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have been accused of obstructing the war. I admit it. Gentlemen,
I abhor war. I would oppose war if I stood alone... I have sympathy
with the suffering, struggling people everywhere. It does not
make any difference under which flag they were born, or where
Eugene Victor Debs, Socialist (1918) (To Jury at Espionage Trial)
The name Eugene
Debs may not ring bells today, but in the first quarter of the 20th
century, his trial rocked the nation. An ardent Socialist, Debs
made plain his opposition to the War, and more importantly, his
opposition to the class character of the war; that it was a war
waged by working people for the wealthy. A powerful, and stirring
orator, Debs drew waves of applause from those who came to hear
him. He also spoke plainly about war and the wagers of war:
us that we live in a great free republic; that our institutions
are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people. That
is too much, even for a joke... Wars throughout history have been
waged for conquest and plunder... And that is war in a nutshell.
*The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class
has always fought the battles.....*"
[fr. Howard Zinn, *A People's History of the United States* (1995),
with violating the Espionage Act, was convicted of obstructing the
draft for giving this speech, and a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court
would affirm his conviction a year later. The imprisoned labor leader,
convicted of exercising his alleged first amendment rights of speaking
out against an unpopular war, would write his stirring *Walls and
Bars: Prisons and Prison Life in the "Land of the Free"*
(1927). Nominated by the Socialist Party to run for President in
1920, Debs received over 1 million votes -- while behind bars!
Nor was Debs
alone in his opposition to the war, as papers of the time attest.
The Minneapolis *Journal* would blare "DRAFT OPPOSITION FAST
SPREADING IN STATE". Over 300,000 men evaded the draft for
the 'War to End All Wars' (as it was called). Working people demonstrated
against the war all across the nation, and were
attacked by cops and soldiers, under orders of their brass. Tens
of thousands of men claimed conscientious objector status. What
is clear is that anti-war sentiment didnt just sprout up during
the unpopular Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s.
is part of the historical fabric of America.
may surprise us in this age to speak of him thus, Abraham Lincoln
was famous before his presidency, for his outspoken opposition to
the Mexican-American War (1846-48) when, as a member of Congress,
the Illinois delegate challenged President James Polk to specify
exactly where American blood was shed "on the American soil".
(The pretext for the Mexican War). As a Whig, Lincoln was outspoken
on his Partys position:
that we have always opposed the war is true or false, according
as one may understand the term "oppose the war." If to
say "the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced
by the President" be opposing the war, then
the Whigs have very generally opposed it.... (Zinn, 151).
now review the basis for the Mexican-American War generally agree
that the White House used a lie to justify it.
We have mentioned
the Vietnam War. Who can question the outspoken contributions that
the heavyweight boxing Champ, Muhammad Ali, or Reverend Dr. Martin
Luther King ,Jr. made to challenging and ending that fevered carnage
in the Far East? Alis famous phrase, "No Vietnamese ever
called me 'nigger'," shone a garish light on the
plight of Blacks in the country, who were asked to defend a 'democracy'
abroad that was sorely lacking at home. Dr Kings speeches
against the War earned him the enmity of his liberal fair -weather
'friends', and caused the corporate press to attack him relentlessly
for treason, yet who, some 30 years later, can remember the catcalls
of his critics, when compared to the excellence and ethics of his
dissent against the rampant militarism of the War? Dr Kings
proclamation that America was the "greatest purveyor of violence
in the world today" is found in the mouths of tens of thousands
of anti-war protestors in America who werent alive when he
said it, and is repeated in a hundred different languages around
the world to legitimize a global anti-war movement of millions who
oppose the American way of War.
the former Rap Brown (now Imam Jamil Al-Amin), 'Dissent is as American
as cherry pie.'
Check out Mumia's
"Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life
of African and African-American People" at www.africanworld.com
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© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.