THE LEGION AND THE BOLSHEVIKI
The second session of the caucus began at half past two o'clock Friday afternoon. Like its predecessor it started with a bang. Nominations were made for the third vice-chairman who was to be selected from the marine corps. The first nomination was a wounded man, at the time in the Walter Reed Hospital at Washington and who had won the Distinguished Service Cross at Château-Thierry. Then came the name of Sergeant Woolley of Utah, quickly followed by the name of P.C. Calhoun of Connecticut, put up by Mr. Black of Louisiana; the name of Major Leonard of the District of Columbia also was put in nomination and then the slate was closed.
True to the spirit of the previous meeting the caucus was soon in an uproar of applause for each of the four candidates, three of whom were marched to the stage. Calhoun was elected, with the result that his ardent brother delegates from Connecticut treated him like a football hero by[Pg 82] placing him on their shoulders and performing a snake dance. Marines are no more garrulous than sailor men, for Calhoun's speech of acceptance was just about as long as Humphrey's. While Calhoun was being bombed by flashlight cameras Mr. Smoot of Utah moved that a vote of thanks should be tendered to Colonel Roosevelt and other Legion members who had been active in the preliminary work which insured the success of the caucus and this was seconded by Major Wickersham of New York. One of the most rousing ayes of the entire caucus carried the motion.
Cries of "speech" brought Colonel Roosevelt before the footlights. His remarks were just about as long as Humphrey's and Calhoun's. To be specific he said: "Gentlemen, it is going to be a short speech because I think we have got a lot of business to do. Thank you."
Just about this time the committee reports began to come in, the first of which, that of the Credential Committee, brought the question of Bolshevism to the floor of the caucus. The report read as follows:
"We recommend that all delegates to the American Legion selected and now functioning from the various States, districts, and territories, be seated and accredited with full vote, and that all organizations organized and having delegates [Pg 83]here be allowed one vote with the exception of the Soldiers and Sailors Council, which delegation the Credential Committee recommends shall be excluded from the caucus."
S.H. Curtin, the representative of the Soldiers and Sailors Council of Seattle, pending the action of the Credential Committee, had been accorded a vote at the previous session on all questions that came up before it. The fact that Colonel Wood, the Secretary, took this action was in line with the general spirit of fair play, which was the keynote of the caucus. The Credential Committee's report elicited shouts of approval. Chairman Lindsley after bringing the house to order again said:
"I understand that the delegate from the Soldiers and Sailors Council is here and asks to be heard. Gentlemen, the members of the Committee, I assume, had full knowledge of facts which warranted that report, but there are men here who have not that knowledge. Shall we hear him?"
This statement aroused mixed emotions but Mr. Curtin came to the platform. Word having spread through the theater that he represented the "real Bolshevik outfit" in Seattle, a great many of the delegates began to hoot, jeer, and make cat calls.
"Give the man a hearing," echoed Colonel Roosevelt, who sat with the New York delegation. "Yes, give him a hearing." shouted the majority of the delegates and when the chair had procured order, Curtin made his plea.
"I wish to say, by way of introduction, that though I come from the State of Washington, I am not a member of the Washington Delegation," he said, "I say that out of deference to the members from that State for the reason that I wish to prejudice nobody here against the Washington Delegation. I am not an I.W.W. I never have been and I never intend to be I never have shown any Bolshevik tendency and I defy any man present to prove to the contrary. If you've got proof that Sherman H. Curtin ever was an I.W.W. or made a Bolshevik statement, say so?" He paused here but none answered him to the contrary
"It is true that the organization which I represent has had in the past some I.W.W.'s, and it is true that there are some I.W.W.'s in it now," he continued; "but I am in that organization for the purpose of throwing those I.W.W.'s out. I got in there for the purpose of kicking them out and I want your help."
Here he was interrupted by applause.
"At the present time, we (when I say we, I [Pg 85]mean the particular conservative element which I represent in that organization) have control of the Board and practically all except one office of the organization. We are doing everything in our power to make that a one hundred per cent. American organization, and one of the things that I came down here for was to see that the Legion had in its constitution as a preamble that we pledge ourselves to the principles of democracy as set forth in the constitution of the United States of America.
"I, personally, was the man who rewrote the constitution of the Soldiers and Sailors Council. It was written wrong when I got in there so I changed it. I want you men to stand behind me and help me make this fight. My organization did not give me permission to come here and join this, just as I presume some of your organizations did not give you permission, for the reason that they did not know what this was going to be; but I can see from the spirit that this organization has, that so far, it is on the right path and I am with it and I want you with me.
"I am already only and wholly for the purpose of doing what good we can for the elimination of I. W.W.'s and Bolsheviki. If you are against that, I am with you and if you are with me, I am with you.
"With your permission," he said to the chairman, "I would like to ask the gentleman one question." "Sir," turning to Curtin, "is it or is it not true that you re-wrote the constitution now in effect for your organization, and is it not true that it is so worded that American Army and Naval officers or former army and navy and marine officers of the United States are not eligible? Is that true?"
"I will answer that question and I will answer it in a fair way," Mr. Curtin replied.
"Say yes or no. Is it true?" Mr. Pratt demanded.
"Yes," shouted the crowd. "Say yes or no. Is it true?"
Then pandemonium broke loose in the meeting. The cat calls and boos were renewed. "Put him out!" "Put him out!" "Shut him up!" the crowd demanded. And here I want to pause a moment to say that the enlisted men present gave a mighty concrete sign of the approval of their officers by this denunciation of the constitution of Curtin's outfit.
"I am not here for the purpose of being persecuted," Mr. Curtin shouted. "I am not asking no or yes to anything. But I will say to the gentleman who questioned me that while it is true in letter it is not true in spirit."[Pg 87]
At this juncture Mr. Simon, of the Washington delegation, said that in all fairness to Sergeant Curtin he wanted to say that during the recent demonstration of Bolshevism in Seattle, Curtin commanded a machine gun company on the side of right and law and order.
"I do not speak for his organization," Simon said, "but I speak for a clique in it, headed by Sergeant Curtin, who went into that organization to clean it up, to make it a fair and square one hundred per cent. American organization." The applause of Simon's remarks had scarcely died down when General Moss succeeded in gaining the floor.
"I want to say to the members of this delegation," he said, "that I led the fight against the soldiers' and sailors' organization before the Credential Committee, and I want to say to you gentlemen that we didn't lead a fight personally against this man, but against his organization.' We know the outfit in our country and we do not want that organization in unless the Americans in it come in as individuals. I want to say that we are to be organized here on a basis of one hundred per cent, true Americanism.
"I asked Curtin in the presence of the committee if he represented a minority or a majority in his outfit and he admitted that he represented the minority."[Pg 88]
"But we can lick a majority," Curtin shouted back. "I want Captain McDonald who had charge of the Intelligence Department at Camp Lewis to say a word on this subject. He knows the history of my organization and I would like to have him give it to you." But if Curtin counted on McDonald to help him he reckoned without his host.
Captain McDonald rose and speaking with great deliberation said:
"I have been an American soldier for thirty years. I was a regular telegraph officer at the time of the Bolshevik trouble. I established stations at Seattle and Camp Lewis and this man represents the real element that we are all working against. Personally he is all right but he is backing that organization because he wants to represent it. If he desires to be admitted into the Legion let him get loose from that outfit and come in by himself."
Captain McDonald's statement was greeted with enthusiasm.
"Are you ready for the question?" demanded the chairman.
The caucus certainly was.
"Those favoring the adoption of the credentials report vote aye," he cried.
That aye answered the question of what the American soldier thinks of Bolshevism or anything tainted with it. That aye answered the lying statement that our troops abroad had been inoculated with the germ of the world's greatest mental madness.
That aye marked the distinction between a grouch caused by a cootie-lined bunk and a desire to place a bomb under the Capitol at Washington.
I have intimated that the chief aim of each delegate was to see that no one "put anything over" at this caucus. I think that the only other determination which might rival that in intensity was most apparent at the mention of anything that pertained to or bordered on Bolshevism. This incident of ousting Curtin's organization was not the only manifestation of it by any means, although it was perhaps the most striking on the floor of the caucus. But, outside the caucus, in the hotel lobbies, and in the various committee rooms, whenever the subject came up these soldier and sailor men, in almost every instance, got mad—damn mad.
"The trouble with these people who talk Bolshevism is that they don't know anything about our country," I heard one of them say.
Another quickly interrupted him with, "The big [Pg 90]thing the Legion's got to teach is Americanism and let those crack-brained fools know just what this country stands for." While still another injected, "The average 'long-beard' has been so crazed by persecution in Russia that he would mistake Peacock Alley in the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for a Siberian coal mine."
This last remark brought forth a laugh, and though it was whimsically made it illuminated the matter under discussion very well, I thought. In fact, the whole conversation made clear to me one of the fundamental missions the Legion must perform.
The seeds of Americanism which Legion members sow to-day will be reaped, not only to-day but in the generations of to-morrow. The Soldiers and Sailors Council, Seattle, was thrown out and its representative knew why. But, if Jack Sullivan and his red, white, and blue colleagues in the State of Washington preach in the future what they did at this caucus, the children of those northwestern Bolsheviki will not only salute the Stars and Stripes, but will know why they do so. They will know what their fathers don't—that the constitution means Americanism and that Americanism means "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness."
In most conventions the reports of committees are invariably adopted. There are many reasons [Pg 91]for this, the particular one being the theory that when a set of men are placed on a task they will study the situation in all its angles, in all its ramifications, in all its different phases and that its report should therefore be adopted because of this expert thought and study on the matters under consideration. I say that most conventions do this. Once as a newspaper man, I attended an undertakers' convention. It always did so. And at another time I attended a manufacturers' gathering where this procedure was invariably followed out. But how about at St. Louis? Not on your life! The delegates of the American Legion were neither like undertakers nor manufacturers nor like any-other business men that I ever saw during ten years on a Metropolitan newspaper. The new American doesn't do business that way.
Witness the report of the Committee on Name. This report read: "We, your Committee on Name, unanimously make the following recommendation—that the name of this organization be the American Legion of World War Veterans." The chairman had scarcely finished asking: "What is your pleasure gentlemen" when Major Wickersham got the floor and moved an amendment that the name be "The American Legion." This was seconded by Mr. Cochrane of Ohio and then came the argument about it.[Pg 92]
Mr. Shank of Ohio, thought that the American Legion did not convey a sufficient meaning to the average civilians. "The American Legion might be an organization of street cleaners, it doesn't signify soldiers. It isn't comprehensive enough," he said. Mr. Larry of Florida countered with, "Go ahead and call it American Legion, we will soon show them what it means."
Mr. Walsh of Pennsylvania, suggested that the A.E.F. knew what it was doing when they called it the American Legion. "Let us honor them and respect them by calling it the American Legion," he urged. Colonel E. Lester Jones, of Washington, stated the name had been considered by the committee most carefully and—
But why go into all the arguments. The motion to call it the American Legion was carried amid cheering and as such the name will go down into the history of things well done for America.