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Saturday, November 12, 2005
"Collar the lot." In this post regarding the recently defeated proposal to allow detention without charge of terrorist suspects for 90 days, I said that if we didn't need those powers in 1940 we don't need them now. Partrick Crozier writes:
We did need (well, certainly use) internment in 1940. Enemy aliens were interned. When asked whether to include Jews and opponents of the Nazi regime, Churchill replied: "Collar the lot".The general question of whether internment has or has not worked in our various wars is too big for me to discuss on a Saturday morning. I will stick to World War II.
I distinguish between the World War II internment and current proposals for the suspension or dilution of habeus corpus in several ways.
(1) There was a war on in 1940. Hitler was in the process of conquering Europe and had the serious intention of conquering us. I am a supporter of the War on Terror, but it isn't the same.
(2) Those interned in 1940 were foreigners, enemy foreigners to boot, not British citizens. Glenn Reynolds is always going on about how much more likely the US is to start falling down the slippery slope when it dilutes the rights of citizens, and he's right. This is not to say that non-citizens are intrinsically less valuable human beings; it is a matter of the implied contract between government and citizens.
(3) Apart from Churchill's bad-tempered outburst the British government never denied that most of those interned in 1940 were innocent. Contemporary propaganda was at pains to stress this point (I can't remember it exactly, but I think that the scene towards the end of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp where the nice German, Theo, is interviewed by what we would now call an immigration officer who says something like "these measures are for your protection as well as ours" is an example of the arguments used. Not that Churchill liked the film!)
(4) Did WWII internment actually do any good? Many of the accounts written nowadays are infected by a politically correct desire to make the British (or US) governments look bad in any circumstances, and take no account of the real dangers Britain faced or of the fact that the British authorities, being neither telepathic nor clairvoyant, could not know which dangers were real and which not. However, as I'm sure you know, the British policy of general internment of enemy aliens was eventually dropped, partly as a result of the torpedoing of the Arandora Star taking internees to Canada. The fact that the British government did not pursue the policy implies that they concluded that on balance it was not assisting the war effort. The German espionage network in Britain was never very successful anyway, but the accounts I have read do not suggest that it was much disrupted by internment.