rights”, given by Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies, focused on the history and constitutionality of government surveillance in the United States and what effect the surveillance has had on the American population. To begin the lecture, Martin linked the fear felt by the founding fathers, of European “surveillance” of their newly independent nation with modern-day surveillance of electronic communications and the apprehension created by scandals, such as the one involving Edward Snowden. Martin spent the majority of the address discussing the history of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and its application to contemporary government surveillance. The most persuasive aspects of the lecture were the discussions of fear felt by Americans both in the past and present regarding government surveillance, the Fourth Amendment, and how that change to the Constitution applies to security of the nation today.

The first connection Martin made between historical and modern surveillance referenced John Dickinson and his 1774 drafted petition, in the interest of the First Continental Congress, to King George III. Martin said the petition was meant to encourage the Crown to, “repeal various oppressive laws”, and to quote John Dickinson, “leave to lay our grievances before the throne”. Martin then went on to describe that this petition aimed to stop, in the words of Dickinson, “The officers of the customs” who were, “empowered to break open and enter houses without the authority of any civil magistrate founded on legal information.” By referencing John Dickinson, Martin not only appealed to the audience members directly connected with Dickinson College, but she also alluded to the fear of outside influence and surveillance that gripped the framers of the Constitution, much as it does people today.

Image courtesy of the National Archives

Image courtesy of the National Archives

George Herring also describes this fear of foreign control within the borders of the new nation on page fifty-seven of his work From Colony to Superpower. In this section, Herring lists many of the threats and troubles faced by the Washington administration following the Revolutionary War. In general, the biggest issues confronting the new nation concerned foreign powers’ involvement in North America and the lack of a strong American military or navy to assert the new nation’s independence over its territory. By living through a period under colonization in which “officers” could enter houses without warrant and, after independence, facing European powers that aspired to see the new nation fail, for obvious reasons the founding fathers inserted an amendment into the Constitution that eliminated “unlawful searches and seizures” as a possibility for the American government.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution clearly states the unlawfulness of warrantless “searches and seizures”. By putting this Amendment into the context of the 18th century and the American government’s fear of re-colonization by the British and outside influence coming from other European powers, like France and Spain, one can clearly see the historical fear that the framers of the Constitution had of unfettered government surveillance of the people. However, in terms of modern threats and the “need” for surveillance by the government to keep the country safe, the question of what constitutes “unreasonable searches and seizures” becomes more complex and nuanced in the 21st century.

Image courtesy of The New Yorker

Image courtesy of The New Yorker

Martin continued her lecture explaining that, as communication technology improved throughout the 20th century, the National Security Agency (NSA) began carrying out secret “wiretaps”, or the monitoring of telephone calls, on American citizens within the borders of the United States. Wiretapping became a controversial topic in terms of civil liberties because those against the practice deemed it unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment and those in favor argued that the wiretaps were necessary for national security purposes. Finally, the Supreme Court, who had abstained from making decisions on the constitutionality of wiretapping ruled in United States vs. United States District Court (1972)  that wiretaps were unconstitutional. This controversy only escalated as electronic communication technology skyrocketed towards the end of the 20th and throughout the first decade of the 21st century. In trying to determine the constitutionality of wiretapping and modern electronic communications, such as email and text messages, one has to assess contemporary threats to the nation.

Today, for the most part, Americans do not have to worry about soldiers entering their houses and seizing their possessions without warrant.  Instead, Americans must be apprehensive of government workers having the ability to monitor their communications with people both inside and outside American borders.  Now that Americans know agencies like the NSA have this capability, the question of “why?” arises.  Modern threats to the nation are overwhelmingly asymmetrical compared to 18th century threats.  Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda are a different kind of adversary of the United States than a sovereign nation such as Great Britain.  In assessing these menaces, we as a nation must decide whether these new kinds of threats are worth the increased potential of government surveillance on the American population.

Clearly, whether we should allow more surveillance or not, and perhaps a weakening of the Fourth Amendment, is something that needs to be transparently discussed at all levels of government and civil society.  As Kate Martin concluded the Constitution Day Address, she stated, “There are certainly real threats, the potential for abuse is, as Richard Clarke describes it, a potential for a police state.”  These words summed up Martin’s argument of the problems raised by government surveillance in regards of civil liberties and probed the listener to imagine how the framers of the constitution would address the apprehension and fear created by warrantless surveillance on the American population.

The NSA’s Domestic Surveillance Programs, The Dangerous Balance Between Liberty and Security



By Anthony Scioscia

On Wednesday, September 17, 2014, Kate Martin had the distinct honor to visit Dickinson College in order to give the annual Winfield C. Cook Constitution Day Address. Martin’s lecture was entitled “Government Surveillance and the Bill of Rights” and seemed to have the promise of a strong argument against the constitutionality of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Keeping in mind her background as a civil liberties lawyer, I found myself a tad disappointed that she choose to lay out her argument for and against the constitutionality of these programs. One of her most rousing points on which her speech was centered was her belief that we have yet to engage in the democratic debate necessary regarding the wide ranging surveillance capabilities of the NSA. She asserted that the American people need to ensure that these powers are used rightly against foreign threats and not domestically against American citizens. So can these security measures designed with the intent to keep us safe instead violate the liberties bestowed upon us by the first and fourth amendments of the constitution? The answer is, sadly, yes.

James Madison

James Madison

No one knew better the tenuous balance between liberty and security that Martin references more then James Madison, the author of the Federalist papers and strong advocate for civil liberties. Madison, when speaking on the subject, has said “The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.” This notion has been further extenuated in our US diplomatic history class from the view of scholar Walter LaFeber, who has said that, “Nearly two centuries ago Madison worried that liberty at home might be lost because of danger, “real or pretended,” abroad.” (LaFeber, 717) Can this really be true? Has the government ever used a crisis before to take away my rights as a citizen? The answer again, is yes; history tells us so.

In the late 1790’s in the wake of the XYZ affair, Congress used the crisis with France and a level of public upheaval to push through many of their highly sought political policies. One such policy was the highly controversial Sedition Act which stated that anyone speaking to defame the government whose words were found to be untrue by a jury could be convicted of seditious libel. As chronicled by George C. Herring, “the Federalist passed several vaguely worded and blatantly repressive Sedition Acts that made it a federal crime to interfere with the operation of government or publish any “false, scandalous and malicious writings” against its officials.” (Herring, 87) Although this law only lasted three years, it was the first example of the government encroaching on the liberties of the American people for security reasons.

Fast forward to 1972–almost two hundred years later–when the Supreme Court made the decision on the landmark Keith case, in which the court decided that the warrentless wiretaps that the government was conducting for domestic security issues were unconstitutional. Phone calls were not even protected under the fourth amendment until 1968 and up to this point, the government used wiretaps to conduct surveillance as they saw fit on any domestic persons. In the decision of this case, Justice Powell wrote “history has documented that government has viewed with suspicion those who most fervently oppose it’s policies.” He goes on to point out that political dissent by the people should not be under an unchecked surveillance power. He concludes his statement with the belief that these surveillance powers should not stop the people from speaking in a negative manner about the government in a private conversation. These wiretaps raised the questions of who was really being targeted and for what purposes?

The Church and Pike committees were congressional efforts to analyze and report on intelligence agencies since the dawn of the Cold War. The conclusions of their findings were startling, as they unearthed a history of domestic spying. The scope of this spying ranged from surveillance on the civil rights activists, the Vietnam war protesters, and journalists. The government justified their actions by stating there was a threat of foreign influence with these domestic activities. This was the first evidence we have that the government was using surveillance to monitor political dissent.

FISA law

FISA law

Where do we stand today in the aftermath of 9/11? With this historical context in mind, are we headed to a full blown police state where individual liberties are at a minimum? That is hard to say. It is likely that the mechanisms are in place for the creation of a police state under FISA law, which allows for the government to have access to public meta data through cell phone companies. Public meta data encompasses emails, call logs, duration of phone calls, and to whom they were placed as long as one end of the communication is centered abroad.

As we have reached a point in the 21st century where technology has progressed so far that the government has the surveillance capabilities to monitor every aspect of our lives. The only checks on stopping full blown domestic surveillance are the governments dissgression and the rule of law. It is up to the American people to decide if this so called increase in security is worth is worth the potential infringement upon individual liberties, that history and Madison explicitly warns us of.

A Loss of Privacy in the Name of National Security

By Courtney Wojcik

Kate Martin’s Constitution Day Address at Dickinson College framed the persisting struggle for power between the executive and legislative branches through the lens of government surveillance. Her approach chronicled the loss of privacy brought by the executive’s unrestrained assumption of power and the largely unsuccessful checks employed by Congress. Martin claimed that this has led to the potential for the easy creation of a “police state” (Martin, Dickinson College Clark Forum). Martin presented a convincing case for the necessity of government transparency supported by historical analysis.

This debate stems from the opposing values outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Article II of the Constitution stresses the importance of executive capabilities to protect the nation, primarily through the power to act as “commander in chief” (US Constitution, Article II). According to Martin, this clause gives the president the ability to hide actions under the guise of national defense and has led to the executive’s encroachment on public privacy.

In contrast, the Bill of Rights ensures “a reasonable expectation of privacy” (Martin, Dickinson College Clark Forum). Under the 4th Amendment, citizens are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures of property, limiting the government’s power to lead investigations based on hearsay and unwarranted information. These two opposing ideals, both vital to liberty, have led to a constant struggle between the protection of privacy and national security.

The executive branch has historically usurped the power of privacy by over emphasizing the importance of national security. During the 1798 Quasi-War with France, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in an attempt to protect the government from “scandalous and malicious writing” (Herring, 87). George Herring, the author of From Colony to Superpower, asserts that although the Sedition Acts were a relatively liberal interpretation of libel laws, they were instated in the interests of national security at the expense of free speech.

This violation of natural rights is repeated throughout American history. For example, the 1936 US v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp Supreme Court case reaffirmed the belief that secrecy of the executive may be highly necessary in international affairs (Martin, Dickinson College Clark Forum).

The most recent evidence of an invasion of privacy is the USA PATRIOT Act. Justified by the need for tightened national security after 9/11, the NSA was granted the authority to operate outside of FISA’s parameters. This is concerning because as technological capabilities have increased, the strength of restraints on government has decreased. Currently, NSA has the capacity to pick up all international communications, and most likely keeps records of domestic calls (Martin, Dickinson College Clark Forum).

Congress has attempted to barricade these violations through acts of law, and are periodically supported by the Supreme Court. The 1952 Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer case reaffirmed the legislative power of Congress in “both good and bad times” (Justice Hugo Black). This case established the principle that the president cannot overstep his boundaries even in times of war, and that his power is greatest when acting with Congressional support (Martin, Dickinson College Clark Forum).

The Church Committee, formed to investigate intelligence gathering after the Watergate Affair, was one of the first steps to reform. While they acknowledged the potential of foreign influence, they still called for structural changes to create a system of oversight. Although the Church Committee achieved is goal of increased government transparency, the Bush administration blamed their failure of detecting 9/11 on the very same results.

Furthermore, the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act of 1978, which explicitly prohibited Article II powers in regards to domestic phone tapping, was amended to lessen its restraints. Under the 2008 version, individualized warrants are no longer necessary, and although US citizens cannot be directly targeted, wire tapping is permissible if they are linked to foreign influences in any way (Martin, Dickinson College Clark Forum).

The persistent assumption of power by the executive branch, despite obstacles presented by Congress and the Supreme Court, has created a precedent for Bill of Rights violations. Congress, through the power of the purse and legislative action, has the ability to stop aggressive executives. Until this issue is brought to public attention, however, we have no way of knowing that surveillance activities do not impede civil liberties. If government actions remain classified under national security, there is no way to protect against the loss of privacy. Without the ability to check this growing power, the United States is under the constant threat of developing into a police state.

Kate Martin on Civil Liberty in a Historical Context

James Madison

James Madison

By John Morrow

Kate Martin spoke at Dickinson College last Wednesday about the history of U.S. government surveillance and its implications today.  At this event hosted by The Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues, Ms. Martin sought to answer fundamental questions regarding the processes set up by the Constitution in deciding the legality of government surveillance – particularly on electronic communications.  While laying out the arguments for and against National Security Agency surveillance, Kate Martin examined the historical context of liberty and national security to develop a well-rounded perspective on this issue.

Every year The Clarke Forum invites a prominent public speaker to give a lecture to students in honor of Constitution Day.  I imagine they would have a difficult time finding somebody more qualified to speak on this issue than Kate Martin.  As the current director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington D.C. Kate Martin is an expert on the preservation of civil liberties in the face of government interference.

A study of the Constitution’s influence on national security policy today, however, must acknowledge the circumstances that shaped its creation.  Kate Martin offered us that in her speech by citing two distinct problems arising from the Constitution that hinder clarity on law making today.  “When the Constitution was written,” Martin explains, “there were in some ways two restraints on the power of government.  One was the Constitution or the law and the other was the lack of a technological capacity of the government to listen on everybody’s communications all the time.”  Of course the founders of the Constitution and leading foreign policy experts of a young United States had no way of foreseeing cell phone calls and email chains as a threat to national security.  However, Kate Martin’s quote hints at a fundamental issue – the significant change in the meaning of national security and the resources accessible to the government over more than two centuries.

In 1792, James Madison claimed that “every word [of the U.S. Constitution]… decides a question between power and liberty.”  The power entrusted to the government through the constitution is meant to preserve liberty at home.  The question of how to preserve liberty could not be more different today than in 1792.  Coming off the heels of revolution, the United States of the late 18th century was mostly concerned with sovereignty.  Balancing expansionism, neutrality, and involvement with Europe, the U.S. was just finding its place in the world.  George Herring argues in his comprehensive study of U.S. foreign relations From Colony to Superpower that “if the United States could avoid war for a generation… the growth in population and resources combined with its favorable geographic location would enable it ‘in a just cause, to bid defiance to any power on earth’ ” (From Colony to Superpower, 56).  National Security and the preservation of liberty in the 1790’s is not quite the same as the email hackers and airplane hijackers we face in the 21st century.

With everything Kate Martin said and much that can be learned by studying U.S. diplomatic history it is only natural to want a conclusive answer on what the NSA is doing right and what it is doing wrong.  We live in an exciting time.  The world is moving, perhaps, faster now than it ever has.  Yet this is where it is necessary to be level headed.    In Martin’s words, this issue “is a question that our country hasn’t decided and that we all need to participate in thinking through how it should be decided.”  I believe, as Kate Martin does, that more and more information on this topic will be revealed in years to come.  It is necessary for us – whose interests are directly involved – to come to a conclusion over time together.




Surveillance: Barbarism in the 21st Century?

By Jordan Brossi

I was thrilled to have the pleasure to see Kate Martin, director for the Center for National Security Studies, discuss the burgeoning controversy of government surveillance at Dickinson College’s annual Constitution Day Address. Martin, an expert in the field of national security and civil liberties issues, discussed her take on our nation’s current surveillance dilemma. Martin spent the majority of the lecture delving into the history of surveillance in the United States. And, though Martin described her address at the outset as both a defense of and advocacy for government surveillance, I was disappointed that Martin gave short shrift to her defense of surveillance. Instead, she advocated a sharp curtailing of the National Security Agency’s intelligence gathering power, which eclipsed a discussion of the benefits of the program. In her critique, Martin emphasized the tenuous security environment that the NSA has created, with vast intelligence collection capabilities that could be used illegitimately to capture all communications. It was clear that Martin finds the NSA’s surveillance program unconstitutional.

Although Martin paid short shrift to a defense of the surveillance program, Martin’s description of the history of surveillance in the United States provided a necessary background to the lecture. Surveillance history provides many necessary precedents and parallels to current day surveillance programs and legislation. Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) for example declared that former President Truman’s seizure of steel mills was unconstitutional, for there was no Congressional authorization. Moreover, that President Truman could not use World War II as justification for seizing the mills. Parallel to our ‘war on terror’ or ‘fight against extremists,’ President Obama cannot allow the NSA to continue its intelligence gathering program because of  our interests in fighting terror threats overseas.

Moreover, as another negative consequence of the NSA program, Martin also posited that the surveillance program has built the potential for a police state in the United States. Our federal government is gathering metadata from our private telephone calls, emails, and internet searches, to catch citizens in the US who may be agents of a foreign entity. The program however is the opposite of what our Founding Farmers sought: to be free from the oppression and barbarism of the King of England. George C. Herring describes in his novel From Colony to Superpower the barbarities which Martin alludes to, which in the 1770s encompassed “closing off the trans-Appalachian region, enforcing long-standing trade restrictions, and taxing the Americans for their own defense” (From Colony to Superpower, 14). Barbarism in the late 18th century consisted of the King blocking trade routes and taxing the colonies for their own defense. And, barbarism in the 21st century consists of our government secretly wiretapping our calls. Centuries apart, we face barbarities as did our Founding Fathers.

The NSA’s surveillance program captures data from mostly unknowing, most likely unconsenting, Americans. However, the barbarity does not stop at an infringement upon our rights. Through FISA and consequent amendments, surveillance extends outside of our boundaries to international countries. Surveillance of calls placed from the US to an international country, or calls from an international country back to the US, are what the NSA hopes will expose foreign contacts who are agents of another country. However, we must ask ourselves if we are willing to give up some of our individual liberties to be protected from terror threats. Just as Martin argued, our terror threat may be shifting from enemies abroad to an enemy at home: our government. The NSA’s broad surveillance program has indeed built the potential for a police state. Our phones can be wiretapped, as can our emails and internet searches. Are we willing to be a little less secure in the hands of our own government to be a little more secure from terror groups? That is one question with two equally unacceptable answers.