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ch 14) War Is The Health Of The State

ch 14) War Is The Health Of The State


“War is the health of the state,” the radical
writer Randolph Bourne said, in the midst of the First World War. Indeed, as the nations of Europe went to war
in 1914, the governments flourished, patriotism bloomed, class struggle was stilled, and young
men died in frightful numbers on the battlefields-often for a hundred yards of land, a line of trenches. In the United States, not yet in the war,
there was worry about the health of the state. Socialism was growing. The IWW seemed to be everywhere. Class conflict was intense. In the summer of 1916, during a Preparedness
Day parade in San Francisco, a bomb exploded, killing nine people; two local radicals, Tom
Mooney and Warren Billings, were arrested and would spend twenty years in prison. Shortly after that Senator James Wadsworth
of New York suggested compulsory military training for all males to avert the danger
that “these people of ours shall be divided into classes.” Rather: “We must let our young men know that
they owe some responsibility to this country.” The supreme fulfillment of that responsibility
was taking place in Europe. Ten million were to die on the battlefield;
20 million were to die of hunger and disease related to the war. And no one since that day has been able to
show that the war brought any gain for humanity that would be worth one human life. The rhetoric of the socialists, that it was
an “imperialist war,” now seems moderate and hardly arguable. The advanced capitalist countries of Europe
were fighting over boundaries, colonies, spheres of influence; they were competing for Alsace-Lorraine,
the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East. The war came shortly after the opening of
the twentieth century, in the midst of exultation (perhaps only among the elite in the Western
world) about progress and modernization. One day after the English declared war, Henry
James wrote to a friend: “The plunge of civilization into this abyss of blood and darkness … is
a thing that so gives away the whole long age during which we have supposed the world
to be … gradually bettering.” In the first Battle of the Maine, the British
and French succeeded in blocking the German advance on Paris. Each side had 500,000 casualties. The killing started very fast, and on a large
scale. In August 1914, a volunteer for the British
army had to be 5 feet 8 inches to enlist. By October, the requirement was lowered to
5 feet 5 inches. That month there were thirty thousand casualties,
and then one could be 5 feet 3. In the first three months of war, almost the
entire original British army was wiped out. For three years, the battle lines remained
virtually stationary in France. Each side would push forward, then back, then
forward again for a few yards, a few miles, while the corpses piled up. In 1916 the Germans tried to break through
at Verdun; the British and French counterattacked along the Seine, moved forward a few miles,
and lost 600,000 men. One day, the 9th Battalion of the King’s Own
Yorkshire Light Infantry launched an attack- with eight hundred men. Twenty-four hours later, there were eighty-four
left. Back home, the British were not told of the
slaughter. One English writer recalled: “The most bloody
defeat in the history of Britain might occur and our Press come out bland and copious and
graphic with nothing to show that we had not had quite a good day-a victory really” The
same thing was happening on the German side; as Erich Maria Remarque wrote in his great
novel, on days when men by the thousands were being blown apart by machine guns and shells,
the official dispatches announced “All Quiet on the Western Front.” In July 1916, British General Douglas Haig
ordered eleven divisions of English soldiers to climb out of their trenches and move toward
the German lines. The six German divisions opened up with their
machine guns. Of the 110,000 who attacked, 20,000 were killed,
40,000 more wounded-all those bodies strewn on no man’s land, the ghostly territory between
the contending trenches. On January 1, 1917, Haig was promoted to field
marshal. What happened that summer is described tersely
in William Langer’s An Encyclopedia of World History:
DESPITE THE OPPOSITION OF LLOYD GEORGE AND THE SCEPTICISM OF SOME OF HIS SUBORDINATES,
HAIG PROCEEDED HOPEFULLY TO THE MAIN OFFENSIVE. THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES WAS A SERIES OF
8 HEAVY ATTACKS, CARRIED THROUGH IN DRIVING RAIN AND FOUGHT OVER GROUND WATER-LOGGED AND
MUDDY. NO BREAK- THROUGH WAS EFFECTED, AND THE TOTAL
GAIN WAS ABOUT 5 MILES OF TERRITORY, WHICH MADE THE YPRES SALIENT MORE INCONVENIENT THAN
EVER AND COST THE BRITISH ABOUT 400,000 MEN. The people of France and Britain were not
told the extent of the casualties. When, in the last year of the war, the Germans
attacked ferociously on the Somme, and left 300,000 British soldiers dead or wounded,
London newspapers printed the following, we learn from Paul Fussell’s The Great War and
Modern Memory: WHAT CAN I DO? HOW THE CIVILIAN MAY HELP IN THIS CRISIS. BE CHEERFUL. WRITE ENCOURAGINGLY TO FRIENDS AT THE FRONT. DON’T REPEAT FOOLISH GOSSIP. DON’T LISTEN TO IDLE RUMOURS. DON’T THINK YOU KNOW BETTER THAN HAIG. Into this pit of death and deception came
the United States, in the spring of 1917. Mutinies were beginning to occur in the French
army. Soon, out of 112 divisions, 68 would have
mutinies; 629 men would be tried and condemned, 50 shot by firing squads. American troops were badly needed. President Woodrow Wilson had promised that
the United States would stay neutral in the war: “There is such a thing as a nation being
too proud to fight.” But in April of 1917, the Germans had announced
they would have their submarines sink any ship bringing supplies to their enemies; and
they had sunk a number of merchant vessels. Wilson now said he must stand by the right
of Americans to travel on merchant ships in the war zone. “I cannot consent to any abridgement of the
rights of American citizens in any respect.” As Richard Hofstadter points out (The American
Political Tradition): “This was rationalization of the flimsiest sort.” The British had also been intruding on the
rights of American citizens on the high seas, but Wilson was not suggesting we go to war
with them. Hofstadter says Wilson “was forced to find
legal reasons for policies that were based not upon law but upon the balance of power
and economic necessities.” It was unrealistic to expect that the Germans
should treat the United States as neutral in the war when the U.S. had been shipping
great amounts of war materials to Germany’s enemies. In early 1915, the British liner Lusitania
was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. She sank in eighteen minutes, and 1,198 people
died, including 124 Americans. The United States claimed the Lusitania carried
an innocent cargo, and therefore the torpedoing was a monstrous German atrocity. Actually, the Lusitania was heavily armed:
it carried 1,248 cases of 3-inch shells, 4,927 boxes of cartridges (1,000 rounds in each
box), and 2,000 more cases of small-arms ammunition. Her manifests were falsified to hide this
fact, and the British and American governments lied about the cargo. Hofstadter wrote of “economic necessities”
behind Wilson’s war policy. In 1914 a serious recession had begun in the
United States. “War is the health of the state,” the radical
writer Randolph Bourne said, in the midst of the First World War. Indeed, as the nations
of Europe went to war in 1914, the governments flourished, patriotism bloomed, class struggle
was stilled, and young men died in frightful numbers on the battlefields-often for a hundred
yards of land, a line of trenches. In the United States, not yet in the war,
there was worry about the health of the state. Socialism was growing. The IWW seemed to be
everywhere. Class conflict was intense. In the summer of 1916, during a Preparedness
Day parade in San Francisco, a bomb exploded, killing nine people; two local radicals, Tom
Mooney and Warren Billings, were arrested and would spend twenty years in prison. Shortly
after that Senator James Wadsworth of New York suggested compulsory military training
for all males to avert the danger that “these people of ours shall be divided into classes.”
Rather: “We must let our young men know that they owe some responsibility to this country.”
The supreme fulfillment of that responsibility was taking place in Europe. Ten million were
to die on the battlefield; 20 million were to die of hunger and disease related to the
war. And no one since that day has been able to show that the war brought any gain for
humanity that would be worth one human life. The rhetoric of the socialists, that it was
an “imperialist war,” now seems moderate and hardly arguable. The advanced capitalist countries
of Europe were fighting over boundaries, colonies, spheres of influence; they were competing
for Alsace-Lorraine, the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East.
The war came shortly after the opening of the twentieth century, in the midst of exultation
(perhaps only among the elite in the Western world) about progress and modernization. One
day after the English declared war, Henry James wrote to a friend: “The plunge of civilization
into this abyss of blood and darkness … is a thing that so gives away the whole long
age during which we have supposed the world to be … gradually bettering.” In the first
Battle of the Maine, the British and French succeeded in blocking the German advance on
Paris. Each side had 500,000 casualties. The killing started very fast, and on a large
scale. In August 1914, a volunteer for the British army had to be 5 feet 8 inches to
enlist. By October, the requirement was lowered to 5 feet 5 inches. That month there were
thirty thousand casualties, and then one could be 5 feet 3. In the first three months of
war, almost the entire original British army was wiped out.
For three years, the battle lines remained virtually stationary in France. Each side
would push forward, then back, then forward again for a few yards, a few miles, while
the corpses piled up. In 1916 the Germans tried to break through at Verdun; the British
and French counterattacked along the Seine, moved forward a few miles, and lost 600,000
men. One day, the 9th Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry launched an attack-
with eight hundred men. Twenty-four hours later, there were eighty-four left.
Back home, the British were not told of the slaughter. One English writer recalled: “The
most bloody defeat in the history of Britain might occur and our Press come out bland and
copious and graphic with nothing to show that we had not had quite a good day-a victory
really” The same thing was happening on the German side; as Erich Maria Remarque wrote
in his great novel, on days when men by the thousands were being blown apart by machine
guns and shells, the official dispatches announced “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
In July 1916, British General Douglas Haig ordered eleven divisions of English soldiers
to climb out of their trenches and move toward the German lines. The six German divisions
opened up with their machine guns. Of the 110,000 who attacked, 20,000 were killed,
40,000 more wounded-all those bodies strewn on no man’s land, the ghostly territory between
the contending trenches. On January 1, 1917, Haig was promoted to field marshal. What happened
that summer is described tersely in William Langer’s An Encyclopedia of World History:
DESPITE THE OPPOSITION OF LLOYD GEORGE AND THE SCEPTICISM OF SOME OF HIS SUBORDINATES,
HAIG PROCEEDED HOPEFULLY TO THE MAIN OFFENSIVE. THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES WAS A SERIES OF
8 HEAVY ATTACKS, CARRIED THROUGH IN DRIVING RAIN AND FOUGHT OVER GROUND WATER-LOGGED AND
MUDDY. NO BREAK- THROUGH WAS EFFECTED, AND THE TOTAL GAIN WAS ABOUT 5 MILES OF TERRITORY,
WHICH MADE THE YPRES SALIENT MORE INCONVENIENT THAN EVER AND COST THE BRITISH ABOUT 400,000
MEN. The people of France and Britain were not
told the extent of the casualties. When, in the last year of the war, the Germans attacked
ferociously on the Somme, and left 300,000 British soldiers dead or wounded, London newspapers
printed the following, we learn from Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory:
WHAT CAN I DO? HOW THE CIVILIAN MAY HELP IN THIS CRISIS.
BE CHEERFUL. WRITE ENCOURAGINGLY TO FRIENDS AT THE FRONT.
DON’T REPEAT FOOLISH GOSSIP. DON’T LISTEN TO IDLE RUMOURS.
DON’T THINK YOU KNOW BETTER THAN HAIG. Into this pit of death and deception came
the United States, in the spring of 1917. Mutinies were beginning to occur in the French
army. Soon, out of 112 divisions, 68 would have mutinies; 629 men would be tried and
condemned, 50 shot by firing squads. American troops were badly needed.
President Woodrow Wilson had promised that the United States would stay neutral in the
war: “There is such a thing as a nation being too proud to fight.” But in April of 1917,
the Germans had announced they would have their submarines sink any ship bringing supplies
to their enemies; and they had sunk a number of merchant vessels. Wilson now said he must
stand by the right of Americans to travel on merchant ships in the war zone. “I cannot
consent to any abridgement of the rights of American citizens in any respect.”
As Richard Hofstadter points out (The American Political Tradition): “This was rationalization
of the flimsiest sort.” The British had also been intruding on the rights of American citizens
on the high seas, but Wilson was not suggesting we go to war with them. Hofstadter says Wilson
“was forced to find legal reasons for policies that were based not upon law but upon the
balance of power and economic necessities.” It was unrealistic to expect that the Germans
should treat the United States as neutral in the war when the U.S. had been shipping
great amounts of war materials to Germany’s enemies. In early 1915, the British liner
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. She sank in eighteen minutes, and
1,198 people died, including 124 Americans. The United States claimed the Lusitania carried
an innocent cargo, and therefore the torpedoing was a monstrous German atrocity. Actually,
the Lusitania was heavily armed: it carried 1,248 cases of 3-inch shells, 4,927 boxes
of cartridges (1,000 rounds in each box), and 2,000 more cases of small-arms ammunition.
Her manifests were falsified to hide this fact, and the British and American governments
lied about the cargo. Hofstadter wrote of “economic necessities”
behind Wilson’s war policy. In 1914 a serious recession had begun in the United States.
J. P. Morgan later testified: “The war opened during a period of hard times. … Business
throughout the country was depressed, farm prices were deflated, unemployment was serious,
the heavy industries were working far below capacity and bank clearings were off.” But
by 1915, war orders for the Allies (mostly England) had stimulated the economy, and by
April 1917 more than $2 billion worth of goods had been sold to the Allies. As Hofstadter
says: “America became bound up with the Allies in a fateful union of war and prosperity.”
Prosperity depended much on foreign markets, it was believed by the leaders of the country.
In 1897, the private foreign investments of the United States amounted to $700 million
dollars. By 1914 they were $3½ billion. Wilson’s Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan,
while a believer in neutrality in the war, also believed that the United States needed
overseas, markets; in May of 1914 he praised the President as one who had “opened the doors
of all the weaker countries to an invasion of American capital and American enterprise.”
Back in 1907, Woodrow Wilson had said in a lecture at Columbia University: “Concessions
obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty
of unwilling nations be outraged in the process the doors of the nations which are closed
must be battered down.” In his 1912 campaign, he said: “Our domestic markets no longer suffice,
we need foreign markets.” In a memo to Bryan he described his aim as “an open door to the
world,” and in 1914 he said he supported “the righteous conquest of foreign markets.”
With World War T, England became more and more a market for American goods and for loans
at interest. J. P. Morgan and Company acted as agents for the Allies, and when, in 1915,
Wilson lifted the ban on private bank loans to the Allies, Morgan could now begin lending
money in such great amounts as to both make great profit and tie American finance closely
to the interest of a British victory in the war against Germany.
The industrialists and the political leaders talked of prosperity as if it were classless,
as if everyone gained from Morgan’s loans. True, the war meant more production, more
employment, but did the workers in the steel plants gain as much as U.S. Steel, which made
$348 million in profit in 1916 alone? When the United States entered the war, it was
the rich who took even more direct charge of the economy. Financier Bernard Baruch headed
the War Industries Board, the most powerful of the wartime government agencies. Bankers,
railroad men, and industrialists dominated these agencies.
A remarkably perceptive article on the nature of the First World War appeared in May 1915
in the Atlantic Monthly. Written by W. E. B. Du Bois, it was tided “The African Roots
of War.” It was a war for empire, of which the struggle between Germany and the Allies
over Africa was both symbol and reality: “in a very real sense Africa is a prime cause
of this terrible overturning of civilization which we have lived to see.” Africa, Du Bois
said, is “the Land of the Twentieth Century,” because of the gold and diamonds of South
Africa, the cocoa of Angola and Nigeria, the rubber and ivory of the Congo, the palm oil
of the West Coast. Du Bois saw more than that. He was writing
several years before Lenin’s Imperialism, which noted the new possibility of giving
the working class of the imperial country a share of the loot. He pointed to the paradox
of greater “democracy” in America alongside “increased aristocracy and hatred toward darker
races.” He explained the paradox by the fact that “the white workingman has been asked
to share the spoil by exploiting ‘chinks and niggers.”‘ Yes, the average citizen of England,
France, Germany, the United States, had a higher standard of living than before. But:
“Whence comes this new wealth? It comes primarily from the darker nations of the world-Asia
and Africa, South and Central America, the West Indies, and the islands of the South
Seas.” Du Bois saw the ingenuity of capitalism in
uniting exploiter and exploited-creating a safety valve for explosive class conflict.
“It is no longer simply the merchant prince, or the aristocratic monopoly, or even the
employing class, that is exploiting the world: it is the nation, a new democratic nation
composed of united capital and labor.” The United States fitted that idea of Du Bois.
American capitalism needed international rivalry-and periodic war-to create an artificial community
of interest between rich and poor, supplanting the genuine community of interest among the
poor that showed itself in sporadic movements. How conscious of this were individual entrepreneurs
and statesmen? That is hard to know. But their actions, even if half-conscious, instinctive
drives to survive, matched such a scheme. And in 1917 this demanded a national consensus
for war. The government quickly succeeded in creating
such a consensus, according to the traditional histories. Woodrow Wilson’s biographer Arthur
Link wrote: “In the final analysis American policy was determined by the President and
public opinion.” In fact, there is no way of measuring public opinion at that time,
and there is no persuasive evidence that the public wanted war. The government had to work
hard to create its consensus. That there was no spontaneous urge to fight is suggested
by the strong measures taken: a draft of young men, an elaborate propaganda campaign throughout
the country, and harsh punishment for those who refused to get in line.
Despite the rousing words of Wilson about a war “to end all wars” and “to make the world
safe for democracy,” Americans did not rush to enlist. A million men were needed, but
in the first six weeks after the declaration of war only 73,000 volunteered. Congress voted
overwhelmingly for a draft. George Creel, a veteran newspaperman, became
the government’s official propagandist for the war; he set up a Committee on Public Information
to persuade Americans the war was right. It sponsored 75,000 speakers, who gave 750,000
four-minute speeches in five thousand American cities and towns. It was a massive effort
to excite a reluctant public. At the beginning of 1917, a member of the National Civic Federation
had complained that “neither workingmen nor farmers” were taking “any part or interest
in the efforts of the security or defence leagues or other movements for national preparedness.”
The day after Congress declared war, the Socialist party met in emergency convention in St. Louis
and called the declaration “a crime against the people of the United States.” In the summer
of 1917, Socialist antiwar meetings in Minnesota drew large crowds-five thousand, ten thousand,
twenty thousand farmers-protesting the war, the draft, profiteering. A local newspaper
in Wisconsin, the Plymouth Review, said that probably no party ever gained more rapidly
in strength than the Socialist party just at the present time.” It reported that “thousands
assemble to hear Socialist speakers in places where ordinarily a few hundred are considered
large assemblages.” The Akron Beacon-Journal, a conservative newspaper in Ohio, said there
was “scarcely a political observer … but what will admit that were an election to come
now a mighty tide of socialism would inundate the Middle West.” It said the country had
“never embarked upon a more unpopular war.” In the municipal elections of 1917, against
the tide of propaganda and patriotism, the Socialists made remarkable gains. Their candidate
for mayor of New York. Morris Hillquit, got 22 percent of the vote, five times the normal
Socialist vote there. Ten Socialists were elected to the New York State legislature.
In Chicago, the party vote went from 3.6 percent in 1915 to 34.7 percent in 1917. In Buffalo,
it went from 2.6 percent to 30.2 percent. George Creel and the government were behind
the formation of an American Alliance for Labor and Democracy; whose president was Samuel
Gompers and whose aim was to “unify sentiment in the nation” for the war. There were branches
in 164 cities; many labor leaders went along. According to James Weinstein, however, the
Alliance did not work: “Rank-and-file working class support for the war remained lukewarm.”
And although some prominent Socialists Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Clarence Darrow became
pro war after the U.S. entered, most Socialists continued their opposition.
Congress passed, and Wilson signed, in June of 1917, the Espionage Act. From its title
one would suppose it was an act against spying. However, it had a clause that provided penalties
up to twenty years in prison for “Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall wilfully
cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in
the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall wilfully obstruct the recruiting
or enlistment service of the U.S. .. .” Unless one had a theory about the nature of governments,
it was not clear how the Espionage Act would be used. It even had a clause that said “nothing
in this section shall be construed to limit or restrict any discussion, comment, or criticism
of the acts or policies of the Government.” But its double talk concealed a singleness
of purpose. The Espionage Act was used to imprison Americans who spoke or wrote against
the war. Two months after the law passed, a Socialist
named Charles Schenck was arrested in Philadelphia for printing and distributing fifteen thousand
leaflets that denounced the draft law and the war. The leaflet recited the Thirteenth
Amendment provision against “involuntary servitude” and said the Conscription Act violated this.
Conscription, it said, was “a monstrous deed against humanity in the interests of the financiers
of Wall Street.” And: “Do not submit to intimidation.” Schenck was indicted, tried, found guilty,
and sentenced to six months in jail for violating the Espionage Act. (it turned out to be one
of the shortest sentences given in such cases.) Schenck appealed, arguing that the Act, by
prosecuting speech and writing, violated the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law
abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
The Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous and was written by its most famous liberal,
Oliver Wendell Holmes. He summarized the contents of the leaflet and said it was undoubtedly
intended to “obstruct” the carrying out of the draft law. Was Schenck protected by the
First Amendment? Holmes said: THE MOST STRINGENT PROTECTION OF FREE SPEECH
WOULD NOT PROTECT A MAN IN FALSELY SHOUTING FIRE IN A THEATRE AND CAUSING A PANIC. THE
QUESTION IN EVERY CASE IS WHETHER THE WORDS USED ARE USED IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES AND ARE
OF SUCH A NATURE AS TO CREATE A CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER THAT THEY WILL BRING ABOUT
THE SUBSTANTIVE EVILS THAT CONGRESS HAS A RIGHT TO PREVENT.
Holmes’s analogy was clever and attractive. Few people would think free speech should
be conferred on someone shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. But did that
example fit criticism of the war? Zechariah Chafee, a Harvard law school professor, wrote
later (Free Speech in the United States) that a more apt analogy for Schenck was someone
getting up between the acts at a theatre and declaring that there were not enough fire
exits. To play further with the example: was not Schenck’s act more like someone shouting,
not falsely, but truly, to people about to buy tickets and enter a theatre, that there
was a fire raging inside? Perhaps free speech could not be tolerated
by any reasonable person if it constituted a “clear and present danger” to life and liberty;
after all, free speech must compete with other vital rights. But was not the war itself a
“clear and present danger,” indeed, more clear and more present and more dangerous to life
than any argument against it? Did citizens not have a right to object to war, a right
to be a danger to dangerous policies? (The Espionage Act, thus approved by the Supreme
Court, has remained on the books all these years since World War I, and although it is
supposed to apply only in wartime, it has been constantly in force since 1950, because
the United States has legally been in a “state of emergency” since the Korean war. In 1963,
the Kennedy administration pushed a bill [unsuccessfully] to apply the Espionage Act to statements uttered
by Americans abroad; it was concerned, in the words of a cable from Secretary of State
Rusk to Ambassador Lodge in Vietnam, about journalists in Vietnam writing “critical articles
on Diem and his government” that were “likely to impede the war effort.”)
The case of Eugene Debs soon came before the Supreme Court. In June of 1918, Debs visited
three Socialists who were in prison for opposing the draft, and then spoke, across the street
from the jail, to an audience he kept enthralled for two hours. He was one of the country’s
great orators, and was interrupted again and again by laughter and applause. “Why, the
other day, by a vote of five-to-four-a kind of craps game, come seven, come eleven they
declared the child labor law unconstitutional.” He spoke of his comrades in jail. He dealt
with the charges that Socialists were pro-German. “I hate, I loathe, I despise Junkers and Junkerdom.
I have no earthly use for the Junkers of Germany, and not one particle more use for the Junkers
in the United States.” (Thunderous applause and cheers.)
THEY TELL US THAT WE LIVE IN A GREAT FREE REPUBLIC; THAT OUR INSTITUTIONS ARE DEMOCRATIC;
THAT WE ARE A TREE AND SELF-GOVERNING; PEOPLE. THAT IS TOO MUCH, EVEN FOR A JOKE.
WARS THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE BEEN WAGED FOR CONQUEST AND PLUNDER; AND THAT IS WAR IN A
NUTSHELL. THE MASTER CLASS HAS ALWAYS DECLARED THE WARS; THE SUBJECT CLASS HAS ALWAYS FOUGHT
THE BATTLES. Debs was arrested for violating the Espionage
Act. There were draft-age youths in his audience, and his words would “obstruct the recruiting
or enlistment service.” His words were intended to do much more than
that: YES, IN GOOD TIME WE ARE GOING TO SWEEP INTO
POWER IN THIS NATION AND THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. WE ARE GOING TO DESTROY ALL ENSLAVING EVIL
DEGRADING CAPITALIST INSTITUTIONS AND RE-CREATE THEM AS FREE AND HUMANIZING INSTITUTIONS.
THE WORLD IS DAILY CHANGING BEFORE OUR EYES. THE SUN OF CAPITALISM IS SETTING; THE SUN
OF SOCIALISM IS RISING. IN DUE TIME THE HOUR WILL STRIKE AND THIS GREAT CAUSE TRIUMPHANT…
WILL PROCLAIM THE EMANCIPATION OF THE WORKING CLASS AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF ALL MANKIND.
(THUNDEROUS AND PROLONGED APPLAUSE.) Debs refused at his trial to take the stand
in his defence, or to call a witness on his behalf. He denied nothing about what he said.
But before the jury began its deliberations, he spoke to them:
I HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF OBSTRUCTING THE WAR. I ADMIT IT. GENTLEMEN, I ABHOR WAR. I WOULD
OPPOSE WAR IF I STOOD ALONE. I HAVE SYMPATHY WITH THE SUFFERING, STRUGGLING PEOPLE EVERYWHERE.
IT DOES NOT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE UNDER WHAT FLAG THEY WERE BORN, OR WHERE THEY LIVE.
The jury found him guilty of violating the Espionage Act. Debs addressed the judge before
sentencing: YOUR HONOR, YEARS AGO I RECOGNIZED MY KINSHIP
WITHIN ALL LIVING BEINGS, AND I MADE UP MY MIND THAT I WAS NOT ONE BIT BETTER THAN THE
MEANEST ON EARTH. I SAID THEN, AND I SAY NOW, THAT WHILE THERE IS A LOWER CLASS, I AM IN
IT; WHILE THERE IS A CRIMINAL ELEMENT, I AM OF IT; WHILE THERE IS A SOUL IN PRISON, I
AM NOT FREE. The judge denounced those “who would strike
the sword from the hand of this nation while she is engaged in defending herself against
a foreign and brutal power.” He sentenced Debs to ten years in prison.
Debs’s appeal was not heard by the Supreme Court until 1919. The war was over. Oliver
Wendell Holmes, for a unanimous court, affirmed Debs’s guilt. Holmes discussed Debs’s speech:
“He then expressed opposition to Prussian militarism in a way that naturally might have
been thought to be intended to include the mode of proceeding in the United States.”
Holmes said Debs made “the usual contrasts between capitalists and labouring men with
the implication running through it all that the working men are not concerned in the war.”
Thus, Holmes said, the “natural and intended effect” of Debs’s speech would be to obstruct
recruiting. Debs was locked up in the West Virginia state
penitentiary, and then in the Atlanta federal penitentiary, where he spent thirty-two months
until, at the age of sixty-six, he was released by President Harding in 1921.
About nine hundred people went to prison under the Espionage Act. This substantial opposition
was put out of sight, while the visible national mood was represented by military bands, flag
waving, the mass buying of war bonds, the majority’s acquiescence to the draft and the
war. This acquiescence was achieved by shrewd public relations and by intimidation-an effort
organized with all the power of the federal government and the money of big business behind
it. The magnitude of that campaign to discourage opposition says something about the spontaneous
feelings of the population toward the war. The newspapers helped create an atmosphere
of fear for possible opponents of the war. In April of 1917, the New York Times quoted
Elihu Root (former Secretary of War, a corporation lawyer) as saying: “We must have no criticism
now.” A few months later it quoted him again that “there are men walking about the streets
of this city tonight who ought to be taken out at sunrise tomorrow and shot for treason.”
At the same time, Theodore Roosevelt was talking to the Harvard Club about Socialists, IWWs,
and others who wanted peace as “a whole raft of sexless creatures.”
In the summer of 1917, the American Defence Society was formed. The New York Herald reported:
“More than one hundred men enrolled yesterday in the American Vigilante Patrol at the offices
of the American Defence Society. The Patrol was formed to put an end to seditious street
oratory.” The Department of Justice sponsored an American
Protective League, which by June of 1917 had units in six hundred cities and towns, a membership
of nearly 100,000. The press reported that their members were “the leading men in their
community’s bankers railroad men hotel men.” One study of the League describes their methods:
THE MAILS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SACRED. BUT LET US CALL THE AMERICAN PROTECTIVE LEAGUE SOMETIMES
ALMOST CLAIRVOYANT AS TO LETTERS DONE BY SUSPECTS. IT IS SUPPOSED THAT BREAKING AND ENTERING
A MAN’S HOME OR OFFICE PLACE WITHOUT WARRANT IS BURGLARY. GRANTED. BUT THE LEAGUE HAS DONE
THAT THOUSANDS OF TIMES AND HAS NEVER BEEN DETECTED!
The League claimed to have found 3 million cases of disloyalty. Even if these figures
are exaggerated, the very size and scope of the League gives a clue to the amount of “disloyalty.”
The states organized vigilante groups. The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety, set
up by state law, closed saloons and moving picture theatres, took count of land owned
by aliens, boosted Liberty bonds, tested people for loyalty. The Minneapolis Journal carried
an appeal by the Commission “for all patriots to join in the suppression of antidraft and
seditious acts and sentiment.” The national press cooperated with the government.
The New York Times in the summer of 1917 carried an editorial: “It is the duty of every good
citizen to communicate to proper authorities any evidence of sedition that comes to his
notice.” And the Literary Digest asked its readers “to clip and send to us any editorial
utterances they encounter which seem to them seditious or treasonable.” Creel’s Committee
on Public Information advertised that people should “report the man who spreads pessimistic
stories. Report him to the Department of Justice.” In 1918, the Attorney General said: “It is
safe to say that never in its history has this country been so thoroughly policed.”
Why these huge efforts? On August 1, 1917, the New York Herald reported that in New York
City ninety of the first hundred draftees claimed exemption. In Minnesota, headlines
in the Minneapolis Journal of August 6 and 7 read: “DRAFT OPPOSITION FAST SPREADING IN
STATE,” and “CONSCRIPTS GIVE FALSE ADDRESSES.” In Florida, two Negro farm hands went into
the woods with a shotgun and mutilated themselves to avoid the draft: one blew off four fingers
of his hand; the other shot off his arm below the elbow. Senator Thomas Hardwick of Georgia
said “there was undoubtedly general and widespread opposition on the part of many thousands … to
the enactment of the draft law. Numerous and largely attended mass meetings held in every
part of the State protested against it.” Ultimately, over 330,000 men were classified as draft
evaders. In Oklahoma, the Socialist party and the IWW
had been active among tenant farmers -and sharecroppers who formed a “Working Class
Union.” At a mass meeting of the Union, plans were made to destroy a railroad bridge and
cut telegraph wires in order to block military enlistments. A march on Washington was planned
for draft objectors throughout the country. (This was called the Green Corn Rebellion
because they planned to eat green corn on their march.) Before the Union could carry
out its plans, its members were rounded up and arrested, and soon 450 individuals accused
of rebellion were in the state penitentiary. Leaders were given three to ten years in jail,
others sixty days to two years. On July 1, 1917, radicals organized a parade
in Boston against the war, with banners: IS THIS A POPULAR WAR, WHY CONSCRIPTION?
WHO STOLE PANAMA? WHO CRUSHED HAITI? WE DEMAND PEACE.
The New York Call said eight thousand people marched, including “4000 members of the Central
Labor Union, 2000 members of the Leftist Socialist Organizations, 1500 Lithuanians, Jewish members
of cloak trades, and other branches of the party.” The parade was attacked by soldiers
and sailors, on orders from their officers. The Post Office Department began taking away
the mailing privileges of newspapers and magazines that printed antiwar articles. The Masses,
a socialist magazine of politics, literature, and art, was banned from the mails. It had
carried an editorial by Max Eastman in the summer of 1917, saying, among other things:
“For what specific purposes are you shipping our bodies, and the bodies of our sons, to
Europe? For my part, I do not recognize the right of a government to draft me to a war
whose purposes I do not believe in.” In Los Angeles, a film was shown that dealt
with the American Revolution and depicted British atrocities against the colonists.
It was called The Spirit of ’76. The man who made the film was prosecuted under the Espionage
Act because, the judge said, the film tended “to question the good faith of our ally, Great
Britain,” He was sentenced to ten years in prison. The case was officially listed as
U.S. v. Spirit of ’76. In a small town in South Dakota, a farmer
and socialist named Fred Fairchild, during an argument about the war, said, according
to his accusers: “If I were of conscription age and had no dependents and were drafted,
I would refuse to serve. They could shoot me, but they could not make me fight.” He
was tried under the Espionage Act, sentenced to a year and a day at Leavenworth penitentiary.
And so, it went, multiplied two thousand times (the number of prosecutions under the Espionage
Act). About 65,000 men declared themselves conscientious
objectors and asked for non-combatant service. At the army bases where they worked, they
were often treated with sadistic brutality. Three men who were jailed at Fort Riley, Kansas,
for refusing to perform any military duties, combatant or non-combatant, were taken one
by one into the corridor and: A HEMP ROPE SLUNG OVER THE RAILING OF THE
UPPER TIER WAS PUT ABOUT THEIR NECKS, HOISTING THEM OFF THEIR FEET UNTIL THEY WERE AT THE
POINT OF COLLAPSE. MEANWHILE THE OFFICERS PUNCHED THEM ON THEIR ANKLES AND SHINS. THEY
WERE THEN LOWERED AND THE ROPE WAS TIED TO THEIR ARMS, AND AGAIN THEY WERE HOISTED OFF
THEIR FEET. THIS TIME A GARDEN HOSE WAS PLAYED ON THEIR FACES WITH A NOZZLE ABOUT SIX INCHES
FROM THEM, UNTIL THEY COLLAPSED COMPLETELY. Schools and universities discouraged opposition
to the war. At Columbia University, J. McKeen Cattell, a psychologist, a long-time critic
of the Board of Trustees’ control of the university, and an opponent of the war, was fired. A week
later, in protest, the famous historian Charles Beard resigned from the Columbia faculty,
charging the trustees with being “reactionary and visionless in politics, narrow and medieval
in religion. …” In Congress, a few voices spoke out against
the war. The first woman in the House of Representatives, Jeannette Rankin, did not respond when her
name was called in the roll call on the declaration of war. One of the veteran politicians of
the House, a supporter of the war, went to her and whispered, “Little woman, you cannot
afford not to vote. You represent the womanhood of the country.” On the next roll call she
stood up: “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war. I vote No.” A popular
song of the time was: “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” It was overwhelmed, however,
by songs like “Over There,” “It’s a Grand Old Flag,” and “Johnny Get Your Gun.”
Socialist Kate Richards O’Hare, speaking in North Dakota in July of 1917, said, it was
reported, that “the women of the United States were nothing more nor less than brood sows,
to raise children to get into the army and be made into fertilizer.” She was arrested,
tried, found guilty, and sentenced to five years in the Missouri state penitentiary.
In prison, she continued to fight. When she and fellow prisoners protested the lack of
air, because the window above the cell block was kept shut, she was pulled out in the corridor
by guards for punishment. In her hand, she was carrying a book of poems, and as she was
dragged out she flung the book up at the window and broke it, the fresh air streaming in,
her fellow prisoners cheering. Emma Goldman and her fellow anarchist, Alexander
Berkman (he had already been locked up fourteen years in Pennsylvania; she had served a year
on Blackwell’s Island), were sentenced to prison for opposing the draft. She spoke to
the jury: VERILY, POOR AS WE ARE IN DEMOCRACY HOW CAN
WE GIVE OF IT TO THE WORLD? A DEMOCRACY CONCEIVED IN THE MILITARY SERVITUDE OF THE MASSES, IN
THEIR ECONOMIC ENSLAVEMENT, AND NURTURED IN THEIR TEARS AND BLOOD, IS NOT DEMOCRACY AT
ALL. IT IS DESPOTISM THE CUMULATIVE RESULT OF A CHAIN OF ABUSES WHICH, ACCORDING TO THAT
DANGEROUS DOCUMENT, THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, THE PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO OVERTHROW.
The war gave the government its opportunity to destroy the IWW. The IWW newspaper, the
Industrial Worker, just before the declaration of war, wrote: “Capitalists of America, we
will fight against you, not for you! Conscription! There is not a power in the world that can
make the working class fight if they refuse.” Philip Foner, in his history of the IWW, says
that the Wobblies were not as active against the war as the Socialists, perhaps because
they were fatalistic, saw the war as inevitable, and thought that only victory in class struggle,
only revolutionary change, could end war. In early September 1917, Department of Justice
agents made simultaneous raids on forty-eight IWW meeting halls across the country, seizing
correspondence and literature that would become courtroom evidence. Later that month, 165
IWW leaders were arrested for conspiring to hinder the draft, encourage desertion, and
intimidate others in connection with labor disputes. One hundred and one went on trial
in April 1918; it lasted five months, the longest criminal trial in American history
up to that time. John Reed, the Socialist writer just back from reporting on the Bolshevik
Revolution in Russia (Ten Days That Shook the World), covered the IWW trial for The
Masses magazine and described the defendants: I DOUBT IF EVER IN HISTORY THERE HAS BEEN
A SIGHT JUST LIKE THEM. ONE HUNDRED AND ONE LUMBERJACKS, HARVEST HANDS, MINERS, EDITORS
WHO BELIEVE THE WEALTH OF THE WORLD BELONGS TO HIM WHO CREATES IT THE OUTDOOR MEN, HARD
ROCK BLASTERS, TREE-FELLERS, WHEAT-BINDERS, LONGSHOREMEN, THE BOYS WHO DO THE STRONG WORK
OF THE WORLD. The IWW people used the trial to tell about
their activities, their ideas. Sixty-one of them took the stand, including Big Bill Haywood,
who testified for three days. One IWW man told the court:
YOU ASK ME WHY THE I.W. W. IS NOT PATRIOTIC TO THE UNITED STATES. IF YOU WERE A BUM WITHOUT
A BLANKET; IF YOU HAD LEFT YOUR WIFE AND KIDS WHEN YOU WENT WEST FOR A JOB, AND HAD NEVER
LOCATED THEM SINCE; IF YOUR JOB HAD NEVER KEPT YOU LONG ENOUGH IN A PLACE TO QUALIFY
YOU TO VOTE; IF YOU SLEPT IN A LOUSY, SOUR BUNKHOUSE, AND ATE FOOD JUST AS ROTTEN AS
THEY COULD GIVE YOU AND GET BY WITH IT; IF DEPUTY SHERIFFS SHOT YOUR COOKING CANS FULL
OF HOLES AND SPILLED YOUR GRUB ON THE GROUND; IF YOUR WAGES WERE LOWERED ON YOU WHEN THE
BOSSES THOUGHT THEY HAD YOU DOWN; IF THERE WAS ONE LAW FOR FORD, SUHR, AND MOONEY, AND
ANOTHER FOR HARRY THAW; IF EVERY PERSON WHO REPRESENTED LAW AND ORDER AND THE NATION BEAT
YOU UP, RAILROADED YOU TO JAIL, AND THE GOOD CHRISTIAN PEOPLE CHEERED AND TOLD THEM TO
GO TO IT, HOW IN HELL DO YOU EXPECT A MAN TO BE PATRIOTIC? THIS WAR IS A BUSINESS MAN’S
WAR AND WE DON’T SEE WHY WE SHOULD GO OUT AND GET SHOT IN ORDER TO SAVE THE LOVELY STATE
OF AFFAIRS THAT WE NOW ENJOY. The jury found them all guilty. The judge
sentenced Haywood and fourteen others to twenty years in prison; thirty-three were given ten
years, the rest shorter sentences. They were fined a total of $2,500,000. The IWW was shattered.
Haywood jumped bail and fled to revolutionary Russia, where he remained until his death
ten years later. The war ended in November 1918. Fifty thousand
American soldiers had died, and it did not take long, even in the case of patriots, for
bitterness and disillusionment to spread through the country. This was reflected in the literature
of the post war decade. John Dos Passos, in his novel 1919, wrote of the death of John
Doe: IN THE TARPAPER MORGUE AT CHALON’S SUR MAME
IN THE REEK OF CHLORIDE OF LIME AND THE DEAD, THEY PICKED OUT THE PINE BOX THAT HELD ALL
THAT WAS LEFT OF JOHN DOE, THE SCRAPS OF DRIED VISCERA AND SKIN BUNDLED IN KHAKI THEY TOOK
TO CHALON’S SUR MARNE AND LAID IT OUT NEAT IN A PINE COFFIN AND TOOK IT HOME TO GOD’S
COUNTRY ON A BATTLESHIP AND BURIED IT IN A SARCOPHAGUS IN THE MEMORIAL AMPHITHEATRE IN
THE ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY AND DRAPED THE OLD GLORY OVER IT AND THE BUGLER PLAYED
TAPS AND MR. HARDING PRAYED TO GOD AND THE DIPLOMATS AND THE GENERALS AND THE ADMIRALS
AND THE BRASS HATS AND THE POLITICIANS AND THE HANDSOMELY DRESSED LADIES OUT OF THE SOCIETY
COLUMN OF THE WASHINGTON POST STOOD UP SOLEMN AND THOUGHT HOW BEAUTIFUL SAD OLD GLORY GOD’S
COUNTRY IT WAS TO HAVE THE BUGLER PLAY TAPS AND THE THREE VOLLEYS MADE THEIR EARS RING.
WHERE HIS CHEST OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN, THEY PINNED THE CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL.
Ernest Hemingway would write A Farewell to Arms. Years later a college student named
Irwin Shaw would write a play, Bury the Dead. And a Hollywood screenwriter named Dalton
Trumbo would write a powerful and chilling antiwar novel about a torso and brain left
alive on the battlefield of World War 1, Johnny Got His Gun. Ford Madox Ford wrote No More
Parades. With all the wartime failings, the intimidation,
the drive for national unity, when the war was over, the Establishment still feared socialism.
There seemed to be a need again for the twin tactics of control in the face of revolutionary
challenge: reform and repression. The first was suggested by George L. Record,
one of Wilson’s friends, who wrote to him in early 1919 that something would have to
be done for economic democracy, “to meet this menace of socialism.” He said: “You should
become the real leader of the radical forces in America, and present to the country a constructive
program of fundamental reform, which shall be an alternative to the program presented
by the socialists, and the Bolshevik.” That summer of 1919, Wilson’s adviser Joseph
Tumulty reminded him that the conflict between the Republicans and Democrats was unimportant
compared with that which threatened them both: WHAT HAPPENED IN WASHINGTON LAST NIGHT IN
THE ATTEMPT UPON THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S LIFE IS BUT A SYMPTOM OF THE TERRIBLE UNREST THAT
IS STALKING ABOUT THE COUNTRY. AS A DEMOCRAT, I WOULD BE DISAPPOINTED TO SEE THE REPUBLICAN
PARTY REGAIN POWER. THAT IS NOT WHAT DEPRESSES ONE SO MUCH AS TO SEE GROWING STEADILY FROM
DAY TO DAY, UNDER OUR VERY EYES, A MOVEMENT THAT, IF IT IS NOT CHECKED, IS BOUND TO EXPRESS
ITSELF IN ATTACK UPON EVERYTHING WE HOLD DEAR. IN THIS ERA OF INDUSTRIAL AND SOCIAL UNREST
BOTH PARTIES ARE IN DISREPUTE WITH THE AVERAGE MAN.
“What happened in Washington last night” was the explosion of a bomb in front of the home
of Wilson’s Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Six months after that bomb exploded, Palmer
carried out the first of his mass raids on aliens-immigrants who were not citizens. A
law passed by Congress near the end of the war provided for the deportation of aliens
who opposed organized government or advocated the destruction of property. Palmer’s men,
on December 21, 1919, picked up 249 aliens of Russian birth (including Emma Goldman and
Alexander Berkman), put them on a transport, and deported them to what had become Soviet
Russia. The Constitution gave no right to Congress to deport aliens, but the Supreme
Court had said, back in 1892, in affirming the right of Congress to exclude Chinese,
that as a matter of self-preservation, this was a natural right of the government.
In January 1920, four thousand persons were rounded up all over the country, held in seclusion
for long periods of time, brought into secret hearings, and ordered deported. In Boston,
Department of Justice agents, aided by local police, arrested six hundred people by raiding
meeting halls or by invading their homes in the early morning. A troubled federal judge
described the process: PAINS WERE TAKEN TO GIVE SPECTACULAR PUBLICITY
TO THE RAID, AND TO MAKE IT APPEAR THAT THERE WAS GREAT AND IMMINENT PUBLIC DANGER. THE
ARRESTED ALIENS, IN MOST INSTANCES PERFECTLY QUIET AND HARMLESS WORKING PEOPLE, MANY OF
THEM NOT LONG AGO RUSSIAN PEASANTS, WERE HANDCUFFED IN PAIRS, AND THEN, FOR THE PURPOSES OF TRANSFER
ON TRAINS AND THROUGH THE STREETS OF BOSTON, CHAINED TOGETHER.
In the spring of 1920, a typesetter and anarchist named Andrea Salsedo was arrested in New York
by FBI agents and held for eight weeks in the FBI offices on the fourteenth floor of
the Park Row Building, not allowed to contact family or friends or lawyers. Then his crushed
body was found on the pavement below the building and the FBI said he had committed suicide
by jumping from the fourteenth-floor window. Two friends of Salsedo, anarchists and workingmen
in the Boston area, having just learned of his death, began carrying guns. They were
arrested on a streetcar in Brockton, Massachusetts, and charged with a holdup and murder that
had taken place two weeks before at a shoe factory. These were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo
Vanzetti. They went on trial, were found guilty, and spent seven years in jail while appeals
went on, and while all over the country and the world, people became involved in their
case. The trial record and the surrounding circumstances suggested that Sacco and Vanzetti
were sentenced to death because they were anarchists and foreigners. In August 1927,
as police broke up marches and picket lines with arrests and beatings, and troops surrounded
the prison, they were electrocuted. Sacco’s last message to his son Dante, in
his painfully learned English, was a message to millions of others in the years to come:
SO, SON, INSTEAD OF CRYING, BE STRONG, SO AS TO BE ABLE TO COMFORT YOUR MOTHER TAKE
HER FOR A LONG WALK IN THE QUIET COUNTRY, GATHERING WILD FLOWERS HERE AND THERE. BUT
REMEMBER ALWAYS, DANTE, IN THE PLAY OF HAPPINESS, DON’T YOU USE ALL FOR YOURSELF ONLY HELP THE
PERSECUTED AND THE VICTIM BECAUSE THEY ARE YOUR BETTER FRIENDS. IN THIS STRUGGLE OF LIFE,
YOU WILL FIND MORE AND LOVE AND YOU WILL BE LOVED.
There had been reforms. The patriotic fervour of war had been invoked. The courts and jails
had been used to reinforce the idea that certain ideas, certain kinds of resistance, could
not be tolerated. And still, even from the cells of the condemned, the message was going
out: the class war was still on in that supposedly classless society, the United States. Through
the twenties and the thirties, it was still on.

6 comments on “ch 14) War Is The Health Of The State

  1. The music is kinda funny when you come across the book talking about the murder, unnecessary death, and the false imprisonment that is in this chapter.

  2. Link to the book with all the chapters plus tons of other good shit
    http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncol1.html

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