Booknotes+ Podcast: Adam Hochschild, “American Midnight”

By | November 29, 2022

Adam Hochschild, in his new book “American Midnight,” writes about what he says is left out of the typical high school American history book, especially when the subject is the United States during and immediately after World War One. “This book is about what’s missing,” writes Hochschild, “It’s a story of mass imprisonments, torture, vigilante violence, censorship, killings of Black Americans, and far more that is not marked by commemorative plaques, museum exhibits, or Ken Burns documentaries.” Adam Hochschild joins us to discuss it all.

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Foreign In his new book American midnight Writes about what he says is left out of The typical high school American history Book especially when the subject is World War One Quote his book is about what's missing Says hope Shield it's a story of mass Imprisonments torture vigilante violence Censorship killings of black Americans And far more that is not marked by Commemorative plaques Museum exhibits or Ken Burns's documentaries The Hope Shield book subtitled The Great War A violent peace and democracy's Forgotten crisis Adam hochshield you start out your Prologue With the following night had fallen in The rugged oil boom City of Tulsa Oklahoma when the squad of detectives Appeared on a downtown Street How long did you think about making that Your first sentence and what are you Getting at Well I like to begin books with a scene And this was a scene that not only says Something about the violence of this Period it's about a group of of Labor Activists who were tarred and feathered And beaten a couple of nights later After being arrested but it was also a Scene where there was a remarkable line

Of dialogue when these men were put on Trial uh with the only charge against Them being vagrancy a rather unusual Charge to make when they were arrested Sitting around a union office And they were sentenced they protested Their sentences and the judge said these Are no ordinary times and that was the Note that I wanted to strike in Beginning this book because I think the Whole period that I was writing about in American midnight 1917 to 21. Was indeed No Ordinary times it was the The worst assault on civil liberties in The United States really since the Aftermath of slavery that was on November the 5th 1917 what was The world like then what was it like in The United States Well the myth that we were always taught In high school at least in my high School American history class was that The first world war broke out in 1914 These benighted nations of the old world Started tearing each other apart killing Millions of people but we the United States were innocent on the sidelines we Were a peaceful nation and then we were Finally after nearly three years drawn Very reluctantly into this war But I think that's not so the United States was not a very peaceful Nation at That time uh this country of ours was Wrought by several big conflicts one was

That between business and labor dozens Of people were killed each year in labor Strife 1913 1914 alone more than 70 People uh many of them when women and Children were killed in battles between Company detectives National Guardsmen And striking Colorado miners Another struggle was between Nativists and immigrants uh there's Always been a lot of tension over Immigration in the United States today It's between people whose ancestors have Been here for a couple of generations And newcomers coming in mainly over the Border with Latin America a hundred Years ago it was between the majority of White Americans whose ancestors had come From Northwestern Europe places like England Holland Germany and newcomers From Southern and Eastern Europe in Other words primarily Italians pools and Jews huge Strife over that which Sometimes became violent and the third Conflict was between white and black Americans where most black Americans Were doing miserable low-paid work like Picking cotton as sharecroppers and most White Americans wanted to keep them in Such jobs Blacks were fleeing the south in large Numbers The Great Migration had begun But they often found themselves very Unwelcome in Northern cities when they Arrived uh great racial fighting broke

Out as a result Hundreds of black Americans were killed In the summer of 1919. anyway when the First World War began in early 1917 or When the U.S entered the war It was like pouring gasoline on three Sets of flames and it gave the excuse For each one of those conflicts to Accelerate who is Emma golden Uh Emma Goldman was a very charismatic Uh Anarchist spokesperson author Lecturer gave uh often 100 or 200 Lectures a year she spoke not just about Anarchism but about women's liberation Uh she was a rebel on uh every issue of The day extremely articulate extremely Charismatic When The War Began she Immediately started organizing against Conscription And for that she was promptly arrested And sentenced two years in prison and Then at the end of that time she And some 250 other Radicals the government wanted to get Rid of were abruptly deported from the United States where was she from and When did she come to the United States She had grown up uh primarily in czarist Russia and a little bit in Germany had Come to the U.S at the age of 16 As a refugee from zarist Russia which Was very tough on on Jews Spent most of her life in the United States while living here she had you

Know found the an enormous audience here And abroad uh but she was not officially An American citizen she had thought She'd been naturalized because she had Married an American citizen but later it Turned out that he had made an error on His citizenship application and so his Citizenship was invalid and so therefore Was was hers That gave the government the excuse they Needed to deport her because there were Actually millions of people in the U.S At the that time who had immigrated Who'd never bothered to get naturalized As American citizens for many of them it Didn't seem to be necessary at a time When the country seemed to be welcoming Immigrants others had trouble with the English language or it seemed like a lot Of bureaucracy and for a time especially In 1919-1920 The politicians running for office were Campaigning in a way that sounds very Familiar today on platforms of mass Deportations and hoping to use the fact Of non-citizenship as a reason to deport People from the country that became a Big theme in the presidential elections Of 1920. I've been to Moscow once years Ago Went to the Lenin tomb right there in Red square and was surprised to find Three Americans buried there including a

Couple that you write about in your book One of them was John Reed why would he Be buried there Who was he and what role did he play Back in the 1917 era yeah well John Reed Was I think the most talented English Language journalist of his day uh he was A Harvard graduate the class of 1910 I Believe he became a magazine reporter Wrote for a number of magazines Principally uh one called the masses Besides Reed it published Walter lippman At the Saint Vincent Malay Sherwood Anderson many of the best writers and Artists of the day was kind of a Precursor to the New Yorker it pioneered The style of cartoon for which the New Yorker later became famous where you Have one line of dialogue as a caption To the cartoon But when the war broke out uh the Government shut down this magazine Because it was hostile to the war effort It put its editors on trial John Reed Testified very eloquently at that trial Uh because he as a reporter had been in Europe uh back and forth a couple of Times during the first couple of years From the war he'd seen how destructive It was like millions of Americans he Thought it was a mistake for the U.S to Join this conflict he's buried in Moscow Because he later became a big Enthusiast For the Russian Revolution

Like many liberals and radicals of the Day he did not foresee the horror show That that was eventually going to turn Into uh and he was in Russia when he Caught typhus and died in 1920 I believe Another one of your characters in the Book is Big Bill Haywood who's also Married there who was he okay big Bill Haywood was the most charismatic leader Of the wobblies the industrial workers Of the world the country's most militant Labor union it was people from this Group who were tired and feathered in Tulsa Oklahoma and that scene that I Described at the beginning of the of the Book uh Haywood Had been a minor in his youth he'd also Done a saloon car dealer uh he was a Terrific speaker but the government Decided to crush the wobblies in this Period it didn't want a strong labor Union and didn't want a union most of Whose members were opposed to American Participation in the first world war and So they arrested hundreds of its leaders Put them on trial Haywood was part of a Trial in Chicago That began with more than 100 wobblies In court it was and Still Remains the Largest civilian criminal trial in America history uh at its end after four Months a few people had been severed From the case I believe there were 97 Wobblies on trial at the end

Um the jury deliberated for one hour and Found all of them guilty on all counts And the judge passed out 807 years of Prison time And Big Bill Haywood recalling his car Dealer days From prison wrote to his friend John Reed and said the big game is over and We lost the other fellow had cut Shuffle And deal I don't think you're right about C.E Ruffenberg who was the founder of the Communist party but he was an American I Mean Communist Party in the United States he's also buried there do you Know anything about him and the Communist Party in the United States During that time period yeah I don't Know much about Rothenberg the name is Familiar but I'm not I'm not familiar With his story exactly there were Actually two rival communist parties in The United States at this time both of Them tiny uh most Scholars think that Together they didn't have more than About 40 000 members in a country that At that point was just over 100 million People but the government was terrified Of them and in a peculiar way Anti-communism has always been a far Stronger force in the United States than Communism and all kinds of of repressive Things have been done in its name we're Familiar with the McCarthy period most

Of all but but in this period 1917-21 the supposed threat of Communism Provided an excuse for much of the Repression that the government did During this period uh and it's that Repression that we've forgotten about it Involved vigilante violence it involved Breast censorship on a huge scale we Should talk about that and it involved Political imprisonment during those four Years uh roughly a thousand Americans Were sent to jail for a year or more and A much larger number for shorter periods Of time solely for things that they Wrote or said Uh I don't mean that there wasn't Violence from the left in this period There was there were some bombings by Anarchists but they never were able to Prosecute this those people they were Never able to catch them and prosecute Them instead they used the atmos wartime Atmosphere of Hysteria to go after Radicals socialists or Communists Progressives of all sorts and put them Behind bars for what they were saying Do I understand this to be your 11th Book It is Why did you write this one what led you To it Well I've always been fascinated by this Period because I'm always drawn to parts of a country's

History that Uh that where there are untold stories Because I think all countries in our own Is no exception have a way of telling Their history in ways where things seem To be getting better and better and Better and glorious triumphs and so the Stories we hear and from American History are about the founding fathers And about the greatest Generation that Won World War II and yes there were Problems there was slavery but we got Rid of it Um well those you know the the Traditionally glorified parts of History Don't interest me that much you'll never Catch me writing a book about the Founding fathers uh I was drawn to this Period because a lot of bad stuff Happened not only that we've forgotten About or not paid much attention to but There's sort of an eerie echo of the Trump years in this time Uh I mentioned for example the the Frenzy about deportations Up until the last minute the leading Candidates for both the Republican and Democratic nominations for president in 1920. Were men running on Promises of mass Deportations elect me president and I'm Going to deport people by the tens of Thousands That's an echo of the Trump period the

Press censorship of this era is Something that Trump would have liked to Do but couldn't uh he would have loved To shut down dissenting media but during These four years 1917 to to 21 Uh breast censorship forced roughly 75 American newspapers and magazines out of Business entirely ironically uh the law At that time gave the power of press Censorship in other words controlling What was permitted to go through the U.S Mail to the Postmaster General who Managed this whole operation out of what Was then post office headquarters which Is the very building that a hundred Years later became the Trump International Hotel So That's something Trump would have liked To do but wasn't able to similarly uh he Would have liked to have been able to Put his political enemies in jail in 2016 his supporters chanted Locker up Lock her up about Hillary Clinton well Woodrow Wilson did lock up a lot of his Enemies as I mentioned you know more Than a thousand or roughly a thousand Americans went to jail for a year or More One of those for example was uh Eugene Debs The Perennial Socialist Party Candidate for president who had run Against Wilson in 1912 winning uh uh Nearly a million votes and uh six

Percent of the popular vote nationally Wilson sent him to jail for 10 years Let me go before we go to Albert Sidney Burleson who you write about the Postmaster General what did you what did You think What have you always thought about Woodrow Wilson has it changed at all When you got into something like this Where you found out how restrictive he Was Well Woodrow Wilson is a peculiar and Very interesting man uh he's somebody Who to me seems a kind of divided Personality but yet there are links Between the two sides of his personality On the one hand he was the the last President of the Progressive Era and in His first term in office 1913 uh to 1917 You know that he was quite good on Issues like the graduated income tax Child labor some regulation of business And so forth You also have to admire impractical Though I think it was his passionate Dedication to the idea of the League of Nations Um I don't think in actual fact that What he imagined which was a League of Nations with the United States as kind Of the dominant country in it I don't Think it would have been any better at Stopping Wars from breaking out than the U.N has been since it was formed in 1945

But nonetheless you can't deny that it's Better to For countries to sit around a table and Talk than to go into battle against each Other At the same time this person who had This quite idealistic side Presided over the greatest assault on Civil liberties in 20th or 21st century America breast censorship government Encouraged vigilante violence which we Should talk about and much more and Throwing lots of people in prison and Sometimes you can even see him Uh trying to instigate particular Measures writing to his attorney general For instance and forwarding a copy of a A small anti-war newspaper published in Chicago and saying can't we do something About these people So a very paradoxical man who was so Convinced of his own righteousness that That somehow excused in his mind these Very repressive measures but I think He's also a lesson to us that you don't Have to be An orange-haired loudmouth to preside Over a period of great repression Wilson Was the most Gentile dignified Well-spoken president imaginable uh when A university president he'd been a College professor all his life he'd Authored a dozen books but at the same Time he ran this whole operation

Apparatus of repression and censorship By the way the United Nations was kind Of a the next step after the League of Nations and and I know we turned it down Here in the United States what's your Take on the United Nations has it been Where is it Well I'm glad it's there it's always Good to have a forum where uh different Countries can get to get together I Think sometimes their peacekeeping Operations uh have helped not stop Bloodshed but at least reduce the amount Of it I've on the ground seen their Their their peacekeepers in eastern Congo for example in the the blue Helmets and or blue turbines or blue Caps and there's something moving about Seeing an international Force there Trying to Uh keep down the amount of conflict uh So I'm glad it's there but I I don't Think it's you know clearly it hasn't Been able to stop Wars from breaking out You know we have horrible war going on In Ukraine right now not to mention Ongoing internal conflicts in places Like the Congo What does the title of your book American midnight come from where does It come from Uh I just picked it because I felt this Was a dark period when uh uh You know civil liberties really in many

Ways were extinguished for a period of Three or four years and I just wanted to Draw people's attention to that if You're a conscientious objector in 1917 What happened to you in this country Okay the the conscientious objectors and This was a status that wasn't yet really Recognized under the law uh had a very Tough time They were forcibly inducted into the Army and treated then as soldiers who Refused to Bay orders and you know if You're in the military you refuse to pay An order you were punished very severely Um Initially there were about there there Soon came to be an option where uh you Could if you didn't want to go into Combat you could go to a A non-combat role you know driving an Ambulance or being a stretcher Bearer or Something like that and many thousands Of people decided to do that but there Was a core uh by most accounts of a Little over 400 people who refused to do That they were known as absolutists and They would not do anything and many of Them for religious reasons even would Not put on an army uniform because that Meant uh submitting you know indicated That they were somehow submitting Themselves to military orders uh they Had a very rough time because as Prisoners they were still required to do

Eight hours of manual labor each day if They refused to do that in many prisons They would be Shackled to their sell Bars For those eight hours a day sometimes You know forced to stand on tiptoe There's actually a very haunting drawing Of several men in this position done by An artist from that magazine we Mentioned to masses who himself actually Endured this as a prisoner a number of These CEOs died in military prisons Because they were there when the Influenza epidemic Hit The U.S very badly in the fall of 1918 And it took a terrible toll wherever People were crowded together whether it Was in trenches in France or military Prisons in the U.S And they were treated very roughly given You know put on bread and water diets For days at a time when they were Refusing to to obey orders and I follow One group of them in particular Three Brothers From the pacifist hutterite Sect there's a Hoffer Brothers yeah uh And two of the three died in prison uh After this treatment and the third Brother uh wept when he heard the news Of his his two brothers deaths but he Wasn't able to wipe away his tears Because his hands were Shackled to the Cell bars above him

In the 1916 election which was his Second term election for Woodrow Wilson You point out in the book although he Never said he kept us out of War that's Become kind of the slogan from that Campaign who started that and did you do You think he knew as he was running in 16 that we were eventually going to go To war I think he did I think he did it was a Certainly a very effective campaign Slogan he kept us out of War which was True Um because the American public could see In their newspapers the accounts of the Terrible toll this war was taking in Europe Um Wilson himself as I said was was shrewd Enough never to utter those words Himself but people still Gave him Credence as the sort of Pacifist candidate and Eugene Debs the Socialist actually decided not to run For president that year because he cared So much about keeping the United States Out of the war that he thought well if Wilson's going to do that let him get Reelected which he was but I think Wilson all along Uh knew that the U.S would have to go to War eventually because from Mid-1916 on before the elections it was Clear that World War One in Europe was

Sort of a stalemate uh both sides were Dug in on that double line of trenches Across France northern France and Belgium which budged very little for uh More than three years it was a stalemate And it was important to the United States that the Allies win the war Britain France Italy and at that time Zarist Russia it was important that they Win the war because lots of Americans Had bought British and French and Actually Russian war bombs uh and that Was their only chance of getting paid Back and of course those who bought Imperial Russian bonds never did get Paid back uh but The other reason was that the U.S was a Prominent munition supplier to the Allies Theoretically as a neutral Nation American Business was free to sell to Either side but they couldn't sell to Germany and Austria-Hungary because Those countries were surrounded by a Very tight Naval blockade no ships could Get true get through but they sold vast Amounts of you know submarines artillery Shells machine guns rifles all sorts of Other Munitions to the Allies especially To Britain and France Roughly 40 percent of Britain's military Budget was spent in the United States uh Britain had 1600 inspectors in American Factories making sure that what the U.S

Produced was up to their standards so The U.S was really not so neutral it was A the major source of military supplies For Britain and France and in early 1917 Wilson's Ambassador in London sent a Telegram saying you know our allies are Running out of money and unless we join This conflict and are therefore able to Make them government-to-government loans Of You know we're not going to be able to Come out of this war economically ahead How did the American Military begin Spying on the American civilians Yeah that was another aspect of this Period because when The War Began and as I say you know Heated up all of those conflicts already Going on in the U.S between business and Labor and so on It greatly increased government spying On civilians some of this was done by Civilians the Bureau of Investigation And the justice department which added Federal to its name some some years Later Deployed undercover agents all over the Country and so did the U.S military the Military aspect of it particularly Fascinated me partly because of the guy Who ran the operation A very interesting rather Sinister army Officer named Ralph van diemen who had Gotten his start in the Philippine War

Nearly 20 years earlier uh the war Between 1899 and 1902 although it Continued Sporadically a bit after that where the U.S very brutally suppressed people who Were fighting for Philippine Independence who didn't want to become a Colony of the United States van diemen Had been in charge of intelligence Operations there the Bureau of insurgent Records it was called which kept track Of Filipino Independence Advocates By the leading information management Technology of the day which was file Cards Then he continued in the Army was in a Post in the war department in Washington When the U.S went to war in 1917. Immediately Went to the Secretary of War and Suggested that the Army began a military Intelligence operation not spying on the Germans the British and French had been Doing that for several years and were Way ahead of us on that score but spying On and troublemakers in the United States within a year he had a thousand People working for him military and Civilian all over the United States they Were attending left-wing rallies Infiltrating organizations You know sending reports back to Washington of subversive activities of One sort or another and there's a

Fascinating graphic representation of Their way of thinking when this Continued after the war by the way In early 1919 after the war had ended The head of military intelligence in New York City Created an extraordinary map of New York That was color-coded according to where People of dangerous ethnicities lived And they thought very much in ethnic Terms Uh Russian Jews who were colored Red on this map might be socialist or Communists uh Italians might be Anarchists Irish Americans might be Irish-american Irish Republican Army Supporters and black Americans of course Were an all-around threat so there's This remarkable color-coded map of New York City with additional marks on the Map to show where uh you know Unions and other suspicious Organizations had meeting places to show Where suspicious Publications were Published including for instance the Journal of the NAACP which was then Edited by wvb Du Bois an amazing sort of Demographic relic of this era and Actually the creator of that map an Intelligence officer named John B Trevor Later went on to be One of the leading Crafters of the 1924 Immigration law the law that essentially Slammed the door on immigrants to this Country for the next 40 years and that's

The law that kept out refugees from the Holocaust where are you talking to us From today Uh Berkeley California And what have you done most of your life Besides write 11 books Uh that's taken most of my time uh but When I get stuck between books you know It's always dangerous for young men to Be out on the streets unemployed so I Try to keep off the streets and out of Trouble by writing book reviews magazine Articles that kind of thing I also teach A class in writing at The Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley which Is a wonderful 10-minute walk from my House and I love working with young People there and uh years ago I worked For magazines I was a co-founder of Mother Jones magazine and still write For it occasionally actually a portion Of this book appeared in Mother Jones What is Mother Jones by the way for Those who've never read it Uh it's a bi-monthly magazine that also Has a hugely active website Plus all the other forms of media today Which I can't keep up with uh Twitter And Tick Tock and Facebook and God knows What else uh that's a voice on Progressive politics of all sorts He wrote a book about you and your Father What year was that and why did you do it

What did you uh what were you trying to Get accomplished okay that book is Called half the way home A Memoir of Father and Son uh published in 1986 and It's the story of my relationship with My father uh he was a big businessman Actually he was the CEO of a Multinational mining Corporation so I Grew up with a life of considerable Privilege and When I was uh I guess I was around 19 Years old he made what may have been the Mistake of taking me with him on a Business trip abroad to Africa where the Minds that his company had invested in Were largely located and what today is Zambia and I began to realize something About how the world worked that my very Comfortable lifestyle my being able to Afford to go to college and all that was Based on the labor of African minors Working Far under the Earth and hot uh damp Sometimes dangerous conditions not being Paid very much So in a way that was one of the Beginnings of my political education But the story is a little more Complicated than that because my father Despite his role as a corporate Executive was A staunch liberal on many issues and When the Vietnam war came along the Issue that most divided Americans of my

Generation from their parents we were on The same side And President Nixon uh people of that Vintage may remember actually maintained An enemies list of people he wanted to Cause trouble for and my father actually Had a place on Nixon's enemies list and Was quite proud of it anyway it was a Complicated relationship and the book is A memoir of that relationship And some of the other people who figured In my life as well when did he die Uh my father died in 1981. So that's a long time ago 40 some years Ago what would he think today if he read All your books since then Well uh I think he'd be pretty pleased With them uh he was in his own way uh Somebody who read a lot of history and Who actually uh wrote a quite good History book about the Local history of the region of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York Where our summer home was Uh and actually it was in talking to him As a child That I first became interested in the History of this period I wrote about an American midnight Uh because he had lived through it he Had been 24 years old uh when the U.S Declared war on Germany in 1917 And he was terrified for this reason he Was the son of Jewish immigrants from a

Jewish immigrant from Germany who in the United States married the daughter of Other Jewish immigrants from Germany the Family spoke German at home but they Were petrified of doing so on the street Because in the hysterical atmosphere of That moment it could get you beaten up It was a time when States passed laws Against speaking German and public or on The telephone Uh schools held bonfires of German books You can easily find pictures of this on The internet uh and there was a hysteria Against anything German you know that Was when they started calling the Frankfurter the hot dog and families Named Schmidt changed their name to Smith and so on uh my father tried Desperately to prove his patriotism by Getting into the U.S army kept being Rejected because he had bad eyesight but To the very end of his life he kept Records of Correspondence that showed You know his attempt to get into the Infantry the Cavalry the intelligence Service and so forth finally he went to Work as a civilian volunteer for the war Department and hoped he was showing his Patriotism that way so I grew up hearing A lot of What for him was about what was him was A very very fearful period Paradoxically my mother had grown up in Very different circumstances her father

Was a professor at Princeton University And a longtime friend of Woodrow Wilson Who had been president of Princeton and On the night that Wilson was first Elected president in 1912 he was still Living in Princeton New Jersey which He'd done as governor of New Jersey he'd Been for the previous two years the Family went over to his house to Congratulate him so she grew up in very Different circumstances Um And was not aware of this uh hysteria Against all things German Um and uh so I heard something about This time from both of my parents I Described that a bit in in the the Prologue to the book back in 1915-17 Era we had about 100 million People in the United States yeah we now Have 331 million at least maybe more Than that yeah what was the atmosphere With Wilson and the Espionage Act did he Know about it did he support it and what Is it okay the Espionage Act was passed Some weeks after the U.S uh entered the War in 1917 and it was a time when the Government was very worried because There were millions of Americans who Thought I think correctly that the U.S Should not be joining this horrible Carnage in Europe uh you know people all Over the world were beginning to sense That this war which already had been by

Far the most destructive that history Had ever seen up to that point they were Beginning to sense this war was going to Remake the world for the worse in every Conceivable day way and indeed it did It's impossible to imagine the second World war without the legacy of Bitterness and resentment in Germany That was left by the first Uh so there was a lot of resistance to Joining the war the Espionage Act Was a misnomer under of the roughly 2 000 people prosecuted of the Espionage Act only 10 were allegedly German spies The other the others were people who had Spoken out strongly against the U.S Going to war Uh and it was a provision of the Espionage Act that gave the Postmaster General the right to censor what went Through the mail to declare a Publication unmailable that didn't Affect mainstream daily newspapers which Were sold on street corners or delivered To people's homes which almost entirely Supported the war enthusiastically but For weeklies monthlies journals of Opinion and the vast majority of the Country's foreign language press they Depended on the mail this was a time When there was no internet no radio no TV So the Espionage Act was the law under Which so much of this repression took

Place and many states passed copycat Versions of the law and prosecuted People in state courts as well is the Espionage Act still Today a reality in this country is it Possible it is it is it has been much Amended no longer does the post office Have the right to declare something Unmailable it's been much amended and Ironically it's the law that may get Donald Trump in trouble for those Classified documents he had at Mar-A-Lago it's also the law under which Julian Assange and Edward Snowden and so Forth uh uh stand to be prosecuted if They return to the United States how Will that work for Donald Trump In other words what's what's in that act That they can use to prosecute him Uh it is you know I should know the Details on that but I don't because I Have not kept up with the various ways In which that law has been amended but There is something in there Involving misuse of classified Government documents what about the Sedition Act back in those days what's The difference between Espionage and Sedition well the Sedition Act was Basically a set of amendments that Toughened the Espionage Act Uh that was passed in uh 1908 this Edition Espionage Act was 1918 The Sedition Act so-called was oh sorry

The Espionage Act was passed in 1917 This Sedition Act the following year Which toughened up the Espionage Act uh And ironically used almost borrowing the Exact language Uh of a law that the United States Colonial authorities in the Philippines Had used nearly 20 years earlier to shut Down resistance to American rule there Mentioned earlier talk about the Postmaster General you've mentioned the Postmaster several times former Congressman Albert Sidney Burleson who Was he What impact did he have how did he use The Espionage Act Well he was a former congressman from Texas uh one of two Texans in Wilson's Cabinet Wilson had a great fondness for Conservative white Southerners like Himself And Burleson uh absolutely loved being Chief censor He successfully went after hundreds of Specific issues of American newspapers And magazines sometimes he would ban one Or two issues from the mail and then Declare that the publication was no Longer eligible for second-class mailing Privileges because it had not been Publishing regularly and that meant that Uh you know the the cost of mailing Something through the mail multiplied Eight times which you know put many of

These places out of business uh Interestingly the first publication that He shut down under the Espionage which Almost nobody noticed was A tiny socialist weekly in Hallettsville Texas called The Rebel which Burleson Had it in for because this newspaper had Exposed how he had used a Texas convict Labor on some land that his wife owned Leasing the land out to the Texas prison Authorities who worked it with prisoners In striped uniforms and whipped them When they didn't work hard enough in the Fields so Wilson hated so so Burleson Hated this newspaper and promptly shut It down and he continued using the Censorship uh provisions of the Espionage Act right up until the Wilson Administration left office in March of Of 1921 even though by that point the War had ended nearly two and a half Years earlier Uh Warren Harding became president at That point and even though we normally Don't think of Harding as one of our Great presidents On some issues he was pretty sensible He'd been a newspaper publisher before The war before before he went into Politics he didn't like censorship he Closed it all down his Postmaster General just limited himself to getting Involved in one of the several Harding Administration uh scandals but no more

Censorship and Harding also started to Let some of these political prisoners Out of jail rather slowly Under Pressure But he still did so finally he let Debs Eugene Debs out of jail Some two and a half years into his 10-year sentence and even invited him to Stop in in Washington for a visit on his Way home and when Debs left the White House after that visit he told reporters That he'd Run for the White House five Times but this was the first time he'd Ever actually gotten there Woodrow Wilson What tripped him into and what was the Story around when he announced and went To Congress and said we got to go to war What actually made the difference to him That he felt it was time to get in I think because uh he was realizing from All the intelligence he was getting from His ambassadors in Europe From his chief advisor Colonel Edward House who had traveled to Europe several Times Conferring with people on both sides He'd realize that the war was a Stalemate and that uh uh you know the Allies either was in danger of Going on for years and years and years Bankrupting both sides and if the Allies Were bankrupt you know they'd never be Able to repay the money they'd borrowed From the United States uh or if they

Lost that would be still worse and he Realized that the U.S actually had to Join the war he'd sort of set it up to Make that happen more easily by Continuing to send American ships Carrying Munitions to Britain and France When Germany had declared unlimited Submarine warfare meaning that Uh ships from any country entering the Waters around Britain and France would Be liable to be sunk by German Submarines you know for the previous uh Three years or so American ships Carrying War supplies artillery shells And everything else had by and large Been not molested by German submarines As long as they were flying the American Flag Um but now the Germans announced they Were going to do this and Wilson Continued to send those ships they were Sunk small number of American Sailors Killed and he knew that would make the Public more receptive to uh an official Declaration of war which was what he Asked Congress for on that day April 2nd 1917 which was really the day that this Whole era began You wrote a book about this period 1914 1917 the whole War what year did you do That and what's the difference between That book and this one and that book is Called to end all wars and its focus was Entirely on England

Because what interested me was that During this the whole first world war in All of the belligerent countries on both Sides there were Anti-war movements people who felt you Know this war is not going to have a Good result we shouldn't be fighting it But in Britain the movement was the most Outspoken the best organized and had the Most colorful and interesting people in It and so I focused entirely on Great Britain in that book And tried to tell a story of the war Within the war so not the war between The allies and the Central Powers and Western front and so on which is a Pretty familiar story but the war within Britain between people who felt that This war was a Noble and necessary Crusade and people Who felt that it was absolute Madness And I did that by finding divided Families so most of the characters in This group are in that book to end all Wars are from three different families Each of which had something like one son At the front and one son in prison as a Conscientious objector or were otherwise Divided by the war and left a record of It How big a surprise was it to Congress When he gave his speech in April of 1917 That it's time to declare war Ah

Paul expected something was coming but There was a lot of suspense because they Didn't know what Wilson was going to ask For some people thought maybe he was Going to say to ask Congress just Empower me to have the U.S Navy go after Those German submarines But when he made clear that he was Asking for an all-out declaration of war And that he was going to ask for Conscription to build up the U.S army Which was actually quite small at that Point do I remember you saying it was 300 000 then Uh no it was only a little over one Hundred thousand it was it was a smaller Army than Portugal's uh because the U.S Had not been involved in any major Wars Since the Philippine War Um so it was quite small you know Americans felt were protected by two Oceans we don't need to have giant Armies and Reserve forces the way that Europe does Um when it became clear that he was Asking for all-out war all-out Mobilization conscription That was when the cheering broke out and I think if there's a single moment it's When this whole era began And the hysteria was Unleashed fully it Was that point in his speech ironically The man who led the cheering Was the Chief Justice of the United

States Edward White of Louisiana who was Himself a Confederate veteran who leapt Up on the floor of the House of Representatives in his judicial robes And wept tears of joy as he He led the clapping Um Why it should it be such a joyful moment When it becomes clear that millions of American men are going to be mobilized To risk their lives That is a strange question about human Nature and What Makes Us susceptible to This kind of Hysteria people of course Expected quick victory And maybe for former Confederates like White they expected the pleasure of Being on The Winning Side at last Uh but of course all wars turn out to be Nastier than than people expect they're Going to be how big did the military Become as we got into the war and we Were only there what 18 months yeah we Were only there 18 months and it was Really only the last uh five or six Months of significant numbers of American troops had been trained and Gotten to France the Army was a little Over four million men uh by the end of The war U.S military altogether uh about Half of whom Actually were in France and the other Half still in training in the U.S so it It it enlarged quite quickly

I don't know whether you talked about in Your book or I saw it somewhere else With some 12 000 black Americans fought With the French because of the situ the Relationship they had with the American Military wasn't very good uh no not Exactly the the black Americans there Were black American troops some of them In combat uh in France uh they were Honored by the friends it was two black Americans who were the first American Soldiers to win the game the highest French military medal for fending off a German attack from their Trench uh and The black soldiers were welcomed by the French in a way that they were not Welcomed by the rest of the U.S military The U.S army was entirely segregated Like much else of American Life the lack Of black soldiers were in separate units Uh they were usually given the worst Jobs you know digging ditches trenches Loading and unloading trucks uh some of Them though were at the front line in Combat Um They were pleased to be welcomed by the French who were delighted that Americans Of all colors were here uh to help them And actually W.E.B Du Bois who was on Top of every all his other achievements Was a superb investigative journalist And who spoke French went to France and Was able to get a copy of a memorandum

Which uh a French liaison officer on the Attached to the U.S Army Headquarters Had sent to other people in the French Army saying the Americans have asked us To please be reserved in showing any Enthusiasm towards their black troops Don't fraternize with them don't shake Hands with them don't go out of your way To praise them this upsets the white American soldiers an amazing document Why Why would it upset the American Soldier Well because there was a huge amount of Hostility between black and white Americans in the military uh as there Was everywhere else in this country and For particularly for white Southerners The Specter of black Americans being Armed and trained to use guns was Terrifying and Black senators and representatives rose On the floor of Congress to decry it and Say you know this shouldn't happen uh You know find some other use for these People in the military And in the epidemic of lynchings that Was ongoing throughout this period and That only increased after the war ended There were Nearly a dozen Veterans who were lynched in 1917 black Light 1919 black veterans three of them In uniform So

You mentioned earlier the Spanish Flu Or what was it 100 million people Worldwide died or some tremendous number Yeah Woodrow Wilson got the flu Somewhere along the line and during the Versailles treaty negotiations and all That what impact do you think and I know A lot of the military got it on in Europe how what was the impact of Woodrow Wilson getting the flu in the Middle of these negotiations Well I think it weakened somebody who Was already in pretty fragile health And it uh it weakened him and it was Soon after his belt with the flu which Incidentally was denied at the time and His doctor said no it's just an ordinary Cold and fever it's not the flu they Didn't want to acknowledge that because People were dying of this disease all Over the world uh it weakened him and It's soon after that that he caved in to His negotiating Partners prime Minister's Clem also of France and Lord George of Britain uh and agreed to the Terms of the Versailles treaty which Were extremely harsh demanding great Reparations from Germany so if he'd not Gotten the flu he might have been a Little tougher in those in those Negotiations he caved in pretty quickly They had an advantage of him in that on Him and that Wilson had gone to Paris

For what he thought was going to be very Quick negotiations about the shape of The treaty that would end this war but It ended up stretching out nearly six Months Um come also was in his own Capital Lloyd George was half a day's Journey From his Wilson was a whole ocean away From Washington at a time when it took You know five or six days to cross the Ocean So they had another advantage over him That way what's your take we're about Out of time but what's your take on Dr Grayson who seems if you follow him Through that period to uh often not tell The truth right this was Wilson's Physician a Navy Admiral Dr Carrie Grayson who like all the people around Wilson you know wrote a book afterwards Justifying his role and so on and who Wilson leaned on increasingly uh Eventually in roles that went far beyond Just being a physician uh he continually Denied that Wilson uh he denied that he Got the flu he kept secret for a far too Long the fact that Wilson had had a Series of Strokes which happened later Starting in the fall of 1919. Um you know the job of people around the President is often to cover up things And Grayson certainly was guilty of that Let's say I want to ask you about you Spent enough what six months or so going

Across Russia years ago I did this was For an earlier book called The unquiet Ghost Russians remember Stalin and my Wife a very tolerant wife and family and I lived there uh under not always very Easy circumstances the first six months Of 1991 I was eager to see how Russians were Trying to come to terms with stalinism This was during the Gorbachev period and It was at this time that people were Able to dig up Mass Graves explore you Know the old Gulag camps old former Prisoners were willing to tell their Stories had a fascinating time talking To former Gulag prisoners visiting the Sites of their imprisonment talking to Former members of the secret police both Repentant and non-repentant Extraordinary time You know many people then including me Were much more optimistic about Russia Than uh you know has turned out to be Justified we hope that at last the Freedom of discussion that Gorbachev had Initiated would help this country come To terms with its history and head down A different path in the future and sadly That has not happened it's now almost as Repressive as under Stalin's Rule and uh I don't see any easy end in sight The name of the book we're talking about Right now is American midnight the Subtitle is the Great War a violent

Peace and democracy's forgotten crisis And our guest has been Adam hochshield Who is out there in Berkeley California As we are talking thank you very much Sir Thank you Brian it's been a pleasure Thanks for listening to the book notes Plus podcast please rate and review book Notes plus and don't forget to follow so You never miss an episode Questions or comments we would love to Hear from you you can email us at Podcasts at C hyphenspan.org [Music]