"The National Conscience Is Clear",

"The Old America That Was Free and Is Now Dead"

excerpted from the book

The Politics of War

the story of two wars which altered forever the political life of the American republic

by Walter Karp

Franklin Square Press, 1979, paper


"The National Conscience Is Clear"

For twenty months Wilson had been maneuvering America toward war without any troublesome misgivings. Insulated by a carapace of catch phrases-"service to mankind," "democracy against autocracy," "German militarism," "immutable law," "the dictates of humanity" "permanent peace," "association of nations"-the President had disregarded everything save the noble vision of himself delivering mankind from the scourge of war.

On January 15 when the Germans, in a last-ditch effort to avert war, proposed moderate terms in a second reply to Wilson's note, the President did not even bother to inform the Allies, although they opened up prospects for a negotiated settlement. He regarded the offer as a mere German ruse to gain the good will of Americans and thereby forestall war with the United States. That Wilson could not possibly allow.

On January 10, with German hopes for a negotiated peace reduced to the merest flicker, German military leaders finally persuaded a reluctant, rattled Kaiser Wilhelm to gamble the future of his country on submarine warfare conducted without restriction of any kind. German submarines were to sink on sight every merchantman found in the war zone, neutral as well as belligerent. According to the German Admiralty, only through an absolute blockade could German submarines deliver the swift fatal blow to the enemy on which the whole immense gamble depended. The German high command no longer seriously cared about keeping America neutral. The price had become too high, for it was Wilson's protection of the British munitions traffic and his support of the British blockade that made possible the Allies' deadly war of attrition.

For Wilson the war "to end war" was now clearly in view. He had only to sit back, it seemed, and wait for German submarines to give him no choice. With understandable optimism, the President, on February 6, informed his bellicose cabinet that he was "passionately" resolved to avoid any act of hostility toward Germany or to commit even the smallest breach in punctilious neutrality. "If we are to have war," said Wilson, "we must go in with our hands clean." With Germany planning to sink neutral ships on sight, Wilson decided not to make an issue of American travelers killed on belligerent vessels. The exalted "human right" to travel safely on belligerent merchantmen had never seemed very important to most Americans. Since it was only Wilson's pretext for conflict with Germany, the President preferred to make the sinking of an American freighter, rather than the death of an American traveler, the "overt act" that necessitated war. Having served its purpose, the "sacred" right to safe travel was quietly shelved by the President had been exalting it for so long.

By now the large antiwar majority in America was virtually impotent to block 'Wilson's war course. Eventually some American ships, drawn by the lure of high profits, would leave their home ports. Eventually one of them would be sunk. The President would ask Congress for a declaration of war and Congress would enthusiastically oblige. Short of a spontaneous national insurrection there was nothing the American people could do to alter that inevitable sequence of events. Nevertheless, it was they who would have to do the fighting. It was they who would have to be persuaded, once war was declared, that German submarine attacks on American freighters justified a mass conscript army, total mobilization of the national economy, and the dispatch of an armed host to the blood-soaked battlefields of Europe. That prospect was so alien to all American experience, so contrary to all American tradition, that it was to remain beyond the imagining of most Americans until the reality itself burst in upon them. That millions of Americans, even in wartime, might resist conscription and prevent the dispatch of an expeditionary army was a possibility that filled Wilson with dread To protect his future war from popular dissent the administration was already drafting an "espionage" bill that 'Wilson was shortly to use in the severest assault on political liberty ever launched by an American President. In short, if Americans were going to fight the massive land war Wilson intended to wage, it was not only imperative that he get American freighters sunk it was equally imperative to convince Americans that the sinkings were a causus belli sufficiently provocative to justify reprisal on an unprecedented scale.

On February 17, a mere eleven days after vowing "passionately" to act peacefully and punctiliously, Wilson disclosed to a number of Senate Democrats his bold solution to the dual problem facing him: getting American freighters in the war zone to be sunk and persuading the electorate that the sinkings constituted an act of war against America itself. The President intended to arm American freighters with U.S. Navy guns, man them with U.S. Navy gun crews, and authorize them to attack submarines in the war zone. By putting America's private commerce with a belligerent under official military protection, Wilson meant to declare as emphatically as possible that such commerce, so far from being a private affair, involved a government obligation so binding that the sinking of an American freighter could only be regarded as an act of war against the United States itself. The chief purpose of Wilson's plan-"armed neutrality," he called it-was to persuade the American people that what they stubbornly regarded as private was inescapably public, which is to say, its chief purpose was domestic war propaganda.

Had the President intended only to arm freighters trading in noncontraband with England he had strong justification for doing I so, given Germany's submarine declaration. Wilson, however, was determined to put navy guns on American ships carrying munitions to England. The President had neither the obligation nor the warrant to arm such ships. The very opposite was true. Neutral ships carrying contraband to a belligerent sail for their own private profit and assume their own private risks; they are legally subject to capture and destruction. For the neutral America to protect by force a private munitions trade with a belligerent was far worse than a gross breach of neutrality. It constituted an act of war in itself. Worse yet, it was a wholly gratuitous act. So far from assuming a time-honored obligation Wilson hoped to evade a time-honored obligation, the obligation President Washington recognized in 1793 when he publicly proclaimed that Americans shipping contraband of war to belligerents "will not receive the protection of the United States." Even Wilson's secretary of the navy, Josephus Daniels, warned the President that if he armed ships carrying war contraband and authorized them to attack submarines he would be violating Germany's acknowledged right to seize and destroy them.

To all such legal considerations the President turned a deaf ear. International law was "sacred" to Wilson only if it led to war with Germany.

On February 27 Wilson introduced into Congress an armed neutrality bill, drafted by himself, authorizing him not only to arm American freighters but "to employ such other instrumentalities and methods.. . to protect such vessels and the citizens of the United States in their lawful and peaceful pursuits on the high seas." Under the proposed legislation Wilson could, if he chose, use American battleships to protect American traffic in munitions and start a war at sea at once. That Congress would approve the measure swiftly and overwhelmingly Wilson had no reason to doubt. Congress was avid for war. One cloud only loomed up on the President's horizon: the formidable figure of Senator La Follette himself. Like a battlescarred lion rudely awakened from his slumbers, an aroused La Follette, grim and angry, was determined to give battle to Wilson and stop him, if possible, in his tracks. As in the days of the tariff fight against Aldrich, the Wisconsin senator quickly rounded up insurgent Republican members of the dwindling peace faction Norris, Cummins, Gronna of North Dakota, Works of California - for a concerted assault on the armed ship bill. With the 64th Congress scheduled to expire at noon, March 4, La Follette's immediate objective was to block a final vote on the measure. More important, La Follette was fighting for time-time to expose the perils and shams of armed neutrality, time to marshal the antiwar sentiments of the American people. Then let Wilson call the new Congress into special session if he dared. In the long roster of American senators, few, if any, could match La Follette's fighting courage and tenacity. It was a man of heroic stature who was now about to stand up with a handful of allies to challenge the President and the legions of the war party."

On the afternoon of March 4 the President released to the press a scathing statement virtually accusing La Follette and his colleagues of treason to their country. "A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great Government of the United States helpless and contemptible." The statement was itself an extraordinary act, for never before had a President singled out members of the Senate for such savage public denunciation. Wilson's purport was unmistakable: "This President who abhors war" wanted the nation's chief antiwar spokesmen politically destroyed.

If it was too late to avert war, it was not too late for La Follette to expose the lies and false dealings by which a sovereign people were now being j, pushed into the bloodiest war in history."

At 4 P.M. on April 4, Senator La Follette took the floor of the upper chamber to deliver one of the bravest speeches ever made in the United States Senate. The speech, a long one, began slowly with a close discussion of armed neutrality, the now-forgotten cause célébre of the previous month. The President, La Follette pointed out, had been utterly wrong about the arming of American freighters. He had now admitted as much himself. Yet with what confidence had he held up to scorn those who had dared say he was wrong. Two days ago the President again came before Congress equally confident of his judgment. Was he, asked La Follette, perhaps equally wrong again? "Let us with the earnestness and singleness of purpose which the momentous nature of the question involves be calm enough and brave enough to examine further the President's address of April 2." Then, with a cold and noble fury, La Follette proceeded to tear to shreds, pretense by pretense, distortion by distortion, the glib propagandist's appeal for war that the President of the United States had seen fit to put before an ostensibly free people.

The President had emphasized, said La Follette, Germany's broken submarine "promise." The diplomatic record showed otherwise. "The promise, so-called, of the German government was conditional upon England's being brought to obedience of international law in her naval warfare." Nobody would contend that this had been done. "Was it quite fair to lay before the country a statement which implies that Germany had made an unconditional promise which she had dishonestly violated?... The public mind should be calm, not inflamed" by its President. The President had dwelt long on Germany's violation of international law. "Would it not be well to say also that it was England, not Germany, who refused to obey the Declaration of London?... Keep that in mind. Would it not have been fair to say, and to keep in mind, that Germany offered to abide by those principles and England refused?" The President had said that German submarine warfare against commerce was "a war against all nations," but "is it not a little peculiar that if Germany's warfare is against all nations the United States is the only nation that regards it necessary to declare war on that account?" Does that fact not suggest in itself that "Germany's conduct under the circumstances does not merit from any nation which is determined to preserve its neutrality a declaration of war?"

The President had said he was a "sincere friend" of the German people. How, asked La Follette, did he now propose to demonstrate his friendship? He had told us: by "the utmost practicable cooperation" with Germany's enemies. "Practicable cooperation with England and her allies in starving to death the old men and women, the children, the sick and the maimed of Germany." Let us, said La Follette, mocking Wilson's own phrase, "throw pretense to the winds." The President wanted the United States to wage war on the side of the "hereditary enemies of Germany." When we did so, their purpose would "become our purpose." Did the President think that when the war was over Great Britain would be unable "to bend us to her purposes and compel compliance with her demands?"

The President, of course, professed higher goals. The President said this was a war "for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government." That, said La Follette, was indeed an "exalted sentiment." In accordance with it, the President looked forward to the overthrow of German autocracy. Why not the dissolution of the British Empire? "The President has not suggested that we make our support of Great Britain conditional to her granting home rule to Ireland, or Egypt or India." Russia's tsar had been overthrown two weeks ago, "but it will hardly be contended that if Russia was still an autocratic Government, we would not be asked to enter this alliance with her just the same." Indeed, a President who told the people of Germany they could have peace only by "giving up their Government" had a very strange notion of self-government. The President made "a profession of democracy that is linked in action with the most brutal and domineering use of autocratic power. Are the people of this country being so well represented in this war movement that we need to go abroad to give other people control of their governments?... It ill becomes us to offer as an excuse for our entry into the war the unsupported claim that this war was forced upon the German people by their government 'without their previous knowledge or approval.' Who has registered the knowledge or approval of the American people of the course this Congress is called upon to take in declaring war upon Germany?... The espionage bills, the conscription bills and other forcible military measures which we understand are being ground out of the war machine in this country is the complete proof that those responsible for this war fear that it has no popular support." So much for Wilson's "profession of democracy" and his devotion to government by the consent of the governed.

Leaving Wilson's war message where it lay, Senator La Follette then turned to Wilson's diplomatic record of false neutrality. It was not Germany, La Follette noted, who first disregarded the rules of international law. It was England. It was not Germany who refused to accede to our protests. It was England. It was not Germany who first sank neutral ships without warning. It was England, when she sowed the entire North Sea with submarine mines. Yet what did the Wilson administration do in the face of that act "unheard of before in the history of the world"? It "agreed to the lawless act of Great Britain .... The present administration has never uttered a word of protest .... The only reason why we have not suffered the sacrifice of just as many ships and just as many lives from the violation of our rights by the war zone and submarine mines of Great Britain as we have through the unlawful acts of Germany in making her war zone in violation of our neutral rights is simply because we have submitted to Great Britain's dictation." Having "acquiesced in England's action without protest, it is proposed that we now go to war with Germany for identically the same action on her part." Worse yet, it was proposed that we do so by the President in utter disregard for his own "moral responsibility for the position in which Germany has been placed by our collusion and cooperation with Great Britain. By suppressing the rule with regard to neutral rights in Great Britain's case, we have been actively aiding her in starving the civil population of Germany. We have helped to drive Germany into a corner, her back to the wall, to fight with what weapons she can lay hands on..."

Because of Wilson's policy of "collusion and cooperation" with one of the belligerents, America's neutral rights were no longer a just ground for war. "We from early in the war threw our neutrality to the winds by permitting England to make a mockery of it to her advantage against her chief enemy." That had been the President's policy. He had claimed the right as a neutral to enforce the rules of war against one belligerent and not against its enemy. He made that claim formally and explicitly, noted La Follette, in his May 8, 1916, Sussex note to Germany when he insisted that Britain's violation of America's neutral rights was no concern of its enemy. That note "misstates the law; it asserts a principle that can not be maintained for one moment with a decent regard for equal rights between nations with whom we are dealing upon a basis of equality." The President had no right to make such an assertion, for no neutral enjoys such a right. "There can be no greater violation of our neutrality than the requirement that one of two belligerents shall adhere to the settled principles of law and that the other shall have the advantage of not doing so." Because of Wilson's false neutrality, America had lost the character of a neutral; America could no longer claim absolute neutral rights. Because of Wilson's violation of neutrality, our neutral rights were no longer absolute but "relative." Yet the President who worked in "collusion" for two years with one of the belligerents now was asking Congress to declare war against its enemy in defense of the very neutral rights he himself had wantonly compromised. Such were the false and dishonest grounds of the President's proposal for hurling America "into the bottomless pit of the European conflict."

As La Follette spoke, senators one by one left their seats and headed for the cloakroom. It was not a pleasant speech for most senators to hear, but La Follette was not really speaking to his fellow senators. In a sense he was not even speaking to the American people. More than anything else, he was speaking for the record on which he hoped one day they might act. "There is always lodged, and always will be, thank the God above us, power in the people supreme. Sometimes it sleeps, sometimes it seems the sleep of death; but, sir, the sovereign power of the people never dies. It may be suppressed for a time, it may be misled, be fooled, silenced. I think, Mr. President, that it is being denied expression now. I think there will come a day when it will have expression. The poor, sir, who are the ones called upon to rot in the trenches, have no organized power, have no press to voice their will on this question of war and peace; but, oh, Mr. President, at some time they will be heard .... There will come an awakening; they will have their day and they will be heard." On that day of awakening, hopefully, they would remember not the glib, dishonest phrases of a hypocrite President, but the dense honest utterance of the valiant senator from Wisconsin."

When La Follette finished his speech at 6:45 P.M., with tears of grief and unspent anger streaming down his face, one reporter in the press gallery turned to his friend and said: "That is the greatest speech we will either of us ever hear. It will not be answered because it is unanswerable." A few hours later the Senate voted for war 82 to 6-Norris, Stone, Gronna, Vardaman, and Henry Lane of Oregon joining La Follette in a final courageous dissent. The next day the House voted with the Senate, 373 to 50. Woodrow Wilson at last had his war.


"The Old America That Was Free and Is Now Dead"

The triumph of Wilson and the war party struck the American Republic a blow from which it has never recovered. If the mainspring of a republican commonwealth-its "active principle," in Jefferson's words-is the perpetual struggle against oligarchy and privilege, against private monopoly and arbitrary power, then that mainspring was snapped and deliberately snapped by the victors in the civil war over war.

The sheer fact of war was shattering in itself. Deaf to the trumpets and the fanfare, the great mass of Americans entered the war apathetic, submissive, and bitter. Their honest sentiments had been trodden to the ground, their judgment derided, their interests ignored. Representative government had failed them at every turn. A President, newly reelected, had betrayed his promise to keep the peace. Congress, self-emasculated, had neither checked nor balanced nor even seriously questioned the pretexts and pretensions of the nation's chief executive. The free press had shown itself to be manifestly unfree-a tool of the powerful and a voice of the "interests." Every vaunted progressive reform had failed as well. Wall Street bankers, supposedly humbled by the Wilsonian reforms, had impudently clamored for preparedness and war. The Senate, ostensibly made more democratic through the direct election of senators, had proven as impervious as ever to public opinion. The party machines, supposedly weakened by the popular primary, still held elected officials in their thrall. Never did the powerful in America seem so willful, so wanton, or so remote from popular control as they did the day war with Germany began. On that day Americans learned a profoundly embittering lesson: They did not count. Their very lives hung in the balance and still they did not count. That bitter lesson was itself profoundly corrupting, for it transformed citizens into cynics, filled free men with self-loathing, and drove millions into privacy, apathy, and despair.

Deep as it was, the wound of war might have healed in time had Wilson and the war party rested content with their war. With that war alone, however, they were by no means content. Well before the war, the war party had made its aims clear. It looked forward to a new political order distinguished by "complete internal peace" and by the people's "consecration to the State." It wanted an electorate that looked upon "loyalty" to the powerful as the highest political virtue and the exercise of liberty as proof of "disloyalty." The war party wanted a free people made servile and a free republic made safe for oligarchy and privilege, for the few who ruled and the few who grew rich; in a word, for itself. The goals had been announced in peacetime. They were to be achieved under cover of war. While American troops learned to survive in the trenches, Americans at home learned to live with repression and its odious creatures-with the government spy and the government burglar, with the neighborhood stool pigeon and the official vigilante, with and the lawlessness of bigot judges, with the midnight police raid and the dragnet arrest.

In this domestic war to make America safe for oligarchy, Woodrow Wilson forged all the main weapons. Cherisher of the "unified will" in peacetime, Wilson proved himself implacable in war. Despising in peacetime all who disturbed the "unity of our national counsel," Wilson in wartime wreaked vengeance on them all. Exalted by his global mission, the ex-Princeton professor, whom one party machine had groomed for high office and whom another had been protecting for years, esteemed himself above all men and their puling cavils. He could no longer tolerate, he was determined to silence, every impertinent voice of criticism, however small and however harmless. Nothing was to be said or read in America that Wilson himself might find disagreeable. Nothing was to be said or read in America that cast doubt on the nobility of Wilson's goals, the sublimity of his motives, or the efficacy of his statecraft. Wilson's self-elating catch phrases were to be on every man's lips or those lips would be sealed by a prison term. "He seemed determined that there should be no questioning of his will," wrote Frederick Howe after personally pleading with Wilson to relent. "I felt that he was eager for the punishment of men who differed from him, that there was something vindictive in his eyes as he spoke."

By the time Wilson reached Paris in December 1918, political liberty had been snuffed out in America. "One by one the right of freedom of speech, the right of assembly, the right to petition, the right to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the right against arbitrary arrest, the right to a fair trial... the principle that guilt is personal, the principle that punishment should bear some proportion to the offense, had been sacrificed and ignored." So an eminent Harvard professor of law, Zechariah Chafee, reported in 1920. The war served merely as pretext. Of that there can be little doubt. In a searing civil conflict that threatened the very survival of the Republic, Americans, under Lincoln, enjoyed every liberty that could possibly be spared. In a war safely fought three thousand miles from our shores, Americans, under Wilson, lost every liberty they could possibly be deprived of.

Under the Espionage Act of June 1917, it became a felony punishable by twenty years' imprisonment to say anything that might "postpone for a single moment," as one federal judge put it, an American victory in the struggle for democracy. With biased federal judges openly soliciting convictions from the bench and federal juries brazenly packed to ensure those convictions, Americans rotted in prison for advocating heavier taxation rather than the issuance of war bonds, for stating that conscription was unconstitutional, for saying that sinking armed merchantmen had not been illegal, for criticizing the Red Cross and the YMCA. A woman who wrote to her newspaper that "I am for the people and the government is for the profiteers," was tried, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in prison. The son of the chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court became a convicted felon for sending out a chain letter that said the Sussex Pledge had not been unconditional. Under the Espionage Act American history itself became outlawed. When a Hollywood filmmaker released his movie epic The Spirit of '76, federal agents seized it and arrested the producer: his portrayal of the American Revolution had cast British redcoats in an unfavorable light. The film, said the court, was criminally "calculated... to make us a little bit slack in our loyalty to Great Britain in this great catastrophe." A story that had nourished love of liberty and hatred of tyranny in the hearts of American schoolchildren had become a crime to retell in Wilson's America. The filmmaker was sentenced to ten years in prison for recalling the inconvenient past.

Fear and repression worked its way into every nook and cranny of ordinary life. Free speech was at hazard everywhere. Americans were arrested for remarks made at a boarding house table, in a hotel lobby, on a train, in a private club, during private conversations overheard by the government's spies. Almost every branch of Wilson's government sprouted its own "intelligence bureau" to snoop and threaten and arrest. By 1920 the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a swaddling fattened on war, had files on two million people and organizations deemed dangerously disloyal. At the Post Office Department, Albert Burleson set up a secret index of "illegal ideas"-such as criticizing Gompers, the patriotic union leader-and banned from the mails any publication guilty of expressing one. Even if an independent paper avoided an "illegal idea," it could still be banned from the mails for betraying an "audible undertone of disloyalty," as one Post Office censor put it, in otherwise nonfelonious remarks. Under the tyranny of the Post Office, Socialist papers were suppressed outright and country editors sent to jail. Freedom of the press ceased to exist.

' Nor did the administration rely on its own bureaucratic resources alone. To cast the net of repression wider and draw the mesh finer, the Justice Department called on the "preparedness" clubs, shock troops of the war party, for help. Authorized by the Justice Department to question anyone and detain them for arrest, the prepareders fell eagerly to their task of teaching "consecration to the State" by hounding free men into jail. Where the "preparedness" clubs were thin on the ground, the Justice Department recruited its own vigilante groups-the Minute Men and the American Protective League - to enforce with the police power "the unity of our national counsel." By August 1917 Attorney General Thomas Gregory boasted that he had "several hundred thousand private citizens" working for him, "most of them as members of patriotic bodies.. . keeping an eye on disloyal individuals and making reports of disloyal utterances, and seeing that the people of the country are not deceived."'

Truth and falsity were defined by the courts. According to judicial decisions, public statements were criminally false under the Espionage Act when they contradicted the President's April 2 war message, which became, at gunpoint, the national creed, the touchstone of loyalty, and the measure of "sedition," a crime that Wilson and the war party resuscitated 118 years after it had destroyed forever the old Federalist oligarchy. This time it did not destroy oligarchy. It helped destroy "the old America that was free and is now dead," as one civil libertarian was to put it in 1920. Under the Espionage Act no one was safe except espionage agents, for under the Act not a single enemy spy was ever convicted.

The War Enemy Division of the Justice Department had more important war enemies in mind. Every element in the country that had ever disturbed the privileged or challenged the powerful Wilson and the war party were determined to crush. They were the enemy. "Both the old parties are in power," Lincoln Steffens wrote a friend during wartime. "They are the real traitors these days. They are using the emergency to get even with their enemies and fight for their cause." Radicals were ruthlessly persecuted. The International Workers of the World was virtually destroyed in September 1917 when Justice Department agents arrested 166 I.W.W. leaders for heading a strike the previous June. Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist Party's candidate for President, was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment for attributing the World War to economic interests in a speech before a Socialist gathering. Under the cloak of "patriotic bodies" and armed with the federal police power, reactionary local businessmen and machine politicians crushed local radicals and prewar insurgents. The wartime tyranny in Washington spawned and encouraged a thousand municipal tyrannies.

"It was quite apparent," Howe recalled in his memoirs, "that the alleged offenses for which people were being prosecuted were not the real offenses. The prosecution was directed against liberals, radicals, persons who had been identified with municipal ownership fights, with labor movements, with forums, with liberal papers that were under the ban." The entire prewar reform movement was destroyed in the war, said Howe, "and I could not reconcile myself to its destruction, to its voice being stilled, its integrity assailed, its patriotism questioned." The reformers "had stood for variety; for individuality; for freedom. They discovered a political state that seemed to hate these things; it wanted a servile society .... I hated the new state that had arisen, hated its brutalities, its ignorance, its unpatriotic patriotism."

Most of all, Wilson and the war party were determined to corrupt the entire body of the American people, to root out the old habits of freedom and to teach it new habits of obedience. Day after day, arrest after arrest, bond rally after bond rally, they drove home with overwhelming force the new logic of "the new state that had arisen": Dissent is disloyalty, disloyalty a crime; loyalty is servility, and servility is true patriotism. The new logic was new only in America; it is the perennial logic of every tyranny that ever was. The new state affected men differently, but it corrupted them all one way or another. The official repression drove millions of independent-minded Americans deep into private life and political solitude. Isolated, they nursed in private their bitterness and contempt - the corrupting consolation of cynicism. Millions more could not withstand the force of the new state that had risen. It was easier, by far, to surrender to the powerful and embrace their new masters, to despise with the powerful the very opinions they themselves had once held and to hound with the powerful their fellow citizens who still held them-the corrupting consolation of submission. Millions more simply bowed to the ways of oppression, to official lies and false arrests, to "slacker raids" and censored newspapers, to saying nothing, feeling nothing, and caring nothing-the corrupting consolation of apathy.

"The war has set back the people for a generation," said Hiram Johnson. "They have become slaves to the government." Yet the tolling of the bells for armistice brought no release to a corrupted and tyrannized people. To rule a free republic through hatred and fear, through censorship and repression, proved a luxury that the victors in the civil war over war refused to relinquish with the outbreak of peace. On Thanksgiving Day 1918, two weeks after the) armistice, the war party, as if on signal, began crying up a new danger to replace the Hun, a new internal menace to replace the German spy, a new object of fear and hatred, a new pretext for censorship and repression. "Bolshevism" menaced the country, declared William Howard Taft, although Communist Party members constituted a minuscule .001 percent of the American population. Bolshevik propaganda menaced America, declared a Senate committee in the middle of winding down its investigation of the nonexistent German propaganda menace. Purge the nation of "Reds," declared the National Security League, opening up its campaign against "Bolshevism" a month after completing its hunt for "pro-Germans" and three and a half years after launching its campaign for "preparedness." In Washington, the Wilson administration, too, joined in the new outcry against Bolshevism and continued to wage war unchecked against the liberties of the American people. The Post Office censorship machine continued to tyrannize the independent press. The Justice Department began deporting aliens suspected of belonging to "the anarchistic and similar classes," to cite the federal statute authorizing the mass deportations. For the first time in American history, guilt by association became a formal principle of law.

Everything seemed possible to the powerful and the privileged, so cowed by fear, so broken to repression had the American people become. Wilson even took time out from his messianic labors in Paris to urge passage of a peacetime federal sedition law, "unprecedented legislation," as Harvard's Professor Chafee put it at the time, "whose enforcement will let loose a horde of spies and informers, official and unofficial, swarming into our private life, stirring up suspicion without end." The war was over but Wilson did not want the American people to regain their freedom of speech and disturb once more "the unity of our national counsel." Although Congress never voted on the bill, the state party machines followed the President's lead. After the armistice almost every state in the Union passed laws abridging free speech. The statutes were sweeping enough in some states to satisfy a dictator's requirements. In Connecticut it became a crime to say anything that in the words of the statute, "intended to injuriously affect the Government" of Connecticut or of the United States. Striking while the iron was hot, Wilson and the war party were determined, in the immediate aftermath of war, to set up the legal machinery of permanent repression and to reconquer for oligarchy the venerable terrain of liberty in America. Fourteen months after the armistice, the New York World, awakening from its Wilsonian raptures, cried out in alarm over the new "despotism of professional politicians." The newspaper wondered why the prewar reform spirit and the prewar insurgents had died away so completely. It wondered, too, why "no other country in the world is suffering so much from professional politics" as America. There was no cause whatever to wonder. The professional politicians had won the only war they cared about, the war against a free republic that Wilson had begun in 1915 in the name of America's "mission."

Defeated in so many ways, Americans in 1919 enjoyed one grim victory of sorts. They witnessed and joined in the personal and political destruction of Woodrow Wilson, whose fall from the heights of glory was swifter and steeper than any other in our history. Ten months after an ecstatic Paris turned out to welcome the savior of the world, ten months after Europe paid him its fulsome homage, Woodrow Wilson was an utterly broken man, crippled in mind and spirit, thoroughly discredited and publicly reviled, his name a stench in his countrymen's nostrils, his deeds publicly denounced as crimes. Popular hatred, party interest, and the unbearable knowledge of what he had done to his country combined to encompass his ruin.

While 'Wilson was still at the peace conference, Republicans, led by Senator Lodge, launched their attack on the President through a concerted attack on his League. That a large majority of Republican senators favored a League of Nations in principle, that 'Wall Street supported Wilson almost unanimously, did not deter Republican leaders. For ventilating popular hatred, Wilson's League made the perfect outlet, and the party was not about to pass it up.

To attack Wilson's League was to assault Wilson himself. Of the actual merits and defects of the League of Nations, millions of Americans cared little. They knew only that Wilson wanted it and that was reason enough to oppose it. As the Philadelphia Public Ledger complained: "The mere fact that President Wilson wants something is not an argument against it." Wilson was reaping what he sowed. The President had robbed Americans of what they had cherished most. Now, spitefully and vindictively, millions of Americans wanted him deprived of what he cherished most. "Nine out of ten letters I get in protest against this treaty" a pro-League senator complained, "breathe a spirit of intense hatred of Woodrow 'Wilson .... That feeling forms a very large element in the opposition to this treaty." Licensed, as it were, by the Republican oligarchy, pent-up hatred of Wilson poured into the political arena. "No autocracy," shouted Republican foes of the League and audiences booed "the autocrat's" name to the rafters. "Impeach him! Impeach him!" a Chicago Coliseum audience screamed after Senator William Borah of Idaho finished assailing Wilson's League. It was no edifying spectacle, this picture of free men deliberating grave issues with little thought save personal vengeance. Yet here again Wilson reaped what he sowed. He had been the chief instrument of the Republic's degradation. Now hate-ridden millions howled for a graded revenge."

A madman and a criminal, that was what millions of Americans now thought of their President [Wilson].

The United States was never to ratify the Treaty of Versailles nor to enter the League of Nations. This was Wilson's final achievement. After wreaking havoc on his country for the sake of the League of Nations, Wilson strangled the League at its birth. It was a noble catch phrase once more, untarnished, sublime, justifying everything."

Contemporaries saw matters more clearly. The President was now discredited almost everywhere. His selfish, destructive course had disgraced him even in the eyes of admirers. With one year left of his term, he was utterly without power. In May Congress passed a joint resolution terminating the war with Germany. Wilson vetoed it and Congress overrode his veto. A few weeks later, the ailing, half-mad President watched in disappointment as his party nominated Governor James Cox, a party hack from Ohio, to run for his office against Senator Warren G. Harding, a party hack from the same state.

Cox never stood a chance of winning. Just as millions of Americans had cared nothing about the merits of the League of Nations, so in 1920 they cared nothing about the merits of the candidates.

The chief issue of the 1920 election was Thomas Woodrow Wilson. Wilson's enemies poured their support into Harding's campaign headquarters and it flowed in a torrent. Hatred of the President dominated the campaign. In the denunciations of Wilson the "dictator" and Wilson the "autocrat," Cox himself was virtually forgotten, buried, as the Springfield Republican put it, under a "mountain of malice." With nothing to recommend him save the fact that he was not a Democrat, Harding won the election with 16.2 million votes to Cox's 9.1 million It was the most crushing election victory ever won by a presidential candidate of no distinction whatever. The 1920 election was indeed the "great and solemn referendum" Wilson had called for, and it rendered its judgment on Wilson: guilty as charged. So ended the political career of a President whom Americans for years had been compelled to "stand by," whose lies had been deemed in the courts to be truth itself, whose honest critics had been denounced as "conspirators" and arrested as felons. On his last morning in office this terrible ruin of a man was asked to pardon Eugene Debs, rotting his life away in a federal penitentiary. Unforgiving, Wilson refused. He had pity only for himself. Today American children are taught in our schools that Wilson was one of our greatest Presidents. That is proof in itself that the American Republic has never recovered from the blow he inflicted upon it.

In 1920 Americans yearned for the "good old days" before Wilson and war, before everything had gone so wrong. They yearned in vain. The war and the war party had altered America permanently and since the war party had shaped America to serve its own interests, the change was a change for the worse. In postwar America the "despotism of professional politicians" went unchallenged. Independent citizens ceased to pester the party machines. The "good citizens" whose rise to civic consciousness had spawned the progressive movement now spurned the public arena in disgust. Wilson's hymns to "service" had made public service seem despicable. 'Wilson's self-serving "idealism" made devotion to the public good seem a sham and a fool's game. "The private life became the all in all," a chronicler of the 1920s has written. "The most diverse Americans of the twenties agreed in detestation of public life." The Babbitt replaced the political insurgent and what was left of the free public arena was a Kiwanis club lunch. In 1924 three-quarters of the electorate thought it useless to vote."

The nation's Republican rulers governed with impudence and impunity. A major administration scandal scarcely cost them a vote. They not only served the interests of the trusts, they boasted openly of doing so, for the "captains of industry" were now restored to their former glory as if the prewar reform movement had never existed. The Republican rulers even set about creating multicorporate cartels to enable the monopolists to govern themselves and the American people as well. This refurbished monopoly economy the rulers and their publicists praised fulsomely as the "American System," although it was a system prewar Americans had fought for thirty years and which the very laws prohibited. Herbert Hoover, the chief architect of the cartels, described the new economy as "rugged individualism," which was very like calling the sunset the dawn or describing Wilson's neutrality as "America First," for official lies and catch phrases dominated the country after Wilson's demise as much as they had in his heyday. The catch phrases were crass rather than lofty. That was the chief difference.

Magazines that once thrived on exposing the corrupt privileges of the trusts now retailed gushing stories of business "success," supplied recipes for attaining "executive" status, and wrote paeans in praise of big business, although it was even more corruptly privileged in the 1920s than it had been in the days of the muckraker. America basked in unexampled prosperity, the publicists wrote, although half the country was poor and the farmers desperate. In the 1920s the poor became prosperous by fiat. America had entered an endless economic golden age, proclaimed the magnates of Wall Street whose ignorant pronouncements were now treated with reverence and made front-page news. Peace had returned to America, but the braying of bankers, not the voice of the turtle, was heard in the land. There were other diversions, too, for the populace: Babe Ruth, Red Grange, Al Capone, and an endless stream of songs and movies extolling the charms of college life, although most Americans had never graduated from high school. In postwar America the entire country lived on fantasy and breathed propaganda.

Against the fictions and the lies, where were the voices of dissent? There were few to be heard. What had happened to America's deep enmity toward monopoly and private economic power? It had virtually ceased to exist. It was just strong enough to call forth a few euphemisms. Republicans labeled the cartels "trade associations" and that was that. When the indomitable La Follette ran for President in 1924 as a third-party candidate, it was hardly more than the swansong of a cause long lost. Outside a few of the old insurgent states (now known collectively as the "farm bloc," a mere special interest) the country fell silent. Apathy and cynicism were the universal state. The official propaganda of the 1920s meant little to most Americans, but by now they were inured to a public life that made no sense and to public men who never spoke to their condition. Like any defeated people, they expected their rulers to consider them irrelevant. Even when the Great Depression struck down the postwar economy (it was a house of cards) and toppled the tin gods of the 1920s, Americans remained as if dumbstruck. Foreign visitors to America in the early 1930s were astonished by the American people's docility, for we had never been docile before. In the 1893 depression America had looked like the Rome of the Gracchi; forty years later people whose life savings had been wiped out by the "American System" stood quietly on breadlines as if they had known breadlines all their lives.

Not all of this postwar degradation was destined to last. Some hope, in time, would return to the defeated and a semblance of civic courage to the servile. What did not return was the struggle for republican reform. That was the lasting achievement of Wilson and the war party. That was the irreparable damage they had done to the American Republic. They had destroyed once and for all the republican cause. Never again would the citizenry of this Republic enter the political arena determined to overthrow oligarchy (as Lincoln bid his countrymen do), to extirpate private power and eliminate special privilege.

Over the long years since 1917 the "despotism of professional politicians" has suffered its own ups and downs, but it has never been menaced-as it was menaced for so long-by free men struggling to protect their own freedom and regain a voice in their own affairs. From the ruins of the war, the republican cause has never revived to rally free men. It has ceased to make a difference in our politics. What the SpanishAmerican War deflected and weakened, the World War obliterated. And who can measure the cost of that loss, both to ourselves and to humanity, in whose name both wars had been fought.

The Politics of War

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