Last month, a curious detail surfaced from a huge stash of secret documents that the American government still keeps from the Cold War. After filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the independent American website Mother Jones obtained a 1,800-page file that the FBI kept on Pete Seeger, an American folk singer and songwriter. Seeger caught the attention of investigators because of the letter he wrote to the American Legion in 1942, when he was 23 years old.
Dear Sirs –
I felt shocked, outraged, and disgusted to read that the California American Legion voted to 1) deport all Japanese after the war, citizen or not, 2) Bar all Japanese descendants from citizenship!!
We, who may have to give our lives in this great struggle—we’re fighting precisely to free the world of such Hitlerism, such narrow jingoism.
If you deport Japanese, why not Germans, Italians, Rumanians, Hungarians, and Bulgarians?
If you bar from citizenship descendants of Japanese, why not descendants of English? After all, we once fought with them too.
America is great and strong as she is because we have so far been a haven to all oppressed.
I felt sick at heart to read of this matter.
Pvt. Peter Seeger
I am writing also to the Los Angeles Times.
The FBI kept Seeger under surveillance for more than two decades, until the early seventies. The writer behind songs like “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “This Land Is Your Land” – which every American knows by heart – was followed by the CIA whenever he was performing outside of the United States. The long report that Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote on the FBI file is full of interesting details. Pete Seeger was obviously a great American patriot, for example, and was seriously offended when he could not join the army to serve the country because of the FBI file on him. While his motherland lost a good soldier, a generation of young Americans gained a good musician. Seeger, who performed with big names like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, died in 2014 at 94 years of age. During what was probably his last performance, in January 2009, he sang with Bruce Springsteen to celebrate Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential elections. He sang “This Land is My Land” – and it probably was, for a brief period of time.