In MID-AUGUST of 1921, just after midnight, deputy sheriffs of Logan County, West Virginia, rode into a Logan County village to serve warrants sued out by anti-union coal operators on pro-union miners, thereby touching off a chain of events that went on and on and on, including a march on Logan by 15,000 miners, indictments for treason, and a trial, which I covered for the Baltimore Sun. The march was quite a thing, with a password, "I Come Creeping," and a song, "Hand Don Chapin to the Sour Apple Tree." Don Chapin was the sheriff of Logan County and the deputies' boss, of course - a stocky, handsome man in his early forties, who never went anywhere without four body-guards, two in front, two at rear, their hands in their coat pockets, their eyes shooting around. The operators hired four planes to drop bombs on the miners, which did give the proceedings a warlike look, until federal troops, requested by the governer, came in and one H. H. Bandholtz, Maj-Gen., U.S.A., bade the tumult cease and it ceased.
No one got killed, nothing got damaged, and no great harm was done, and that might have been the end, except that one Logan coal operator, William M. Wiley, general manager of the Boone County Coal Corporation, located at Sharples, now Clothier, in Logan County, could read. He not only could read, but was a vastly cultured man, a personal friend I ought to say, who treated his own miners beautifully, so much so that they put up a plaque in his honor when he died in the 1930s - but was implacably against the union, and now saw the chance the march had created: To indict union officials for treason, try them, convict them, and thereby attainder the United Mineworkers of America so they could never erase the stigma.
So William Blizzard, among others, was indicted by the Logan County grand jury for treason to the state of West Virginia, whose constitution included the same definition and safeguardfs to the accused as our federal Constitution does: "Treason to West Virginia shall consist in levying war against her, or adhering to her enemies, giving them aid and comfort; but no person shall be convicted for treason except on confession in open court, or on the testimony of two witnesses to the same over act."
Blizzard was president of District No. 16, United Mineworkers of America, a boyish-looking man still in his twenties, with a little boy and a very good-looking wife, whom I still claim as a personal friend. And where I got in it was in 1921, when the march began, when I pleaded with the late Spencer Davidson, acting news editor of the Sun, to let me go down and cover it, but as an interim officer he hesitated about the expense, and I didn't get to go. But when the trial opened, Stanley Reynolds, the regular editor, sent me down - I by that time, as financial editor of the Sun, having got into labor relations as a sort of related sideline.
So the trial, which had been transferred, on a motion for change of venue, from Logan County to Charles Town, the very courthouse where John Brown had been convicted sixty-three years before, got under way, with me sending a daily dispatch.
Then, at the end of three or four days, John W. Owens, our big political reporter, showed up, for reasons he didn't explain to me, and then suddenly was gone. But over the weekend, I slipped back to Baltimore, I found out what he was doing there. Stanley called me into his office and told me: "Jim, coal operators have been in here, trying to get you fired, on the ground that your stories are biased."
"Well," I told him, "I'm not surprised that they think so. I simply don't believe that a glorified riot, that was somewhat provoked don't forget, should be blown up to an act of war. To pretend that those miners meant it as such is to strain the facts beyond credence. However, if you feel I'm getting too fundamental - ?"
"I don't feel that way at all. I sent Johnny Owens up there, he checked on the way things are going, and whether you're giving a fair report, and he okays your stuff completely. The story is not panning out, but we can't have coal operators telling the Sun who we fire and who we don't fire, and taking you off the assignment would be playing their game for them just as they want us to. So to let them know where they get off, I'm afraid you're stuck with it for the duration. So, look around for whatever amusements Charles Town has to offer - and God bless. So, I'm sorry, but that's how it has to be."
So for six weeks, morning, noon, and toward the end, night, I listened while treason was argued, frontwards, backwards, crosswise, and on the bias. And little by little I began changing my ideas about it. I started out with a conviction that three days of whooping and hollering, even with some shooting mixed in, fell light years short of war. But then I found myself going futher, so I soured on treason itself. The first jolt came with the discovery, mentioned casually by counsel for the defense, that John Brown had been hung for a crime he couldn't have committed - treason to the Commonwealth of Virginia, which of course included Harpers Ferry at the time he took it over. And the reason he couldn't have committed treason to the Commonwealth of Virginia was that treason hangs on allegiance - and he owed none to Virginia. he wasn't a Virginia citizen, and in fact had never set foot in the commonwealth before he arrived, just before his raid on the arsenal. It came out, in more incidental comments by lawyers, that Benedict Arnold's guilt was somewhat equivocal too, for the reason that at the time of his deal with Clinton, no country existed for him to owe loyalty to. Well, did it? There was a Confederation, but were they in fact a country? The only solid allegiance he had, it was said in court, was to England, and to that allegiance he returned.
Cited almost daily were the John Marshall rulings on Burr, from which it was easy to see that our most celebrated Chief justice took a very bilious view of treason, and meant to make a conviction tough. So, Burr, of course, was acquitted. And I suddenly realised after a while, that I disbelieved in treason too.It bothered me to that qualify as treason, an act, no matter how henious or how overt, had to be committed by a citizen. If somebody else did it, it might qualify as sedition, but as treason, no.
This, I confessed, bothered me, and still does. It seemed to me that a crime is a crime is a crime, and that the law against it should be the law for all, regardless of where he was born or if he was naturalized. It began to nag at me there was something familiar about treason that wholly aroused my distrust. And pretty soon I had it: It much resembled heresy, which also depended on allegiance, on faith, which is allegiance to a creed. When I got that far with it, I really didn't like treason. So, to wind it up about Blizzard, he was acquitted.
But it wasn't the end of the affair, for me. I confess treason lay heavy on my stomach, and as time went on and we get into another war, the way treason figured bothered me no end. For example, William Joyce, known as Lord Haw-Haw, was hanged for it by the British, with Miss Rebecca West keeping watch in the rain as an act of Patriotism - but he couldn't have been guilty of it, as he wasn't a British subject. Born an American, he did, it is true, take out British papers, but on falsified information. He was guilty, then, of making untrue affidavits, but still had taken no lawful step to become a British subject.It didn't stop the British from hanging him - it seemed they couldn't forgive him his inept imitation of a thick British accent. But really, should the penalty be death for saying haw every ten seconds?
Then there was La Gillars, Axis Sally known as, whom we convicted and sent to prison. But she did her stuff in Berlin, where an American grand jury does not, under regular law, have jurisdiction. Then, of course, there was Mrs.d'Aquino, who became Tokyo Rose - or, more accurately, was one of six Tokyo Roses, all of whom went free except her, she being tried, convicted, and sentenced for treason - on the basis of her American citizenship. Finally, there was Esra Pound, who did pro-Nazi broadcasts from Italy, was arrested, indicted, and brought to trial in the U.S. for treason - and then committed to St. Elizabeth's as being somewhat mental, where he stayed for ten years or so, before being finally released, as a result of the persisent pressure of many eminent persons, of which I'm sorry to say I was not one.
Then came Korea, but with a hitch in the script that somewhat inhibited treason: Americans did the fighting, but the United Nations flew the flag. So what allegiance did we owe , anyhow? It was a question that underlay the whole war, and that lurked in the soldier's minds, as many confessed, especially when they came into your home and no one was there to repeat what they said. No treason cases arose, by a funny coincidence. And then at last came Vietnam, the oddest war of all, in its legal implications. It all started when a wake was seen by a seaman, of white water behind a destroyer, not far from the Vietnamese coast, which could have been caused by a shark, but could have been caused too, by a torpedo, fired from North Vietnamese torpedeo boat. No torpedo boat was seen, as it was nighttime, nor were voices heard, nor anything else observed to reinforce the torpedo possiblity. Nevertheless, the United States Congress passed resolutions authorizing Mr. Johnson to take reprisals - not on the shark, which was the most likely possibility, but on the dischargers of the torpedo, assumed to be North Vietnamese. This, this one scattershot resolution, was the only legal basis the war ever had. War as such was never declared, which made treason impossible, under the constitutional provision, and so we fought a big war, losing 46,397 men in combat, that was at the same time not a war. This fact had some odd results, not all of them bad.
Since, without a declaration of war by Congress, war-time rules shouldn't be put into effect by the Army, the correspondents were comparatively free to tell us the truth, and so we got the truth, for the first time in our modern wars, with all sorts of odd details, about body counts, search and destroy missions, and North Vietnamese successes, that we wouldn't have got otherwise. And no prosecutions for treason.
So what am I getting at? A pardon for Mrs. D'Aquino, of course, to start with. She doesn't have the gift of public relations, of getting liked very much if at all, but this is not a popularity contest, and I would say she was over-punished. Next, that we revise our conceptions of treason, so we toss it into the discard, for all intent and purpose. Any overt act in war-time, if committed on American soil, can be adequately prosecuted under the laws which forbid sedition, and sedition is a crime which all may commit, regardless of citizenship. Or in other words, I would say let's get rid of a crime which is a crime if one man commits it, but not a crime if some other man does. I would say, let's make all of us equal under the law. And an overt act committed on enemy soil by an American citizen, I would accept as that person's right to commit in the place where he committed it. "But," I would say, "though you chose a new allegiance and we of course respect it, don't try to play it two ways. You have a new love, so keep it - or in other words, don't come back - don't try to come back, we won't have you."
Such a policy, I suspect, if announced at the outset of war, would do more to cool the passion of some anti-patroit than a lot of tall talk about treason, which is the hardest crime to prove and also to punish of any crime in our calender. My system would save the expense of a trial, and the whoop-de-do that goes with it. It would be quietly announced, and put into effect by executive order. Or in other words, it would be cheap, simple, and quick, and get rid, at long last, of a crime that is an an-achronism, as well as an utter anomaly.
So who am I, some long-haired pacifist, waving a bed-sheet around? No, I'm as patriotic as anyone, and wear my hair in a butch-cut. I fought in the First World War, volunteering, and getting, overseas service within three weeks of my induction, then doing duty at the front, under fire. Later, I was editor-in -chief of the Lorraine Cross, my division's paper, and got a letter of commendation from the commanding general, and close personal friend. I was a buck private in the rear rank, but he and I shared a night neither one of us ever fought, and after the war we became quite close. In the Second World War, I worked for motion pictures, which were declared an essential industry, and while I wouldn't claim that work at pictures salaries entailed much sacrifice, I did pay some $150,000 in war taxes, which changes the picture a bit. Or in other words, I'm patriotic, but don't believe in treason.
It occurs to me that it might amuse you to learn what happened to Blizzard, and the idiotic part I played in the trial. So, for a month the prosecution presented its case, and then the defense started - mainly, with a procession of miners, who swore they had no war-like intentions, and in fact weren't even carrying guns. But one of the prosecution lawyers was a man named Osenton, who had a strange effect on these man. He didn't bark three questions at them before they turned to jelly, unable to say a word. He seemed to hypnotize them. He would fire question after question at them, and they would just sit and stare. It was, I knew, playing havoc with Blizzard's case, for I kept watching the jury, and their annoyance with these miners, was obvious - though until that time, as well as I could see, they had been as little impressed with treason as I was. Which was the way things stood when Dave Fowler came to town. Fowler, like Lewis and Murray, was a Welshman, a big wheel at Indianapolis, and due to testify in the afternoon about some union headquarters angle - his efforts by phone, as I recall, to head the big march off. But I knew him quite well and we went to lunch. "Well how does it look?" he asked me, and I answered,"Bad." Then I told him about Osenton, and the effect he was having on the miners, "who are really telling the truth, at least as I think - but when he gets done with them, they all look like hang-dog crooks, and the jury is getting annoyed. What this wants is a comedian , someone who can talk back to Osenton - or if not that , at least talk, instead of just sitting there, not able to say anything."
"I see,I see," said Fowler.
He went on the stand, and on direct examination gave his testimony, briefly, quietly and simply, taking no more than a few minutes. Then Osenton started in. Fowler answered him, with easy, pleasant courtesy, but asking Osenton's name, as a friendly matter. Osenton gave it, and had to have him repeat it. But being made to do something, instead of running things himself, was a new departure for Osenton, and he betrayed his annoyance. But when Fowler pleasantly thanked him, it got a big laugh. Even the judge, caught by surprise, had to smile. Then Osenton began working Fowler over, but at each question getting a mild, slightly off-center, answer. I wish I could remember what these answers were, but I was watching the jury and didn't do any memorizing. Anyway, Fowler was now running the show, that much Osenton knew, but instead of cutting it off, saying "No futher questions," and grumpily sitting down, he had no more sense than to get sore, to lose his temper completely. So Fowler just sat there, owlishly studying the ceiling, and answering him with perfect respect - almost. And the jury ate it up. All the previous harm was repaired, that I knew, for Osenton at last was cut down to size.It went on for twenty minutes, and when Fowler stepped down I knew Blizzard was going to be acquitted. He was.
So, Mr. President, and Mr. President-elect, if yu want to pardon Mrs D'Aquino, you may cite this piece by me, but put in, please, about haircuts, and how brave I am, and that I don't drink or smoke any more. I used to, but quit - Showing my great willpower. And put in that I almost saw General Pershing once when visited our division. I missed him. but the stars on his shoulders, they told me, really reflected the sunlight.