Vigilant Citizens: Then vs. Now

This is from Atomic Bombing: How to Protect Yourself, published in 1950:

Of course, millions of us will go through our lives never seeing a spy or a saboteur going about his business. Thousands of us may, at one time or another, think we see something like that. Only hundreds will be right. It would be foolish for all of us to see enemy agents lurking behind every tree, to become frightened of our own shadows and report them to the F.B.I.

But we are citizens, we might see something which might be useful to the F.B.I. and it is our duty to report what we see. It is also our duty to know what is useful to the F.B.I. and what isn't.

[...]

If you think your neighbor has "radical" views -- that is none of your or the F.B.I.'s business. After all, it is the difference in views of our citizens, from the differences between Jefferson and Hamilton to the differences between Truman and Dewey, which have made our country strong.

But if you see your neighbor -- and the views he expresses might seem to agree with yours completely -- commit an act which might lead you to suspect that he might be committing espionage, sabotage or subversion, then report it to the F.B.I.

After that, forget about it. Mr. Hoover also said: "Do not circulate rumors about subversive activities, or draw conclusions from information you furnish the F.B.I. The data you possess might be incomplete or only partially accurate. By drawing conclusions based on insufficient evidence grave injustices might result to innocent persons."

In other words, you might be wrong. In our system, it takes a court, a trial and a jury to say a man is guilty.

It would be nice if this advice didn't seem as outdated as the rest of the book.

Posted on July 1, 2010 at 1:05 PM • 29 Comments

Comments

periJuly 1, 2010 3:21 PM

(I did mean to link to his McCarthy's _whole_ senate career; you can't just open the book of his life in the middle!)

jeffJuly 1, 2010 3:24 PM

@Casey

"Is the advice outdated? How so?"

Bruce said "seem as outdated". I believe the point is that it isn't really outdated, but no one in power seems to be following it.
jeff

NilsJuly 1, 2010 3:49 PM

Casey, I think Bruce is saying that the advice seems outdated because the current advice is to spy on everybody and report everything. Bruce wishes that the current advice were more like the 1950's advice, hence, "it would be nice if this advice didn't seem... outdated".

GaryJuly 1, 2010 4:09 PM

This was outdated a quarter century ago. Compare Atty Genl Ed Meese, circa 1985: "Suspects who are innocent of a crime should [have Miranda protections]. But the thing is, you don't have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That's contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect."

daveJuly 1, 2010 4:48 PM

in related news, "parking lot professionals" are now being trained as "as the next line of defense in the fight against terrorism": http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/06/30/parking.lot.security/index.html

apparently "The Times Square incident highlighted the need for ordinary citizens to be trained to become extra eyes and ears of law enforcement, according to officials involved in the program."

didn't that incident, if anything, prove that any ordinary citizen with half a brain doesn't need training to call 911 if they see a car with smoke coming out?

RayJuly 1, 2010 4:55 PM

The advice is still perfectly sound, and as you noted, it only "seems" outdated. This is probably because it flies in the face of the fearmongering of the current day.

That said, it just looks like you had a hard time finding the right words on which to end your post. ;-)

BetaJuly 1, 2010 5:53 PM

It is a sad, sad state of affairs when a document like this reads like sweet poetry.

LouisJuly 1, 2010 8:13 PM

To anyone who does not understand Bruce's comment...

Writing to the general public requires a certain language, like writing technical manuals, or such.

This piece is incredible, in two ways.

Firstly and not obvious, the language is rather intelligent to the reader, not obnoxious and not undermining, it is very clear and brings rather well a point.

Secondly, and obviously, it sends a message of calm and not fear to the public. To basically express that giving to fear yield errors, errors that can ruin people, or be counter-productive to authorities.

Nowadays, the message is usually the opposite: the tone is condescendant and the public is presumed of lesser intelligence than the writer. In that respect, fear is now presented as the solution, as the public should be giving to fear and leave the "thinking" part to the professionnals.

SteveJuly 1, 2010 8:29 PM

Of course, Mr Hoover often ignored his own advice, giving us the "McCarthy Era".

kangarooJuly 1, 2010 9:48 PM

If you think your neighbor has "radical" views -- that is none of your or the F.B.I.'s business.

But if you see your neighbor -- and the views he expresses might seem to agree with yours completely -- commit an act which might lead you to suspect that he might be committing espionage, sabotage or subversion, then report it to the F.B.I.

So, don't report your neighbor if he's "radical" -- but only if he's "subversive".

I'm thinkin' that radical is meant fairly narrowly here -- as in, don't report him for being a democrat, but do report him for being a social democrat.

I'm not sure this is good advice at all, unless you read it anachronistically.

foxpJuly 2, 2010 1:09 AM

Anyone that saw 'Arlington Road' knows exactly who to look out for as the neighbour's wife was apparently the most dangerous :-)
And these were 'Good Americans' no less.

tensorJuly 2, 2010 1:19 AM

"I'm not sure this is good advice at all, unless you read it anachronistically."

The United States and Stalin's Soviet Union were allied during WWII, an arrangement loudly advocated by Communists within the United States, for the obvious reason we were all fighting fascism. By 1950, it was still possible for an American not to know the true nature of Stalin's regime, so it was still possible to be a good American and good Communist at the same time. The Korean War, which started in 1950, was the first time America and Stalin were in actual, fighting opposition. Only after this could holding radical ideas be considered problematic, and even then the advice holds: consider actions, not words.

DavidJuly 2, 2010 2:52 AM

Given how we are always told that the 50's were a decade of paranoia about the Red Peril, what does this sensible advice make us look like now?

uk visaJuly 2, 2010 3:49 AM

"In other words, you might be wrong. In our system, it takes a court, a trial and a jury to say a man is guilty.

It would be nice if this advice didn't seem as outdated as the rest of the book."

It's not 'outdated', it's wrong and was wrong then - one only has to look at how Walt Disney rid himself of anybody who thought favourably of unions.

America in not, and has never been, a good place to have socialist or union positive views - views that would be considered 'normal' in most of the civilised world are still seen as 'radical' in the US, sadly.

Fat ManJuly 2, 2010 9:20 AM

Hmm. The link won't pass my employer's filters.

"In our system, it takes a court, a trial and a jury to say a man is guilty." In how many countries is this still true? And now-a-days, simple accusation can ruin the remainder of a person's life.

alreadyonthelistJuly 2, 2010 11:28 AM

Its chilling to see how history repeats itself. The FBI used to watch Dr. King too.

@Fat Man I wish you were wrong, but you are right.

Change the language around on that piece and you've got the current Patriot Act protected "watch" program. I wish I'd listened to my grandfather about McCarthyism. He said "they could take anything away from you with no evidence, your job, you could lose everything just because of a jealous neighbor"

He told me "dont' sign anything when you go to college," that is petitions, etc. "the FBI will put you on a list" I didn't think Americans should have to live like that, but that's how things are now. Ask your congressman to oppose torture and you get stalked from pillar to post by the DOJ contractors. Welcome to the Domestic Terror Watch List.

Good thing grandpa's not alive to see all the watch programs, the NIMS, ATA Highway Watch, fusion centers, etc.

Hiding Behind the PaperJuly 2, 2010 11:34 AM

@Fat Man
"And now-a-days, simple accusation can ruin the remainder of a person's life."

And as someone once said (and, unfortunately, I can't cite a reference):
"When you're accused of a crime, it's on page 1; when you're later found innocent, it's on page 6."

AdamJuly 2, 2010 12:38 PM

> In our system, it takes a court, a trial and a jury to say a man is guilty.

See also: Guantanamo.

NemoJuly 2, 2010 1:45 PM

@Hiding Behind the Paper
"When you're accused of a crime, it's on page 1; when you're later found innocent, it's on page 6."

...and when the government simply drags its feet and lets you squirm, without prosecution, until the statute of limitations runs out, it never makes the paper at all, and your more paranoid acquaintances all decide you've struck some sort of shady deal. God bless the passive snitch jacket, no?

JimFiveJuly 2, 2010 2:24 PM

@Kangaroo
I think the point is that your neighbors espoused views don't matter. It is the actions that count.
--
Jimfive

Mauro SJuly 2, 2010 7:25 PM

> In our system, it takes a court, a trial and a jury to say a man is guilty.

Or a CIA operative drops a hellfire missile on a village of a country the US has diplomatic relations and is not at war, on "suspected" terrorists. No trial, no hint of any judicial process.

I never thought there would be the day when Edgar Hoover would say "liberal" stuff and be on the left of political spectrum.

As Bill Maher said, "the center has moved Right, and the Right has moved into the insane asylum".

periJuly 4, 2010 5:34 PM

So I am going to be celebrating the 4th by reporting suspicious people to the appropriate agency. I will be counting how many cobs of corn people eat today and I will be reporting people who eat the wrong number.

The lower 1/3 will be reported to the INS because they obviously aren't American. The upper 2/3 will be reported to the ATF because they are obviously hoarders. The middle 1/3 will be reported to the FBI as sleeper agents of foreign governments because they knew to eat just the right amount.

I just have a couple questions: who should I report when I start hearing bombs going off later and to whom should I make the report?

Oh and if you are celebrating then have a great Independence Day.

BenJuly 4, 2010 6:13 PM

Hey Bruce. You mentioned jack-booted thugs once then regretted your reaction. I can't support this in any form, but here's your jack booted thug and why the perception exists (they really *are* jack-booted thugs). You don't usually encounter them because you are living a coochy existence, like everyone else.

anonJuly 4, 2010 10:22 PM

From Edwin R. Morrow - Edward R. Murrow:
A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy
See it Now (CBS-TV, March 9, 1954)

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular."

Z. ConstantineJuly 9, 2010 8:46 PM

The advice makes sense for a bureaucracy organized around telephones and file folders (sufficient false reports would make the problem of tracking anything well nigh impossible), however, advances in data archival and retrieval make it possible to track most everything - why not keep an eye on everyone?

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