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Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security, Matthew Dallek

Reviewed by Jeremy L. Strickler



In the post–September 11 era, Americans have become accustomed to the politics of “homeland security.” While recent controversies over increased surveillance and airport screenings come directly to mind, the broader commitment to “security” behind these issues raises a more fundamental tension between providing for the nation's defense and general welfare and protecting citizens’ rights and freedoms. As historian Matthew Dallek captures in his book Defenseless Under the Night, the origins of this contemporary struggle over liberty and security can be traced to the period of the late 1930s and early 1940s and the growing movement for “home defense.” A generation before the war on terror and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, “collective fears that the home front would be attacked” in the early years of World War II led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) (p. 5). According to Dallek's historical narrative, the emergence and wartime politics of the OCD—an agency that had 9.5 million registered volunteers at its peak—exhibits a microcosm of the changing dynamics of postwar liberalism and national security.

While historians and political scientists have written much on the overall linkage between war and New Deal

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