This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
Roger Nash Baldwin
Excerpted from the November 9, 1918 Issue
I am before you as a deliberate violator of the Draft Act. I am opposed to this and all other wars. I do not believe in the use of physical force as a method of achieving any end, however good. I am fully aware that my position is extreme, that it is shared by comparatively few, and that in the present temper it is regarded either as unwarranted egotism or as feeble-mindedness. I cannot, therefore, let this occasion pass without attempting to explain the foundations on which so extreme a view rests.
I have had an essentially American upbringing and background. Born in a suburb of Boston, of the stock of the first settlers, I was reared in the public schools and at Harvard College. Early my mind was caught by the age-old struggle for freedom; America meant to me a vital new experiment in free political institutions; personal freedom to choose one’s way of life and service seemed the essence of the liberties brought by those who fled the medieval and modern tyrannies of the old world. But I rebelled at our whole autocratic industrial system—with its wreckage of poverty, disease, and crime, and childhood robbed of its right to free growth.
Personally I share the extreme radical philosophy of the future society. I look forward to a social order without any external restraints upon the individual, save through public opinion and the opinion of friends and neighbors. I believe that all parts of the radical movement serve the common end—freedom of the individual from arbitrary external controls.
Even if I were not a believer in radical theories and movements, I would justify the work I have done on the ground of American ideals and traditions alone—as do many of those who have been associated with me. They have stood for those enduring principles which the revolutionary demands of war have temporarily set aside. We have stood against hysteria, mob-violence, unwarranted prosecution, the sinister use of patriotism to cover attacks on radical and labor movements, and for the unabridged right of a fair trial.
Now comes the Government to take me from that service and to demand of me a service I cannot in conscience undertake. I seek no martyrdom, no publicity. Though at the moment I am of a tiny minority, I feel myself part of a great revolt surging up from among the people—the struggle of the masses against the rule of the world by the few—profoundly intensified by the war. It is a struggle against the political State itself, against exploitation, militarism, imperialism, authority in all forms. It is a struggle to break in full force only after the war.