German Subjects Within Our Gate

While looking through the box of pamphlets organized by the topic of the United States, I was in search for a pamphlet focused on the U.S. decision to declare war. What I found instead was a pamphlet about the decision and declaration by President Woodrow Wilson aimed towards German immigrants and people of German descent living in the United States. The pamphlet called “German Subjects Within Our Gates” was written as a collaborative efforts by the Columbia War Papers in conjunction with The National Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor and Columbia University and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice at the time.

What is interesting about the pamphlet is that although the purpose was to make sure that Germans living in the United States were comfortable and did not feel threatened by the United States’ decision to go to war, the use of “Subjects” to refer to the people makes it sound as if they are of lesser importance or under some control by a higher power. The first half of the pamphlet and President Wilson’s speech focuses on making sure that the U.S. government does not portray itself as a dominant, overbearing force upon the Germans in the United States. What stood out to me as I read the pamphlet was that Wilson and the U.S. government wanted to make sure that the Germans did not see the U.S. government  as a threat. There are multiple times throughout the speech and the pamphlet where Wilson refers to the German people as “friends” or “sincere allies”  to create an inclusive environment.

The pamphlet also includes advice such as the one from Attorney General Gregory who states “Obey the Law and Keep Your Mouth Shut.” Along with this advice, there are notices to the people in various sections of the pamphlet that highlight the fact that the government expects them to obey the laws as “the Government is prepared and equipped to deal with any emergency which may force it to intern enemy aliens.” This changes the tone of the U.S. government towards the German people as now it seems as if the government is telling people to make sure they stay on the good side of the government as the government is ready to take action against those who do not stay within the boundaries. The pamphlet also compares the situation with different countries and their approach to the problem with “aliens,” again creating a virtual divide within its constituents.

This pamphlet is part of a series of pamphlets that deal with the different aspects of mobilizing a country for war. This particular pamphlet is the 2nd part of the series and the series is aimed to discuss the problems and necessity of American citizen to meet the national need. The rest of the pamphlet discusses the different systems present in countries such as Canada and Great Britain and their approach to deal with prisoners of war, “aliens”, policy management and the exploration of already existing systems that the U.S. could adopt. While the discussion about the various systems that the U.S. could have implemented serves as a reflection of where the current system came from, the pamphlet also serves as a reminder that the message by the U.S., although seemed friendly, acted as a reminder for people to not undermine the government or face harsh consequences.

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One Response to German Subjects Within Our Gate

  1. Eric Yellin says:

    Really interesting. I like your subtle reading of the layered messaging: Germans who do what they’re told will be embraced; those who give us reason to doubt their loyalty will be dealt with… This fits Wilson’s overall message that “good” Germans were not to blame for their government’s treachery. Either way, the “German subject,” is not really American.

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