Elliott Lilien
Thirty-Five Year Teaching Career at Concord-Carlisle High School, 1965 to 2000.

Is War Bad for Civil Liberties?
Speaker Elliott Lilien, December 1, 2003
Concord-Carlisle Human Rights Council Annual Meeting
Trinitarian Congregational Church.

Observations on teaching as an "exhaustive" profession.
Concord-Carlisle High School during the 1960s and 1970's- quality of teaching staff and administrative philosophy. Open campus, administrative turnover.
Influence of the teachers association or union, role of Mass Teachers Association.
Departmental faculty loyalty, lack of schoolwide unity.
Issue of teacher certification renewal, tenure.
Teaching German History, influence of classical music, reassessments of the importance of World War I, and the persona of Hitler.
Changing role of religion in students lives.

The discussion of the Patriots Act at the Peabody School that I participated in about two weeks largely concerned the act itself. An official of the Attorney General's office cited page and paragraph number and invited the audience to read the whole piece of legislation, which is 900 pages long. I thought of Prince Metternich's censors, who censored only pamphlets and books that were below fifty pages in length in the cynical belief that the general public wouldn't read anything longer than that. For this reason, books during the period 1815-1848 in Germany have extraordinarily large print and sometimes fives or six words to the page. It's to avoid the censors by getting up over fifty pages. Other Patriot Act speakers said that the act contained much that was good and some things no so good and that it had to be taken item by item. No doubt this is correct in a law court, but when judging any historical document, it is important to look not only at the document, but at the context in which it appears, and what caused it to be done at the time it was done and in the way it was done.

Of course any historical event is very difficult to make sense of, especially when that event is very close at hand. And comparing past experiences always meets with the fact that the two events are never really the same. General rules in history are particularly tough to come by and those who have tried to make them have not fared well. Given that as a background I will try to make a general rule. War is bad for human rights. Wars fought for human rights are bad for human rights, at least while they are going on. The very nature of war calls for a unified effort is in opposition to free discussion and argument. The closer the war gets, the more the enemy does, the less tolerant the general public is of what it considers to be its opponents. American History provides a number of examples. No one ever leaves out the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, so I won't either. Here the enemy was the French Republic. The government deported, without trial, French and Irish immigrants. It arrested offending congressmen and muzzled the press. During the McCarthy era, when it became unclear that we would not continue our wartime friendship with the Soviet Union, parts of the society hunted communists, blacklisted actors and required teacher oaths. My favorite from this period is making the Cincinatti Reds baseball team change their name, even though Gabe Paul, their owner said "I don't know why we have to change. We had the name first. Let them change." Also good is making Russian dressing into United Nations dressing.

President Lincoln would be my nominee for greatest American. Yet in the area of civil rights in wartime his record is not inspiring. He surrendered the right of habeas corpus and jailed hundreds (some say thousands) of suspected Confederate sympathizers for the duration of the war. Clement Valandigham was a congressman from Ohio. He was jailed and then deported to the southern states for saying, that Lincoln had prolonged the war. The southerners sent him back because of his pro-union beliefs and we then kicked him out of the country to England. Lincoln had the army shut down the presses of papers that opposed him. He forbid a state legislature to meet because he feared what it would do if it did.

I imagine a number of people here admire Franklin Roosevelt. He's worse than Lincoln, if you do these things by numbers. 110,000 Japanese Americans were moved from California to Utah, Arizona and Wyoming merely because they were Japanese. None of them had ever done a single act hostile to the country. This was okayed by the Supreme Court which, by the way, also found Lincoln's suspension of the habeas corpus to be all right. That the intense anti-Japanese feelings of the population of California had something to do with this few now doubt. The Japanese-Americans in the rest of the nation, and in Hawaii, which was in the immediate path of the enemy, were not touched.

The worst is Woodrow Wilson. Under his administration we had the Espionage and Sedition Acts, under which thousands were imprisoned for diverse offenses. Many of them being committed in private conversations, such as criticizing the president, criticizing military uniforms, saying disrespectful things about the YMCA, slighting the Red Cross. Wilson said, upon the entry of the United States into the war that "America would never again be the same, that the war effort would poison our institutions." He then called pacifists and draft resisters "grossly stupid"- these included Robert LaFollette and Jane Addams. Emma Goldman was deported. Eugene Debs, the candidate of the Socialist Part for president in 1912 who received over a million votes was sentenced to ten years in prison for saying "Resist militarism wherever found."

Cultural behavior during the war is not worthy of much praise either. In certain cities Beethoven and Schubert could not be played, (a similar movement occurred in England). German measles became "Liberty measles," sauerkraut "Liberty cabbage," Lou Gehrig was among many Germans beaten up because of their ancestry. It also should be mentioned that intolerance continued after the war, once we had gotten used to it, but changed its target. As in the Second War we switched from Germans to communists. In response to a series of bombings, one of which was in the front yard of the Attorney General, the government launched the Palmer Raids. Six thousand immigrants were seized and 600 deported without trial. Attention was turned on union organizers, and what were called "international anarchists and communists." Federal officials in Hartford added a new twist. They arrested anyone who visited those who were already arrested. The pledge of allegiance came out of this period. It never existed before the 1920s. In my school we said it every day, because the authorities feared it would wear off in 24 hours time and the enemy might attack an unpledged America.

We ought to have no illusions. The war measures were supported by the overwhelming majority of the population. There was no public outcry over the singling out of the Japanese of those Northerners accused of Confederate sympathy. There was little sympathy for those deported or jailed under the Espionage and Sedition Acts. In numbers, one might conclude that 90% of Americans did not understand the Bill of Rights, understood it but did not agree with it, or understood it, agreed with it, but didn't think it ought to apply in times of crisis. This view was pretty consistently backed up by the counts.

Winston Churchill is another of my favorites, like Lincoln. At the outbreak of World War II he had 10,000 suspected fascist sympathizers jailed for the duration, including at least one relative of someone in this room this morning. The Canadians also jailed all Japanese. In 1939 the Australians interned all of their nationalized German citizens. But the most fearsome example is the French Republic in 1793. Fearing that the state would be destroyed by its foreign enemies, the Jacobin faction in the Assembly determined to make sure the home front was safe. To this end they concocted a legal system called the Terror, which was to eliminate those opposed to democracy. By this system it is estimated about 20,000 persons were drowned, bludgeoned to death, or guillotined in public. When Danton made a particularly attractive speech prior to his death, Robespierre forbade any defendant to offer a defense before the Tribunal. A number of historians credit the Terror with saving the Revolution. The French Republicans, it might be noted had no Bill of Rights- that was because they believed that the general will being the voice of the people was never wrong if it could be given the ability to make itself heard. As most of you probably know crowds gathered each day at the Guillotine, souvenirs were sold, refreshments handed out, and the procedure had the atmosphere of an outdoor festival. Someone asked me, "Is there anything good?" Yes the United States does not go in for wholesale massacres and afterwards feel sorry. Few defend the interning of the Japanese or the jailing of very popular political leaders. We wish we hadn't done those things.

What conclusions can be drawn from all this? The first is that, once the war, or the supposed threat gets going, it seems futile to control it because of the great popularity the measures of suppression have within the population. It takes quite a strong political leader to risk the safety of the people for what Lincoln termed "very tender liberties." So the leaders carry out what the heavy majority really want. The Bill of Rights is designed to protect the minority against really good ideas the majority have and when people feel their lives to be in danger, short shrift is given to such notions. The logical tactic then for someone who values human rights is to stop the war. When the war stops then things generally get better.

There is a small minority of wars fought to save civilization from collapsing or to prevent other evils. But wars like the Crusades, the Balance of Power Wars in Europe, the wars of National Liberation, and above all World War I were unnecessary, stopped art, science, and most creative thinking and just killed people and destroyed things without achieving any aim of any of the people involved.

And now the Patriot Act. It is mild and in no way compares with the extremist actions of the past. But it does not occur by itself. It happens in a context and that context ought to be examined, because at least for me, it casts the legislation in a completely different light. I must now present what I consider to be the ideas that motivate the present American government. We have announced that we no longer will await the aggressions of other nations but will strike them if we suspect they intend to strike us, for to wait invites events such as what happened in New York (on Sept. 11, 2001). This notion has been outlawed in international law for 400 years, because it is productive of many more wars and wars are very bad for human rights. If we suspect others, others may suspect us.

It certainly is upsetting to me to listen to our justification for war when that justification is the same one used by the Germans to attack Belgium in 1914 and Russia in 1941. We condemned both those acts,. The Germans claimed France was going to attack them through Belgium and had to be preempted in 1914. In 1941 they claimed Russia had mass weapons of destruction on their borders.

Another "context" is the announced view of the Secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld) that we will not be safe until we rearrange the Middle East because if we don't fanatical enemies will continue to be produced there. In this view we have to "clean out the nest," and establish a government that suits us better. The previous examples offered are the rebuilding of Japan and Germany after World War II. We can reform such powerful states as these surely we can do the same with the Middle East.

The history of such efforts is not encouraging, the most famous being once again the French Republic which told the world that would for its own safety and the good of the world spread democracy whenever it could. Motivated by this goal, it produced wars lasting 23 years and casualties numbering in the millions. The effort required limiting freedom in France to such an extent that the government became much more oppressive and violent than that of Louis XVI that it overthrew because of the absence of freedom. And, this is perhaps the most vital single effect, it was difficult for foreigners to distinguish between democratic freedom and French imperialistic conquest.

This crusading spirit seems strange to me when coming from persons who call them conservatives. The traditional conservative position is that we will do whatever makes for the safety of the United States. That meant we sometimes supported dictators, well maybe a lot of times. President Bush has apologized for that. Does that mean we intend to overthrow the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Kuwait, etc. in the near future because terrorism is produced in their states also? Wouldn't that mean more war? And war, as we know, is bad for human rights.

Maybe a crusade for democracy is necessary to prevent danger at home. But it doesn't seem so to me. Such a policy seems reckless. It seems willing to roll the dice and it seems willing, even anxious, to take on warfare as a solution. I would feel much more comfortable if I thought that this whole business was about oil, or some question of prestige. Then those responsible for policy could more easily back away or maneuver. If we are faced with idealists who really think our system not only should be exported but has to be for our safety then the danger is much greater. I think the Patriot Act is a symptom and that the problem from a human rights point of view is much deeper. It is the threat of expanding warfare-warfare being very bad for human rights.

Friends of mine have told me, even if you stop the Iraq War it will still leave terrorism and the necessity of meeting it. However stopping it would limit the amount and area of violence and reduce the threat of its spread. It would also make possible a broad general agreement about opposing suicidal fanatics and not squander the feelings of sympathy towards the United States that was evident everywhere immediately after the attack of New York. Finally one more thought. It is characteristic of the periods in our history where we have suspended civil rights that the danger has been exaggerated. The Japanese Americans were not a threat to the security of the country, nor was Clement Valhandiham or Eugene Debs. The fact that no further acts have occurred in the United States since 2001 might indicate the same. But even if that isn't true useless wars cannot be the answer. We certainly can do better and fmd better ways of defending our heritage. For wars are... well you know.

Mounted 26 January 2013. rcwh.