Kirstein to Present Antiwar Research at University of Texas

On February 18, 2006 I will be delivering a paper at a conference sponsored by Historians Against the War. This is a link to a description of the conference.

My paper is entitled:

“From Courts to Campus: Silencing the Left During The Great War (WWI) and Iraq.”

Here is an abstract of the paper slightly edited from the one sent to the conference conveners:

Wars are generally waged for the alleged purpose of national security, vital interests and the enhancement or maintenance of civil liberties. Declaratory policy almost invariably emphasises that “war is the health of the state” and is essential for the maintenance of American democracy. During World War I and both before and during the Iraq War, there were significant assaults on antiwar speech that challenged the nation’s decision to wage war.

Howard Zinn in his classic work, Disobedience and Democracy, critiqued Justice Abe Fortas’s assertion in Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience that while antiwar speech has not always been protected in the United States, “It is the courts—the independent judiciary—which have, time and again, rebuked the legislatures and executive authorities.” Yet history has demonstrated that the Supreme Court is frequently supportive of restrictions on first amendment rights during wartime and has frequently used its power to silence and transmogrify persons of conscience into prisoners of conscience.

The court in Schenck, Debs, Frohwerk, Abrams applied a very narrow interpretation of the first amendment. Despite consensus hagiography, the clear-and-present-danger doctrine was used to punish heroic antiwar protest and not protect it. While Justice Holmes eventually narrowed somewhat the draconian clear-and-present-danger gag on legitimate speech, the majority continued to stifle antiwar speech well after Schenck.

During the Iraq war or in the prewar escalation of military tension, several professors were persecuted by an aroused public for their antiwar beliefs or the mode of expression of such ideological sentiments. Some notable cases included Ward Churchill, Nicholas De Genova, Richard Berthold and Peter N. Kirstein. Professor Berthold was compelled to take early retirement and Professor Churchill was stripped of his ethnic studies department chairpersonship. Professor De Genova’s dismissal was demanded by 104 members of Congress and, while he was not fired, he was denounced by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger at the National Press Club. Professor Kirstein was suspended and reprimanded.

The paper’s specific focus will be to compare the explicit state-sponsored persecution of the socialist left during the Great War and the assault on academic freedom in which antiwar professors were subjected to national inquisitions that led to university actions of intimidation and/or sanctions.

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