Friend, fellow blogger and author Alma Boykin has a very interesting article on her blog this morning, describing how wartime pressures led to wholesale violations of the Constitutional provision assuring free speech. Here's an excerpt.
One of the groups organized to encourage zeal for the war effort were the Four Minute Men. One of George Creel’s ideas, these were local community leaders – businessmen, clergy, politicians – who were given short speeches to read to audiences at theaters, concerts, public gatherings, movies, and any place where a group of people might gather. The speeches lasted about four minutes or less, thus the name, and they were what today we’d call soundbites of government propaganda about current topics. Other people watched the crowds, and if anyone seemed less than properly enthusiastic after the speech, they were noted.
Along with the Four Minute Men came the American Protective League. Vigilantes had already started attacking people suspected of being “disloyal” in 1917, but this gave their actions a veneer of legality and official approval. 250,000 people volunteered to spy on their neighbors and to act as agents against disloyalty. People who failed to buy enough war bonds, people who were not “doing their part” with Victory Gardens or meatles and wheatles days, people who failed to act enthusiastic enough about scrap metal drives, people who might speak German or Italian at home, people who might have been violating rationing rules, suspected draft dodgers, members of the IWW union… all were subject to citizens arrest. While relatively few people were actually arrested (possibly as many as 40,000), the knowledge that your neighbor might be watching to turn you in to the government for not being excited enough about a bond rally was chilling. The group was disbanded in 1919, but the precedent had been set.
Pacifists suffered special persecution, in part because so many were of German descent – Mennonites, Amish, German Brethren. The abuse of these groups was one of the low points of the war for the idea of the US living up to its ideals.
There's more at the link. Sobering - even chilling - but worthwhile reading, as are the first two parts in the series of articles. Part 1 may be read here, and Part 2 here.