Engaging the Enemy Within: the Problem of the Jehovahâs Witnesses in Newfoundland during World War Two
The paper documents and analyzes the war on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Newfoundland. In July 1940, the federal government banned the Witnesses, responding to public pressure generated by “wartime hysteria”. In Newfoundland, the first steps of the Jehovah's Witnesses’ persecution can be traced in the early years of the Commission of Government. From 1936, the Newfoundland government engaged in a series of repressive measures directed against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
One of the issues examined is how and why the Witnesses came to be viewed by the state as a serious threat. The analysis is informed by theories on the construction and uses of enemies in politics, and writings regarding the politics of “moral regulation” and “moral panics”. Within the unstable economic, social and political conditions of the 1930’s, the Newfoundland government (already sensitive to criticism) considered the Witnesses as a source of unrest and anti-government agitation. The Jehovah's Witnesses’ attacks on the Pope and the Catholic Hierarchy (linking Catholicism with Fascism and Nazism) antagonized the established churches. During the war, their “extreme pacifism” was considered a threat to military recruitment. An undesirable organization thus became more dangerous in wartime and their plight became a struggle for what was seen as civil rights.