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Winsted, MN Conscript Advocates Censorship and Internment of "Disloyal" Citizens
Before leaving to fight in France, an American conscript from Winsted, Minnesota, sent this strongly worded letter to Senator Knute Nelson, in which he criticized the U.S. government’s excessive valuation of freedom of speech. According to this soldier, the principle of freedom of speech was “rapidly promoting disloyalty and sedition” at a time when their consequences were extremely dire. The author argued that any American opposition to the war encouraged the German Army abroad, thus lengthening the conflict and resulting in more U.S. casualties. By this logic, those that criticized the United States in a time of war were “murderers by every law of Heaven and Earth.” In order to protect pro-American sentiment on the Home Front, the author would resort to extreme measures: shutting down all newspapers that were deemed anti-American and adopting the practice of internment or deportation for all disloyal citizens. In conclusion, the author promised Senator Nelson that he and his fellow soldiers could hold the Front, but it was Nelson’s duty to “keep the copperheads and hyenas from knifing [them] in the rear.”
Winsted, Minn., Aug 22nd, 1917
The United States of America is at war with the German Government for the express purpose of thrashing hell out of the Kaiser and the Krupp gun works, to help make the world a fit place for human beings to live in. Unrestricted freedom of speech is rapidly promoting disloyalty and sedition. Liberty has degenerated into license. The work of German propagandists is running rampant thru the land. Under the guise of socialism, or of anti draft meetings, or of peace councils, certain men are openly spreading anti American traitorous doctrines. Such agitation from the platform or thru the press is well calculated to breed discontent, and hinder our gorenment [sic] in every insidious and treacherous way in its supreme effort of carrying the war to a successful and speedy end. It seems that the honor of our country and our flag needs protection with the bayonet and the Lewis machine gun quite as much at home as it does abroad. Is there a single reason why disloyal citizens should not at least be interned or deported, -or why all seditious sheets should not be destroyed? Every man and woman who talks or writes at this time of non-support and obstruction of the duly elected and sworn officials of this government is aiding comforting, and encouraging the enemy. The more talk of this kind, the longer will Germany certainly hold out, and hence the more of our boys who will be killed and wounded in battle. Therefore, anyone expressing anti-American views are murderers by every law of Heaven or Earth. The chiefest of these are traitors like Bentall, Van Lear and Pfaender, - who when justice is done will be introduced to a stone wall and a firing squad. I am speaking as a loyal American conscript awaiting Uncle Sam's call to duty on the battle fields of France, and for all the boys there now, and soon to be there. [...] Before we go across the Atlantic, we would like to know whether or not all American citizens are going to give us a fair change. Are you going to think about us when we are gone and pray for us? Are you going to stand back of us ? We can take care of the front, but for God's sake, we plead, keep the copperheads and hyenas from knifing us in the rear.
Citation: Knute Nelson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.I.13.2F Box 26