[For reasons which this article itself makes clear, its author has deemed it necessary to guard his anonymity with especial care. His identity has been revealed only to our Washington editor, I. F. Stone, who as a friend of long stunding: is able to vouch for his absolute reliability. The personal experiences of the editors of The Nation, together with checks they have made with other government officials, fully bear out his charges. A second and final instalment will appear next week.—EDITORS, THE NATION.]
I am a minor government executive. My job is helping to run one branch of a war agency in which several thousand persons are employed. We cheerfully work long hours, swelter in the country’s worst climate, live jammed together like sardines—all this because we know that our work is vital to the war. We read the bulletins from our war fronts with a thrill of pride because we know that, though we are civilians, the army and navy rely heavily on us.
We have done a great deal to help smash the Axis—far more than we can boast about in public. And we could do a great deal more if we were not daily growing more exhausted, bitter, demoralized, and even terrorized by the unceasing warfare carried on against us. The situation has been bad for a long time. It has now become intolerable. The fascists we are helping to destroy in Euro and Asia might well wish to destroy us, but this campaign is waged right here in Washington by persons working for the government, paid out of public funds. I do not refer to Dies and Kerr and Cox and Smith—their demagoguery, though annoying enough, is worse than their bite. Far more effectively the Civil Service Commission and the FBI, by their attitude toward government workers, are undermining Washington’s strength and will to fight. Hitler could do no more.
The weapon that is causing all the mischief is the so-called "character investigation" to which all workers in war agencies are subjected. It is made once, twice, sometimes over and over again. As an investigation it is a travesty. It is little if at all concerned with a man’s character, loyalty, or sympathy for democratic ideals and forms of government. Sometimes one or two perfunctory questions are asked concerning possible sympathy for our enemies; sometimes none at all.
A man I know has kept score on the last hundred investigators who have come to his office, consuming with their inanities, vicious or otherwise, some forty-eight hours of time that he could ill spare from his war job. He tells me that only seven of the investigators showed more than a casual interest in uncovering the facts that you or I would want to know about a man’s suitability for responsible war work. (One of the seven wanted to know if the man in question was a "Nasi or a Fasi"—he made the two words rhyme and, when asked, said he wasn’t sure what a "Fasi" was.)
Before this comic and tragic investigation begins, a war worker has had to survive the thorough scrutiny of the agency which hires him. We are fussy about that and properly so. Job candidates usually have to be known to some one of us, and even then they have to run the gauntlet of many searching interviews, careful checking of references, and close questioning of friends and former employers. Then, often six months or a year after a man is hired, the FBI or the Civil Service sleuths swing into action.
Every day, and sometimes four or five times a day—because I am personally responsible for the work of three or four hundred of my associates—an investigator approaches my desk, flashes his credentials, opens a notebook, and begins a routine that is both blood-chilling and exasperating. It is a sad display of confusion, bigotry, and lack of understanding of the war we are fighting. We are engaged in a struggle to the death with the fascists. Grand juries have returned indictments for sedition and treason against many of their henchmen in this country. Yet this city alone has several thousand government investigators ransacking the town for anti-fascists and using as their textbooks and tipsheets the propaganda publications of the very men and women now awaiting trial on the most serious of charges.