Sunday, June 8, 2014

Michael Ceraolo- Two Poems

Free Speech Canto XXXIX

Hail Columbia!

                         Not the song
                                              that was
the unofficial national anthem during the nineteenth century
and is now the Vice-President's song,
the university once run by Nicholas Murray Butler,
        during certain times if not at all times,
apparently considered it a part of the government
(college presidents the unacknowledged legislators of the world?)
and acted accordingly

Dr. Leon Fraser,
a politics instructor at the school,
                                                 worked for
the Association for International Conciliation,
a pacifist organization,
if he hadn't been hired directly by Butler,
had been instrumental in his getting the job
Part of the job entailed visiting
and reporting on the conditions
of the military camps that were springing up
although the U.S. wasn't officially at war,

Fraser reported of one of them:

"Plattsburg is a fad,
the Chief Folly of 1916"

                                   and for that,
he was fired by the university
in the spring of 1916
for his pacifist activities
Butler was just getting started

March 5, 1917
(the U.S. still not officially at war)
Butler and the university will now
investigate to determine
"whether doctrines which are subversive of,
or tend to the violation or disregard of,
the Constitution or laws of the United States,
                                                                 or which
tend to encourage a spirit of disloyalty
to the government of the United States,
or the principles upon which it is founded,
are taught and disseminated by
officers of the University"

what that might mean was made clear by Butler
in his commencement address June 6, 1917:

"so long as national policies were in debate,
we gave complete freedom"
"What had been tolerated before becomes intolerable now
What had been wrongheadedness was now sedition
What had been folly was now treason"
"This is the University's last and only warning to any"
"who are not with whole heart and mind and strength
committed to fight with us to make the world
safe for democracy"

A bill was being considered by Congress
to allow deploying draftees
to fight on European battlefields
James McKeen Cattell,
the first psychology professor in the United States,
wrote letter to three representatives
urging disapproval of the pending bill
                                                       The three,
Julius Kahn of California,
S. Wallace Dempsey of New York,
E.R. Bathrick of Ohio,
violating their oath of office
by being ignorant of the First Amendment,
wrote to Butler saying they considered this treason
(more Constitutional ignorance)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana,
grandson of the poet on his mother's side,
grandson of Richard Henry Dana on his father's side,
professor of comparative literature,
                                                  worked for
the People's Council of America for Peace and Democracy,
a pacifist group suddenly suspect
in Butler's newly converted mind

Butler and the Board had bee looking 
to get rid of Cattell for some time
because of his prickly personality,
had even attempted to force him
to retire in 1913,
they used this opportunity to make it stick,
making it known emphatically
that Cattell had not retired,
that he had been fired,
without any pension
(Cattell later sued, and won an annuity)

Dana was also axed,
"public conduct prejudicial to the
influence and good name of the university"
"under the guise of peace . . .
striving to weaken the national effort
and to nullify the national will"
he never worked in academia again

Free Speech Canto XL

Leon R. Whipple,
director of the School of Journalism
at the University of Virginia,
opposed armed entry into the Great War:

"we can win the war only by freeing
the spirit of democracy in the Germans
by good-will"
"war does not remove the menace of autocracy
make the world safe for democracy"

The people running Thomas Jefferson's university
treated their opponents as Jefferson did,
put Whipple on trial for his professional life

Whipple defended himself eloquently:

"I am charged with acts
that are deemed not in accord
with the purposes of this nation
in the present war"
"I deny that I have endangered
the true greatness or safety of this nation,
its single greatness and its single safety
is the right of truth to prevail"
"the right of free speech is not an academic principle:
it must be exercised for its full glory,
exercised under the very conditions we face today-----"

Those sitting in judgment considered the argument
and issued the verdict Jefferson's university
could be expected to come to:

"the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia
do regard these utterances as
a gross abuse of freedom of speech"

"the appointment of Leon R. Whipple . . .
is hereby rescinded"

1 comment:

  1. Stunning work of history -- reminding us that the collapse of free speech in the face of war is, as we suspect, not new. Quite fond of the reference too to Mr. Jefferson.