Protesting the First World War Voices of a people’s History of the United States Anthony Arnove and Howard Zinn



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Protesting the First World War

Voices of A People’s History of the United States

Anthony Arnove and Howard Zinn
In the war between the Allied Powers (England, France, Russia, and later the United States) and Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey, between 1914 and 1918, ten million men died on the battlefields of Europe. They died often for a hundred yards of land, for a line of trenches. Many who didn't die ended up without arms or legs, or blinded, or simply driven out of their minds (it was called "shell shock"). One memorable photograph of the war shows soldiers, walking in a single line, each with a hand on the shoulder of the soldier in front of him-all of them blind. When it was all over, no one could explain what the war had been about. No wonder, then, that there had been widespread opposition in the United States to the country’s entrance into that war. No wonder also that the government had passed legislation allowing it to put anti-war protesters in prison. A huge propaganda effort had been launched by the Wilson administration, backed up by punitive laws, the Espionage Act of 1917, and the Sedition Act of 1918. Using those laws, the government had sent to prison close to a thousand people for speaking out against the war, many of them labor activists and radicals, including the Socialist leader Eugene Debs, who had been sentenced to ten years in prison. The anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman would be deported. After the war, as the wartime atmosphere of hysterical patriotism dissipated, a powerful anti-war literature appeared: by Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Irwin Shaw, and Dalton Trumbo.

In 1917, after declaring war, President Woodrow Wilson imposed a draft to build up U.S. fighting forces. To openly advocate draft resistance was to risk immediate arrest and, for some, deportation. After the 1917 draft began, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman helped found the No-Conscription League. They were both tried and convicted for conspiracy to obstruct the draft, a crime under the Espionage Act, and were sentenced to two years in prison. Goldman was sent to a state penitentiary in Missouri, and Berkman served in a federal penitentiary in Atlanta. After their release in December 1919, using the expanded powers of the Alien Act of 1918, which allowed deportation of "alien" anarchists, the U.S. government deported Goldman (whose husband had been denaturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1908) and Berkman (a Russian emigre), along with 247 other noncitizens. The deportations presaged the anti-immigrant and anti-radical Palmer Raids and “Red Scare" that soon followed. Here are excerpts of Goldman's words to the jury at their July 1917 anti-conscription trial, held in New York City.
Emma Goldman, Address to the Jury in U.S. v. Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman

(July 9, 1917)
It is my mission in life to ascertain the cause of our social evils and of our social difficulties. As a student of social wrongs it is my aim to diagnose a wrong. To simply condemn the man who has committed an act of political violence, in order to save my skin, would be as unpardonable as it would be on the part of the physician, who is called to diagnose a case, to condemn the patient because the patient has tuberculosis, cancer, or some other disease. The honest, earnest, sincere physician does not only prescribe medicine, he tries to find out the cause of the disease. And if the patient is at all capable as to means, the doctor will say to him, "Get out of this putrid air, get out of the factory, and get out of the place where your lungs are being infected." He will not merely give him medicine. He will tell him the cause of the disease. And that is precisely my position in regard to acts of violence. That is what I have said on every platform. I have attempted to explain the cause and the reason for acts of political violence. It is organized violence on top which creates individual violence at the bottom. It is the accumulated indignation against organized wrong, organized crime, organized injustice which drives the political offender to his act. To condemn him means to be blind to the causes which make him. I can no more do it, nor have I the right to, than the physician who were to condemn the patient for his disease.
Your verdict may, of course, affect us temporarily, in a physical sense-it can have no affect whatever upon our spirit. For even if we were convicted and found guilty and the penalty were that we be placed against a wall and shot dead, I should nevertheless cry out with the great Luther: "Here I am and here I stand and I cannot do otherwise." And gentlemen, in conclusion let me tell you that my co-defendant, Mr. Berkman, was right when he said the eyes of America are upon you. They are upon you not because of sympathy for us or agreement with Anarchism. They are upon you because it must be decided sooner or later whether we are justified in telling people that we will give them democracy in Europe, when we have no democracy here? Shall free speech and free assemblage, shall criticism and opinion-which even the espionage bill did not include-be destroyed? Shall it be a shadow of the past, the great historic American past? Shall it be trampled underfoot by any detective, or policeman, anyone who decides upon it? Or shall free speech and free press and free assemblage continue to be the heritage of the American people?
Gentlemen of the jury, whatever your verdict will be, as far as we are concerned, nothing will be changed. I have held ideas all my life. I have publicly held my ideas for twenty-seven years. Nothing on earth would ever make me change my ideas except one thing; and that is, if you will prove to me that our position is wrong, untenable, or lacking in historic fact. But never would I change my ideas because I am found guilty. I may remind you of two great Americans, undoubtedly not unknown to you, gentlemen of the jury; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. When Thoreau was placed in prison for refusing to pay taxes, he was visited by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emerson said:"David, what are you doing in jail?" and Thoreau replied: "Ralph, what are you doing outside, when honest people are in jail for their ideals?"

Document-Based Questions
1. What point about political violence was Emma Goldman trying to make in her analogy of a physician and his medicine?

2. In what ways does Goldman believe that the violent tactics of the establishment encouraged a backlash of political violence?

3. What does Goldman mean when she says that her co-defendant, Mr. Berkman, was right to say, “The eyes of America are upon you”?

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