YOU DIDN’T NEED A LONG MEMORY to think back to 1917 and what happened in the years after the first World War. You remembered the Palmer raids and the attacks on the foreign born. You remembered the Lusk Committee, model of Rapp-Coudert, created to train for loyalty through fear and intimidation. You remembered that with the same high-flung phrases they closed in on everything decent and progressive.
Robert Morss Lovett writes of those days, “Nowhere was the suppression of freedom of mind, of truth, so energetic, so vindictive as in the schools. Instances crowd upon the mind. I remember attending the trial of a teacher before a committee of the New York School Board, the point being whether his reasons for not entering with his class upon a discussion of the Soviet government concealed a latent sympathy with that form of social organization. The pupils were ranged in two groups, Jews and Gentiles, and were summoned in turn to give their testimony—they had previously been educated in the important functions of modern American society, espionage and mass action. Another occasion is commemorated by the New York Evening Post, the teacher being on trial for disloyalty and the chief count in his indictment that he desired an early peace, and his accuser, one Dr. John Tildsley (a superintendent of schools) . . .. .
“ ‘Are you interested in having this man discharged?’
“ ‘I am,’ said Dr. Tildsley.
“ ‘Do you know of any act that would condemn him as a teacher?’
“ ‘Yes,’ said Dr. Tildsley, ‘he favored an early peace.’
“ ‘Don’t you want an early, victorious peace?’
“ ‘Why ask me a question like that?’
“ ‘Because I want to show you how unfair you have been to this teacher.’
“ ‘But Mr. Mufson wanted an early peace without victory,’ said Dr. Tildsley.
“ ‘He didn’t say that, did he? He did not say an early peace without victory?’,
“ ‘Then you don’t want an early peace, do you?’
“ ‘You want a prolongation of all this world misery?’
“ ‘To a certain extent, yes,’ said Dr. Tildsley.”
The history of those days is a black page in the books. But a page to be read well and clearly, because it’s happening again.