Empire, Resistance, and the War in Iraq:
A Conference for Historians and Activists
University of Texas, Austin February 17-19, 2006
My Panel’s Theme:
“Defending Democracy and Civil Liberties”
Chair: Professor Ben Alpers, University of Oklahoma
Jana Lipman, Yale University
Jeffrey Kerr-Richie, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Film Maker Saul Landau (tentative)
Peter N. Kirstein’s Paper Title:
“Courts to Campus: Silencing the Left During Wartime”
Abstract Edited to Conform More Closely to Original and to Make Some Stylistic Changes:
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 emphasizes 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 Oliver Wendell Holmes altered somewhat the draconian clear and present danger test, the majority continued to stifle antiwar speech well after Schenck as seen in Abrams and Gitlow.
Since 9/11, many professors have been persecuted for their antiwar beliefs. Some notable cases have been Ward Churchill, Nicholas De Genova, Richard Berthold and Peter N. Kirstein. Berthold was compelled to take early retirement and Churchill was stripped of his Ethnic Studies department chairpersonship. 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 C. Bollinger at the National Press Club and on the university website. Kirstein was suspended, reprimanded and ordered to undergo a post-tenure review that did not conform precisely, as required, with the faculty Handbook and Bylaws.
The paper’s specific focus will compare the explicit state-sponsored persecution of the socialist left during the Great War and the assault on academic freedom whereby antiwar professors were subject to national inquisitions which led to university actions of intimidation and persecution.
“Academic Freedom is Never Free”