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Town Meeting, Part IV
Bulletin of America’s Town Meeting of the Air
Wolcott D. Street, Editor

January 23, 1939, Vol. 4, no. 11


Our fourth and last speaker is Mr. Morris L. Ernst, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Ernst:

Before discussing whether America is menaced by foreign propaganda, let us examine what feature of our social structure is under attack.

The outstanding contribution of this nation to the history of the world is our constitutional declaration and later expansion of the concept of a Bill of Rights.

For my part, I am addicted to the Bill of Rights and free speech, free press, public assemblage, and freedom of religion. My faith in these processes stems from a simple idea. Given a piece of land such as we possess—capable of a self-contained detached economy—our ultimate wealth or poverty depends on nothing but the development of the human mind. Under the high privilege of a Bill of Rights, individual self-discipline is a root of man’s behavior. Under a dictatorship, force from above takes the place of self-control. The capacity of humanity to read and listen and then select is replaced, under dictators, by a Hitler or a Stalin. Then the mind of man is no longer open to the free play of human forces, but is enslaved, instead, to those peculiar ideas which happen at the moment to agree with the prejudices of the then dictator. The believers in communism and fascism alike, no matter what they may say publicly, prove by the example of their actions when in power that they believe that freedom of thought is a negligible right. Communism and fascism represent the two current political movements which frankly favor governmental censorship for the masses of workers. Other forces are operating contra democracy but these two are truly significant because they are avowedly out to grab power.

These religious movements are perfectly willing to sacrifice a free market in thought because each believes that its particular type of dictator will bring humanity to a peculiarly pleasant heaven and that the end is so beautiful that any means are justified in its attainment. For my part I feel that there is no more corrupting philosophy in the world than that of the dictatorship, right or left, namely, that the end justifies the means.

I inject two examples as symbols of the precious treasure of our society: First, this Town Hall could not exist in Moscow, Tokyo, Rome, or Berlin. Second, the recent pardon of Mooney is a great compliment to the democratic process. In Russia, Italy, Germany, and Japan, countless Mooneys are killed before benefit of pardon. Here, through the power of town halls and a free press and the precious privilege of public protest, Governor Olson, as our social instrument, corrected a shocking error in the judicial process.

For my part, I think that this nation will benefit by the attack of those who want dictators of the left or the right. Their campaigns will make us alive to the defects of our economic system. This propaganda gives fair warning that adequate food and shelter and jobs and health must be the prompt pursuit of our Government. If we are honest, we must admit that the basic menace which invites the propaganda of dictators is symbolized by ten million people out of work. On this domestic menace the foreign agencies of the left and the right thrive in parasitic fashion. We are now put on notice that expansion of the human mind is not unrelated to contraction of the human stomach. We who believe in democracy and the Bill of Rights must do battle for it. You can’t beat a horse with no horse.

In more definite terms the dangers of the dictator movements in the United States stem from the dishonesty of those who move in the direction of communism or fascism. Believing as they do that the end justifies the means, they are careless about the truth and are not at all inhibited about a certain amount of conniving and cheating in order to gain their ends. Democracy must develop new defenses against such tactics of stealth.

We must soon put the national searchlight on these propaganda movements. We must resent the anonymity of any action that touches the political field. Political parties in a democracy must always be above ground and in the open. The full operation of the Bill of Rights negates the necessity for political secrecy.

Holding to this general philosophy, I am of course impelled to decry the great disservice done to the cause of democracy by the Dies Committee. It did not try to define what it thought to be subversive. To that Committee all change is subversive. It is only fair to say that the newspapers did a wretched job in the reporting of Mr. Dies. As an example, they ridiculed him for calling Shirley Temple a communist, which he did not do. On the other hand, Mr. Dies promised at the opening of the hearings to prevent character "assassination." He went completely sour on this pledge. Persons attached were given no opportunity to answer. The record is replete with the wildest kinds of inferences as to people and organizations, all of which has further confused the public in deciding who are for democracy and who for dictatorship. No one knows the number of people or amount of dollars now employed in this country to undermine or subvert our Bill of Rights, not limited to a foreign source of propaganda.

I think a swell job can and should be done to bring to the light of day all propaganda for destruction of the Bill of Rights not limited to foreign sources. I believe that a Social Exchange Commission is more needed than one that involves merely stocks and bonds. The background and sponsorship of attack on our Bill of Rights should be exposed—to as much public good as the antecedents of stock certificates. But I am confident that any development of the democratic thesis, if associated with the name or the past strategy of Mr. Martin Dies, will prove to be less than wholesome. No impartial, decent believer in democracy could have carried on as he did. He fanned prejudices and turned his back on facts. Some day someone can conduct a real inquiry, get the true records of the hundreds of dictator organizations, their tie-ups with Europe, their anonymous reprints, their attempts to arm and drill, and the sources of their financial power. If all the truth is out in the open, the public can then make its own choice of its way of life. As long as we maintain intellectual freedom, our people can change and rechange our economic structure as they se fit. As soon as minds are throttled by dictated news and press and radio we become slaves to a dictatorship and impotent to make a change. An economy not subject to change by popular reaction must in time become sterile. By free speech we can appraise and accept liberal and radical programs.

The menace of foreign propaganda is on us. We must do battle with it by removing the economic distress on which it thrives, and by ever-vigilant exposure of all its activities. And let me call to your attention in closing the words of our greatest American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Foolish and dangerous views are like champagne; they get flat, the more fully they are exposed to the air."


Thank you, Mr. Ernst! Now, so that we may try to get this issue a little more joined, I am going to ask each of the speakers to comment on what has been said by the other speakers in a brief, two-minute summary or rebuttal; and I will start first with Mr. Channing Pollock.

Editor’s Note: Look for Part V in the coming days and weeks ahead.
Al Colombo, publisher


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