I Spy | Newberry

I Spy

Last week was the time for limited facets of the jewel we call life. There was the food facet, the family facet, maybe the football facet or the shopping facet. And, of course, there was the whole Thanks business, a time to reflect on all the things that made you feel grateful. There was no space in the holiday for the sort of things you’re kind of grateful for, mostly but not completely grateful for. You were grateful that Aunt Booney was able to beat that tax rap and spend Thanksgiving with the family instead of in the pen, but she DID bring her annual half ton of fruitcake. (That’s just four individual cakes.)

I GUESS I am grateful for this stack of a one hundred year old magazine called Spy Glass. I would have been happier if there had been more than four individual issues, but having twenty or thirty copies each of what is apparently a rare magazine (I can’t find other copies currently for sale online) can come in handy. Some for the Book Fair, some for Amazon, some for eBay…if you have too much of a good thing, spread it around. (I’ll be sending out samples of Aunt Booney’s fruitcake. Watch for it so it doesn’t break your mailbox off the wall.)

The Spy Glass was published in 1918 by the American Protective League, an organization which existed roughly from 1917 to 1919, though similar groups had existed before, and its soul goes marching on. The American Protective League was a group of concerned citizens who came to their country’s defense during World War I. America was at war with Germany, and America was filled with (look out!) Germans! Some families had been here for over two hundred years, and the people called themselves Americans, but they were Germans originally, and someone ought to be watching them.

Furthermore, Germany had its allies, other countries which dared to challenge the United States. Thousands of people were in the United States from those countries, too. Who was to say THEY weren’t planning sabotage, or undermining the war effort? And there were anti-war protestors, and young men who looked healthy enough to be in uniform but weren’t, and people who were organizing unions which might threaten America’s eventual victory and…well, all these people ALSO needed to be watched.

The American Protective League was nothing less than thousands of volunteer spies, all watching their neighbors and co-workers for un-American activities. It started in Chicago, but spread to other cities (cities are always hotbeds of conspiracy). In New York City, members of the APL spent three days with the police, demanding to see every draft age young man’s registration card, resulting in over 75,000 arrests. (According to Wikipedia, 74,600 or so of these were of young men who simply didn’t carry their card with them at all times, as required by law.)

Some naysayers called the APL a bunch of vigilantes, but it was not so. They had actually been granted licensed status by the Department of Justice, which considered itself understaffed to meet the war emergency. It also had a less public connection with Military Intelligence. Woodrow Wilson considered them a bit sinister but his Attorney General fought to keep them in business.

Shortly after the war ended, so did the League, though its members noted there were still plenty of unAmericans to go after (it’s one of the problems of hunting unAmericans; you keep finding more). But there was a new Attorney General who called their findings gossip and hearsay. (He also set free 10,000 Germans who had been interned during the war.)

But I have their magazine, and can read their pleas that people lecturing on the war and claiming to be veterans be required to wear their uniforms (anyone who spoke out against the war had to be an impostor, and this would help identify them) or look at the photographs of dangerous draft dodgers who needed to be found and sent to prison or Prussia. If you were hunting for a gift for Aunt Booney’s brother Bert, who can no longer discuss politics without using the word “deport”, have I got something for you. You can thank me later.


Hope Trump doesn't read this article. You are well known.

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