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"No War By Any Nation in Any Age Has Ever Been Declared By the People"

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Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs spoke out against World War I, and all wars, in a speech on June 16, 1918 in Canton, Ohio. Because of this speech, Debs was arrested two weeks later, charged with ten counts of sedition, and sentenced to ten years in prison under the Espionage Act of 1917. While in prison, Debs ran for president in 1921 and received nearly one million votes. He served two years, eight months in prison before having his sentence commuted (for health reasons) by President Harding in 1921.

Image: Library of Congress

Here are excerpts from his 1918 Canton speech:

"Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages, when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth, they declared war upon one another.

"But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street, go to war. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages--the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day--declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles". 

"And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose--especially their lives. 
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"They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world, you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people. 

"And here let me emphasize the fact--and it cannot be repeated too often--that the working class that fights all the battles, the working class that makes the supreme sacrifices, the working class that freely sheds its blood and furnishes the corpses, has never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace.

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"It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace. "Yours not to reason why; Yours but to do and die.' That is  their motto, and we object on the part of the awakening workers of this nation."

From his statement to the judge before sentencing:

"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. 

"I listened to all that was said in this court in support and justification of this prosecution, but my mind remains unchanged. I look upon the Espionage Law as a despotic enactment in flagrant conflict with democratic principles and with the spirit of free institutions"

"Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in a fundamental change--but if possible by peaceable and orderly means"

P.S. The Espionage Act of 1917, though amended over the years, is still in effectPrior to the time President Obama took office, It had been used three times for cases involving government officials providing classified information to the media. It has been used at least six times during the Obama's time in office, including against Bradley Manning. According to David Carr of the  New York Times , "the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security."

Actor Mark Ruffalo reads  Debs's Canton speech :

Arlen is a writer/blogger living in Monterey, CA. His political blog is He writes a weekly quotation quiz "What's Your QQ?" (Quotation Quotient) for the Monterey Herald, as well as a website and (more...)

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Imagine a Socialist Party candidate today getting ... by Arlen Grossman on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 3:52:10 AM
The poling booth should be like a confessional, wh... by Paul Repstock on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 3:10:50 PM
For all the attraction of declaring "people" innoc... by BFalcon on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 11:08:36 PM
It was cut off from school. They (their supporters... by Ad Du on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 6:33:24 AM
Arlen, the subject title is the tentative title fo... by Gary Brumback on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 8:15:12 AM
... ends up being the most important info to have.... by Meryl Ann Butler on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 10:22:34 AM
But the system was rigged against him, as it is no... by B. Ross Ashley on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 1:41:21 PM
"The Court" is a part of the structure, and will n... by Paul Repstock on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 3:06:28 PM
Being the only sheep among the wolves is not a wor... by Ronald Wilson on Friday, Oct 26, 2012 at 11:51:59 PM
And furthermore, if a person is not willing to spe... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 4:37:52 PM
"Will that same conscience be there if a Romney Wh... by Sister Begonia on Sunday, Oct 28, 2012 at 1:43:37 PM
....Adjusted for Political Purposes   Peopl... by Ned Lud on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 6:17:21 AM
Reached #1 in page-views (over 2855) on OpEdNews O... by Arlen Grossman on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 3:20:53 PM
It is the core of what OPed is trying to accomplis... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 3:34:20 PM
Thank you, Paul (I didn't know that Tweet would be... by Arlen Grossman on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 3:41:15 PM
or anywhere in the rest of the world either. The f... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 3:39:51 PM
The powerful have become too powerful.... by Arlen Grossman on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 3:50:10 PM
Regrettably, the people cheered as the boys boarde... by Daniel Vasey on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 5:40:19 PM
yet the trust was betrayed in it's formation. How... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 at 11:57:45 PM
He reminds me of Gen. Smedley Butler even though, ... by Sister Begonia on Sunday, Oct 28, 2012 at 1:39:35 PM


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