In “America for Americans” by Roosevelt, what is Roosevelt’s objection to hyphenated-Americans? What is the relationship between hyphenated-Americans and US involvement in World War I? Which...

In “America for Americans” by Roosevelt, what is Roosevelt’s objection to hyphenated-Americans? What is the relationship between hyphenated-Americans and US involvement in World War I? Which ethnic/racial groups are included in this article?Who is implicitly excluded ? Imagine how immigrants in 1916 have responded this article.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Roosevelt's fundamental objection to the hyphenated American is its intrinsic nature of division.  For Roosevelt, American identity cannot be something that is broken into separate "allegiances."  The construction of a hyphenated American reveals allegiances and classification that lies opposite to what it means to be "American." For Roosevelt, the hyphenated construction of an American denies the authenticity and full voice of what America means to him:  "If the American has the right stuff in him, I care not a snap of my fingers whether he is a Jew, Gentile, or Protestant." This becomes his fundamental basis against the hyphenated American.

Roosevelt suggests that when Americans are seen as "Americans," a clear vision of national affairs emerges. Roosevelt suggests that the lack of a hyphenated American ensures that we are able to judge nations appropriately. For example, France can be judged as France and not as French- Americans. Roosevelt argues that this perspective is essential in understanding the development of World War I:  

I would condemn the American citizen who acted as "English- American" just as strongly as I condemn the American citizen who acts as a "German- American."...If British warcraft had subjugated German passenger vessels and taken the lives of hundreds of men, women, and children, as German submarines did in the case of the Lusitania, the Arabic and other vessels, I would have condemned any "English- American" who excused the act as unhesitatingly as I have condemned and now condemn the "German- Americans" who now defend or apologize for the actions of the German submarines.

Roosevelt sees the hyphenated American as one with divided loyalties.  For example, Roosevelt sees the person who classifies themselves as "German- American" holding loyalties to both nations.  Roosevelt believes that such individuals should only hold loyalty towards America, as living this dual construction amounts to "moral treason."  In a wartime setting, Roosevelt suggests that absolute moral and political loyalty, devoid of the hyphen, is critical.  Roosevelt suggests that this clarity and simplicity in national affiliation is where American success in war and victory lies: "If every mother in our country would make the same offer [sacrificing her children for the American war effort], there would be no need for any mother to send her sons to war." Thinking as "typically American" is Roosevelt's motivating force. He sees it as the necessary ingredient in wartime situations.

Roosevelt mentions specific groups in his analysis.  Most of them come from the European speaking world. Roosevelt speaks toward the Irish, German, Norwegian, Polish, as well as Italian, British, and French constructions of ethnic identity. Groups from the non- European world are excluded.  Roosevelt also does not acknowledge the condition of African- Americans, a group asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and democracy when being denied those very rights within their nation.  Yet, the immigrant of the time period would have zealously supported Roosevelt's position.  It is one that speaks to the opportunity ideology that permeated the immigrant's mindset.  The ending call of "America for Americans" speaks to a larger vision that appealed to the immigrant sensibility.  In this umbrella notion of America, the immigrant's hopes and dreams are activated, something that Roosevelt articulated in his speech.

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