Legion Labels Academic Purges "Americanism"
Local Posts Ban Speakers in West Virginia, Books in Arizona and Nebraska Colleges
The American Legion started its '52-'53 crusade with the usual parades, water pistols, and suggestions about "Americanizing" colleges. At the National Convention in August, the Legion's Un-American Activities Committee urged members to brush up on the reports of Congressional investigators and the Legion's own Firing Line--a self-styled guide to subversives. Armed with this information, the veterans found further encouragement in "Now Hear This!," an article appearing in the American Legion Magazine. It was a plea that Legionaires warn their fellows against red tinted lecturers, and if necessary, "picket the meeting. Your fellow citizens . . . might voice displeasure at your 'ways and means' but they do wake up."
Loyalty Oath in Harrison
In response to this appeal, Legionaires across the nation took new interest in the welfare of lecture-goers. In Harrison, New York, the local post united with the Board of Education to push through a loyalty oath required of all who use Harrison school buildings, from visiting college lecturers to Boy Scouts.
Shortly thereafter, on November 12, James M. Landis, Dean emeritus of the Harvard Law School, and Reverend E. Walter Chater, head of a local church, formed a committee to protest the oath. Morally, they appealed that "loyalty cannot, in our opinion, be legislated," while they claimed that the oath was unconstitutional because it read, "I also do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I do not believe in the overthrow of our form of government," condemning lawful, as well as illegal, change.
The following day, the town held a meeting on the bill, and after lengthy debate, a vote showed only one in four favored it. Instead of backing down, however, the Board added three more clauses to the oath.
The committee decided to appeal to the New York State Commissioner of Education, and on December 12 filed a petition. Only then did the Harrison Board of Education give way; it added "unlawful" to the oath. The petitioners still objected, and a decision is now pending.
Protest Lecture in West Virginia
Marshall College in Huntington, West Virginia fell victim to pressure more specific than a loyalty oath. The Legion post in Huntington matched its "guide books" with the proposed lecture series at Marshall College and found three similarities: Margaret Bourke-White, a Life photographer; Paul Engle, a poet; and Professor Max Lerner of Brandeis University. The Legionaires protested vigorously, and finally, the President of the College cancelled the three lectures.
But, during November, the President unexpectedly rescheduled two of them. The third, Professor Lerner's speech, "An Open Mind in an Open Society," was reported under consideration, and later also rescheduled.
Professor Lerner said that the Legion's protest was based on supposition, rather than fact, and that its success was a sign of the growing sentiment that accucation, no matter how unfounded, is tantamount to guilt.
But the Legion did not limit its actions to the lecture halls. In February, the Phoenix chapter tangled with a textbook named "Basic Economics," written by four Rutgers professors. Earlier in the year, the Phoenix Board of Education and the President of Phoenix College read the book and adopted it as standard course material. All went smoothly until the Phoenix Gazette printed an anonymous letter from an ex-army officer calling the book subversive and urging the College to drop it.
Then the local Legion post rushed in and added "socialistically and communistically inclined" to the string of descriptions about "Basic Economics." Later, at a hearing on the book, the letter writer admitted that he had not read it, but merely "glanced through" the book's 500 pages.
The Rutgers professors asked, "Are we to be discredited by the rash complaints of an anonymous person who had 'glanced' at the pages that required years of training and experience, and months of composition on our part?" As if in answer, the Legionaires increased their pressure, until the College dropped the book. Encouraged by this success, they began a campaign to ban "Basic Economics" from the other forty colleges and universities that used it.
Nation of Spies
The Legion tried to suppress another textbook in Nebraska, but with much less success. Joseph Vurardi, chairman of the Legion's Nebraska Un-American Activities Committee, accused "a certain professor" at the University of Nebraska of using "a certain book" in his class. "Students can't swallow that stuff," Vurardi said. The book turned out to be "The State of Asia," a publication of the Institute of Pacific Relations. One of its articles was written by Owen Lattimore. The "indoctrinator" was Dr. E. N. Anderson, professor of history.
Anonymous phone calls from Legionaires to the University brought the matter to the attention of students. The reacion was immediate. The Nebraska University Student Council passed a resolution "expressing complete confidence in the loyalty, integrity, and principles of Dr. Anderson." The Daily Nebraskan said the Legion tactics were creating "a nation of spies." Nothing happened to Anderson or "The State of Asia," but at least one member of the Legion's Un-American activities committee has resigned because of the incident.
Having no crystal ball to foretell the Legion's future actions, the next best indicator is the American Legion Magazine which follows the party line pretty well. Throughout the year, the magazine ran stories showing education in the pinkest spotlight possible, among them, "Our Academic Hucksters." After a barrage of "Smart Alecs," "Brainy Boys," and "Reds," the article asked, "How many courses in contemporary literature use George Orwell's Animal Farm or 1984, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Wittaker Chambers' Witness (probably the greatest autobiography in the world)? Instead they ballyhoo the dull books of the cultural left--Grapes of Wrath, The Little Foxes, Death of a Salesman, or even the destructive barren poetry of Ezra Pound."
The essay's message--more "Americanism" in colleges leaves little hope that the Legion will give education a pause to lick its wounds.