On this day in 1919, Eugene V Debs started his ten year prison sentence for the crime of encouraging people to resist the draft for that great moral cause World War I. He would eventually spend just short of five years. He was prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917. You might be aware of that law because it was basically never used until that great civil libertarian Barack Obama became president. Obama really is a great example of why the Democratic Party is nothing more than “not quite as bad as the Republican Party.”
Debs was 63 years old when he was sent off to jail. If he had served out his entire term, he would have died in jail. His case is an excellent reminder that there really isn’t that much difference between the United States and other countries. I remember as a kid hearing all the horror stories about life in the Soviet Union. But for most people, it really wasn’t any different — except that the United States was a richer country.
I remember during the Reagan administration, a young girl being praised for turning in her parents to the authorities. It seems that her parents were cocaine dealers. That was the kind of thing I had been told about the Soviet Union: kids turned in their parents for political crimes. What I didn’t realize until I heard the story of the little girl was that countries never call their own crimes “political.” They call them crimes against society — like the terrible crime of selling cocaine to willing buyers.
They say that the truth is the first casualty of war. But Debs wasn’t first imprisoned during war. He was imprisoned for labor organizing. He was imprisoned for standing up to the powerful. And the powerful act the same way wherever you go. America isn’t exceptional in that way. In the control that the rich have over our government, we are pathetically typical.
We mark this one of millions of injustices that the United States government has committed against its people.