Andrea Friedman. Citizenship in Cold War America: The National Security State and the Possibilities of Dissent. Culture, Politics, and the Cold War Series. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014. 288 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-62534-068-9; $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-62534-067-2.
Reviewed by Michael Brenes (The City University of New York)
Published on H-Diplo (March, 2015)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)
Citizenship and the National Security State
Andrea Friedman has written a compelling and important book on citizenship and national identity during the Cold War. With Citizenship in Cold War America, Friedman has challenged the premises of scholarship on the early Cold War in the United States as a time characterized by unbridled and all-encompassing repression of dissent. Rather than looking at how a culture of anti-communism silenced critics of the Cold War, Friedman looks at the successes achieved by such dissenters during the Second Red Scare. Citizenship in Cold War America argues that the totalizing features of the national security state offered room for negotiation and the reimagining of citizenship after 1945, as critics of US foreign policy opened fissures in the Cold War consensus, exposing its contradictions and forcing the federal state to accommodate the concerns of dissidents. She carefully unveils her argument with a series of well-selected case studies, each highlighting the multiple opportunities gained by activists within the political, legal, and cultural limits of the Cold War state. Written in lucid prose, Friedman’s book is a well-constructed reexamination of this period, and is a must-read for scholars interested in the domestic Cold War.
Friedman specifically focuses on how issues of race and gender led to broader changes in citizenship. Inequities between race and gender, she argues, served to frame contentious discussions over who belonged in the body politic. Her overall aim is to explore how disparities between categories of race and gender led to breaking new discursive ground for understanding citizenship in the United States after 1945. While this general argument is not new to the scholarship on post-1945 political history, the particular application of Friedman’s theoretical framework to the context of the national security state is quite novel. In showing the multiple “ways in which race, gender, and other categories (ethnicity, sexuality, age) work together to distribute citizenship unequally,” Friedman demonstrates how individuals then used their marginalized status against their critics by appealing to a discourse of national security that gained saliency during the Cold War (p. 12). When dissidents framed their injustice as a matter of a national security, they simultaneously showed how national security concerns perpetuated said injustice at a time of increased concern over individual and human rights. As a result, Cold War dissidents in the 1940s and early 1950s broke down the gendered and racialized barriers to citizenship, paving a path toward greater civic equality in later decades.
In situating her discussion of race and gender roles in pushing against the boundaries of the Cold War state, Friedman offers readers a rendering of citizenship that goes beyond civil obligations and the legal rights of citizens. She argues that citizenship in Cold War America was psychological as much as it was sociopolitical. Her text is bookended by this analysis of psychological citizenship, which does much to shape the arc of her narrative. When the Cold War invaded the civic psyche of Americans, it made anti-communism a ubiquitous and insidious feature of everyday life, one that seemed rational despite its perverse irrationality. To be a communist was to be inscrutably pathological and psychologically deficient. To prove this point, Friedman mines the memoirs of former communists who explained their prior faith in communism as a product of their “loneliness” and isolation; their personal insecurities made them an egregious threat to national security (p. 39). Leading writers and thinkers like Hannah Arendt, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and K. A. Cuordileone further legitimized the idea that “Communists were marked by their dysfunctional responses to the alienation and loneliness of modern life” (p. 41). Seeing Cold War citizenship as psychological allows Friedman to go beyond the question of what was accomplished by critics of the Cold War in terms of shaping US domestic and foreign policy during McCarthyism. Indeed, this argument grants her the useful ability to show how citizenship was malleable and continuously reconstructed when confronted by cases and incidents that threatened its contemporary definition, even at a time of heightened retribution against opponents of Cold War foreign policy. Focusing on psychological citizenship also makes Friedman’s thesis much more convincing and insightful. She ably shows how dissenters awakened the public to the incongruities of the national security state, forcing Americans to acknowledge that the rights of citizens were stunted by the new era of freedom they professed to support.
The core of the book is therefore dedicated to exploring various individuals and groups who altered the definition of psychological citizenship through their racial and gender status. Friedman’s best examples of how the national security state bent to accommodate new ideas of citizenship are offered in the case of the “war bride,” Ellen Knauff, and Friedman’s analysis of Puerto Rican nationalists in the 1950s. After the German-born Knauff married an American soldier in her native country, she was detained as a “security risk” on Ellis Island in 1948 when she attempted to reunite with her new husband in New York City (p. 49). Federal authorities suspected that Knauff had affiliations with communists (and was herself a communist), and physically imprisoned her on Ellis Island. Caught in a state of legal purgatory, she became embroiled in a three-year legal struggle to obtain citizenship. She won the battle with the US government in 1951 by using the discourse of national security to convince the attorney general to grant her permission to enter the United States as a citizen. Knauff and her supporters combined the language of human rights, gendered archetypes of the domesticated female, and the sanctity of the family to argue that the interests of US national security were meant to protect such language. The example of the “war bride” case, Friedman suggests, shows how one woman “adeptly manipulated expectations about the protections granted by U.S. citizenship to claim them for herself, even at a moment when the Cold War state of exception might have been expected to defeat those claims” (pp. 77-78).
The arrests and imprisonment of Puerto Rican nationalists who attempted to assassinate members of Congress in 1954 further show how interactions between the United States and the world created problems for normative ideas of citizenship. Friedman’s focus on Puerto Rico’s colonial status enables her to articulate her most provocative exploration of Cold War citizenship, as she situates a conversation of anticolonialism in a broader context of rights for Puerto Ricans—who were legally American citizens after the 1917 Jones Act. The significance of the nationalist movement in the 1950s—through violent or nonviolent means—was its willingness and ability to expose the reality of Puerto Rico as “an island called free but in fact a possession, a territory neither foreign nor domestic, a people both citizens of a country that did not exist and semi-citizens of the United States” (p. 156). This critique of American hegemony facilitated the efforts of the Young Lords’ Party (based in New York City) and the mobilization of other Latino activists to continue the struggle against neocolonialism in Puerto Rico. Combined with chapters on the redbaited African American federal worker Annie Lee Moss and the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham—with his peculiar crusade to censor violent imagery in comic books—the book’s case studies collectively illustrate how dissidents opened the definition of psychological citizenship to be more inclusive of marginalized groups. Each individual manipulated the paradigm of national security to make it universalist in its inclusion of race, gender, and the rights of minorities.
As much as the book excels in explaining the early challenges to the national security state, Friedman’s overall argument would be better served if she brought her narrative into the 1960s and 1970s. The epilogue serves to paint the significance of her thesis with broad brushstrokes (as most epilogues do), but her story offers key insights into the 1960s and 1970s that could be represented by more specific examples. The overall significance of her argument for Cold War citizenship beyond the 1950s is left to the reader to uncover, as generalized references to the Port Huron Statement and the War on Terror do not do justice to the importance of the book for dismantling preexisting interpretations of the connections between national security and civic engagement in the Cold War. This comment is meant only to highlight the interesting possibilities for scholarship that emerge from Friedman’s work. Citizenship in Cold War America is a timely and engaging book, one that will lead to new scholarly insights on the interrelationship between domestic political culture and US foreign policy after 1945.
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Michael Brenes. Review of Friedman, Andrea, Citizenship in Cold War America: The National Security State and the Possibilities of Dissent.
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