Subscribe via RSS Feed

This Day in Labor History: June 16, 1918

[ 137 ] June 16, 2013 |

On June 16, 1918, the socialist leader and former head of the American Railway Union Eugene Debs gave a speech in Canton, Ohio, criticizing the United States’ actions in World War I and urging resistance to the draft. Two weeks later, Debs was arrested under the Espionage Act and charged with ten counts of sedition.

Something often forgotten in American history is how divisive wars actually are. The only major American war that did not lead to serious internal resistance was World War II, which to a modern generation is the touchstone by which to compare all wars. There wasn’t a lot of dissent around Korea, but people also didn’t call it a war at the time. Every other war created very real internal dissent. This was certainly true during World War I. President Wilson charged into war in 1917 without preparing the American people. A large swath of Americans opposed it for various reasons–pacifists, Quakers, the IWW, anarchists, the Irish, many of the ethnic groups under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, socialists. There was significant draft resistance in rural America among people who fundamentally did not care about the war in Europe and wouldn’t die for it.

The Wilson Administration needed to raise an army, but a lot of Americans did not want to be drafted. Wilson and other warmongers were determined to crush the left resistance to the war by any means necessary. This led to the largest systemic violation of civil liberties in the nation’s history. The copper barons of Bisbee used the war as an excuse to kick all unionists out of town. The military sent troops to the Pacific Northwest to end IWW led strikes in the forests, under the auspices of needing wood for airplanes. Most importantly, the government passed the Espionage Act and Sedition Act. Combined, these two laws made it a crime to criticize the United States government or inhibit the American war effort in any public way, with of course the government deciding who crossed the line against its own program of suppressing dissent. Arrests of radicals and the Red Scare followed.

Into all this came Eugene Debs. After his leadership of the failed Pullman Strike in 1894, Debs became a socialist and, along with Big Bill Haywood, the major leader of the left in the United States. He was involved in the founding of the IWW in 1905, splitting with that organization along with the rest of the Socialist Party in 1912. He first became the Socialist candidate for the presidency in 1900, something he repeated five times, reaching a height of 6% of the popular vote in 1912.

Debs went to Canton to urge resistance to the draft. In his speech, he claimed that the Central Powers and Allies were both fighting over capital plunder and that the people deserved better than to die in the trenches for a capitalist war. He urged the United States to remain neutral in the draft and for people to save their lives by resisting the draft. Essentially, Debs presented the widely held leftist view of World War I. He knew that if he simply gave the Socialist Party position on the war, he would likely be arrested. He replied, “I’ll take about two jumps and they’ll nail me, but that’s all right.” In Canton, Debs spoke to about 1000 supporters at Nimsilla Park. Only a bit of the speech was about the war. The rest was fairly standard Socialist fare. But it didn’t matter. Debs was arrested on June 30 in Cleveland. You can read the original New York Times story about his arrest here.



Debs speech, possibly the Canton speech of 1918, although this is disputed.

Clarence Darrow represented Debs. But even the great orator and defender of radicals could do little in the face of overwhelming anti-radical sentiment. The jury consisted of anti-socialist men and he was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act, whereupon he received 3 concurrent 10-year sentences.

Near the end of his trial, Debs gave a 2-hour long speech. It included the following:

Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means….

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul….

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own.

When the mariner, sailing over tropic seas, looks for relief from his weary watch, he turns his eyes toward the Southern Cross, burning luridly above the tempest-vexed ocean. As the midnight approaches the Southern Cross begins to bend, and the whirling worlds change their places, and with starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of Time upon the dial of the universe; and though no bell may beat the glad tidings, the look-out knows that the midnight is passing – that relief and rest are close at hand.

Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning.

Debs was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison. He ran for the presidency again in 1920, this time from prison, receiving over 900,000 votes, about 3.4% of the electorate. By this point, the public began souring on the Red Scare and public denunciations of Debs turned into sympathy (in some quarters) for his plight. Woodrow Wilson thought about pardoning Debs in 1919, but under the strong disapproval of his anti-radical Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, he figured it would empower those who opposed the Versailles Treaty and give succor to radicalism, so he refused. Eventually, Warren Harding commuted Debs’ sentence in 1921. His health broken, Debs died in 1926.

Debs’ 1920 campaign material

The best recent book on Debs and civil liberties is Ernest Freeberg, Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent, published in 2008.

This is the 65th post in this series. Previous entries are archived here.

Comments (137)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Green Caboose says:

    President Wilson charged into war in 1917 without preparing the American people.

    Worse, he prepared them for the opposite. His re-election slogan in 1916 was “He kept us out of war”.

    • Dilan Esper says:

      I don’t like the formulation “without preparing the American people”. What was he supposed to do, brainwash them?

      American involvement in World War I was a gross act of imperialism. It was none of our business to play favorites in Europe. And it greased the skids for 100 years of American imperialist domination of the world.

      The draft opponents were RIGHT about World War I. And 100 years later, they are still right. We have become a menace upon the world because of the course Wilson set us on, routinely violating national sovereignty and claiming the right to murder people all over the globe.

      The issue wasn’t a lack of preparation. It’s that some people, correctly, believed that the United States should not be in the business of murdering foreigners to pursue short-term foreign policy advantage. Too bad there aren’t more of those people now.

      • cpinva says:

        “American involvement in World War I was a gross act of imperialism.”

        perhaps, perhaps not. remember, our actual entry into wwI was triggered by the return, by Germany, to a policy of unfettered U-Boat attacks, on all shipping, within their defined “war area” around great Britain. in fairness to Wilson, he did have a responsibility to assert the US’ right, under international and maritime law, to traverse the sea lanes, without fear of being torpedoed. that was the crux of his argument for our entry into the war.

        • cpinva says:

          correction: “around the british isles”

        • Dilan Esper says:

          1. Would Germany have attacked US shipping if we had stayed scrupulously neutral in the conflict?

          2. We didn’t need ground troops to protect us shipping.

          • LeeEsq says:

            1. Yes. Germany wanted to win the war and if they had to torpedo every boat in the Atlantic to do so, they probably would.

            • Alan Tomlinson says:

              Aside from your opinion, do you have any evidence to support that claim?

              Counterfactuals are always pointless.

              Cheers,

              Alan Tomlinson

              • LeeEsq says:

                Do you have any evidence for your position?

                • jeer9 says:

                  If you haven’t realized yet, Alan Tomlinson rarely has anything other than opinion to support his viewpoint.

                  Cheerio and toodle-oo.

              • cpinva says:

                “Aside from your opinion, do you have any evidence to support that claim?”

                yes. after the battle jutland, Germany put its surface navy in port, permanently, to keep it from being destroyed by Britain’s far superior surface fleet. this marked the return of the policy of “unrestricted warfare”, by the german U-boat fleet. their job was to enforce a naval blockade around the british isles, to try and starve Britain out of the war. all shipping was at risk of being attacked, anywhere on the open seas (and in port, if a U-boat could get through the sub nets), regardless of what flag they flew, other than those of the german and Austro-Hungarian fleets.

                what’s your evidence to the contrary?

        • Colin Day says:

          in fairness to Wilson, he did have a responsibility to assert the US’ right, under international and maritime law, to traverse the sea lanes, without fear of being torpedoed. that was the crux of his argument for our entry into the war.

          Did he have a responsibilty to traverse the sea lanes without fear of hitting a mine?

          • cpinva says:

            “Did he have a responsibilty to traverse the sea lanes without fear of hitting a mine?”

            mines weren’t as much of a danger as U-boats were. mines could be seen, and either avoided or destroyed, for the most part. but yes, freedom to traverse the sea lanes, unmolested, would obviously include (but you knew this already, and just wanted to be a jackass) freedom from being the victim of a mine.

            • Colin Day says:

              So demanding symmetry is now jackassery? As far as I can tell, the US respected the British mine blockade.

              • cpinva says:

                “So demanding symmetry is now jackassery?”

                no, asking an overtly stupid question is though.

                “As far as I can tell, the US respected the British mine blockade.”

                how, exactly, does one “respect” a mine blockade, aside from attempting to avoid them? if that’s the case, then they “respected” the german mine and U-Boat blockades. the mines looked pretty much alike, and had no special markings, that would identify them from a distance. as well, mines are indiscriminant, they don’t care who’s ship they blow up.

                • Colin Day says:

                  The US respected the British mine blockade by not attempting to run it in the first place.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Well, you can call it brainwashing. In context, think of it this way. Regardless of whether a war is just or not, if you are a national leader and you want to go to war, you probably want to brainwash the nation into agreeing with you. Wilson did the opposite, running on keeping the nation out of war in 1916. And thus a huge number of Americans didn’t support his change of heart just a few months later.

        • Anonymous says:

          Maybe he “evolved”

        • joe from Lowell says:

          This point – it’s a good idea for a President to lay the political groundwork with the public prior to implementing a major policy – would be considered blindingly obvious in any other context, but for some reason, the skills people develop for understanding political and policy behavior go right out the window when the sphere of government activity involves the military.

        • Another Anonymous says:

          “And thus a huge number of Americans didn’t support his change of heart just a few months later.”

          Intervening events: (1) the resumption of unrestricted sub warfare and (2) the Zimmermann telegram.

      • LeeEsq says:

        How was American entry into WWI a gross act of imperialism? What imperial interests were we defending or alternatively, what imperial goodies did we want?

      • Another Anonymous says:

        American involvement in World War I was a gross act of imperialism.

        Don’t quit your day job.

  2. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Worth noting, too, that all the major western European social democratic parties, from Labour in Britain to the SPD in Germany, put nationalism ahead of socialist principle and enthusiastically backed war in 1914. The US Socialist Party was unusual in sticking to its anti-war stance.

  3. Ronan says:

    This is very interesting. Somewhat relatedly, have you ever written about the effect that immigration has on ‘undermining’ unions and labour solidarity(I looked through the archives so might have missed something)
    This is often an argument made by certain factions of the left against immigration, but I cant tell how much truth there is to it (ie US unionisation appeared to coincide with high levels of immigration? as did the western welfare states)

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Well, I’ve certainly talked about labor thinking that happens, with the Chinese Exclusion Act and other anti-Asian posts. What’s hard to tease out is the extent to which such a thing is real and the extent to which it is just white supremacy under a different name.

      • Aidian says:

        That’s a fascinating topic…and something I’d love to hear some actual evidence about…there’s plenty of, um, discussion of the topic around, but I’ve never seen anything in the popular press dealing with it on any substantive level. Any academic work you or it you’re aware of?

  4. ploeg says:

    Even with World War II, there was substantial resistance against getting involved up until the second that the first bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. And we had an undeclared naval war with Nazi Germany in the North Atlantic in late 1941, which might have become more noteworthy had Japan not attacked.

    • Bill Murray says:

      and if Germany hadn’t declared war on the US, it is not certain that the US would have gone to war with Germany

      • Green Caboose says:

        And if Edith Keller hadn’t been killed by that truck ….

      • joe from Lowell says:

        and if Germany hadn’t declared war on the US, it is not certain that the US would have gone to war with Germany

        Gotta disagree there. FDR was determined to go to war with Germany.

        • Another Anonymous says:

          Sure, but wanting doesn’t make things so.

          Given American fury towards the Japanese, Hitler would have been smart to repudiate Pearl Harbor, kick Japan out of the Axis, and wish America well subjugating the mongrel Asiatics.

          FDR would’ve been up a creek then. (This btw is the main reason not to even waste one’s time on the Pearl Harbor conspiracy nuts.)

    • Bruce Vail says:

      Yes, I read a bio of Charles Lindbergh not too long ago and found myself sympathizing strongly with the anti-war sentiment that he symbolized, even if some of the leaders of the movement (especially Lindbergh) were motivated by racism or worse.

  5. Immanuel Kant says:

    There wasn’t a lot of dissent around Korea, but people also didn’t call it a war at the time.

    Is this really true? I know the Truman administration called it a “police action,” but as far as I can tell this was not followed by anybody else. See, for instance, the New York Times archive, which shows the conflict being regularly called “The Korean War” from July 1950 onwards.

    • Joseph Slater says:

      Yeah, and this was my one quibble with Erik’s typically excellent post. Also, Viet Nam wasn’t technically a declared war either, but it still spurred plenty of protest. Although this is extremely tangential to the meat of the OP, I think it would be more accurage to describe the Korean War as the big outlier in terms of protests against it.

      I did some research on this back in my college days, and there are some insteresting reasons that typical anti-war factions on both the left and the right were muted during the Korean conflict. Heck, Norman Thomas of the old U.S. Socialist Party opposed U.S. entry into WWII, butsupported U.S. intervention in Korea.

      • Joseph Slater says:

        How ironic to have a typo in what was meant to be the word “accurate.”

      • E-V says:

        There may not have been large scale protests against the Korean War, but by the wars end it had become extremely unpopular with a broad swath of the public. Lots of Truman hagiographers, mainly of the interventionist streak, completely glance over this.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        I’m not an expert on the Korean War, that’s for sure. I will say this. In 1999 and 2000, I had a job typing up obituaries at the Knoxville News-Sentinel. The number of families who would grow furious when you typed Korean War instead of “Korean Conflict” was really surprising and you learned pretty quick not to mess that one up.

        • N__B says:

          My data (n=1) is my father, who was drafted in 1951 and has never in my hearing called it anything but the Korean War. But he doesn’t follow the crowd too much…

          • cpinva says:

            my father was an active duty marine, when korea broke out, did his tour and returned home in one piece. I’ve never heard him refer to it (when he does, which is very rarely) as anything other than the Korean war.

        • Immanuel Kant says:

          Hmm…interesting. Certainly I’d imagine the lack of a declaration made for less clarity and less open debate than earlier American wars. But it seems clear that, at least sometimes, it was referred to as the “Korean War” from pretty much the beginning of the conflict.

        • daveNYC says:

          Was there a reason for that? I could see being angry about calling it a “conflict” instead of a “war”, but the other way around is confusing.

        • witless chum says:

          My old boss was a Korea vet and apparently he’d get shit from the old World War II vets at the VFW about it not even being a declared war.

  6. oldster says:

    “The only major American war that did not lead to serious internal resistance was World War II,…”

    Oh, I don’t know. Some Americans of Japanese descent were not entirely gung-ho about the role that they were assigned in the proceedings.

    Even this probably supports your point–they were not so much opposed to the war per se as to being locked up in internment camps.

  7. Dave says:

    Of course, if the USA hadn’t entered WW1, it would probably have ended with a German Empire stretching from Brussels to Odessa, and a coalition of the former belligerents to erase socialism from the planet. So it’s not all bad…

    • Alan Tomlinson says:

      Congratulations! You’ve written the most stupid thing I’ve read this month. Given the competition you were up against, you should take great pride in this award.

      ***I was the dumbshit of the month at LGM***

      Feel free to print this out, and take it to Starbuck’s, where you will receive free* coffee for the entire month.

      Once again, congratulations on expressing your remarkable lack of informed knowledge about this particular historical event.

      Best regards,

      Alan Tomlinson

      *subject to a small fee

      • Domino says:

        I’ve been reading a lot recently on WWII, do you have some good suggestions for the lead-up to WWI? I’ve read that Germany was acting belligerent in a deliberate ploy to try and scare the UK into allying with them.

      • Colin Day says:

        Considering that Germany knocked out Russia even with American intervention and might well have won in the West without it, how his Dave’s claim that German would have ruled from Brussels to Odessa absurd?

        I won’t speak about his other claim.

      • mpowell says:

        There is no way this is the stupidest thing you read this month. I’m not even sure which part is supposed to be the stupid part. You could easily argue that German territorial acquisitions held at the time of US entry in the war were not a tenable position, but it’s hardly an unreasonable initial perception for an amateur historian.

        • Immanuel Kant says:

          Agreed. I’d say that Dave’s assertion is certainly highly debatable, but not obviously stupid in any way. It’s a plausible outcome to a World War I without American intervention, even if it’s not the only possible outcome.

  8. James E. Powell says:

    One thing that always struck me about this story was that the government could have simply ignored Debs, let him make his speeches to “crowds” of 1000, and gone on with the war.

    • Dilan Esper says:

      Maybe. Or maybe he would have caught fire, ignited further protests, and eventually stopped the war.

      I remember when Clinton was planning to start the Iraq War in 1998, he sent Madeline Albright and Sandy Berger to Ohio State University as the start of a campaign to promote the plan. The resistance that met them was so ferocious that they came back to Washington with their tails between their legs and the Iraq War plan was shelved. (Unfortunately, the next President revived it.)

      The point is, war hawks view dissent as a threat and, leaving aside the First Amendment, are quite correct to do so. Very few wars are good ideas, and the few that are get overwhelming support anyway. Using formal and informal pressure to stifle dissent is very much a part of the imperialist hawk’s toolkit, whether the hawk is a liberal or a conservative.

      • James E. Powell says:

        I will go so far as to say that what you posit would have been impossible. June 1918 is the Battle of Belleau Wood. The US is already completely committed to the war. Speeches would have had no effect. None. And the war was over in five months.

        Do you really believe that a hostile audience at Ohio State had any effect on Clinton’s policy? If so, well, I just don’t know what to say. You’re wrong, but I’m convinced that there is nothing that would convince you of that.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Or maybe he would have caught fire, ignited further protests, and eventually stopped the war.

        Could you kindly name a single time in the very long history of American wars when this happened?

        And the notion that Clinton was going to “start the Iraq War” in 1998, but for those meddling kids, is quite amusing. Seriously, a trial balloon? Let’s see what Joe Sixpack would think about this by running by some anti-war college kids?

  9. Bruce Vail says:

    Notable that Sam Gompers of the American Federation of Labor and much of “mainstream” labor leader were strong supporters of the war. Wilson was even eager to work with unions (a first for a US president) to insure labor stability and continued production is essential war industries such as shipbuilding, etc.

    A funny-sad story (perhaps apocryphal) about Gompers is that he co-hosted a banquet in honor of Gen. Pershing after the war was won, in which Gompers gave a brief address lauding labor’s contribution to victory. Pershing, alway the caustic reactionary, then got up for the main speech in which he lacerated the un-american, communistic unions for failure to support the war strongly enough, all with old Sam Gompers sitting a few feet away.

  10. Djur says:

    I know this is about June 16, 1918, but I want to talk about Eugene Victor Debs.

    If I had my way, American schoolchildren would read Debs’ statement to the court right alongside the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the like. It is a profound moral statement and the commonly excerpted passage is as fine a summary of socialist values as has ever been written.

    He also liked to use one of my favorite pithy remarks about class struggle — to paraphrase, he said that socialists didn’t want to pull the wealthy down to the poor man’s level, but instead to give the idle exploiter a hand up to the elevated position of the honest worker.

    As something of a bonus, he was quite progressive on race:

    it will not be denied that the fineness and superiority of the fibre that makes the export of the southern states the greatest in the world is due in large measure to the genius of the Negroes charged with its cultivation…. The whole world is under obligation to the Negro, and that the white heel is still upon the black neck is simply proof that the world is not yet civilized. The history of the Negro in the United States is a history of crime without a parallel.

    (The Negro In The Class Struggle, 1903)

    Quite refreshing considering how racist and exclusionary the union movement frequently was.

    • Bruce Vail says:

      A. Philip Randolph was an admirer and a follower of Debs.

      There is even a rather muddy, ill-documented story that Randolph was also arrested for making speeches opposing the war, but that he narrowly escaped the prosecution and imprisonment that Debs suffered for the same crime.

      • Linnaeus says:

        It’s a shame more people don’t know how important A. Philip Randolph was. There’s a tendency to think that the civil rights struggle more or less began in the 1950s (which is not to take away from the vital work that was done by so many then), but Randolph really combined civil rights with labor rights in a way that I think most people don’t connect these days.

        • Matt McKeon says:

          If it makes anyone feel better, A. Philip Randolph is featured in standard high school textbooks for his role in fighting against racial discrimination in war production during WWII.

          • Bruce Vail says:

            It does make me feel better, although I hope that the mention in standard textbooks causes more than a few students to look closer at Randolph.

            They will learn that Randolph began his career as an activist as a Socialist of the Debs variety. They will learn of his long struggle inside the AFL to eliminate the institutional racism of the labor movement, and of the many frustrations and setbacks he suffered. They will learn that he ultimately saw the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porter as a labor union that is able to sustain itself into the future, and the reasons why.

            It would be unfortunate indeed if he is remembered solely as one of the spiritual ancestors of MLK.

  11. fka AWS says:

    give succor to radicalism

    Overall, great piece. However, this turn of phrase rings oddly antiquated. Maybe a better way to say it would be “to encourage radicalism” or something?

  12. fka AWS says:

    Also, do you have a link to Debs’ speech that you excerpted?

  13. Bruce Vail says:

    A touching anecdote about Debs was that his fellow prisoners in Atlanta prison conducted a mock ‘vote’ in the 1920 election and unanimously backed their fellow inmate for the presidency.

  14. jkay says:

    At least, unlike Shrub, Wilson did serious good on anti-imperialism at Versailles, starting the idea that peoples should vote for their own fate, and wanting it applied vigorously in Europe (though there’s no record he was so vigorous about our own empire).

    He had a stroke from overwork around the end of Versailles, so he can’t be held reasonably responsible for his failure to pass the Treaty of Versailles, because his ability to sound reasonable or even make real decisions passed. That’s also the biggest reason, probably, for the strength of WW2 isolationism, because he’d sounded THAT unreasonable. pushing Versailles.

    He also started the Fed, which has since become an important defense against financial crises or inflation going too far.

    OTOH, Wilson was even racist and took racist action backwards even by the standards of his time, no small thing. And totally wrong on Debs and free speech.

    • jkay says:

      At least, unlike Shrub, Wilson did serious good on anti-imperialism at Versailles, starting the idea that peoples should vote for their own fate, and wanting it applied vigorously in Europe (though there’s no record he was so vigorous about our own empire).

      He had a stroke from overwork around the end of Versailles, so he can’t be held reasonably responsible for his failure to pass the Treaty of Versailles, because his ability to sound reasonable or even make real decisions passed. That’s also the biggest reason, probably, for the strength of WW2 isolationism, because he’d sounded THAT unreasonable. pushing Versailles.

      He also started the Fed, which has since become an important defense against financial crises or inflation going too far.

      OTOH, Wilson was even racist and took racist action backwards even by the standards of his time, no small thing. And totally wrong on Debs and free speech.

      No, I was misremembering on our empire – he was against it enough, he passed the Jones Act.

      • LeeEsq says:

        He also increased Filipino participation in the government of the Philippines and started them off on the path to self-rule and later independence.

      • Aidian says:

        Wilson was so racist he had a White House screening of ‘Birth of a Nation’ — the first movie shown at the White House. Griffith may have grown a little. His next movie was ‘Intolerance.’ Wilson didn’t.

    • For all of his flaws, and they are legion, there’s a decent case to be made for Wilson as the pivot on which 20th century anti-imperialism became a global populist movement and component of international law (such as it is). For all the hypocrisy of the actual Versailles Settlements, the rhetoric created expectations and focused aspirations of colonial subjects from North Africa to Korea, etc.

    • Immanuel Kant says:

      I think Wilson can be at least partially blamed for his refusal to make any compromises with Lodge over the treaty. Every account I’ve read suggests that, in spite of his stroke, this was basically his decision.

      I will say that, in terms of “our Empire,” Wilson’s record was mixed, but it’s notable that he refused to enlarge it by taking on any of the spoils from the war (he was offered the Turkish Straits, among other possibilities).

      • witless chum says:

        He also launched something like 20 different invasions of Latin American countries. I think he just had a more modern vision of Empire, where we weren’t going to formally claim colonies, but would rule other countries through puppets and corporations, backed up by the Marines when necessary.

        • Hogan says:

          Monroe Doctrine 101: “You can’t fuck with those people! Only we can fuck with those people! In exchange for which we will not fuck with your people.”

  15. cpinva says:

    good post as always. interesting that this ambivalence to war, in this country goes back to the revolution. contrary to what our school history texts would have us believe, only roughly a third of the population was enthusiastic about a formal split with great Britain, a third didn’t car, and a third actively opposed it.

    the war of 1812 and the Mexican-American war also lacked huge popular support, the war of 1812 especially. several new England states (center of the milling industry) threatened secession over it. and so on, ad infinitum.

    I am of the opinion that, if a president wishes to commit our military to a war, by any name, he/she must go before congress, and ask that congress for a formal declaration of war, period, and that the draft be re-instated. yes, the president is the commander-in-chief, but he/she has an obligation to use our military responsibly. we have the right to expect the president, and congress, to not expend the nation’s blood and treasure, in any but the most necessary circumstances. our military will follow the orders of its civilian bosses, that loyalty should not be ill used.

  16. jkay says:

    WHY is Debs SO popular among kids of radicals? He got less good done than even his oppressor, much less MLK or Gandhi or FDR or Einstein or Turing, or I could go on all day. Because he was repressed? But so were MLK and Gandhi – MLK even died for his cause, UNLIKE Debs. Because he’s another dead white guy?

    • jkay says:

      And Turing was oppressed for being gay..

      • Djur says:

        What in the world does Alan Turing have to do with Eugene Debs?

        Debs dedicated his life to class struggle, wrote and spoke as eloquently as anyone ever has for the Left, and suffered for his convictions. He was instrumental in bringing about the high water mark of the Left at the ballot box, arguably making room for the Democrats to move left over the next two decades. He was notably progressive on race and generally acknowledged to be a kind, noble person.

        He’s also pretty much the most prominent American leftist to have never really had any association with the Bolsheviks, which makes him politically correct in “respectable” liberal-leftish circles.

      • jkay says:

        Wasn’t MLK even better at leftie class struggle, so good he delivered his people into at least kinda equality before the law, like Gandhi? Don’t we even rightly have a day named after him? But who cares about the black guy even if he did more? So, you’re telling me it’s the DEAD WHITE GUY thing that turns him into such a winner for you?

        And, wasn’t it the Great Commoner, Bryan, the Democrats’ start at Progressivism, and an even better and inflential speaker of his day, judging from relative votecount?

        I’d warn the thread that worshipping people is ALWAYS a mistake, because they’re real people, with real problems, not saints, and totally don’t deserve it, whether antisaint Ronnie or Debs or politicians today. How well do you think worshipping the slaver and ethnic cleansing Washington or Jefferseon has worked out? Isn’t RESPECT the right emotion toward dead white guys?

        • Immanuel Kant says:

          Who is dismissing King besides the straw man you just created?

        • witless chum says:

          Lots of yelling and ranting, less evidence that Eugene V. Debs is somehow a uniquely beloved figure even on the American left. MLK would win a popularity contest in almost any room full of leftists you could fine, for one, because there are a lot of people who don’t know who Debs was.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      It probably doesn’t hurt that a) he wasn’t really all that radical, b) he never took power so he didn’t have the chance to screw up, and c) he seems to have been a genuinely nice guy. It’s a good combination. Easy to idealize from a wide swathe of political views.

    • Bruce Vail says:

      Geez, who took a shit in your wheaties, pal.

      Debs is honored today for his life-time devotion to economic justice for working people, and his efforts to roll back unrestrained corporate power. He did so with a directness and honesty that endeared him to millions, then and now. It’s very creepy of you to diss his memory because he “got less good done” than some other people….

    • daveNYC says:

      Einstein? I mean I guess that solar power can become a force for economic equality or something, but really?

      I don’t even know where Turing comes in at.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have to figure that Eugene Debs gets a lot of PR just because he ran for president and won a non-trivial number of votes. That sort of thing puts you on people’s radars. Of course that’s not the whole story, (Erik isn’t all that fond of third party candidates as a rule, so I wouldn’t think it’s what motivates him) but one has to assume that gives him a really big boost over other leftish leaders in the view of a lot of people.

  17. Bruce Vail says:

    Just to stir things up for the ‘head on a pike’ crowd, it is my recollection that Debs opposed gun control because he thought the workers would need to be well-armed when the day came to put an end to industrial capitalism once and for all.

    • LeeEsq says:

      I don’t think that gun control was an issue back then.

      • Bruce Vail says:

        It wasn’t in any substantial way, of course. I did note, however, that in the recent gun control debates, a handful of gun rights supporters trotted out Debs as an example of an American leftist who expressed support for the Second Amendment.

        But context is everything, and those who drag out Debs in support of gun rights today never mention that his call to arm the members of the UMWA came in 1914, shortly after the Ludlow massacre of that year. His rhetoric was all couched in terms of self defense against Rockefeller and his well-armed goons.

  18. Cody says:

    You’re telling me that George W. Bush using 9/11 to completely fuck over America wasn’t even an original thought!?

    I thought he at least did something right…

    • cpinva says:

      “You’re telling me that George W. Bush using 9/11 to completely fuck over America wasn’t even an original thought!?”

      i doubt bush jr. has had an original thought in his entire life. for a guy with an MBA from Harvard, his brain is remarkably uncluttered by actual thoughts at all.

  19. [...] of the Overpass. June 7, 1913–Paterson Silk Pageant. Addendum here. June 16, 1918–Eugene Debs arrested for violating Espionage Act. June 21, 1877–Molly Maguires executed in Pennsylvania. July 2, 1822–Denmark Vesey [...]

  20. [...] June 16, 1918: Eugene Debs arrested for violating Espionage Act, for opposition to WWI [...]

  21. [...] This Day in Labor History: June 16, 1918 [...]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Switch to our mobile site