A brutal foreign war displaces millions, many of them clamoring for refuge in America. In the midst of the crisis, an American presidential candidate warns the nation that it faces “new methods of attack. The Trojan Horse. The Fifth Column that betrays a nation unprepared for treachery. Spies, saboteurs and traitors are the actors in this new strategy.” That wasn’t Donald Trump’s latest verbal assault on Syria’s war refugees. Those words were spoken 75 years ago by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he moved towards a third term in office. Fears of a Trojan horse in the form of foreign refugees of war kept the nation from saving the lives of 190,000 innocent people.
One would hope that Americans might have learned to beware of those who ride the Trojan horse. Yet time and time again Americans fall for baseless fears of alien enemies trying to get through the nation’s gates.
In 1938, Texas Democratic representative Martin Dies Jr. created and chaired the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate what he in the title of a 1940 book termed The Trojan Horse in America. Unlike FDR, who warned of a menace within brought by German and Italian refugees and Nazi sympathizers plotting a fascist takeover, Dies focused his investigations on communists and labor union members. He claimed the “subversive element” in that Trojan horse numbered some 7 million of the 130 million Americans at the time. They were in Hollywood and in the government; they were teachers, unionized workers, authors, and journalists. They sat in FDR’s cabinet and had burrowed into the minds of America’s youth. Dies even labeled “America’s darling,” the 11-year-old Shirley Temple, a subversive.