Branded--My Latest Title

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Now in one continuous, fully-documented narrative--the complete story of the World War II restrictions, internments, evacuations and exclusions of Italian Americans. Not to be missed.

           "I want you to know how very much I admire your new book, Branded. It's really quite enthralling and  (needless to say) disturbing. I found myself especially compelled by the last chapter, about 'naturalization' and 'nullification'--two words that I think you analyze brilliantly, almost like great jazz riffs."
                                                          Sandra Gilbert, poet & Emeritus Professor of English, UC Davis



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                ...sample excerpt from the INTRODUCTION 

     One other aspect of the following study bears emphasis here, partly for its own uniqueness, and partly for its relevance to our own time. Adam Curtis in his recent documentary, The Power of Nightmares, has labeled the procedural pattern followed by the government anticipating war as the "paradigm of prevention." By this is meant the general strategy engaged in by governments, in what they perceive to be a crisis, to target and control individuals or, more commonly, whole populations before any criminal or hostile action has been committed. That is, government agencies, like the FBI prior to World War II, made lists of those who it thought might be preparing, or were simply capable of preparing to take some action against the United States once the war it had long been expecting broke out. The entire intelligence apparatus thereby focused its considerable manpower and intelligence-gathering capabilities on people who had done nothing wrong, who had done nothing at all, who were not yet even enemy aliens, but who the FBI believed might intend (if they had the capacity) to take some hostile action. The main reasons for its belief were the usual ones: birth in the country now, or soon to be at war with the United States; opportunity or inclination to do something inimical to the war effort; presumed beliefs that, if true, would align a person with the aims of the enemy; associations with groups that were assumed to be capable of hostile actions. Nor were government efforts limited to suspicion and surveillance, though that is bad enough. The FBI's lists were specifically labeled with the intention they bore, i.e. custodial detention; which is why the main list was called the Custodial Detention Index, or CDI. That is to say, those who were considered suspect, if they were considered suspect enough, were slated to be detained or interned or moved in some way to prevent them from doing what the government thought they might want to do....well before war even broke out. This cannot be emphasized enough: directly contrary to basic due process rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, people were scheduled to be seized and separated from the rest of the population based not on an action they had committed or even planned to commit, but to prevent them from acting on what they were thought to believe. And most importantly, they were thought to believe such things primarily because of where they had been born.
     It does not take much thought to realize that such a paradigm can, if carried far enough, put just about anyone at risk. As legal scholar David Cole has noted, there is no way to disprove such suspicion--it is based on speculation about a person's future actions, and speculation is impossible to disprove--no way to keep oneself safe from such preventive detention. Kings and despots have routinely employed such tactics to pre-empt any action or imagined action by their enemies. But in a democracy, and specifically in the American democracy, such tactics have always been seen as violations of basic rights, the rights enumerated primarily in that part of the Constitution called the Bill of Rights. During World War II, however, those rights were suspended on the home front for those categorized as enemy aliens, and in the most extreme case, against those of Japanese descent who were American born. For that reason alone, it seems to me, this book and this episode deserve the attention of every American who values his or her freedom. For the paradigm of prevention has continued to be used right up to the present day, as the recent experiences since 9/11 and even before, make clear.
    A final note. We who put together the exhibit that started most of the uncovering of these events employed the name Una Storia Segreta to indicate that the defining mark of those restrictions and the people who suffered them was secrecy: secrecy by the government imposing them and secrecy by those who endured the shame associated with them. For my part, in the course of the exhibit's travels, I spoke to numerous audiences about this secret history and was often asked what had inspired me to begin my research into these events. This was a logical question because I routinely made a part of my presentation what I thought was noteworthy and even astonishing: that many Italian Americans whose own families had suffered one or more of these restrictions had no idea of what had happened until our exhibit exposed the truth. 'Yes, but what drove you?' was a common follow-up. Usually I would fall back upon my interest in history, or an encounter with a friend of mine whose grandfather's radio had been hidden under his bed during the war, or simply my astonishment when I first heard that such dramatic events had taken place, events about which I, during my own experience growing up in Connecticut and in all my study of Italian American history, had heard or read nothing.
    Then a few years ago, my daughter was looking into the possibility of getting Italian Italian citizenship, and found that in order to do so, she needed my father's birth certificate and naturalization papers to prove that he had been born in Italy. I emailed a colleague in the Department of Homeland Security I had consulted before, and asked her if she could find the documents pertaining to my father's naturalization. And then came the shock: my father had become naturalized alright, but not until 1944! This meant that he had been, completely unknown to me or any of my living relatives, an enemy alien during the war. I had in fact speculated that perhaps the older people in my family had been enemy aliens--my grandfather, or grandmother, or great aunt. But it turned out that my grandfather had himself become naturalized in 1928, and that was the problem for my father. My father apparently thought that he was covered by his father's naturalization, in a process called 'derivative citizenship.' The problem was, in 1928 my father was twenty-six years old, several years too old for derivative citizenship (the cutoff age is eighteen). So when the wartime came, my father was informed that he had to register as an enemy alien because he had never applied for citizenship on his own.  
     Suddenly it became clear to me not only why we had rightly called our project Una Storia Segreta, but also what the underlying (one might almost say unconscious) reasons were for my persistent interest in this story. Some subterranean part of me must have known, when I first heard of these events on the West Coast, that they related to me not only as an Italian American, but as one who was directly, albeit unknowingly, affected. It took an accidental search to confirm that unknown knowing. And to me, that is another reason, perhaps the most important reason this book needed to be written. Whether or not we, as Italian Americans, or as Americans in general, were directly affected by the secret wartime measures, their effects, whether we know it or not, have extended to us all.

Lawrence DiStasi
Bolinas, CA   2016  

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