Foreign oppression has, more than once, moved American policy makers at home to react with oppression. From the French Revolution to today, overseas upheavals frighten those in power enough, to prompt the same repression at home.
Immediately after World War One, the US endured a period of destabilizing fear–America’s first Red Scare. The U.S., bitter over entering the Great War, grew intolerant of unorthodox political views and worked to silence dissent. Radicals, both homegrown and immigrants from Europe, felt the wrath of political crackdowns. Anarchists, such as emigres, Emma Goldman, and Alexander Berkman, found themselves on trial, then deported back to Russia, while a home grown Socialist, Eugene V. Debs ended up in prison. Scores of other political agitators were targeted by the Justice Department for printing radical views, and voicing public opposition.
Why the oppression?
The reaction began following the bloody 1917 Revolution in Russia. The murder of the last Romanov Tsar, with his family, paved the way for the world’s first Marxist-Leninist government, the USSR. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, (Lenin) seized the reins of the Bolshevik Party, and abolished all political opposition, outlining the aims of this new workers utopia, to overturn Capitalism worldwide.
The response in the U.S. came quick and harsh. Labor organizers, the leftest union, The Wobblies, and any other radical group deemed un-American was quashed. The U.S. government viewed dissent as treason, and Congress shaped specific legislation to silence protest. First passed and signed into law came The Espionage Act, in 1917, shortly followed by the Sedition Act the next year. No public speech, publications, nor use of the U.S. Mail to criticize government policy would be tolerated. Period.
In two test cases, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of both laws. The majority ruled in the first case that nonconformists and draft-resistors presented a “clear and present danger” to the US. In the second opinion the Court ruled much the same, but this time with an important dissent. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, wrote, ” . . . the ultimate good desired is better reached by the free trade in ideas . . .”
Still, non-conformists and dissidents endured government suppression.
The courts, the government, and public opinion merged to outlaw what they feared–an all-powerful, biased social/economic system, much like the restraint simultaneously underway in the Soviet Union.
This was not over.
After Hitler’s death in April, 1945, and the ending of WWII in Europe, Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin kept his Red Army in East Germany and Eastern Europe, nixing a promised democratic Polish government in favor of his puppet Communist regime in Warsaw. And that was just for starters. A frightening Cold War ensued between the Soviets and the West, that by 1963 witnessed the construction of an actual partition, aka, an Iron Curtain.
In America a political fever seethed, and Congress responded. Establishing HUAC, the House Un-American Activity Committee, to sniff out citizens who leaned to the left, ruining careers and lives in the process. This second Red Scare elevated the careers of Senator Joe McCarthy, and Congressman Richard Nixon.
This post originally intended to discuss the War on Terror. The objective to cast light on the American Taliban; those promoting God, Guns, and Gasoline. But now, with Russia up to its old tricks, all of us again, have a decision to make. Will Americans excuse Putin, grow complacent and emulate his corrupt oligarchy? That path is wide open, visited upon us via the former guy. He proudly rubbed shoulders with that murderer, and publicly praised Putin’s integrity.
But, at this very moment, another, clearer choice stands before the American public. President Zelensky has conducted a master class on the real cost of freedom. The Ukrainian people have lain down their lives to remind us we, are the original heirs of freedom.
In that spirit, this upheaval in the Ukraine is one we must emulate here at home. When Putin attacks Ukraine, he attacks us all. We are Americans, it’s time to take a stand for our liberty. This is not a drill.
Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. Gail has authored two historic plays, “Clay,” concerning the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” examining the foundation of American Slavery.