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The Red Scare


The tumult and the shouting dies, The captains and the
kings depart. -Kipling, The Recessional
 Mr. Kipling was wrong. War does not always end with the
last cry on the battlefield. World War I certainly did not.
After the war formally ended on November 18, 1918, there
was an ideological war still going on in the US. An
ideological war which prompted mass paranoia and caused,
among many other things, what would be known as the Red
Scare, which began in 1919 and ended in 1921. Red Scare was
the label given to the actions of legislation, the race
riots, and the hatred and persecution of "subversives" and
conscientious objectors during that period of time._ It is
this hysteria which would find itself repeated several
decades later in history when Senator Joeseph R. Macarthy
accused high government officials and high standing
military officers of being communist._ Undoubtedly the most
important topic of an investigation into a historical
occurrence is its inception. What caused the Red Scare? 

 At the heart of the Red Scare was the conscription law of
May 18, 1917, which was put in place during World War I for
the armed forces to be able to conscript more Americans.
This law caused many problems for the conscientious
objector to WWI, because for one to claim that status, one
had to be a member of a "well-recognized" religious
organization which forbade their members to participation
in war. As a result of such unyeilding legislation, 20,000
conscientious objectors were inducted into the armed
forces. Out of these 20,000, 16,000 changed their minds
when they reached military camps, 1300 went to non-combat
units, 1200 gained furloughs to do farm work, and 100 did
Quaker relief work in Europe. 500 suffered court-martial,
and out of these, 450 went to prison. However, these
numbers are small in comparison with the 170,000 draft
dodgers and 2,810,296 men who were inducted into the armed
forces._ Nevertheless, the conscientious objectors were
targeted in the Red Scare after the war. They were
condemned as cowards, pro-German socialists, although that
was not everything. They were also accused of spreading
propaganda throughout the United States. Very few
conscientious objectors stood up for themselves. Roderick
Siedenberg, who was a conscientious objector, wrote that
"to steal, rape, or murder" are standard peacetime causes
for imprisonment, but in time of war "too firm a belief in
the words of Christ", and "too ardent a faith in the
brotherhood of man" are more acceptable._
 Some organizations such as the National Civil Liberties
Bureau, which would later be renamed the American Civil
Liberties Union, took up the task of standing up for the
rights of conscientious objectors. Before the war, the
NCLB-ACLU opposed American involvement, and afterward
defended the rights of the objectors. Later, the ACLU would
gain a reputation for helping people with liberal cases who
were too poor to pay for their own representation in court. 

 After the real war ended in 1918, the ideological war,
which was gaining speed at home, turned against
conscientious objectors and other radical minorities such
as Wobblies, who were members of the Industrial Workers of
the World (IWW), and Socialists as well. These Wobblies and
Socialists were damned as being subversives who were trying
to overthrow the United States government. 

 Wobblies, in particular, were persecuted against for
speaking out against the capitalist system. Although most
of what they said was only to attract attention to their
cause, their rhetoric was taken seriously by the government
and its officials. From the very beginning of the Red
Scare, the Wobblies were the subject of attack by the
government, because they were a symbol of radicalism. The
government put in place legislation, not only against the
Wobblies, but also against Socialists and Communists, due
to the fact that the government did not distinguish one of
its enemies from another. One such action taken by the
government prevented Wobblies who were not yet citizens
from naturalization, even if they quit their organization.
In 1917, the US government made a law which gave the
Secretary of Labor the power to arrest or deport any alien
"advocating or teaching" destruction of property or the
"overthrow of government by force."_ Words such as
"advocating" and the vague language used in the law allowed
the government to use deportation as a cure for the
anti-government views of its enemies, namely the Wobblies,
Communists, and Socialists. 

 After all the unfair legislation passed by the government,
the scene was set for a disaster. All that was left was for
someone to take advantage of the anti-radical legislation,
and the bomb would soon explode. This is basically what
Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer did in the years
1919-1920. Palmer used the laws set down in 1917 to deport
members of the IWW. He did not only reserve his weapon for
the Wobblies; the American Communists and many other
radical groups were not to be left out. When the Palmer
Raids began, which will be discussed in more detail later,
there were two main targets: the Communist Party, and the
Communist Labor Party. These groups grew out of the IWW,
the Socialist Party of America, and the Socialist Labor
Party. The largest of the three, the Socialist Party of
America, had split because of a dilemma over World War I. 

 This split occurred when Europe entered the war. For the
most part, American Socialists opposed the war, unlike
their European brethren who were much more nationalistic
and supported their countries armies. However, some of the
more prominent American Socialists, each for his own
reasons, strongly supported the war. 

 This break in beliefs of the Socialist Party hurt it, but
did by no means destroy it. Many who were not Socialists
opposed the draft, but the Party itself was the true focal
point of this opposition. Accordingly, these people became
targets for attack by American nationalists and the
American government. Heinous acts such as the burning of
Socialist documents and the lynching of its members were

 While all this was taking place, an American Communist
Party was emerging from the ashes of the former Socialist
strongholds which were all along the eastern seaboard of
the US. There, Russian immigrants identified with the
Bolshevik revolution in Mother Russia because of their
similar lives of poverty and squalor. These conditions of
dispair were in part due to the exclusion of immigrants
from unions and their not being permitted to vote. These
people held strong anti-government/anti-capitalist views,
often advocating the immediate overthrow of capitalism.
Indeed, they were asking for trouble. And they would get it.
 As dangerous as these people appeared to be at the time,
they were in fact only one-thousandth of one percent of the
voting American public. Even the two parties who made up
this minute percentage of voters were riddled with
corruption and dissent. 

 After the war formally ended in 1918, all the groups which
opposed the war came under fire. They were seen as
destructive to the peace and security of the American

 The focus of the attacks was no longer on the
conscientious objectors, for many of them were already
jailed during the war, and were still in jail at the time;
it had switched over to the Socialists and the Wobblies,
for they, unlike the conscientious objectors, were a still
viable target. 

 One way that these people were targeted was by use of the
Espionage Act of 1918. This act penalized anyone who
obstructed the operation of the armed forces, was
insubordinate, or displayed disloyalty within the forces.
Because of the law's vauge language, the Justice Department
convicted more than 1000 people. Among this number were a
large number of Socialists and Wobblies. 

 The Espionage Act was not the only form of legislation to
discriminate against anti-war groups. In October 1918,
Congress passed the Alien Act, which gave the Secretary of
Labor the power to deport " any alien who, at any time
after entering the United States, is found to have been at
the time of entry, or to have become thereafter a member of
any anarchist organization."_ The extremely broad language
used in this bill and the way it was interpreted gave
Palmer the authority to conduct his raids, during which
thousands of people were arrested and detained without
actually having been charged. 

 Because they anticipated what was to come, the suspect
organizations worked for the repealing of the legislation
aimed against them. Many Socialists became prominent
figures due to their attempts to gain release for their
imprisoned comrades. 

 Another reason for the Red Scare was the strike held by
mine workers. They were thought to be making threatening
moves against the Capitalist system through subversive
Socialist organizations. These strikes were part of a
series of events which took place in 1919. This strike,
which occurred in February, was of 60,000 coal mine
workers._ In that September, steel workers struck. All of
the available blame was put upon the American Communists,
although many communists tried to oppose this strike.
Nationalist Americans called for a halt to this "Bolshevik
Revolution" which was taking place on American soil. 

 As a result of this panic traveling through American
society, a series of bombings occurred. The Socialists were
immediately assumed to be responsible. 

 Newspapers had a field day publicizing these bombings.
Attorney General Palmer took advantage of the widespread
panic of the public and media and asked Congress for fund
appropriations to help avoid further danger. Congress
obliged, not only supplying funds, but going one step
further. The message was then made clear: foreign radicals
were to all be deported.
 The government had formulated and put into effect their
plan to rid the country of unwanted foreign radicals, but
the problem remained as what to do with those radicals were
citizens of the United States. This was not to go
unanswered for long, however. In June of 1919, New York
state officials raided the Rand School of Social Science in
New York, as well as the headquarters of the I.W.W. and the
Socialists._ These raids were a product of a New York
legislature action that created the Lusk Committee. The
idea behind this committee was anit-radical, and the
tactics of said committee spread nationwide very quickly,
or their methods of "defending the republic". Even with all
the legislation in place, Attorney General Palmer
complained that not enough was not enough was being done to
deport aliens. It is ironic that after the Red Scare, he
argued for the release of a Socialist that was imprisoned
during the Scare. However, during it he helped convict many
in a similar situation. It is highly probable that he held
his anti-liberal veiws only because he had presidential
ambitions. But it must also be considered that he himself
was the target of a bombing. His actions may merely have
been out of fear, but his wavering attitudes hold no true

 In the August of that same year, Palmer created an
intelligence department to deal with problems originating
with anarchists and that ilk. He appointed J. Edgar Hoover
to lead this newly founded agency. Hoover created files on
each "subversive" organization. One of the first field
assignments of this agency was to raid The Union of Russian
Workers in New York._ 

 Palmer was not the most extreme of these anti-radicals.
Senator Kenneth McKellen of Tennessee went so far as to
propose sending all native-born radicals to a special penal
colony on the island of Guam._
 Liberal journalists held very caustic opinions of the
actions of Palmer and his comrades. One journalist went as
far as to say "Will it stop unrest? Yes! Just as shaving
the dog will keep his hair from growing. In fact, shaving
is said to promote growth."_
 Palmer didn't care what the journalists said. He went on
with the raids which he was so famous for. On December 27,
around 250 deportees sailed for Russia from New York ion
the U.S.S. Buford, promptly labeled as the "Soviet Ark."_
On Friday, January 2, 1920, agents of the Justice
department raided a Communist headquarters and began to
arrest thousands of people throughout America's major
cities. In a period of two days, 5000 people were arrested
and 1000 jailed._ There was no regard for due process, and
the treatment of the prisoners unacceptable.
 The Red Scare finally came to an end after a series of
actions by high government officials, especially in the
Justice Department itself, which showed dissent from
Palmer's philosophy. Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis F.
Post began to reject most of the cases brought before him
concerning the immigrants. Even the Secretary of Labor
himself, William B. Wilson turned against Palmer. Out of
6,000 warrants issued during the raids, less than 1,000
deportations resulted._ Even with all this opposition to
his actions, Palmer still aspired to the office of the
Presidency. He was never nominated. By 1920, the Red Scare
was dying down, and by 1921 it was virtually dead. 

 It is obvious that the Red Scare was a product of World
War I and the anti-liberalism that ensued on the homefront.
The truth is that Mr. Palmer did not really cause the Red
scare, he only participated in it. 

 What is known as the Red Scare of 1919-1921 set precedent
to the witch hunts of the McCarthy era, where he accused
two presidents (Dwight D. eisenhower was even a member of
his own party) of being Communists Even today, many lessons
can and have been learned from this experience. The main
lesson learned is that the freedom of expression and of
thought is so important, that if it is taken away, in
particular by the government, justice cannot be either
carried out or achieved. 

 Since the McCarthy era, nothing like the Red Scare has
ever occurred in American society or government. People
have become very cautious not to repeat the mistakes of the
past, especially ones so rediculous as the deportation of
immigrants for their political beliefs. But the question
remains as to whether America will always remember this
episode of the early 1920's, or will she simply forget it
and make the same mistakes over and over again. 

 Perhaps Albert Einstein said it most eloquently in an
interview on December 30, 1930...
 I never think of the future, 

 It comes soon enough._
I. The Pocket Book of Quotations: Henry Davidoff, Pocket
Books, New York, N.Y.
II. Into the Twenties: Burl Noggle, University of Illinois
Press, Chicago, Illinois
III. The American Heritage History of the 1920's & 1930's:
Ralph K. Andrist, American Heritge Books, New York, N.Y.
IV. Outgrowing Democracy: John Lukacs, Doubleday and
Company, Inc. , New York
_ Source I, p. 423
_ Source IV, p. 33
_ Source III, p. 29
_ Source II, p. 84
_ Source II, p. 86
_ Source II, p. 89
_ Source II, p. 95-96
_ Source II, p. 102
_ Source II, p. 105
_ Opinion taken from all sources except # I
_ Source II p. 107
_ Source II p. 107- verification, Cong. Record., 66 Cong.,
sess. (Dec. 20, 1919), 990ff., 1334
_ Source II, p. 108
_ Source III, p. 30
_ Source II, p. 108
_ Source II, p. 110
_ Source I, p. 107


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