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Our Century: The Teens | The Nation

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Our Century: The Teens

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Oswald Garrison Villard became editor in 1918, at which point the political perspective shifted radically.

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The Republican wrecking crew would hurt workers, women, minorities and the environment.

A swift international response could have contained the outbreak.

The Week.

February 20, 1913

The International Art Exhibition

ART IS AT THE BRINK either of genuine revolution, or, as we believe, of a monstrous aberration. Either way, something like a new thing has been found under the sun, even if the newness turn out to derive from such venerable sources as excessive boredom, ignorant self-assertiveness, or over-ingenious pursuit of novelty and notoriety. If the newest art is really to be the art of the future, plainly homo sapiens must become a new creature--

'Ban, 'Ban, Cacaliban
Has a new master:
get a new man.


September 26, 1912

Correspondence: The Violence of English Suffragettes

I REFER ESPECIALLY to an editorial in the Outlook for August 31.... Need I recall to any student of history the...serious rioting and destruction of property on the part of men which has preceded every advance in the liberties of which England is so proud. The male agitation for the "Great Reform bill," for example, expressed itself, in Bristol alone, by the burning of the Mansion House, the Custom House, the Bishop's palace, the excise office, three prisons, four toll-houses, and forty-two private dwellings and warehouses....

If then a certain organization of Englishwomen (and a very large and wealthy one) has embarked upon a definite policy of window-smashing, and of "pestering" public ministers, in order to gain certain political ends, these women are merely doing what they have seen their fathers and brothers do, and what the history of their country teaches them that citizens who consider themselves aggrieved have always done. To say that [the suffrage campaign]...is "the work of hysterical, crazy, and therefore irresponsible, women," is in the highest degree an untrue as well as an ignorant statement. The "militant" campaign, deliberately begun in 1905 [by, among others, Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst], and systematically continued up to the present time, with ever-increasing enthusiasm and a constant gain of recruits, might be described by almost any other adjective than "hysterical."

--Frances Berkeley Young, Madison, Wisc.


August 10, 1916


A day or two ago, I wrote, "under the service" for "under the surface." A livelier imagination than my own may call the substitution humorous; the Freudian, who can discover a sexual motive in the binomial theorem, will doubtless find it obscene.

-- Warner Fite, "Psychoanalysis and Sex-Psychology"


May 30, 1912

Socialism and Syndicalism

SELDOM HAS publicity come so suddenly and so lavishly to any movement as to the Syndicalist movement. Before the Lawrence strike,...there must have been very few people in this country who knew what the Syndicalist theory stands for and what was this I.W.W. organization in which the Syndicalist philosophy is embodied....

Syndicalism has come forth as the program of the proletarian "doers" as opposed to the intellectual Socialist talkers in the parliaments.... [Its] philosophy of "direct action" has recently been summed up as follows:

"Fellow-workers, you want an eight-hour day?... Take it, and when you come back the next morning, tell the master you were on strike four hours.... You want to get possession of the instruments of production? You are in possession already--all you have to do is to declare that you own the factory in which you work. If the master protests, lock him out. You...don't get the full product of your toil? Get it, do only as much work as you are paid for, and go slow the rest of the time.... You say you are treated like dirt? Put some dirt into the product."...

...Socialist parliamentarism... stands for half measures, for palliatives, for concessions. Syndicalism demands all or nothing.... It is a philosophy of desperation.


October 19, 1911

THE ADVANTAGES of Vice-President Sherman's plan of using up our resources as fast as we like and letting posterity do its own worrying, are evident. Economically, we should be vastly better off with the Guggenheims breaking their necks to serve us with the products of Alaska or any other unexploited region. A greater gain would be political. Who can estimate the increased prestige of President Taft at this moment if there had never been any falling-out over the question of who would profit by our untouched and therefore wasted wealth? Not the least of the merits of the plan is its contribution to mental comfort. From the beginning, conservation has been a peculiarly harassing problem. Are we wrong in thinking that there are millions of Americans who will give a sigh of relief...? The less we pass on to the future in the way of resources, the more will it be spurred to devise those inventions that give Mr. Sherman such anticipatory pleasure. The question just who, at present, should control these resources he does not appear to have considered. But why worry over that, either?


May 28, 1914

IT OUGHT NOT TO be necessary to warn intelligent persons that the stories now being so industriously circulated about the militia outrage in Colorado are to be viewed with the utmost skepticism. In regard to the chief accusation, that of the wanton slaughter, and worse than slaughter, of women and children in the Ludlow camp, there is no reason to believe that there is a shred of truth in it. In some cases, the form the story takes is itself sufficient to stamp it as the result of...excited or hysterical narrators. Speaking to Senators Kern, Kenyon, and Martine, says a Washington dispatch, "Mrs. Jolly and Mrs. Thomas declared that mine guards were seen pouring oil on tents in which women and children were sleeping, and later setting fire to the oil-soaked tents." The women and children were not "sleeping in tents," but were hidden in a covered pit under one of them; there is no reason to suppose that the militia had any suspicion that they were there at all.


August 8, 1912

THE...JUDICIAL TONE of [Lord Mersey's report on the loss of Titanic] is a rather incongruous garment for the terrible array of facts it covers. The ship was "sufficiently and efficiently officered," but it was reckless navigation which brought about its destruction.... A certain British passenger of distinguished lineage is exonerated from the charge that he bribed the crew of his life-boat to abstain from making rescues, but "If he had encouraged the men to return to where the Titanic had foundered, they probably would have made an effort to do so, and could have saved some lives." The judicial temper could hardly go further.


July 30, 1914

War Madness

BISHOP BUTLER ONCE speculated on the possibility of a whole nation going suddenly insane. If he were alive to-day, he could extend his query and ask if a half-dozen nations at once might not become crazy. In Vienna, in Paris, in Berlin, in St. Petersburg, he would see signs of acute mania afflicting large bodies of people. Mob psychology often shows itself in discouraging and alarming forms, but is never so repulsive and appalling as when it is seen in great crowds shouting for war.... The Parisian crowd is crying out to-day "à Berlin!"... And the way in which the war-fever has seized upon Berlin seems equally to call for the services not of a physician, but of an alienist. If one looked only at these surface manifestations, one would be tempted to conclude that Europe was about to become a gigantic madhouse.


November 28, 1912


The football season just ending shows, as usual, a long list of dead and injured.


June 10, 1915

THE RIGID GERMAN logic sees no difference between sinking a shipload of war material with its crew, and sinking an insignificant amount of ammunition, with a pitiful slaughter like that off Kinsale Head. Such argumentation only reinforces the belief that it was not against the cartridge cases in the Lusitania's hold that the German torpedo was directed, but against the men, women, and children on board. The purpose was not to destroy munitions, but to create a state of terror.


May 4, 1916

The Irish Outbreak

LET IT FREELY BE conceded that the existence of these conspirators and revolutionaries in Ireland is a reproach to English rule.... [Yet] in actual physical effect, it was all along impossible that the Irish uprising would be of great consequence. It wholly collapsed in a week, and...cannot affect the large ongoing of the war. But morally, of course, and politically, it is an event of high though painful significance. The best that the friends of Ireland can hope for is that the revolt will speedily be forgotten. Its moving spirits were young dreamers and writers who rushed to the sacrifice with a Sophocles in one hand and a rifle in the other. If the English are wise, they will not execute the captured rebels, but treat them as amiable and pathetic lunatics mostly in need of restraint and care.


October 11, 1917

Russian Pessimism in Action

THE STORY OF the last seven months in Russia compels a reëxamination of the recognized formulas concerning the interplay of life and literature.... [In Russian literature, especially in these later years,] to raise questions for which there is supposedly no answer is "typically" Russian. To plunge into a spiritual chaos where good is evil and evil is good, where reason is madness and frenzy is enlightenment, and the end of all things is dust and ashes, and the only succor is in annihilation--this is "typically" Russian. In sum, to see energy spending itself in self-torment instead of fruition, is "typically" Russian....

To-day we are called upon to explain how, from this Slav soul, so sickly with thought, there has come an outburst of energy which, in the space of half a year, has thrown the thoughts and ideals of the civilized world into ferment, and whose impress, we all recognize, will be written deep on the face of the new world that is to come after the war.

--Simeon Strunsky


August 23, 1917

IT SEEMS LIKELY that [I.W.W.] leaders can here and there be arrested on substantiated grounds of sedition or disorderly intent; and their arrest and summary punishment would give a salutary lesson to prospective lawbreakers. This we may leave to the sense and energy of the Department of Justice [under Attorney General Palmer] and the Senate.


April 26, 1917

The American Tradition and the War

THE VIGOR WITH which we condemn the blunders and evasions of our recent policy in Mexico should not blind us to the proud fact that throughout our Government has been honestly trying to do what would be best for the Mexicans--a policy of national altruism without a parallel. The Monroe Doctrine has grown into Pan-Americanism--a movement which promises to set us farther on the road towards a brotherhood of nations than we have ever gone before. One does not have to deny our provincial astigmatism and our spread-eagle cant to conclude that the American spirit has been nearer the spirit of friendliness and forbearance, the spirit of Christ, than that of any other great nation on the face of the earth.


July 10, 1920

The Conquest of Haiti

TO BELGIUM'S CONGO, to Germany's Belgium, to England's India and Egypt, the United States has added a perfect miniature in Haiti.... The five years of American occupation, from 1915 to 1920, have served as a commentary upon the white civilization which still burns black men and women at the stake. For Haitian men, women, and children, to a number estimated at 3,000,...have been shot down by American machine gun and rifle bullets.... Black men have been driven to retreat to the hills from actual slavery imposed upon them by white Americans, and to resist the armed invader with fantastic arsenals of ancient horse pistols, Spanish cutlasses, Napoleonic sabres, French carbines, and even flintlocks. In this five years' massacre of Haitians less than twenty Americans have been killed or wounded in action.

--Herbert J. Seligmann


October 4, 1917

IT IS DIFFICULT TO give serious consideration to Talaat Pasha's explanation of the Armenian massacres.... He himself was Minister of the Interior when this frightful orgy of blood and murder first broke loose. His was therefore the name signed to the order which doomed eight hundred thousand human beings to death or worse. What can be said for the opportunistic cynicism that now attributes this infamous proscription of a whole race to "irregularities in deportation"? Unfortunately, the deportations were all too regular, carried out with the method of a Prussian madness. The innumerable strings which controlled this unspeakable procession of crime were tightly held in Constantinople. Governors of provinces, too humane to carry out orders of assassination, were removed from office and disgraced by Talaat himself. The capital was the scene, right under the government's eyes, of multitudinous deportations under the most terrible circumstances. Indeed, if the testimony on hand goes to show anything, it is that the massacres were distinguished from all others by the fact of their business-like efficiency.


November 8, 1919

The Furnaces

I AM ON THE NIGHT shift. Twelve hours of wrestling with the molten mass of iron in a temperature that ordinary thermometers are not made to register fags one out. Yet it is hard to rest on a sticky summer's day in a hot bed that was occupied the night before. So I spent three hours this morning in an easy chair in Jake's saloon....

...Long Jim Harwood is my partner.... We are the only two white men in the cast-house.... The rest are Poles, Slavs, Finns, Letts, and Bohunks. Even the foundry foreman is a Hunkie, American born. But he uses us right....

Last Sunday there was another wedding at Wentzler's Hall.... [T]he fêted bride and groom...were showered with congratulations for a long and happy life, and unmeasured married bliss by those who knew the phrases only as futile fiction....

How strange it is that the passing years sap the romance of life as well as the beauty, and how the new inventions--labor-saving devices, they call them, and multipliers of wealth--have taken the color, the creative zest, and the novelty out of work, and left it a husk.

--William J. Fielding


February 21, 1918

ESTILL SPRINGS, TENN., FEBRUARY 12.--Jim McIlherron, a negro, who shot and killed two white men here last Friday, was burned at the stake here today after a confession had been forced from him by application of red-hot irons.

HAD ANY SUCH item as this come out of Belgium or Armenia, we should know what to think of the unspeakable Germans and Turks responsible. A wave of horror would sweep over the country.... But when Americans thus debase themselves nobody volunteers to end the evil, nobody speaks about it--at least nobody who is white--and we complacently turn to the congenial task of setting up democracy in Germany. "The application of red-hot irons" is now a regular feature of these tortures--this is the second of the kind within a couple of weeks. In the other case, the man's eyeballs were slowly burned out--without even an apology to the Sioux. There is a Canadian soldier going around the country deeply stirring our rural communities with the tale of the crucifixion of three Canadians by German fiends. What reception would one of our black soldiers get if he were to lecture on the fiendishness of burnings in the South?


October 25, 1919

The Revolt of the Rank and File

IT IS A WORLD-WIDE movement much accelerated by the war. In Russia it has dethroned the Czar and for two years maintained Lenin in his stead. In Korea and India and Egypt and Ireland it keeps up an unyielding resistance to political tyranny. In England it brought about the railway strike, against the judgment of the men's own executives. In Seattle and San Francisco it has resulted in the stevedores' recent refusal to handle arms or supplies destined for the overthrow of the Soviet Government. In one district of Illinois it manifested itself in a resolution of striking miners, unanimously requesting their State executive 'to go to Hell.' In Pittsburgh, according to Mr. Gompers, it compelled the reluctant American Federation officers to call the steel strike, lest the control pass into the hands of the I.W.W.'s and other 'radicals.' In New York it brought about the longshoremen's strike and kept the men out in defiance of union officials, and caused the upheaval in the printing trade, which the international officers, even though the employers worked hand in glove with them, were completely unable to control.

The common man, forgetting the old sanctions, and losing faith in the old leadership, has experienced a new access of self-confidence, or at least a new recklessness, a readiness to take chances on his own account. In consequence,...authority cannot any longer be imposed from above; it comes automatically from below.


November 8, 1919


"Injunctions won't mine coal"--and coal we must have; but no less insistently we must have justice.


May 17, 1919

The Madness at Versailles

IN THE WHOLE HISTORY of diplomacy there is no treaty more properly to be regarded as an international crime than the amazing document which the German representatives are now asked to sign....

With [its] publication...the real battle for liberty begins. All that has gone before--the overthrow of Czardom in Russia, the constitutional struggle in Germany, the establishment of a Soviet Government in Hungary, the revolt against tyranny or constraint in all quarters of the globe--are only the preliminaries of the great revolution to whose support the friends of freedom must now rally everywhere. Less and less, as that struggle widens, will the world have place for either liberals or conservatives: Versailles has forced men into two camps, the radicals and the reactionaries. Heaven grant that the revolution may be peaceful, and that it may destroy only to rebuild!

--William MacDonald

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