Let's Show Them: We're NOT Going To War.
January 24, 2013 8:44 PM   Subscribe

Let's Show Them: We're NOT Going To War. "WHY THE CONVOCATION? This is one of the most effective means for Wisconsin students to serve notice, along with 1,000,000 other students, that WE'RE NOT GOING TO WAR -- ever again!" A protest handbill from the University of Wisconsin, announcing a campus-wide peace demonstration, on April 11, 1940. From the UW Library's compendium of resources on protests and social action at UW-Madison from 1910 through the end of the 20th century.
posted by escabeche (38 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dream on, you crazy kids.
posted by Mojojojo at 8:56 PM on January 24, 2013


Dream on, you crazy kids.

Be interesting to know what was animating this. There were several different flavors of arguments for "neutrality" floating around in the US in 1940, a lot of them pretty unsavory--i.e. fascist-sympathetic.
posted by yoink at 9:17 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


"We must constantly be on guard against un-neutrality, in thought and deed."

Sheesh, even the peace activists had creepy sounding propaganda.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:23 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I say they were dreamers, and I'm not the only one.

I too am curious about why they were so intent on marching off to war. I can understand wanting to stay out of the war, and I would hope this is your standard isolationism, mixed in with parents' stories of WW1. But I am sure I will be disappointed.
posted by Mezentian at 9:24 PM on January 24, 2013


A lot of arguments for "neutrality" were pretty unsavory, i.e. communist-sympathetic. Hello, Pete Seeger!
posted by TSOL at 9:31 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't remember the details, but didn't the American Senate (led by conservative Southerners) consistently oppose any kind of American engagement with Europe and the rest of the world since the end of the First World War?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 PM on January 24, 2013


Looking through the links up till the 1970s, I am always suprised at how violent the dissent in the midwest in that era was. I'm also curious about the lack of dissent in the 1950s
posted by PinkMoose at 9:50 PM on January 24, 2013


A lot of arguments for "neutrality" were pretty unsavory, i.e. communist-sympathetic. Hello, Pete Seeger!

Yes, fair enough. I should have said "e.g." rather than "i.e."
posted by yoink at 9:51 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


You think the arguments for "neutrality" were unsavory? You're right, but the most important---and least savory---ones had nothing at all to do with socialist sympathizers.
In the major academic study of the topic, David Schmitz points out that the model developed for Italy, with "moderate" Fascists holding the middle ground between the dreaded left and right-wing extremists, was applied to Nazism as well. Here, Hitler was chosen as the representative of the moderates who promised "social order, anti-Bolshevik laws, and protection for foreign capital," Schmitz observes. The American chargé d'affaires in Berlin wrote Washington in 1933 that the hope for Germany lay in "the more moderate section of the [Nazi] party, headed by Hitler himself...which appeal[s] to all civilized and reasonable people," and seems to have "the upper hand" over the violent fringe. In 1937, the State Department saw Fascism as compatible with U.S. economic interests. A report of the European Division explained its rise as the natural reaction of "the rich and middle classes, in self-defense" when the "dissatisfied masses, with the example of the Russian revolution before them, swing to the Left." Fascism therefore "must succeed or the masses, this time reinforced by the disillusioned middle classes, will again turn to the left." Not until European Fascism attacked U.S. interests directly did it become an avowed enemy. The reaction to Japanese Fascism was much the same.57
posted by anarch at 9:55 PM on January 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


Be interesting to know what was animating this. There were several different flavors of arguments for "neutrality" floating around in the US in 1940, a lot of them pretty unsavory--i.e. fascist-sympathetic.

First, remember that the US didn't enter WWII until 1941, the main reasoning being something along the lines of "Europe's problems aren't America's business."

Second, Wisconsin is not exactly lacking in German-Americans, and in 1940 would not have been lacking in German-Germans. So there's that.

Third, World War One was literally the worst thing ever, and on top of that, was utterly pointless. So when there was talk of another giant war in Europe, saying hell no seemed perfectly reasonable.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:12 PM on January 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Sys Rq: “First, remember that the US didn't enter WWII until 1941, the main reasoning being something along the lines of ‘Europe's problems aren't America's business.’”

I agree with this in principle, but it seems like a simplistic way of seeing the reasoning behind the drive not to enter to war. That reasoning seems to have ranged from "Europe's problems aren't America's business because war is an awful thing and we should avoid it if we can" to "Europe's problems aren't America's business because Italians and Germans have every right to stand up for their national ideals, and anyway everybody knows the Jews are intent on destroying the world."

I grant that "let's avoid war" was a popular sentiment in America, particularly following on the first World War. But there was disturbingly broad support for the whole "let Italy and Germany sort it out, and also Jews, Negroes, etc" thing. I am constantly surprised at the groups of people I discover held this opinion, and I think we need to keep in mind that it was a major force in America at the time, particularly among intellectuals and captains of industry.
posted by koeselitz at 10:36 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Before you guys get all contentious & political just gotta say I love the beautiful Depression Moderne font, splashed along the top like whoever did it wrote like that all the time.
posted by Rash at 10:43 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The 1940 Presidential election^ was basically, "No, I'm more anti-war than you!"

Willkie [who privately supported the allies]: The President`s attacks on foreign powers have been useless and dangerous. He has courted a war for which the country is hopelessly unprepared—and which it emphatically does not want. He has secretly meddled in the affairs of Europe, and he has even unscrupulously encouraged other countries to hope for more help than we are able to give.

FDR: I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again; your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.
posted by dhartung at 10:43 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


There were some decidedly peculiar cross-currents running beneath the surface of this deceptively straightforward-looking protest.

It was apparently sanctioned by the University since "Pres. Dykstra" dismissed classes so students could attend without cutting, and Dykstra himself introduced the speaker, Rep. John M. Coffee, whose topic was "Youth Fights to Keep America Out of War."

The protest took place on April 11, 1940, yet this same Dykstra was "director of the Selective Service System between 1940 and 1941"!

Rep. John M. Coffee, the speaker, became an official sponsor of American Youth for Democracy in 1946, which was "the Young Communist League USA (YCLUSA)", the youth wing of the Communist Party USA merely renamed, and which "dates its lineage back to 1920, shortly after the establishment of the first communist parties in America."

Therefore, it seems very likely to me that this protest was organized and led by American communists, and given relatively recent revelations of much deeper involvement in and much greater control of American communist organizations by Russia than even many right-wing historians had suspected, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to guess that the protest, which was nationwide, could have taken place at the behest of Moscow as part of an effort to prevent America from declaring war on Germany, which could have been a downstream consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact between Russia and Germany signed in late August 1939 in Moscow.

That pact allowed Stalin to concentrate on fighting the Japanese, and lasted until Hitler attacked Russia in late June of 1941. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of the same year, finally bringing America into the war, and I find it hard to believe they would have been willing to do that if Hitler hadn't gotten the Russians off their backs first.
posted by jamjam at 2:13 AM on January 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


[The Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact] allowed Stalin to concentrate on fighting the Japanese

The USSR did not go to war with Japan until August 8, 1945
. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was in effect from August 1939 until June 1941.

Besides the invasion of Poland, the only war that the USSR was involved in at that time was the Winter War (1939-1940) with Finland.
posted by dhens at 4:10 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


"-- you won't have to cut.."

Wow. They were cutting classes in 1940 and I thought I had invented cutting in 1971 (along with sex.)
posted by digsrus at 4:44 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Third, World War One was literally the worst thing ever, and on top of that, was utterly pointless."

The reasons America joined in the Great War are largely forgotten, but they were very real. While Woodrow Wilson was likely primarily concerned with preventing a default on the massive, country's future altering, piles of money that American banks had lent to the Allied (Entente) Powers, halting German Imperialism was very much not pointless. For a taste of what that really meant to people in the small countries of Europe check out the remarkably gripping Judicial Report on the Sacking of Louvain by the Flemish Professor Leon van der Essen, which is written with remarkable neutrality and conspicuous respect for truth. For the 'other side' of the story, this is the official German statement on what happened and a telegram to Wilson by the Kaiser that mentions it.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:54 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The USSR did not go to war with Japan until August 8, 1945. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was in effect from August 1939 until June 1941.

Bit of a "yes, but" to that. There were a number of border incidents between the two prior to 1939 (Khalkhin Gol, for example, is where Zhukov made his name). It was in the interest of both sides to have their backs safe for the duration.

I thought I had invented cutting in 1971 (along with sex.)

1963, I think you'll find
posted by BWA at 4:54 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't wait till 2050, when armchair historians conclude that massive protests against the war in Iraq were probably secretly organized by the long fingers of the Ba'ath party or the Taliban.
posted by muddgirl at 5:41 AM on January 25, 2013


A lot of the leaders of the anti-war movement were very close to the Nazi Party -- read about Charles Lindbergh sometime (who was hugely popular in the Midwest, and hated Jews). Wisconsin still gets articles about being the most anti-semitic place in the country.I don't know that every single protester was a Nazi sympathizer, but their leaders were pretty open about it.
posted by miyabo at 6:10 AM on January 25, 2013


Yes, a lot of rich and influential people in both the US and in the UK were Nazi sympathizers, and and intersecting group of people were anti-Semitic (including people who were pro-War or Allied sympathizers). That doesn't mean that college students in Wisconsin in the '40s didn't have other eminantly reasonable reasons to be anti-war.
posted by muddgirl at 6:16 AM on January 25, 2013


"Yes, a lot of rich and influential people in both the US and in the UK were Nazi sympathizers, and and intersecting group of people were anti-Semitic (including people who were pro-War or Allied sympathizers). That doesn't mean that college students in Wisconsin in the '40s didn't have other eminantly reasonable reasons to be anti-war."

This was April 11th, the sitzkrieg was rapidly coming to an end as Germany had just invaded Denmark and Norway two days before - it was clear to all but the least informed or most zealously Nazi that peace was precisely equivalent to total capitulation for Western Europe. While the vast majority of Americans still did not want to go to war, by this point it was clearly recognized how cowardly and self defeating this was and not widely expressed outside of Nazi sympathizers. Really though, are you trying to suggest that college students in the days before the GI bill did not reflect the rich and influential? Or that Americans who wern't rich and influential were any less likely to sympathize with the Nazis or be anti-Semetic?
posted by Blasdelb at 6:39 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really though, are you trying to suggest that college students in the days before the GI bill did not reflect the rich and influential? Or that Americans who wern't rich and influential were any less likely to sympathize with the Nazis or be anti-Semetic?

I don't think I suggested any of those things. I am suggesting that war is fucking terrifying and I don't think that being pro-Germany or pro-Allies or pro-neutrality is as simple as being pro-facist or pro-communist or racist against Jewish people. It was a complex situation.
posted by muddgirl at 7:00 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am suggesting that war is fucking terrifying and I don't think that being pro-Germany or pro-Allies or pro-neutrality is as simple as being pro-facist or pro-communist or racist against Jewish people.

No one is suggesting that this was "simple" or that every single student involved in this protest was a stooge of the fascists or the communists. It is, on the other hand, a matter of well-established historical fact (not the private musings of "armchair historians") that there were organized efforts to mobilize public opinion in the US against involvement in the war by both pro-fascist and pro-communist organizations. Jamjam's excellent post above seems to make it pretty clear that this particular protest was--at the very least--heavily influenced by communist directives to toe the Party line in sympathy with Stalin's non-aggression pact.

Pete Seeger was singing songs about keeping out of the war in 1940 because those were the directives CP members were getting from Moscow. Once Hitler invaded Russia, communist opinion around the world swung 180 degrees and it was all about joining the battle against fascism. The fact that these forces were at work in the world need not undermine your own personal pacifist beliefs, but it's a bit silly to stick your head in the ground and pretend that they weren't at play.
posted by yoink at 8:14 AM on January 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


For a taste of what that really meant to people in the small countries of Europe check out the remarkably gripping Judicial Report on the Sacking of Louvain by the Flemish Professor Leon van der Essen

Who was this terrifying Flemish professor who destroyed an entire city?
posted by Sangermaine at 8:29 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


given relatively recent revelations of much deeper involvement in and much greater control of American communist organizations by Russia than even many right-wing historians had suspected

Cite? (Not that I doubt it; I'm just interested.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:33 AM on January 25, 2013


What is this, HUAC? There was plenty of pacifism that wasn't "directed by Moscow."

What about pacifism during WWI? Before there was a commie Russia? Where'd that come from?
posted by telstar at 11:02 AM on January 25, 2013


What is this, HUAC? There was plenty of pacifism that wasn't "directed by Moscow."

Yes, of course there was. Who has denied that?

There was also the fact that people who were card carrying members of the Communist Party received direct instructions from Moscow to agitate against American involvement in the war and did so. These two well-established historical facts are in no way contradictory. Similarly, it is a well-known historical fact that fascist sympathizers in the US were prominent figures in trying to keep the US out of WWII.

What is interesting about the CP's Moscow-directed opposition to the war is that it put a number of people in a conflicted position. Their fierce opposition to what was happening in fascist Europe made them natural sympathizers of the war effort but the Communist Party's insistence that this was nothing but a "phony" capitalist war.
posted by yoink at 11:39 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meh, why worry about going of to war for Americans?

Its not like they've bothered to have Congress draft articles of War for over 70 years.

Ya know - the way the constitution says how it is to be done.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:44 AM on January 25, 2013


Ya know - the way the constitution says how it is to be done

Actually, a large part of the problem with this issue is that the Constitution is completely silent as to what constitutes a war and what Congress is supposed to do in order to "declare" one.
posted by yoink at 1:34 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ya know - the way the constitution says how it is to be done.

If the Constitution grants this power to Congress, it is within Congress's purview to delegate that power as they see fit. I have never understood this left-originalist interpretation of the Constitution, either from a philosophical or practical standpoint.
posted by dhartung at 12:08 AM on January 26, 2013


If the Constitution grants this power to Congress, it is within Congress's purview to delegate that power as they see fit.

It may be true in this instance, but it isn't just true automatically, is it? If there are some rights that you have that are inalienable (i.e. cannot be transferred), then there surely can be some powers that Congress has that are un-delegatable.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:37 AM on January 26, 2013


I don't think "rights" and "powers" are truly analogous in that way. The entire point of listing rights is to disempower the government from infringing them; the entire point of listing powers is to specify only those which the government needs to exercise.
posted by dhartung at 3:09 PM on January 26, 2013


But Congress giving additional powers to a position which already has its powers enumerated in the Constitution would seem to be an alteration to the Constitution...
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:51 PM on January 26, 2013


Admittedly the analogy is far from rock-solid. But in creating the structures of the U.S. government there was a strong desire to prevent the concentration of power. Assigning specific powers to specific branches is one of the methods to do this. One branch handing over an enumerated power to another branch is a huge "fuck you" to the founders.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:28 PM on January 26, 2013


dhartung: "I have never understood this left-originalist interpretation of the Constitution, either from a philosophical or practical standpoint."

Well, that interpretation itself - and the motivation behind it - isn't too hard to understand, I don't think. Ever since war was declared-but-not-declared in that infamous "police action" we now know as the Vietnam War, leftists have been a bit squirrely about wars which we fight but don't actually officially declare.

I agree that it's not as simple as "we're clearly doing it wrong," though. Frankly, the Constitution is not being abrogated when the president declares war without getting prior congressional approval. In fact, I think it should be clear that this is one realm in which the founders did not and indeed could not foresee future developments - like health care, proportional elections, etc. War powers needed to be updated - and they have been, fairly decisively.

rough ashlar: "Meh, why worry about going of to war for Americans? Its not like they've bothered to have Congress draft articles of War for over 70 years. Ya know - the way the constitution says how it is to be done."

Let's be clear on this. The War Powers Act of 1941 gave the president all the power he needed to declare war without articles of war being drawn up. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 gave the president further powers to declare war for periods of time prior even to getting the consent of Congress. These were necessary advances (although I of course have some reservations about some utterly unnecessary parts of the War Powers Act of 1941). I appreciate that, if one is anti-war, one probably prefers to have the US forced to convene some arcane 18th-century convention in Philadelphia and draft up "articles of war" by hand, but this is not how government in the 21st century should run.

The argument can be made that presidents since War Powers Resolution have abused its dictates or even ignored it. However, it can't really be argued that presidents ought to be forced to convince Congress to draw up articles of war before even committing to a military action. Congress has clearly and decisively handed the president the ability to begin military action before gaining congressional approval. And if they hadn't agreed to this, congress would frankly have consigned the United States to general ineffectuality in world affairs.
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


a huge "fuck you" to the founders

Enh. Founders be dead. I think they'll get over it. I'm basically very much a "working constitution" kind of guy, as you may have guessed.

One branch handing over an enumerated power to another branch

It really isn't "handed over" so much as moved into a process which is dissatisfying to some people.

the motivation behind it - isn't too hard to understand

Well, I understand that they have the goal, and a laudable one it is, of less war. I just think this is a petty bureaucratic objection in comparison to that goal.

leftists have been a bit squirrely about wars which we fight but don't actually officially declare

Yabbut ... does anyone really think that it's great if we DECLARE a war and then fight it anyway? That's not exactly what this is about, is it? It's really about getting people (our elected representatives) to sit down and DECLARE themselves. The thinking is that if they do so they will be more reluctant to vote for war. In airy theory land, this makes sense, but I don't think it's a bit realistic.

this is one realm in which the founders did not and indeed could not foresee future developments

Pretty much my view. It's the 21st century, events transpire at breakneck speed and are on cable even before they hit the Presiden'ts desk, and the US is a superpower, things inconceivable to the founders.

I appreciate that, if one is anti-war, one probably prefers to have the US forced to convene some arcane 18th-century convention in Philadelphia and draft up "articles of war" by hand, but this is not how government in the 21st century should run.

Indeed. I mean, I don't think they want that convention for its own sake, but again, as a roadblock or speed bump on the course to war.

The War Powers Resolution of 1973 gave the president further powers to declare war for periods of time prior even to getting the consent of Congress.

Now here's a thing I don't agree with you on. The contemporary context of the WPR was that it was a limitation on executive power; that's why Nixon vetoed it. In the popular sense it may not seem that way, but I think the view at the top is that legally and constitutionally it functions that way.

The argument can be made that presidents since War Powers Resolution have abused its dictates or even ignored it.

And again, I disagree: while a technical reading of some actions may be as an "abuse" or end-run around the WPR, the simple fact is that Congress has failed to pursue any litigation (and the White House has largely avoided litigating it as well). Thus we are left without any Supreme Court guidance on the issue. The basic interpretation here is that Congress has fully supported the Presidential actions taken -- often all but unanimously. It's hard to imagine a stuffy, pro forma debate on the matter and then a universal acclamation of a declaration of war making much of a difference other than for formal reasons.
posted by dhartung at 11:03 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I only said the "argument could be made" that Obama and all the rest have been wrong in declaring the WPR unconstitutional. I didn't say it was a good argument necessarily. The fact is that the question is officially open, even if it seems clear to me and you that it is in fact practically resolved.

“Now here's a thing I don't agree with you on. The contemporary context of the WPR was that it was a limitation on executive power; that's why Nixon vetoed it. In the popular sense it may not seem that way, but I think the view at the top is that legally and constitutionally it functions that way.”

This... well, it depends on how you look at it. In official, written law on the books, the WPR expanded the president's powers. The presidency has always maintained, however, that it had power to declare war from the very start of the union. I'm not sure I agree. There's some controversy about this, I gather. Either way, all I meant is that the WPR is the first official document to grant the president the power to declare war prior to congressional approval. The fact that Nixon did not believe it granted him enough power doesn't mean it wasn't at least an expansion of his official, written powers. But of course presidents will always prefer vaguely-defined but de facto broad powers to well-defined but somewhat more limited powers.
posted by koeselitz at 1:28 PM on January 28, 2013


« Older Philippe Dubost's Resume...  |  Which came first: the chicken ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments