Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When the US government censored free speech

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.



Borepatch said...

Interesting how Wilson is presented as a hero by the left, who gloss over this sort of stuff.

Andrew said...

FDR's internment camps, and the treatment of Japanese-American property rights, were all firmly based upon Wilson's policies towards German-Americans during WWI. Loss of property, et all.

Funny, these and other heinous policies like eugenics and sterilization of 'useless' persons, forced separation of minorities from the main culture, seizure of minority property for 'government' purposes and then selling the properties to the correct private individuals, all these were used by another government. The government of Adolf Hitler, who was a bit of a Wilson fan-boy.

Yet you hear people praise Wilson and profane Hitler.

What a sell-job.

We probably would not have needed the Civil Rights movement if it hadn't been for the full-scale segregation movement by Wilson's people.

Anonymous said...

For more recent suppression of free speech look at McCain's campaign finace "reform" which banned political speech by groups like the NRA. Fortunately, the supreme court eventually lifted the restrictions, which horrified the Left, esp Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Peter B said...

Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism covers Wilson's attack on the Constitution at some length; there's a 40 page chapter entitled "Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of Liberal Fascism."

kamas716 said...

I remember in High School reading an account of German-Americans being detained and harassed during WWI. I can't remember the name of the book now, but it was for the local interest history section we were doing (lots of people of German ancestry in ND). My grandmother spoke only German until she entered grade school, and my great grandparents learned to speak English from the kids coming home from school. This part of history seems to get glossed over by the schools these days.

Andrew said...

kamas716. Wilson's detainment camps were the basis of FDR's internment camps for Japanese-, Italian- and German-Americans during WWII. FDR did nothing if not on a grand scale, compared to Wilson.

My grandmother used to tell the story about how she caught her family's housemaid speaking German on a trolley and turned her in to her father, who got the maid arrested and eventually the lady was detained as a spy. Sounded really neat when I heard it as a kid, but now as a adult, not so much.

Skip said...

I remember in the 60's, converting POW barracks in Campo CA into apartments.
German/Italians were housed there and worked in the fields.

Chas Clifton said...

Someone has his world wars confused. Italy was part of the Allies in World War One -- that is why Ernest Hemingway was there driving an ambulance. So speaking Italian at home should not have suggested treasonous activity, although some Americans mistrusted Italians for other reasons.

Chas Clifton said...

Sorry, "her" world wars. ;)