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1919. Scott Nearing, the executive chairman of the Peoples Council, a peace coalition, was one of more than 2000 indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 for criticizing our participation in World War I. In a bizarre turn, he was acquitted, but the publisher of his offending pamphlet was not.
The war hysteria mounted. Every day, every day, the rah-rah boys - preachers, teachers, newspapermen--were saying, "Whatever you do, don't rock the boat." The boat was on the way to war. The Espionage Act, which was passed ostensibly to cope with the German spy system, was used against people like me who opposed the war. Why not? What's a "spy act" really for, except to prevent people of a certain point of view from influencing policy? I was charged with writing The Great Madness, a pamphlet that would interfere with recruitment and enlistment in the armed services. The "evidence" was that any young man reading it might or would refuse to enlist or be conscripted. It carried a twenty year sentence in the penitentiary. In the pamphlet, I analyzed the causes of the war, showing that it was not a war of patriotism or a war for democracy, but a definite business men's war. We felt the trial was our chance to publicize our views. When I was on the stand, I gave detailed explanations of each paragraph. The newspapers and magazines were full of it. We said we didn't care if we were found guilty or not. We were interested in furthering the cause of peace and socialism. It was the obvious thing to do.