The Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist/Chapter 4
1930 – 1942
(Milwaukee – Denver)
Friends had persuaded me to take an examination for social worker in Milwaukee. I told the authorities about my radicalism and that I would refuse to support any war in the future. A headline in the Milwaukee Journal of Dec. 18, 1930 was a surprise to me.
- FELONY TERM RULED NO BAR TO CIVIL RIGHTS
- The Attorney General sustained the opinion of Mr. O'Boyle that Hennacy did not lose his civil rights because of his convictions. It was pointed out that courts held that the only felonies that can be considered in raising the question of civil rights are those that existed at the time the nation's constitution was adopted and that new enactments, such as the draft act or the dry law, cannot be considered felonies in that sense. Hennacy was convicted while a resident of Columbus, Ohio. He failed to register and also was convicted of conspiring with others to violate the draft act.
In reading Tolstoy I had gained the idea that if a person had the One Man Revolution in his heart and lived it, he would be led by God toward those others who felt likewise. It did not take an organization and signature on the dotted line to accomplish results. This was to be proven in a most dramatic way, and was to usher me into the second great influence of my life: that of the Catholic Worker movement.
In my work as a social worker, it was my business to mark down a grocery order, gas and light bills, clothing, rent, etc. If there was any income it was to be used to purchase groceries. A budget was made out according to the size of the family. A report had been sent in that a certain family whom I visited had an income which was not reported. When I entered this home I told the man that he would not get any groceries this time, because of the income. He wanted to know who had told on him. I replied that I did not know and if I did I was not allowed to tell him. He was a huge man who had worked in a tannery; a member of the Polish National Catholic Church. He locked the door, drew down the blind and took up a butcher knife and made at me. I was sitting at a table and did not get up. He said that he would carve me up if I did not mark down the groceries; that he had locked up two other relief workers in disputes and had always got what he wanted even if he had to do time in the workhouse afterward. He called me all the vile names he could think of. I knew if I answered to this description I should take it and if I did not, then his recital of the vile names would not make it true. He would prance around and swing his fist at me to frighten me and breathe down the back of my neck and tickle me with the point of his knife. I was not frightened for I had learned in solitary not to be afraid of anything. This went on for nearly an hour. I did not answer back a word nor hang my head but looked him in the eye. Finally he came after me more energetically than before and said I had to do something. I got up and said: "I will do something, but not what you think." I reached out my hand in a friendly manner saying, "You are all right but you forget about it. I am not afraid of that false face you have on. I see the good man inside. If you want to knife me or knock me cold, go ahead. I won't hit you back: go ahead, I dare you!"
For three minutes by the clock which faced us on the wall he shook my hand, and with the other hand was making passes to hit me in the face. I did not say anything more. Slowly his grip loosened and he went to the door and opened it, pulled up the blind and put the knife away.
"What I don't see is why you don't hit back." "That's just what I want you to see," I answered.
"Explain it," he demanded.
"What is your strongest weapon? It is your big fist with a big knife. What is my weakest weapon? It is a little fist without a knife. What is my strongest weapon? It is the fact that I do not get excited; do not boil over; some people call it spiritual power. What is your weakest weapon? It is your getting excited and boiling over and your lack of spiritual power. I would be dumb if I used my weakest weapon, my small fist without a knife, against your strongest weapon, your large fist with a knife. I am smart, so I use my strongest weapon, my quiet spiritual power, against your weakest weapon, your excited manner, and I won, didn't I?"
"Yes, tell me again," was his quiet request. I explained it again and told him how I learned my lesson in solitary.
"Why, you are all right; you did more time in solitary than I did—6 months for beating my wife—last time." I also explained the psychological principle that I had used without premeditation: that of the photographer who when faced with bashful little Mary does not say "Don't be bashful?" but says: "See the birdie." Likewise if I had told him, "Don't hit or knife a good Christian anarchist who returns good for evil. Don't kill this Hennacy; there isn't any more." he would have laughed at me. When I showed no fear and dared him to do me up it woke him up to reality and took his mind off his meanness. The good was in him the same as it was in the warden and the District Attorney but it had to be brought out by the warmth of love which I showed and not by the blustering wind which provoked only more bluster.
"Do you want those groceries?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" he said in astonishment.
"I mean that the door is not locked and the knife is put away. I'll give you the groceries now and skip them next time; all in the same month's bookkeeping." "Well, I'll be damned," was his reply. Adding "And when do I go to court?" "You won't go to court. I don't believe in courts; you have learned your lesson." When I left the house my knees were shaking from the strain although I had not wavered a bit all along. For several years whenever I asked Carmen and Sharon at night if they wanted me to tell them a bear story they would answer, "Daddy, tell me about the man with the knife."
Later at the office, my boss, who was a leader of the American Legion, asked me to testify in court about this man who had locked me up. I refused, saying that he had been imprisoned twice for such tactics and had only learned to do the same thing again. I felt that my way therefore should be used.
"What is your way?" he asked.
For several hours I explained my ideas and experiences.
"You ought to get acquainted with those radical Catholics in New York," he said. He was also a Catholic. I asked Father Kennedy around the corner who was editor of the HERALD CITIZEN the name such Catholics and he gave me a copy of the current CATHOLIC WORKER. I at once subscribed.
At that time some Fascist-minded American Legion members were putting out a well printed sheet each week calling upon all patriots to run radicals and pacifists out of the city. My boss knew that this was dangerous but he did not know how to combat it. He asked me to speak at a private meeting at his home to several dozen of the more liberal-minded Legionnaires. They had never met a pacifist nor an anarchist before and we had an exciting evening. I asked them to meet my Communist friend, Fred Basset Blair. They went up in the air at the mention of his name but I kidded them about their timidity until they consented to have him meet with them. I was there also. A Socialist and a Technocrat spoke also and by the time winter was over the true Legionaries had argued their vigilantes out of the idea and they disbanded. Meanwhile I spoke on Christian anarchism to the Legion at their Cudworth Post, where Gen. MacArthur holds membership. And at their annual banquet I was the only outsider present and was asked to say a few words at the end of the festivities. Later I debated with different commanders of the Legion in two large Protestant churches and at the Jewish Synagogue. I also spoke scores of times to classes at the State Teachers College and at the University Extension classes.
I was given the job of trouble shooter among the social workers for several years and found that evil was always overcome by goodwill. However goodwill did not mean being wishy-washy. The one event of my life which took more courage than anything else was my effort to get an increase in the budget for those on relief. We had a 5% increase in our salaries at the office and I felt that those whom we served needed it much worse than we did. However, I could not get a second of a motion to that effect at the union meeting. I asked my boss about it and he felt that the clients received too much already. I pointed out that grocery budgets were made up by dietitians who fed "the average family" and there was no such thing. Italians would not eat grits and oatmeal. They wanted wine and spaghetti, and so with all kinds of people; they wanted certain kinds of food and would not eat a "statistical menu". I wrote a letter to all of the county officials concerned telling them that I would not accept my $5 a month raise, but would return it to the county treasurer unless the budget of the clients was increased 5%. Twice I went to the office of my boss with this letter and he was not in his office. Twice my knees shook and I was weak at the stomach, for it was more difficult to argue with a boss who was friendly and oppose him on a fundamental issue than it was to call Stalin and the devil names. The third time the boss was in his office. "You can't do that; you put me to shame," he said. "I have already done it, and I mean to put you to shame," I replied. I returned my $2.50 each pay day and it was not long until an announcement was made that the budget of those on relief had been increased 5%. Then those who had not seconded the motion at the union meeting said "fine work, Ammon." I was a delegate to the union of relief clients, The Workers Alliance.
Long before I read of the method of moral jiu jitsu, described by Gandhi, I had used it myself. When a person wishes to engage you in useless vituperation, the clear unexpected answer throws him off his base. One of the best instances occurred when a relief client who had been sentenced to 30 days in the House of Correction for making a relief visitor dance when he pulled out a gun, phoned the office saying: "I have another gun; send your next s.o.b. out and I'll shoot him."
"Hennacy, go make peace!" was the order given to me. This man lived far out in the country. I knocked on his door and being asked who was there I told him who I was. "Hello, you hound." "Hello, hound yourself" was my answer which was not to be found in Mary Richmond's text on social work or in the Sermon on the Mount. But each person has to be spoken to in words which they can understand. I entered the room and the man said gruffly: "I want five mattresses." "Make it six; I am a wholesaler" was my rejoinder. Obviously he did not need that many mattresses but he asked for the impossible in order to be refused and then he would start shooting. "Let's go upstairs and see what size mattresses you need," I suggested. "No body's going up my upstairs," he replied. "O.K. Less work for me," was my answer. "All right come up," he said as he led the way. I found that he only needed one mattress and told him so. He laughed and said, "I won't fight with you." And the whole thing was over. Previous visitors had stood on their dignity and were victims of his spleen.
Another time I had a quick call to visit a family where the last visitor had been thrown downstairs. In this case, as in many others, clients would run up a huge gas or light bill and demand payment. The visitor would refuse and the gas would be turned off and $5 would have to be paid to get it turned on again. A losing game, for the visitor had to order it turned on again. I went up the dark and narrow stairway and entered the room. The man was out. I saw a light and gas bill on the table and marked them "o.k." as they were not too high. Soon the man came in shouting "I want my gas and light bill paid." I told him quietly that they were already paid. "I don't get enough cornmeal," he said. "What part of the South do you come from?" I asked, knowing that no person in the north asks for cornmeal. "I come from Baldwin County, Alabama," was the answer. "I used to teach history in Fairhope" was my reply. "You know my kind; I won't argue with you," said he smiling. The fact was that the nice clean social workers tried to clean up this old man who was born dirty, born with a tendency to drunkenness, lying and laziness; and they wore themselves out and aggravated him in their efforts. I visited this family every two weeks for four years and concentrated on the teen age children, so that they wanted a better environment and raised the standards of the family. They moved to a better neighborhood and got off relief. About this time the old man asked me for a pair of shoes. I said, "what did you do with the pair you got last month; sell them for booze?" "No, my buddy and I were up north looking for work and got caught in a storm and came to a cabin, Here we rested over night and put our shoes to dry by the stove and when we got up they were all turned up and we couldn't get them on." "And you came home in your bare feet; tell us another one old man," was my quick reply. He broke out laughing. If I had called him a liar he would have knocked me down. And he didn't get the shoes.
In the early days of the depression the rules were very strict and many who needed help did not get it. Whenever I found it necessary to break a rule I would do so. Once I moved a large family who had been evicted to a place where the rental was above schedule; then I took the rent voucher to my boss and asked him to sign it. "You can't do that," he said. "I already have done it. You do it for your friends; I'm doing it for some one who has no friends." If I did not do this too often I got by with it.
One angry Italian client went to a distribution station and broke a chair over the head of the man in charge. I was sent to his home to make peace. He lived the third flight up and when I knocked on the door it was opened and a chair was raised toward my head. When he saw me he smiled and said "O.k. you're all right Hennacy." Several months before I had visited him and in the course of my conversation had praised Sacco and Vanzetti, not knowing in what good stead it would stand me now.
A group of clients who called themselves the 17th Ward Taxpayers Club wrote to the Governor asking that problems of relief be explained to them. This was a tough neighborhood. My boss called me in and said that he was not going there and lose his temper and get in a fight and lose his job. He asked me to speak for him. I took an Irish friend along, Ray Callahan, the president of the union, in order that anything I might say would not be misquoted. The meeting was in a dance hall in the rear of a saloon. There was standing room only. When I was introduced I said: "You folks did not come here to hear my boss talk; you did not come here to hear me talk; you came here to hear yourselves talk. Go ahead, and if I can answer your questions I will do so, and if I can't I will admit it." "Why didn't the so and so bastard boss come here himself" someone shouted. I knew the details of many rules and regulations and explained them but did not defend them. I gave the anarchist argument of responsibility and of putting up a good fight against exploiters. One man gave a sob story. I told him that if what he said was true to see me after the meeting and I would look into his record and go to bat for him. "But on the other hand you may be the biggest liar on the whole south side." Everyone laughed for they knew his number. I left with a vote of thanks.
Of course an anarchist had no business working for a government, even a county government. I admitted this to all and sundry and I suppose compensated in my mind for this dereliction by speaking in hundreds of Protestant churches on Christian anarchism. I also organized a union. We had an increase in pay, extra vacation for overtime, and a five day week. I spent Saturday selling The CATHOLIC WORKER and the CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR in front of the library, putting even the Jehovah's Witnesses to shame by my fidelity to my post. One of my straw bosses was a Catholic who was sympathetic to the CW. I announced a meeting at his home one evening when I would speak about Catholic Conscientious Objectors in World War I. Only a few attended but I was pleased to meet Nina Polcyn and Dave Host, early friends of The Catholic Workers. I told at that meeting of my friend Ben Salmon, a Catholic, Single Taxer, vegetarian who had done time in Leavenworth and who still in jail, after the war was over, had gone on a hunger strike for over three months and thus obtained the release of the remaining 45 CO's in Ft. Riley. (He had begun the hunger strike at Ft. Riley and continued it at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C.) Selma and I had visited Ben in Washington, D.C. where he was rooming with the guard who had forcibly fed him at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, and whom he had converted to pacifism. I told of John Dunn and of Francis Xavier Hennessey, a member of the Knights of Columbus, from Boston who was a CO in Leavenworth and whom Selma and I had visited on our hiking trip.
We had several meetings and it was not long until a CW House of Hospitality was started in Milwaukee. Carmen and Sharon sang Christmas carols Christmas afternoon of 1937 while Leonard Doyle played the piano. Muriel Lester of England, gave the House her blessing a few weeks before when she was speaking in Milwaukee. Nov. 11, 1937 was the 50th Anniversary of the hanging of the Haymarket Martyrs. I was able to get Lucy Parsons, the wife of Albert Parsons, one of the martyrs, to speak on Nov. 19th at a Memorial meeting. Fred Basset Blair, Communist leader, also spoke. I told him if he praised Russia I would tell on him, so he kept to the subject. Martin Cyborowski of the CIO also spoke, as did Prof. Philip Persons of the University of Wisconsin Extension. I was Chairman. Sponsors of the meeting, which was well attended, included my good friend Henry L. Nunn of Nunn Busch Shoe Co. a Tolstoian and advocate of 52 pay days a year for his workers, even in the depression. He was much more radical than his employees; a fine man, strict vegetarian and a Christian outside of any church. One of his prized possessions is a picture of Tolstoy carved on a piece of bark by Tolstoy himself and given to a visitor, who upon his death gave it to Mr. Nunn. Socialist and union leaders of Milwaukee and several pacifists among the clergy were also sponsors. The ushers of the meeting were the young Catholic Workers. The diocesan paper did not like this united front of the CW with anarchists and Communists but the CW youngsters stood their ground and distributed a pink leaflet giving the CW position on labor. I had asked old Mr. Bruce of the Catholic Bruce Publishing Company to be a sponsor. He was sympathetic but said he was too old to stand the criticism which would come from conservative Catholics. He wished me well.
During these years in Milwaukee I never contributed to the Community Fund because many of the contributions came by force from employees in dime stores and other establishments where the pay was low and where there was no union. After a time I was able to get our union to delegate another fellow and myself to protest to the Community Fund on this matter and that year the headline was: "Fund Motto Is: No Compulsion." This was the headline on Oct. 7, 1937. In my speeches in churches and before labor groups I often quoted the following verse from Robert Burns to wake the audience up:
- "A fig for those by law protected!
- Liberty's a glorious feast!
- Courts for cowards were erected,
- Churches built to please the priest."
- "A fig for those by law protected!
In 1934 my wife and I visited Carleton Washburne at Winnetka, Illinois, asking his opinion about enrolling Carmen and Sharon in the progressive schools there. He felt that the atmosphere was too "goldcoast". Selma and the girls got an apartment there and I went down on week ends to see them. However, by Christmas, we felt that Washburne was right and that it was no place for radicals. We felt that it would be well to allow the girls to see the Jim Crow, deep south, and whatever there was left of progressive education in the school in Fairhope, Alabama, where I had taught history in 1924. Sharon was in kindergarten there. Selma wrote that Sharon was present when her class was marching around in a game with broomsticks. Sharon stood aside and did not play. The teacher came over to her asking, "Are you sick, little girl?" Sharon replied, "I'm Science; I don't get sick." (She had gone to Christian Science Sunday School once, and neither she nor Carmen had ever tasted medicine.) "Why don't you play this game then?" the teacher asked. "It's a gun game," was the reply. "But we don't have any guns," the teacher countered. "That's because you can't find them. You would have them if you could get them; so you have broomsticks instead," was Sharon's answer. The teacher grabbed her by the shoulder telling her she must obey. Sharon told her to take her hands off of her; that she obeyed only what was good. Sharon did not pout, but played the next game which was non-military. At this school the old radical spirit was weakening so my wife brought the girls back to Milwaukee at the end of the year.
Selma had the regular atheistic attitude of the old time Socialists among whom she was brought up. When we were hiking we had worked in Atlanta for over a year and had visited Mrs. Millis. Selma had attended the Christian Science church out of courtesy and accepted much of that teaching. I had read the books along with her, feeling that perhaps this approach to religion might be the only one by which she would accept my Tolstoian Sermon on the Mount principles. It was not difficult for both of us to accept the non-medical teaching of Christian Science, whether we accepted their theology in toto or not. Mrs. Millis was the only pacifist among them. The bourgeois atmosphere of their churches did not attract us and their super patriotism made me shudder. We faithfully attended services and studied the daily lessons for years and determined to bring up our children without medicine.
Selma was not a vegetarian and I did not feel like imposing my ideas on this subject on my family. When Carmen was about five years of age she was at the table and asked me why I did not eat meat. I told her that was an idea of mine. "But why?" she insisted. "I don't like to kill animals, and why should some one else kill them for me?" I answered. "But Daddy, maybe, this pig just died; nobody killed it." was her reply.
Both girls were interested in music, dancing and dramatics. We often took walks up the river both winter and summer on Sunday mornings.
By 1938 anyone who had studied history could tell that a war was coming on soon, my wife suggested that she take the girls to New York City while I had a good job and before I got into jail. We had seen the life there and they were old enough to appreciate some of the advantages which they might have there. So in July 1938 we drove there and I came back to Milwaukee alone. My father had died in June, in Cleveland.
Emma Goldman spoke in Milwaukee in the late thirties. I had not met her for years. Later when I wrote to her in Toronto telling her of the Haymarket meeting and of the Catholic Workers being ushers she wrote to me: "I appreciate the good wishes of the young Catholics and I ask you to kindly give them my thanks and my greetings."
In 1937 Dorothy Day spoke at the Eucharistic Congress in Milwaukee, being invited there by Bishop (now Cardinal) Stritch. She had been upstairs in the office of the LIBERATOR when I had been working in my small office at the foot of the stairs for Roger Baldwin, but I had never met her. Then she was a Communist. Our mutual friends were Hugo and Livia Gellert and Claude McKay. She had left the Communists and joined the Catholic Church and in 1933 with Peter Maurin had started the CATHOLIC WORKER. I met her after the meeting and was of course pleased with her words of praise for I.W.W.'s and Communists to the great crowd of Catholics who would not otherwise know much about radicalism. I had but a few words with her on our way to Nina's. She spoke at Marquette to a room full of nuns, priests and students the next day. I was only able to come late to the meeting and had to sit in the very front row. In answering questions from patriotic questioners she mentioned something of my pacifist record, saying that I was not a Catholic, but an anarchist and that when the next war came she would be with me in opposition to it. Her continued refusal to follow the party line of the Church in praising Franco gained my admiration.
One night Peter Maurin spoke at Holy Family House. A Communist friend came to the meeting and when time came for questions commenced to quote Marx. Peter answered, "You did not quote Marx right—here is the correct sentence. Marx got it from the anarchist Proudhon." And then he began to give an Easy Essay on the subject in question. I said, "Peter, you talk like an anarchist." "Sure, I am an anarchist; all thinking people are anarchists. But I prefer the name personalist."
Peter was a wonderful man, the second man of stature whom I had known; Berkman being the first.
Early in 1941 Eric Gill, the English Catholic artist sculptor, died. WAR COMMENTARY, the London anarchist weekly, had a front page article about him by the poet, Herbert Read, which quoted a letter from Gill, "I am really in complete agreement with you about the necessity of anarchism, the ultimate truth of it, and its immediate practibility as syndicalism." Read ended the article with this sentence, speaking of Gill, "He was the most honest man I have even known, or am likely to know."
The opposition of the CATHOLIC WORKER to Franco aroused the ire of patriotic Catholics. I remember a priest speaking at the CW one night who said that if a Catholic fighting for Franco killed a Catholic who was a Loyalist he was doing the latter a favor, for if it was the other way around the Loyalist would be committing murder and would go to hell because he was on the wrong side. During this time I wrote letters to every Protestant church in the city telling them of the coming war and asking for permission to present the Christian anarchist view to their young people. I received but four answers, one of them from a pastor of the Missouri Synod of the Lutherans, which was an accomplishment. On May 20, 1940 I held a memorial meeting for Emma Goldman. Bill Ryan and Ed Lehmann, veterans of the Spanish Civil War, spoke.
I had been selling CWs and CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS every other Monday night at meetings of a lecture forum at the largest Protestant church in the city. On Monday Dec. 8, Jan Valtin was to speak. All of my relatives and comrades advised me not to run the danger of being beaten up by going there. I felt that all of us would be killed for a dime as much as for a dollar, so we might as well sow our seeds and not worry about whether they fell on stony ground or whether we were endangered in the sowing of them. Those who rely on force are reaping the fruits of violence sown for generations. Here is more violence and this is the very time when we must be active. Accordingly I went down to the church with my papers. Half a dozen women spit at me and several men grumbled at me. Suddenly four police grabbed me by the neck and shoulders demanding to know if I was a Communist. "Wake up, fellows. The Party Line has changed. The Commies are on your side." They wanted to know what I was if I was not a Communist. "You wouldn't know if I told you," I replied. "Tell us" they asked, "I am a Christian Anarchist," I answered. "What is that?" was their query. "Someone who doesn't need a cop to make them behave." was my quick reply. I asked if either of them were Catholics and each one answered that he was Catholic. I asked if they would like to read what happened to me and the cops during the last war and they replied in the affirmative, so each one departed with a copy of the November CW which had a chapter of my life in Atlanta entitled "God's Coward." I sold papers all evening with no more disturbance. At this time some religious folks around the CW were loath to distribute the paper after Pearl Harbor. I good naturedly kidded them by calling their liturgy an excuse for lethargy.
The radical who is sympathetic to anarchism but who must vote for a "good man" in order to keep the bad men from running the country received an object lesson when Bob LaFollette voted for World War II. He was a "good" man and he knew better but the soft living in Washington must have deprived him of his moral strength. (An aftermath is the fact that LaFollette, who knew enough to see through the alibis of the Communist Party line and who asked for free speech for the Trotskyites also, was knifed by the CIO and Communists of Milwaukee for his renomination—and that is how Joe McCarthy got upon us.)
One evening there was a meeting of members of the leading peace organization of the country, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, to which I had belonged since World War I. It was held in a local church and the minister who had been Chairman of it for many years was present, along with other pacifist clergy. Somehow a reporter was present, so when the time came for election of Chairman for the ensuing year this cowardly follower of Christ gave a long talk about democracy being needed and moved that for the future we should elect a Chairman for each meeting and not for the year: thus his name could not be given publicity as a pacifist. This man had posed as an American, accepting appointments from the Mayor, when in fact he had been born in Canada and had neglected to apply for citizenship. If he applied now he would have to say he was a pacifist and thus be denied citizenship. So he did nothing.
In contrast to his attitude there was the unsolicited opinion of four leaders of thought in Milwaukee to me as they met me on the street. One of the chief men on a local capitalist paper whom I knew met me and asked if I was going to refuse to register for the draft when my time came. I replied that of course I wouldn't register.
"That is the true American spirit; we need men like you; don't let the government bluff you," he said.
Almost the same words were spoken to me by a leading officer of the armed forces whom I had met once. The first time I met him he said that the way of Jesus, Thoreau, Tolstoy and Gandhi was right, but people would not see it for another 2000 years; and meanwhile we needed an army and he was in the army. A city official who was not a Socialist told me that he agreed with my anti-war attitude and should take the same stand but he was a coward.
Years before I had visited the wealthy head of the Christian Science headquarters in Wisconsin and argued with him that he and his church were wrong in supporting war and capitalism; that among many unimportant utterances Mrs. Eddy had said to "follow me only insofar as I follow Christ and the Sermon on the Mount." And if one had a moral aim and sought to gain it by immoral means, then the moral aim was destroyed by the immoral means. I had not met him for years when he stopped me on the street and greeted me by name saying, "You are right and I am wrong."
I asked what about and he said "War, I cannot forget what you said about ends and means years ago."
"But your church is the only one who will not allow its members to be conscientious objectors," I answered, "and with its supposed emphasis on spirituality it is the most wealthy church in the country."
"I know it sir, I know it sir," was his reply.
I asked him if he cared if I quoted him and he said to quote him if I liked. He left ceremoniously, saying, "I feel better now that I have talked to you, Mr. Hennacy." I wrote to him afterwards but never got a reply. This must have been his weak or his strong moment.
It was not long afterward when the American Legion preferred charges against me for selling CWs and CO's on the street. I had sold them in front of St. Rose's church one Sunday morning, and one of the Legion heads became troubled about it. I went to the corporation council who had charge of such matters. He was a Legion man and an Irish Catholic. A court stenographer took down all the conversation. For an hour I defended my right to be a pacifist and told him that he could discharge me if he liked but I would not quit, and demanded a public hearing. This was on Monday. On Saturday he announced in the paper that the charges had been dropped inasmuch as I was not doing my propaganda on company time.
During this time I went to several Catholic churches each Sunday to sell CWs. About the only other person who helped in this was Jerry, a Coughlinite, who did not agree with the full CW program but who felt he must do something. Now that Father Coughlin had ceased to oppose the war the only thing left for him to do was to sell CWs. For instance on June 14th. I wrote to Dorothy saying, "Made four masses at the ritzy St. Roberts church this morning and sold 33 cents worth. The cop (a Protestant) who had wanted to stop me the first time I sold papers there, was cordial today and wanted to know how I was doing. I had an extra copy of the May (1942) issue with my statement of refusal to register in it and gave it to him and he promised to read it. They sang the Star Spangled Banner after each mass. I did not hear the sermon as the doors were closed, and the ushers were rather dignified—besides I did not have the admission price posted on the door. Tried to sell papers at St. Rose's and Gesu last Sunday, but did not sell one up until 11:30 when it commenced to rain. Sold 28 cents worth at St. Gall's the Sunday before."
My one staunch comrade from 1937 to 1942 in Milwaukee was Bill Ryan. He had been a Communist organizer and with his wife Alba, had gone to Spain and fought with the Loyalists. After seventeen months he discovered that there was not enough difference between the Communists and the Fascists to fight about. He expressed these feelings and was on the way to be executed by the Commies when he escaped. Coming home he was one of the few to tell the truth of how the Commies had sabotaged the Loyalist cause and engineered its defeat through their bureaucratic tactics.
Bill was now an anarchist and also an atheist, although he felt that the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount were a true moral guide. We visited each other nearly every day and on countless evenings met with young socialists seeking to bolster up their weak-kneed pacifism. Bill, of course, would refuse to register when his time came. When he did refuse I went to local pacifists to get bail for him but they all had some excuse. It was Jerry who went his bail. Four local Communists who had fought in Spain wrote a letter to the Milwaukee JOURNAL in which they said that Bill had never been a Communist, nor had he ever been in Spain. The Party Line had changed and now they were patriotic.
Meanwhile my turn had come. I was supposed to register on April 27th, and prepared a statement of my reasons for refusing. I would also resign my job with the county. On the Friday before, Bill and I rode to Chicago with a Quaker friend and attended a meeting of CO's at a Brethren church, Evan Thomas was there and he was going to refuse also. Of us old timers who were in jail in World War I and who would again endanger our families and jobs and property, there were Harold Gray of Saline, Mich., Max Sandin of Cleveland, Howard Moore of Cherry Valley, N.Y., and Julius Eichel and Evan Thomas of New York City, and myself. Also, of course, the Marquardt family, being the old patriarch and his sons and sons-in-law of Grasston, Minnesota. A. J. Muste, head of the FOR would also refuse. We all felt that we would get five years and were prepared to take it.
I spoke at the meeting, visited with friends, and started hiking home in the late afternoon. I walked about ten miles, and got a ride with an ex-army captain of the last war. He was against this one. Then I walked awhile and got a ride with a young fellow from Zion City. I gave them both CWs containing my statement. I did not have a cent on me and it was dark. I thought of the Chinese who lived on a mouthful of rice a day. Just then I saw an ear of corn on the road. I shelled it and for the next three hours chewed it grain by grain and was not hungry when I finished. Finally after 10 p.m. when it commenced to drizzle a man picked me up and took me to Milwaukee. He admired Lew Ayres who was a CO and was glad to read my statement. Arriving home I received a telegram of congratulation as to my refusal to register from Dorothy who was speaking in Albuquerque. On my last day at the office my Legion friends were very kind to me. The papers had a fair summary and picture on the front page. My argument with the timid souls who felt I would hurt the cause by being radical was that they sneaked off to a CO camp and no one knew they had gone, while if you refused to register it was the man biting the dog and was news. Therefore your ideas went before the world.
- The following is my statement of refusal to register as printed in the May, 1942 CW , and addressed to the U.S. District attorney.
- Dear Sir: As a Tolstoian—a Christian Anarchist-I choose to follow the example of the early Christians who refused to place a pinch of incense upon the altar of Caesar. I consider that registration for the purpose of helping this or any other war is the first step towards a defeat of the principles of Jesus as given in His Sermon on the Mount: "Love your enemies... turn the other cheek..." This does not mean to kill them in war or to commit injustice in time of peace. Personally I wish to frankly admit my inconsistency in having worked for a branch of the government while being an Anarchist; however I did so openly. I refuse to register and will cheerfully accept the sentence of the court, desiring no probation or parole, but willing to sacrifice for what I think is right, as the soldiers and sailors are doing.
- In 1917 I refused to register for a somewhat different reason. At that time I was a Socialist who believed in fighting in a revolution, but not in a capitalist war. I had never heard of a God of Love in the churches, and thought I was an atheist. During my two and a half years in Atlanta, I spent eight and a half months in solitary, where my study of the Bible convinced me that the most revolutionary teaching in the world was contained in the Sermon on the Mount. I saw that the Kingdom of God was within every person, but most of us had forgotten it. I felt it was futile to change the forms of society—that the biggest job before me was to change myself; this was the revolution most worthwhile. Later, when I read Jefferson, Thoreau, William Lloyd Garrison and Tolstoy I saw that all governments—even the best—were founded upon the policemen's club: upon a return of evil for evil, the very opposite of the teachings of Christ. I saw that all churches supported this essential wickedness of government and were therefore evil institutions-and that in time of war all churches, with isolated exceptions, supported this violation of the teachings of Christ. That is, except the historic peace churches: the Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers, and the Doukhobor, Molokon and Jehovah's sects. Therefore I belonged to no church but spoke in many churches, encouraging them to follow Christ. I became a Christian Anarchist. I saw that the first World War did not make the world safe for democracy, or end war.
- In refusing to register, I want to make it clear that the great majority of the people who have supported the economic evils that make for war are acting logically in an all-out effort for war. As an Anarchist, I have taken no part in politics and am not bound to accept the will of a majority whose political battle I did not enter. I honor those who are sincere, sacrificing, war-like patriots. I am a peace patriot. I accept, along with others, whatever punishment is due this generation because of the mistakes of our forefathers. We lied to, and cheated the Indians, and broke nearly every treaty we made with them; we formed our great Southwest by stealing it from Mexico in what Grant and Webster called an unjust war; we fought an unnecessary Civil War to free the Negro and we have refused to give him his real freedom; we grabbed the very islands for which we are now fighting from Spain in an equally imperialistic venture; we started a revolution in Columbia and stole Panama, we invaded Nicaragua and countless other countries to protect foolish foreign loans and investments; we sold war materials to Japan until recently and helped build up her imperialism in the Far East; we excluded an energetic and noble people from our shores; we refused to support or to build up a decent League of Nations or to live up to our own Kellogg Peace Pact, renouncing war. We do not come before the bar of history with clean hands.
- More recently the President, with the aid of his erstwhile opponent, has duped the country inch by inch until we are in this war. Likely, he sincerely believed that "the end justified the meanness" and good would come of it. History has proven him mistaken now, and will increasingly prove that evil defeats itself. His slogans tell this story of trickery: "Fools Gold;" "Cash and Carry;" "The draft is just a census... your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars;" "all aid short of war;" "lend and lease;" "patrols not convoys."
- I predict that we will not conquer Fascism, although we may defeat Hitler; we will have a Fascist dictatorship under the name of Democracy upon us I predict that Germany and Russia will make a separate peace and that England, as always, will fight only for herself and we will be left to fight the world.
- By my action in refusing to register for the draft, I speak and act only for myself. Others have to draw the line where they see fit. I speak, also for the millions who were fooled by the slogans of the War-Party and who now, but dimly, realize how the President maneuvered them into this war. I speak for the millions of Christians who have been again sold out by their leaders who value church property and power more than they value the example of Christ, and who accept the "lesser evil" rather than the ultimate good and the counsels of perfection. I speak for the millions of union men who have succumbed to the glory of "time and a half," little realizing that they are accessories before the face of legal murder, in making the weapons of death. I speak for the thousands of radicals whose leaders have forgotten the ideals of Debs, Lansbury, old Bob LaFollette, Berkman, the I.W.W.'s, and Sacco and Vanzetti, and who now support the war. I speak for those individuals and small groups in and out of Protestant and Catholic churches who do not go so far in opposition to war as I do. I speak for my fellow-vegetarians, many of whom have succumbed to this wholesale blood-letting called war. I speak for those in our prisons whose chances for the ideals of Thomas Mott Osborne mitigating their misery are dulled by the fog of hatred which envelops this war torn world. I speak for my own and for millions of children whose hopes of a better world are crushed and who are doomed to the wheel of despotism, fear, greed, and starvation, which will be the outcome of this war. I speak for a Just Peace and against World War III. I also speak for that better world whose spark has been kept alive by those who are not afraid to face the misunderstanding and scorn of the multitude. I speak with the voice of Thoreau who said: "A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority... one on the side of God is a majority already." I speak with the voice of Peter and Socrates who chose to obey God rather than man. I speak with the voice of St. Francis and of Gandhi who exemplify the life of Christ. I speak with the voice of Jesus who said: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them... overcome evil with good." I speak for that time when all shall realize that they are Sons of God and brothers. When all the world is filled with hatred, this is the time when I must not be silent.'
1534 N. 60th St.
Dec. 19, 1941
While in New York City my wife had joined one of the esoteric cults that spring up in the unhealthy atmosphere of Los Angeles. Their belief in vegetarianism and reincarnation coincided with my own, but their super patriotism and condemnation of radicalism and unions seemed a big jump from that Socialism which my wife had believed in all her life. I went to scores of meetings of this cult trying to see if I could believe in it. I heard the leaders and felt that it was a racket. They spoke words of love and brotherhood but called down fire from heaven to destroy those whom they did not like.
My wife and girls moved to Los Angeles where I visited them in 1940 and 1941 during my vacation. (I had stopped for a day to visit the radical Doukhobors in British Columbia.) This cult did not allow the aura of the husband in the house if he did not belong. When my wife knew I was refusing to register she wrote that when I went to prison my name would be as if I was dead, as far as she and the girls were concerned. I wrote to them cordially all of this time and sent them nearly all I made. The policy of this cult was not to allow correspondence between 100% followers and unbelievers. I had faith in my daughters and knew when they were old enough to understand they would do what was right.
Carmen, then 14, wrote from the Coast: "You may wonder how the Japanese are being treated out here. Well, I don't know about other schools, but as far as I know in our school we treat them better than before, because we think that every other person will treat them bad." My girls bought no war stamps all during the war.
I took my non-registrant statement to the U.S. District Attorney. He had heard Emma Goldman during his college days and thought this war was about fifty–fifty as to guilt. We had a pleasant time and he told me to go on my own recognizance and he would call me when I was to have a trial. The papers wrote about the terrible tongue lashing he had given to a "draft dodger." Bill Ryan was soon sentenced to 2 years in Sandstone, Minnesota prison.
After a few weeks I was called down and put behind the bars. An officer took me to the draft board in my district and the man in charge said "What is your name?" I replied, "You know my name." Again, "Where do you live?" Answer, "You know where I live," Question: "Where do you work?" Answer, "You know where I work." "Here is your draft card," he said. "It is not mine; it is yours, I didn't tell you anything," I replied quickly. And I handed him back the card.
The District Attorney did not tell me definitely what was to be done in my case, but told me to wait and see. It seemed that instructions had been sent from Washington not to imprison those over 45. I was 48. Later my sister-in-law, with whom I was staying, signed a special delivery letter containing my draft card. I returned it personally to the District Attorney, putting it in his waste basket. It was sent to me again. I tore it up and mailed the bits to Washington, telling the authorities I would never carry it. I heard nothing more from them. With all the lies printed by authorities as to the action of radicals I had written to Dorothy Day, at the Catholic Worker, saying that if she heard that I had registered not to believe it; but at least all that any one of us could do was to refuse to give in no matter if we were the only ones left.
My wife and girls had left Los Angeles when the cult to which she belonged was denied the use of mails for fraud. Headquarters were established in Santa Fe, N.M. and she followed there. Housing was difficult to find there, so she moved to Denver. Now that I was not tied down to a civil service job I worked at two other jobs and left on the Fourth of July for Denver. After a few days I was working at the huge City Park Dairy where my work consisted in being a social worker to 900 cows. Certain cows that had teats too large for the milking machine; sore teated ones; kicky ones; and those suffering from garget were scattered here and there over the huge barn. The average worker beat the cows and as in the case of human beings they retaliated. I visited my family for a few hours now and then, and on my birthday we all went to the top of the mountain near Golden and visited Buffalo Bill's grave. Here and there along ravines were shanties where squatters eked out a living panning gold.
I did not know that the dairy where I worked was a closed shop, being organized by the AFL Teamsters Union. Mr. Coffee, the business agent, was soon around to get my $12.50 initiation, explaining that it was being raised to $25 and I was sure lucky to get in now. About 500 attended the first union meeting where I was present. A motion came up to vote $1,000 for Liberty Bonds. I asked to speak against it, but as with about all motions, the idea was to get them passed as soon as possible and start a crap game or adjourn to the nearest saloon. After the motion had passed without any discussion or a dissenting vote, except mine, I asked that my vote be recorded against the purchase of the Bonds. At a later meeting the motion came up not to allow any conscientious objectors to join the union. I was not allowed to speak on this motion either, but had my lone vote recorded against it. I asked Coffee privately why I could not speak on the motion and why such a motion was made. He said that it did not apply to me as I was already a member but that other conscientious objectors in Denver had desired to join and this was to prevent it. I replied that he did not know what he was talking about for I was acquainted with all of the CO's in Denver and none of them wanted to work in dairies. Finally, Coffee admitted that this motion had been made on orders from Czar Dan Tobin in Indianapolis.
Soon after this I was selling CW's and CO's in front of the public library down town one Saturday afternoon. (Our work was from 1 p.m. to 5:30 and from 1 a.m. to 5:30.) A cop came up and asked what I was selling. I handed him copies and said "The best papers in the world. Read them."
He said that I could not sell them without a permit. On the way to the police station he asked for my draft card; I told him that it was a disgrace to carry one; that I had a trial in Milwaukee about it and did not need to carry one. The night captain asked me many questions and said he would keep me in jail all summer until I got a draft card. I advised him to get in contact with my friend Harry O'Connor, head of the FBI in Milwaukee and former member of the union of social workers which I had organized. I was refused permission to phone my employer or to get a lawyer or communicate with anyone.
During the next four days I was shown before the screen in the "Showup." I must have looked like some one they were after for I had the same questions asked again and again. They must have had some doubts, otherwise they would have beaten me until I confessed or was unable to say anything. This happened to another man in the same cell with me.
After the third day an FBI man came and said there had been a mistake and I was released. I asked the night captain if I could sell papers on the street. He told me to see the Chief of Police. I went up there later and left copies of the papers with his clerk and heard him say in another office that it was all right for me to sell them. I asked for a written permit but was told I did not need one.
The next Saturday afternoon I again sold papers in front of the library. Another cop came up and wanted to know what I was doing. I told him that I had permission to sell papers from the chief. He said "To hell with the Chief. I am a Legionnaire and no one is selling papers like that when I am around." Whereupon he jerked me into the squad car and took me down to the same police station. The same dumb night captain began to ask the same questions again. I told him to look in his record and save time.
He sent me in to the chief of the Military Police. While waiting there I saw several soldiers to whom I had sold papers reading them. This officer was quite gruff, but after questioning me he said it was not in his sphere and took me back to the night captain. I was ushered into a room full of police each of them fatter and more dumb looking than the other. They commenced to swear at me and advance with their fists. I just laughed at them and said I was not foolish enough to give them a chance to beat me up.
At last the night captain told me that if I went out again to sell papers I would be beaten up. "Is that the law talking?" I asked. "That's the law talking," he replied.
My boss did not agree with my ideas, but paid me for those four days I was locked up. In a few days I talked to the Chief of Police who, upon looking at The Conscientious Objector, said; "You can't sell that in my town."
"You talk like Hitler!"
"You talk like Hitler," I repeated.
He grunted and picked up the CW saying "What is this?" You had better see Father Mac at the Cathedral; if he says it is all right it is all right; if he says it isn't; then it isn't." Later I called Father Mac, who had presided at an America First meeting before the war. He said "Why should I put my neck out?"
I corresponded with Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union who said they would carry the case to the Supreme Court whenever Carl Whitehead, their lawyer in Denver, wanted to take the case. I talked to Mr. Whitehead whom I had known for years. He did not have time then to attend to the matter but would do so later.
My wife and children visited Ben Salmon's widow and her children with me. Charles was studying for the priesthood and is now a priest in Denver. My wife did not want to be in the same city where I was being arrested although the papers had nothing about it, I shed an aura which was too radical it seemed. Accordingly she moved to Santa Fe. I helped them pack.
Two men who operated milking machines in the barn were incensed because of my vote at the union meeting against war bonds and for conscientious objectors. They made slurring remarks against me, trying to provoke a fight for several weeks. They were of mediocre minds and with little intelligence so it was of no use to argue with them. I had to overcome their animosity in some other way. When I walked to the far away milk room with my one bucket of milk I made it my business to walk by their "strings" of cows, which were in the furthermost end of the barn from the milk room, and carry one of their heavy DeLaval bucket of milk along with me. After a few days they cooled down and became friends, although they never did understand the radical and pacifist argument.