With the previous blog post linking to remembrances of Ben Salmon by his daughter, Sister Elizabeth Salmon, the present post will present remembrances of Ben by people who met him on his journey from railway clerk to hunger striking conscientious objector over the years of 1917 to 1920. Quotes from Ben's contemporaries, including government agents and fellow COs, are presented chronologically below. Spelling and grammar of the quotes are as they were originally written.
The Bureau of Investigation, predecessor to the FBI, began investigating Ben Salmon for publishing "Killing the Wrong Men" on October 29, 1917. Operative Goddars interviewed Ben on November 21st and reported the following:
"...Ben J. Salmon of Denver...is an attorney, young, well educated and full of misdirected energy. He wants publicity...(I) do not think Salmon will give us much trouble in future."
Goddars was clearly an optimist as the Bureau of Investigation investigation continued until Ben was sentenced to 25 years in military prison a year later in October 1918. Goddars was also one of several who overestimated Ben's legal credentials. Ben was well versed in law through self study and represented himself capably in several legal proceedings even though his formal education ended at the eighth grade. He was also estimated to be equivalent to a college graduate by the staff of St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the Insane.
A Denver letter carrier, Perley Doe, was tried under the Espionage Act for questioning a statement made by President Wilson on the reason Germany entered the war. Perley asked the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB, which became the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in January, 1920) where he might find a lawyer who could handle his case and the NCLB, which had been in correspondence with Ben Salmon, recommended Salmon’s lawyer in Denver. Perley replied:
“Whitehead, of Whitehead and Vogl of whom you speak, is a Socialist I understand. He is attorney in Ben Salmon case here. Ben Salmon is Sec. of Colorado Single Tax League and I think a member of National Executive Com., a well known Denver man. He has been convicted for refusing to fill out his questionnaire. He has publicly said from the first that he would not go into the army and shoot anyone as it was against his religion to kill anyone. His is a sad case as he is a young man recently married with a promising future for public service ahead of him.”
(Perley Doe letter to NCLB Counsel Walter Nelles, March 7, 1918)
Perley had much foresight for Ben was not “kidnapped” by the Army until May, 1918 and was out on bail and freely going about his business when this letter was written.
Jacob S. Waldner, a Hutterite Brethren member, wrote of Ben Salmon at Camp Funston, Kansas in his (translated) diary for Saturday, June 29th, 1918:
"At 8:15 this morning we were all called together at the shady spot where we usually eat our noon meals. A lieutenant read to us the military laws. He was Lt. Schmutz. There are 80 articles or laws. We had a Catholic among us by the name of Semon (Salmon). He refused to work because his beliefs do not coincide with two of the articles. He is against bloodshed and infant baptism. In these two points he does not agree with the Catholics. He was a speaker (Redner) or lawyer, who knew all the laws by heart. Several times he silenced the lieutenant by his technical questions. The officer had merely tried to frighten us by reading these regulations to us."
The translator retained the German word Redner, which translates literally as speaker, but more likely was used by Jacob to mistake Ben for a lawyer.
The next quote is taken from a letter by Erling Lunde, a fellow CO who was released in late 1919. Lunde wrote on December 2nd, 1919 to Lee Ustick, who was collecting CO experiences to be compiled in a book that was eventually published as “The Conscientious Objector in America” by Norman Thomas in 1923, giving a view of the support Ben was getting from the congregation back home:
“In Ben Salmon’s case his brother John begged him at first to go to work and do as the authorities wished so that visiting privileges etc would not be curtailed, but later when he understood his brother left him to stand as he saw fit. Salmon’s mother stood behind him heart and soul while his wife, “worked on” by her many Catholic friends and relatives, was urged to repudiate her husband’s stand completely.”
Ingmar Iverson, a fellow CO (for humanitarian reasons) released in late 1919, also writing to Lee Ustick of his experiences in military prison stated on February 27, 1920:
“Salmon was one of the bravest men that I have ever met. He had refused to appear for physical examination. His home was Denver. He was married and his mother was also dependent on him for support. In returning his questionnaire he had told them that he would not fill it out. It was not right to draft people for a war. Seeing that he did not fill out his questionnaire, he was classified in class A. They were going to induct him right away. Salmon was sent to Fort Logan, from there he was transferred to Camp Funston. He came to Camp Dodge July 3rd as one of the 163 objectors that was transferred from Funston to Dodge. He was at liberty here. But he was lodged in the guard house because they alleged that he was carrying on a propaganda. He had given a few friend a printed copy of a letter that he had sent to President Wilson, a letter in which he said that the time had come to take issue and stand against the war. This letter had been written in Dec. of 1918. I have a copy of it somewhere. Salmon was a member of the Socialist Party but he was also a Catholic and a very faithful worker in the Church. His objection was principally religious. A chaplain came to the guard house and tried to argue with him once, but Salmon snowed him under so bad that it was almost a pity. All the prisoners listened to the discussion and they plainly showed that they considered the Chaplain was no match for Salmon. The chaplain had to leave in complete defeat. Well Salmon was tried and some time after he was sent to the Military Guard house."
This encounter with a non-Catholic chaplain was described in Ben’s Magnum Opus on page 29, where Chaplain Smith ended the discussion with an extra-Biblical teaching: “Well, in a time like this, we have to get off the track a little."
Now we turn to a few reports by military personnel in charge of General Prisoner Ben Salmon. The first official is a psychiatrist documenting an assessment of Ben done in April, 1920 at Fort Douglas, Utah:
"Since his confinement here he has been known as an agitator and somewhat of a trouble maker. States he has had many complaints to offer since coming here. That he has a complaint to offer regarding the misrepresentation of the work issue.... Attitude of indifference, and “positively in opposition to helping the killing machine.” Mood is happy. Stream of thought free and revelant. Judgment shows defect. Insight only fair. States he is a Christian which include Humanitarian principles. Denies the presence of delusions or hallucinations. Calculations well done. Grades above the average in intellect. Oriented in all spheres. This man is of a psychopathic make-up but no definite sign or symptoms of a psychosis in evidence at this time."
(E B M Casey, 1st Lt Medical Corps, Psychiatrist, Fort Douglas, Utah, April 6, 1920)
So Ben was happy even after two years in the military justice system and after months in the “hole”. The telling phrase in this report is: “Judgment is defective.” Throughout his Magnum Opus Ben addresses this diagnosis and presents many historical figures who could have been accused of defective judgment.
Ben Salmon began his "Liberty or Death" hunger strike on July 13, 1920, three months after the psychoanalysis chronicled above. Since Ben had not repudiated his beliefs under standard military protocol and his strike was threatening to the Army, his sanity was reassessed in July, 1920:
"He was in a stage of religious exaltation and had a fixed systematized delusion that he would holy reform the world by sacrificing himself as an example of Christian brotherly love....Under observation for mental disease."
(R. C.Loving, Lt Col. Med. Corp, Ft. Douglas, Utah, July 28, 1920)
This diagnosis gave Ben a one-way ticket to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D. C. where he arrived on July 31st for a sanity evaluation.
Vera Quinn, a friend, visited with Ben on August 24th, 1920 (the 43rd day of Ben's hunger strike) and in a letter to Roger Baldwin, Director of the ACLU, reported:
"Salmon was brought into the room and, were it not that I expected to see Benjamin Salmon I would never have recognized the man who came forward to greet me. Thin, pale, and emaciated, he appeared too weak to stand, but he greeted me in his calm pleasant manner with no reference to the suffering he must have endured to reach that condition."
ACLU Director Roger Baldwin then visited Ben at St. Elizabeth's on August 28th and reported the following observations:
"He came with an alert step and bright eye, although he has been on hunger strike since July 13th....Salmon looked thin, and a two month's beard emphasized his sallow thinness....He spends his time writing up a history of himself and his views for the physicians' examination which is due about Sept. 7. He writes about 5000 words a day, even in his weakened condition, for the report is required to be in minute detail....His attitude is singularly cheerful for a man in his position. He has an alert sense of humor, and says he spent most of his first night laughing at the ridiculousness of being placed in a walled building for the criminal insane, when his only crime has been resolutely to refuse military service on religious grounds....He was amused particularly at the War Department's elaborate precautions in bringing him from Fort Douglas, Utah, in a compartment of a Pullman car with two armed guards, the medical officer of the barracks, and the Commandant himself....Of course there is no question among sensible folks as to Salmon's sanity."
Following that visit there was much written communication between Ben and Roger Baldwin, both working to speed up the sanity hearing and then to achieve clemency for Ben. In Baldwin's letters there were the following thoughts:
"It's marvelous how you keep up your courage and wholesome mental condition."
(September 25th, 1920.)
"You certainly have a great memory for facts....Don't thank us for what we are doing. It is a privilege to help a man who stands for what you do." (October 12th, 1920)
"I wouldn't presume to advise any man to hunger-strike or not to hunger-strike, but I know when a man has made out a good case for his own conduct and you have done that....Hunger-striking seems to improve your literary style. I may try it myself." (October 14th, 1920)
After two months of observation by the psychiatric staff of St. Elizabeth's, Ben was adjudged "not insane" and the staff conveyed their findings to the Army's Adjutant General as follows:
"For your further information, I might say that this man is a rather unusual type of personality. For years he has apparently engaged in activities originating in opposition to certain established usages of society, and in the pursuit of his destructive criticism and expression of his antipathies, he has engaged in rather voluminous literary activities. At the time of the entrance of the United States into the war, he took a decided stand in opposition to what he termed “Militarism,” and his opinions became crystallized in a determination to refuse to obey any orders or laws emanating from or benefiting the military organization in any way. This attitude of his was not in accordance with the tenets of his religion, which is Roman Catholic, but were the result, he states, of his own study of the bible and his conception of applied Christianity. His so-called hunger strike (which is only nominally one, by the way) is his method of protesting against the war and the army as by acquiescing in their methods as exemplified in his imprisonment, he feels that he would be sacrificing his moral convictions."
(Oct 4, 1920 letter to The Adjutant General, War Department, Washington, D. C. from Dr. Lind, First Assistant Physician, St Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Insane, Washington, D. C.)
The Army was not swift in relocating Ben and he continued to offer suggestions for improving the care of patients at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, which seem to have prompted another letter to the Adjutant General:
"We are calling your attention again to this matter, in view of the peculiar personality of this patient, which makes it undesirable to our mind, to retain him in a hospital of this sort. He is very active in many ways which are not conducive to the best welfare of the hospital, and as he is aware that he has been pronounced as not suffering from mental disorder, it is not improbable that he may in the future make his continued retention in a hospital such as this, a subject for complaint or legal action of some sort. At any rate, we cannot help feeling that his transfer to some other sphere of activity would be for the best interests of the hospital here and therefore may we respectfully ask that you expedite this, if in any manner possible?"
(Oct 28, 1920 letter from First Assistant Physician Lind to Adjutant General.)
Physician Lind was not alone in advocating for Ben's relocation as the ACLU also pleaded his case to move him out of the wing for the criminally insane. Ben was finally transferred to Walter Reed Hospital on November 12th.
Dean Stone was a member of the three man Board of Inquiry that examined the sincerity of each Conscientious Objector, between June, 1918 and January, 1919, and recommended their disposition. No official Board of Inquiry judgment was recorded for Ben Salmon but Stone later wrote:
"We examined Salmon at length and were of the opinion that he was conscientious in his objection. He is a religious fanatic of the kind that would go to any extreme to avoid military service which he regarded as an unconscientious and wicked act, contrary to his religious belief and his moral standards....I think that an investigation would convince the authorities of the War Department that Salmon’s case is a proper one for clemency."
(Dean Stone to an unnamed person in the Wilson administration, quoted in a letter by Carl Whitehead, Ben’s original attorney, to Roger Baldwin, Nov 11, 1920)
A couple years after all the COs were released, Norman Thomas wrote a history of WW I Conscientious Objectors and had the following to say about Ben:
"There was Ben Salmon, a Roman Catholic and single-taxer, and on both grounds an objector to war. In July, 1920, he determined to hunger strike. He had previously refused even to cook his own meals, but a fellow objector at Fort Douglas had done it for him. The release of this objector ended their curious arrangement and precipitated the strike. Since Salmon did not believe in violence he did not resist forcible feeding. He was resolved, however, that he would not help the government to hold him a prisoner by so much as eating. The War Department had tried every means to persuade him to eat. Finally it transferred him to the government hospital for the insane in Washington. After three month’s observation the doctors finally pronounced him sane. He persisted in his refusal to eat until his release in November, 1920. That was the most dramatic event of the last months of the imprisonment of objectors. The Civil Liberties Bureau took his case into the District of Columbia courts on a writ of habeas corpus. The case was pending when Mr.Baker released Salmon and the rest of the objectors."
(The Conscientious Objector in America, Norman Thomas, B. W. Huebsch, Inc., New York, 1923, p. 247)
Finally, Ammon Hennacy, a fellow CO, remembered Ben in his autobiography:
"...I told at that meeting of my friend Ben Salmon, a Catholic, Single
Taxer, vegetarian who had done time in Leavenworth and who still in jail,
after the war was over, had gone on a hunger strike for over three months and thus
obtained the release of the remaining 45 CO's in Ft. Riley. (He had begun the
hunger strike at Ft.Riley and continued it at St.Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D. C.) Selma and I had visited Ben in Washington, D. C. where he was rooming with the guard who had forcibly fed him at St.Elizabeth's Hospital, and whom he had converted to pacifism." (Ammon Hennacy, Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist, Catholic Worker Books, New York, N. Y., 1954, p.48)
2/5/2017 08:27:58 pm
I suggest a reference be made to mention of Ben Salmon by Howard W. Moore in his autobiography "Plowing My Own Furrow," (Syracuse Univ. Press, 1993) on pages 118, 128, 141, 153, 157 Salmon and Moore were inmates at the Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks.
2/7/2017 08:47:25 pm
Thanks for the suggestion. Howard Moore is one of many voices, such as Eugene Debs, Catherine Salmon, and others, that will be presented in a future blog post. Stay tuned.
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