One hundred years ago on October 29th, 1917, Ben Salmon self-published a pamphlet entitled Killing the Wrong Men, that he hoped would eventually "cob-web" the United States when citizens bought and distributed his circular. The cover letter Ben sent and a copy of the circular are available as a .pdf file here
It is worth noting that radical Catholic Ben Salmon included the footnote: "Our slogan: Loyalty! First to God, then to our country."
As Secretary of the Denver Branch of the People's Council of America for Democracy and Peace, Ben advocated, in his circular, a peaceful resolution to the war the US had recently entered. Circulation of such a "seditious" and "treasonous" (in 1917 America had war fever) idea quickly launched an investigation by the US Bureau of Investigation (the predecessor to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)), led to the revocation of mailing privileges for the circular, and also caused the Knights of Columbus to expel Ben from membership. The result of all this denigration interrupted the distribution of the circular. However, Ben quickly rebounded and got out an improved circular a few weeks later, though it didn't fare any better with the censors. Details can be found at http://www.bensalmon.org/pamphlets.html
Though the Government plagued Ben and his neighbors with its investigation, the final result was that Ben was not prosecuted (the case was closed when Ben was sentenced to hard labor by the US Army) and his threatening pamphlets were preserved in the Bureau archives to be read in the 21st century.
Ben Salmon in America
Ben Salmon appears in the online edition of America, The Jesuit Review. On September 22, 2017, America magazine published an article entitled: "In 1918, this American Catholic accepted a death sentence rather than go to war." Author Barry Hudock outlines Ben Salmon's conscientious objection and actions opposing war, anchored on Ben's Catholic faith, and states: "Ben Salmon may one day be recognized as a prophet who helped lead his church in a direction as surprising as it is consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ." When Ben was standing against killing during WW1, the Catholic church in America was doing all it could to aid the war effort and Ben's witness went largely unnoticed. Hudock presents a timely update on the Catholic view of war, noting that the 'Just War' doctrine of Saints Ambrose, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and other medieval theologians has not been rigorously reviewed and only made "its first substantive appearance in an ecclesiastical document in the 1992 catechism" and thus has "little" doctrinal weight. A quote from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger points out the Catechism adds no doctrinal authority to Just War theory but simply documents it. Hudock then presents statements made by the three most recent Popes illustrating the Church's progress toward that day when, as Ben Salmon wrote a century ago, "...the Pope will officially declare that the command to not kill means to not kill."
Barry Hudock's article on Ben Salmon should be read by everyone in this time of perpetual war to learn of Ben's witness and to learn of the hope shown by the Church's movement from treating pacifist Salmon as an embarrassment to several present-day papal statements praising peaceful revolution and exhorting everyone to embrace Jesus' nonviolence teachings.
And please share this article and the revelation of the Church espousing nonviolence freely through social media and with folks at Mass and at other community interactions.
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