John Reed, American journalist and radical leader. "Whose War?" (April 1917)
By the time this goes to press the United States may be at war. The day the German note arrived,
Wall Street flung the American flag to the breeze, the brokers on the floor of the Stock Exchange
sang "The Star Spangled Banner" with tears rolling down their cheeks, and the stock market went up.
In the theaters they are singing "patriotic" ballads of the George M. Cohan-Irving Berlin variety,
playing the national anthem, and flashing the flag and the portrait of long-suffering Lincoln-while the
tired suburbanite who has just been scalped by a ticket-speculator goes into hysterics. Exclusive
ladies whose husbands own banks are rolling bandages for the wounded, just like they do in Europe;
a million-dollar fund for ice in field-hospitals has been started; and the Boston Budget for Conveying
Virgins Inland has grown enormously. The directors of the British, French and Belgian Permanent
Blind Relief Fund have added "American" to the name of the organization, in gruesome anticipation.
Our soldier boys, guarding the aqueducts and bridges, are shooting each other by mistake for
Teutonic spies. There is talk of "conscription," "war-brides," and "On to Berlin ......
I know what war means. I have been with the armies of all the belligerents except one, and I have
seen men die, and go mad, and lie in hospitals suffering hell; but there is a worse thing than that. War
means an ugly mob-madness, crucifying the truth-tellers, choking the artists, side-tracking reforms,
revolutions, and the working of social forces. Already in America those citizens who oppose the
entrance of their country into the European melee are called "traitors," and those who protest against
the curtailing of our meager rights of free speech are spoken of as "dangerous lunatics." We have had
a forecast of the censorship-when the naval authorities in charge of the Sayville wireless cut off
American news from Germany, and only the wildest fictions reached Berlin via London, creating a
perilous situation The press is howling for war. The church is howling for war. Lawyers, politicians,
stock-brokers, social leaders are all howling for war. Roosevelt is again recruiting his thrice-thwarted
family regiment.
But whether it comes to actual hostilities or not, some damage has been done. The militarists have
proved their point. I know of at least two valuable social movements that have suspended functioning
because no one cares. For many years this country is going to be a worse place for free men to live
in; less tolerant, less hospitable. Maybe it is too late, but I want to put down what I think about it all.
Whose war is this? Not mine. I know that hundreds of thousands of American workingmen
employed by our great financial "patriots" are not paid a living wage. I have seen poor men sent to
jail for long terms without trial, and even without any charge. Peaceful strikers, and their wives and
children, have been shot to death, burned to death, by private detectives and militiamen. The rich
have steadily become richer, and the cost of living higher, and the workers proportionally poorer.
These toilers don't want war-not even civil war. But the speculators, the employers, the
plutocracy-they want it, just as they did in Germany and in England; and with lies and sophistries
they will whip up our blood until we are savage-and then we'll fight and die for them.
I am one of a vast number of ordinary people who read the daily papers, and occasionally The New
Republic, and want to be fair. We don't know much about international politics; but we want our
country to keep off the necks of little nations, to refuse to back up American beasts of prey who
invest abroad and get their fingers burned, and to stay out of quarrels not our own. We've got an idea
that international law is the crystallized common-sense of nations, distilled from their experiences
with each other, and that it holds good for all of them, and can be understood by anybody.
We are simple folk. Prussian militarism seemed to us insufferable; we thought the invasion of
Belgium a crime; German atrocities horrified us, and also the idea of German submarines exploding
ships full of peaceful people without warning. But then we began to hear about England and France
jailing, fining, exiling and even shooting men who refused to go out and kill; the Allied armies invaded
and seized a part of neutral Greece, and a French admiral forced upon her an ultimatum as shameful
as Austria's to Serbia; Russian atrocities were shown to be more dreadful than German; and hidden
mines sown by England in the open sea exploded ships full of peaceful people without warning.
Other things disturbed us. For instance, why was it a violation of international law for the Germans to
establish a "war-zone" around the British Isles, and perfectly legal for England to close the North
Sea? Why is it we submitted to the British order forbidding the shipment of non-contraband to
Germany, and insisted upon our right to ship contraband to the Allies? If our "national honor" was
smirched by Germany's refusal to allow war materials to be shipped to the Allies, what happened to
our national honor when England refused to let us ship noncontraband food and even Red Cross
hospital supplies to Germany? Why is England allowed to attempt the avowed starvation of German
civilians, in violation of international law, when the Germans cannot attempt the same thing without
our horrified protest? How is it that the British can arbitrarily regulate our commerce with neutral
nations, while we raise a howl whenever the Germans "threaten to restrict our merchant ships going
about their business?" Why does our Government insist that Americans should not be molested while
traveling on Allied ships armed against submarines?
We have shipped and are shipping vast quantities of war materials to the Allies, we have floated the
Allied loans. We have been strictly neutral toward the Teutonic powers only. Hence the inevitable
desperation of the last German note. Hence this war we are on the brink of.
Those of us who voted for Woodrow Wilson did so because we felt his mind and his eyes were
open, because he had kept us out of the mad-dogfight of Europe, and because the plutocracy
opposed him. We had learned enough about the war to lose some of our illusions, and we wanted to
be neutral. We grant that the President, considering the position he'd got himself into, couldn't do
anything else but answer the German note as he did-but if we had been neutral, that note wouldn't
have been sent. The President didn't ask us; he won't ask us if we want war or not. The fault is not
ours. It is not our war.
Anti-War Speech by Eugene Debs. JUNE 16, 1918
Sam Johnson declared that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." He must have had ... [the]
Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the
oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to
deceive and overawe the people.
They would have you believe that the Socialist Party consists in the main of disloyalists and traitors.
It is true in a sense not at all to their discredit. We frankly admit that we are disloyalists and traitors
to the real traitors of this nation; to the gang that on the Pacific coast are trying to hang Tom Mooney
and Warren Billings in spite of their well-known innocence and the protest of practically the whole
civilized world ....
Every solitary one of these aristocratic conspirators and would-be murderers claims to be an
arch-patriot; every one of them insists that the war is being waged to make the world safe for
democracy. What humbug! 'What rot! What false pretense! These autocrats, these tyrants, these
red-handed robbers and murderers, the "patriots," while the men who have the courage to stand face
to face with them, speak the truth, and fight for their exploited victims-they are the disloyalists and
traitors. If this be true, I want to take my place side by side with the traitors in this fight ....
Max Eastman has been indicted and his paper [The Masses] suppressed, just as the papers with
which I have been connected have all been suppressed. What a wonderful compliment they pay us!
They are afraid that we may mislead and contaminate you. You are their wards; they are your
guardians and they know what is best for you to read and hear and know. They are bound to see to
it that our vicious doctrines do not reach your ears. And so in our great democracy, under our free
institutions, they flatter our press by suppression; and they ignorantly imagine that they have silenced
revolutionary propaganda in the United States. What an awful mistake they make for our benefit! As
a matter of justice to them we should respond with resolutions of thanks and gratitude. Thousands of
people who had never before heard of our papers are now inquiring for and insisting upon seeing
them. They have succeeded only in arousing curiosity in our literature and propaganda. And woe to
him who reads Socialist literature from curiosity! He is surely a goner. I have known of a thousand
experiments but never one that failed.
How stupid and shortsighted the ruling class really is! Cupidity is stone blind. It has no vision. The
greedy, profit-seeking exploiter cannot see beyond the end of his nose. He can see a chance for an
"opening"; he is cunning enough to know what graft is and where it is, and how it can be secured, but
vision he has none - not the slightest. He knows nothing of the great throbbing world that spreads out
in all directions. He has no capacity for literature; no appreciation of art; no soul for beauty. That is
the penalty the parasites pay for the violation of the laws of life. The Rockefellers are blind. Every
move they make in their game of greed but hastens their own doom. Every blow they strike at the
Socialist movement reacts upon themselves. Every time they strike at us they hit themselves. It never
fails. Every time they strangle a Socialist paper they add a thousand voices proclaiming the truth of
the principles of socialism and the ideals of the Socialist movement. They help us in spite of
Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages when the
feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to
enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth they declared war upon
one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the
barons of Wall Street go to war. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors
of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The
poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters
declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one
another's throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And
that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always
fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has
had nothing to gain and all to lose-especially their lives.
They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to
have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people,
have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in
any age has ever been declared by the people.
And here let me emphasize the fact-and it cannot be repeated too often-that the working class who
fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely
shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or
making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone
make peace.
Yours not to reason why; Yours but to do and die.
That is their motto and we object on the part of the awakening workers of this nation.
If war is right let it be declared by the people. You who have your lives to lose, you certainly above
all others have the right to decide the momentous issue of war or peace.
The Wounded Who Do Not Fight By Kate Richards O'Hare
With bated breath the world is beginning to talk of the cost of the European orgy of blood and
murder. Bankers figure the amount in dollars and cents, capitalists estimate the wasted labor and
merchants reckon the ruined commodities. A few tender hearted are even counting the frightful waste
of human life and attempting to reckon the toll of suffering and anguish.
The wise men disagree as wise men are wont to do, on details. The money changers wrangle as to
whether the cost in the good coin of the realm is forty million or fifty-four million dollars per day, the
capitalists argue over a few billions more or less of wasted labor and the merchants differ several
billions as to the value of wasted commodities; but no statistics so far have been produced setting
forth the cost of the European war to those who in the last analysis must bear the brunt and pay the
A million men march out to the call of the bugle and three million women are left behind to mourn;
for back of each soldier there is mother and sister, wife or sweetheart. The mother-heart stifles with
the agony of dread for the son who has marched away; the wife-soul cowers in stunned misery for
the father of her children, torn from her side and the maiden longs for the lover who never will be
father to the children who never can be born.
Two mighty armies clash, in the roar of cannons and the rattle of musketry two groups of men hurl
the messengers of death into each others ranks, and when the last cannon has belched forth its
message of death and the last Mauser has sung its spiteful song of hate, one side declares it victory,
the other admits defeat. Then each side goes out to count its loss and bury its dead. Forty thousand
fighting men are lost, costly implements of warfare are mere twisted bits of scrap steel, cities are
razed, fields laid waste; homes are in ashes and the vineyards are red with the vintage from human
veins. Out from the piled up masses of rotting carcasses comes the feeble babble of the wounded not
yet dead. Ruin and death and chaos prevail.
We can count the dead men and write their number in round figures; we can count the cost of
making new implements of war and reckon the money value of the crops laid waste, of the cities
razed and of the homes in ashes. We may even speculate on the human agony represented by the
dead men with faces cold and stark upturned to the sky or purpling under the autumn sun; we may
shudder at the cry of dying men babbling in the delirium of gaping wounds and burning thirst -- but
who can or ever will dream of measuring the agony of the wounded who never fought -- THE
For the men who march away there is the urge of the blood lust unleashed by the lure of cunning lies
used to appeal to man's lowest passions. For the men who answer to the bugle call there is the
impetus of crashing martial music and the hypnotism of being carried by the human flood. For the
men who fall in the crash of battle there is the surge of elemental passions and the swift oblivion of
death borne on a singing bullet. To the wounded entangled in the piles of festering dead, kind nature
brings the forgetfulness of delirium and many a wounded soldier with his head pillowed on the torn
body of his dead comrade, babbles of limpid brooks, ripening vineyards and a maiden's kisses. BUT
MAY NOT DIE, there is all of the seething hell of war and none of its lure and passion. For the
womanhood of the race no martial music crashes; the human flood swells, ebbs and leaves them
stranded in the quagmires of despair; no singing bullet or roaring cannon brings the deep oblivion of
death and no merciful delirium brings the sweet dreams of happier days. For the helpless victims of
war's cursed madness there is only the agony of the damned, the unrelieved misery of suspense,
hopelessness and dumb despair.
All over Europe from the anguished hearts of mothers arises the wail of Naomi, "I am old and barren
and there is no more fruit in my womb." Wives crouch in the shattered ruins of once happy homes or
drag whimpering children out of the reek and stench of war and face the dreary problem of brooding
fatherless fledglings amidst the bitter curse of poverty. Maidens fall prey to the rapine waged by men
driven mad by the blood and lust of war and are despoiled of the flower of their womanhood before
it ever blossoms.
It is the women of Europe who pay the price while war rages, and it will be the women who will pay
again when war has run its bloody course and Europe sinks down into the slough of poverty like a
harried beast too spent to wage the fight. It will be the sonless mothers who will bend their shoulders
to the plow and wield in age-palsied hands the reaphook.
It will be the husbandless women who will level the graves and replant the grapevines in the blood
fertilized lands of Europe. It will be tiny hands of fatherless children who will wield the hoe and man
the machines in the factories. It will be the maidens who will never know wife- or motherhood who
will bear the burdens that should have lain upon the shoulders of the lovers sleeping in the unmarked
graves of an alien land. Upon the shoulders of women and children will fall the grinding, blighting,
blasting struggle of covering the scars of war while paying the debts piled mountain high by war.
John Reed, American journalist and radical leader. "Whose War?" (April 1917)