The Aftermath of the War, January 5, 1922


The Aftermath of the War

By Jane Addams

{This article is the substance of a chapter in a new book by Miss Addams, to be published by Macmillans early in February, entitled "Peace and Bread in Time of War." While dealing with objective facts and events the book will, we believe, take on its chief significance from the fact that it records the interpretations of war from the point of view of a pacifist who paid a great price in maintaining her moral convictions while the conflict was on and men's passions were raging. Scarcely less poignant have been the experiences of peace minded men and women since the armistice. Miss [Addams's] book will throw a flood of light upon certain human aspects of the war, particularly the way in which our fierce American super-patriotism vented itself upon certain types among our immigrant communities the book promises to be one of the most significant of the steadily enlarging post-war literature. -- THE EDITOR.}

Almost immediately after the war, liberals began to realize that a contest was on all over the world for the preservation of the hard-won liberty which since the days of Edmund Burke had come to mean to the civilized world not only security of life and property but of opinion as well. Many people had long supposed liberalism to be freedom to know and to say, not what was popular or convenient or even what was patriotic, but what they held to be true. But those very liberals came to realize that a distinct aftermath of the war was the dominance of the mass over the individual to such an extent it constituted a veritable revolution in our social relationships. Every part of the country had its own manifestations of suspicion and distrust which to a surprising degree fastened upon the immigrants. These felt, some of them with good reason, that they were being looked upon with suspicion and regarded as different from the rest of the world; that whatever happened in this country that was hard to understand was put off upon them, as if they alone were responsible. In such a situation they naturally became puzzled and irritated.


With all the rest of the world America fell back into the old habit of judging men, not by their individual merits or capacities, but by the categories of race and religion, thrust by them back into the part of the world in which they had been born. Many of the immigrants, Poles, Bohemians and Croatians, were eager to be called by their new names. They were keenly alive to the fresh start made in Poland, [Czechoslovakia], in [Yugoslavia] and in other parts of eastern and southern Europe. They knew, of course, of the redistributions in land, of the recognition of peasant proprietorship occurring not only in the various countries in which actual revolutions had taken place as in Hungary and Russia, but in other countries such as [Romania], where there has been violent revolution. These immigrants were very eager to know what share they themselves might have in these great happenings if they returned. They longed to participate in the founding of a new state which might guarantee the liberties in search of which they themselves had come to America. They were also anxious about untoward experiences which might have befallen their kinsfolk in those remote countries. For five years many of them had heard nothing directly from their families and their hearts were wrung over the possible starvation of their parents and sometimes of their wives and children.


Had we as citizens of the United States made a widespread and generous response to this overwhelming anxiety much needed results might have accrued to ourselves; our sympathy and aid given to their kinsmen in the old world might have served to strengthen the bonds between us and the foreigners living within our borders. There was a chance to restore the word "alien" to a righteous use and to end its service as a term of reproach. To ignore the natural anxiety of the Russians and to fail to understand their inevitable resentment against an unauthorized blockade, to account for their "restlessness" by all sorts of fantastic explanations was to ignore a human situation which was full of possibilities for a fuller fellowship and understanding.

It was stated in the senate that one and a half million European immigrants had applied in the winter of '19 and '20 for return passports. In one small western city in which 800 Russians were living, 275 went to the western coast hoping for an opportunity to embark for Siberia and thus reach Russia. Most of them were denied passports and the enforced retention of so many people constantly made for what came to be called social unrest. We would sometimes hear a Russian say, "When I was in the old country I used to dream constantly of America, and of the time I might come back here, but now I go about with the same longing in my heart for Russia, and am homesick to go back to her." In Chicago many of those who tried in vain to return, began to prepare themselves in all sorts of ways for usefulness in the new Russian state. Because Russia needed skilled mechanics they themselves founded schools in applied mathematics, in mechanical drawing, in pattern work, in automobiling.


It was one of these latter schools in Chicago, where they were so cautious that they did not teach any sort of history or economics, which was raided in the early part of January, 1920. A general raid under the direction of the federal department of justice "ran in" numbers of Chicago suspects on the second of January, but an enterprising state's attorney in Chicago, doubtless craving the political prestige to be thus gained, anticipated the federal action by twenty-four hours and conducted raids on his own account. The immigrants arrested without warrant were thrust into crowded police stations and all other available places of detention. The automobile school was carried off bodily, the teachers, the sixty-four pupils, the books and papers, the latter being considered valuable because the algebraic formulas appeared so incriminating.

One Russian among those arrested on January 1, 1920, [page 2] I had known for many years as a member of a Tolstoy society, which I had attended a few times after my visit to Russia in 1896. The society was composed of Russians committed to the theory of [nonresistance] and anxious to advance the philosophy underlying Tolstoy's books. I knew of no group in Chicago whose members I should have considered less dangerous. This man, with twenty-three other prisoners, was thrust into a cell built for eight men. There was no room to sit, even upon the floor, they could only stand closely together, take turns in lying on the benches and in standing by the door where they might exercise by stretching their hands to the top bars. Because they were federal prisoners the police refused to feed them, but by the second day coffee and sandwiches were brought to them by federal officials. But the half-starved [Tolstoian] even then would not eat meat nor drink coffee, but waited patiently until his wife found him and could feed him grains and milk. As a young man he had edited the periodical of a humanitarian society in Russia and it was as a convinced humanitarian that he began to study Tolstoy. Because the grand jury held him for trial under a state charge he could not even be deported if the federal charge were sustained. It was impossible, of course, not "stand by" old friends such as he and others whom I had known for years, but the experience of securing bail for them; of presiding at a meeting of protest against such violation of constitutional rights; of identification with the vigorous Civil Liberties Union in New York and its Chicago branch, did not add to my respectability in the eyes of my fellow citizens.    

And yet the earlier settlements had believed that the opportunity to live close to the people would enable the residents to know intimately how simple people felt upon fundamental issues and we had hoped that the residents would stand fast to that knowledge in the midst of a social crisis where an interpreter would be valuable. Could not such activity be designated as "settlement work?" It was certainly so regarded by a handful of settlement people in Boston and New York, as well as Chicago.


There were two contending trends of public opinion at this time which reminded me of the early settlement days in the United States, one the workingman's universal desire for public discussion and the other the employer's belief that such discussion per se was dangerous. In the midst of the world-wide social confusion and distress, there inevitably developed a profound skepticism as to the value of established institutions. The situation in itself afforded a challenge, for men longed to turn from the animosities of war and from the futility of the peace terms to unifying principles, and yet at that very moment any attempt at bold and penetrating discussion was quickly and ruthlessly suppressed as if men had no right to consider together the social conditions surrounding them.

This dread and fear of discussion somewhat accounted for the public sentiment exhibited toward the hundred members of the I.W.W. who were tried in Chicago for sedition. They were held in the Cook County jail for many months awaiting trial. Our jail conditions, which are always bad, were rendered worse through the inevitable overcrowding resulting from the addition of so many federal prisoners. One of the men died, one became insane, one, a temperamental Irishman, fell into a profound melancholy after he had been obliged to listen throughout the night to the erection of a gallows in the corridor upon which his cell opened. A murderer was "to meet the penalty of the law at dawn," and before the drop fell the prisoners were removed from their cells, but too late to save the mind of one of them. Eleven of the other prisoners contracted tuberculosis and although the federal judge who was hearing the case lowered the bail and released others on their "own recognizance" in order to lessen the fearful risks, the prisoners were then faced with the necessity for earning enough money for lodging and breakfast, before the long day in court began. Fortunately the judge allowed a dinner and supper at the expense of the government. Some of us started a "milk fund" for those who were plainly far on the road to tuberculosis and perhaps nothing revealed the state of the public mind more clearly than the fact that while we did collect $1,500 the people who gave it were in a constant state of panic lest their names become known in connection with this primitive form of charity. The I.W.W.'s were not on the whole "pacifists" and I used to object sometimes that our group should be the one fated to perform this purely humanitarian function which would certainly become associated with sedition in the public mind. No one else touched the situation in Chicago, although at the very moment the representatives of "patriotic" societies working in the prison camps of the most backward countries at war, were allowed to separate the tubercular prisoners from their fellows, and give them special food.


The Berger trial came in January of the wretched winter. I had met Victor Berger first when as a young man he had spoken before a society at Hull-House which was being addressed by Benjamin Kidd, the English author of the then very popular book on "Social Evolution." I had seen Mr. Berger occasionally during the period when he was in Washington as a congressman, and knew that many of the socialists regarded him as slow because he insisted upon proceeding from one legislative measure to another and had, no use for "direct action." And yet here he was indicted with three Chicago men, one a clergyman whom I had known for years, for "conspiring to overthrow the government of the United States."

Later there was the sudden rise of "agents provocateurs" in industrial strikes, and working men believed that they were employed at Gary by the secret service department of the government itself. The stories constantly current recalled my bewilderment years ago when the Russian exile [Azef] died in Paris. He was considered by one faction as an agent provocateur, by another as a devoted revolutionist. The events of his remarkable life, which were undisputed, might easily support either theory, quite as in a famous English trial for sedition a prisoner, named Watts, had been so used by both sides that the English court itself could not determine his status. It was hard to believe [page 3] that a Russian, well known as a member of the czar's police, had organized twenty-four men in Gary for "direct action," had supplied them freely both with radical literature and with fire arms, but that fortunately just before the headquarters were raided the strike leaders discovered "the plot," and persuaded the Russians that they were being duped by the simple statement that [anyone] who gave them arms in a district under military control was deliberately putting them in danger of their lives.


So it was perhaps not surprising that the Russian became angry and confused and were quite sure that they were being incited and betrayed by government agents. The Russian were even suspicious of help from philanthropists because a man who had been head of the Russian bureau in the department of public information and who had stood by the discredited Sisson letters, had after the discontinuance of the department been transferred to the Russian section of the American Red Cross; it was suspected that the settlements, even although they were furnishing bail, might be in collusion with the Red Cross society.

I got a certain historic perspective, if not comfort at least enlargement of view, by being able to compare our [widespread] panic in the United States about Russia to that which prevailed in England during and after the French revolution. A flood of reactionary pamphlets, similar to those issued by our security leagues, had then filled England, teaching contempt of France and her "liberty," urging confidence in English society as it existed and above all warning of the dangers of any change. Hatred of France, a passionate contentment with things as they were, and a dread of the lower classes, became characteristic of English society. The French revolution was continually used as a warning, for in it could be seen the inevitable and terrible end of the first steps toward democracy. Even when the panic subsided the temper of society remained unchanged for years, so that in the English horror of any kind of revolution the struggle of the hand-loom-weaver in a agony of adjustment to the changes of machine industry, appeared as a menace against an innocent community.  


Was this attitude of the English gentry long since dead repeated in our so-called upper classes, especially among the older men in professional and financial circles? Among them and their families war work opened a new type of activity, more socialized in form than many of them had ever known before, and it also gave an outlet to their higher emotions. In the minds of many good men and women the war itself thus became associated with all that was high and fine and patriotism received the sanction of a dogmatic religion which would brook no heretical difference of opinion. Added to this, of course, were the millions of people throughout the country who were actually in clutches of those unknown and subhuman forces which may easily destroy the life of mankind. A scholar has said of them, "Morally it would seem that these forces are not better but less good than mankind, for man at least loves and pities and tries to understand." Such forces may have been responsible for the mob violence which broke out for a time against alien enemies and so-called "traitors," or may it have been merely the unreason, the superstition, the folly and injustice of the old "law of the herd?"

There was possibly still another factor in the situation in regard to Russia -- the acid test, a touch of the peculiar bitterness evolved during a strike where property interests are assailed. That typical American, William Allen White, once wrote, "My idea of hell, is a place where every man owns a little property and thinks he is just about to lose it." Was the challenge which Russia threw down to the present economic system after all the factor most responsible for the unreasoning panic which seemed to hold the nation in its grip, or was it that the war spirit, having been painstakingly evolved by the united press of the civilized world, could not easily be exercised? The war had made obvious the sheer inability of the world to prevent terror and misery. It had been a great revelation of feebleness, as if weakness, ignorance and overweening nationalism had combined to produce something much more cruel than any calculated cruelty could have been. Was the universal unhappiness which seemed to envelop the United States as well as Europe an inevitable aftermath of war?