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.
Friends of Franz & Ben are pleased to offer a brief but poignant comment about the moral courage of conscientious objector Franz Jagerstatter. Robert Ellsberg, publisher of Orbis Books and author of All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, knows courage in the midst of crisis. During the Vietnam War, Robert's father, Daniel Ellsberg, released what became known as the Pentagon Papers. Robert's father said that after reading of the courage of Franz Jagerstatter, Austrian Catholic who refused to cooperate with Nazism, he felt compelled to release the history of the United States Government's secret expansion of the Vietnam War. Robert Ellsberg describes Jagerstatter’s courageous journey to trial in Berlin and beheading for refusing to swear allegiance to Nazism. Ellsberg then urges us to follow our consciences with the strength and resolve Jagerstatter had.
Franz Jagerstatter's ordeal parallels the witness of Ben Salmon during the earlier World War 1. This website is dedicated to the message of Ben Salmon, a Denver, Colorado Catholic, who refuted the Catholic doctrine of Just War and followed his conscience thru forced induction, court-martial, imprisonment in "The Hole", torture, and finally a hunger strike that led to his release, but also impaired his health for his remaining days. Please browse this site to learn more of these men who obeyed their Consciences.
Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, http://vcnv.org, attended the prayer vigil that was held at Ben Salmon's grave on June 20, 2017 and posted the following description of the event at www.huffingtonpost.com on July 10, 2017 and also on the vcnv.org site at http://vcnv.org/2017/07/10/aint-no-such-thing-as-a-just-war-ben-salmon-wwi-resister/
“Ain’t No Such Thing as A Just War” – Ben Salmon, WWI resister
July 10, 2017
Several days a week, Laurie Hasbrook arrives at the Voices office here in Chicago. She often takes off her bicycle helmet, unpins her pant leg, settles into an office chair and then leans back to give us an update on family and neighborhood news. Laurie’s two youngest sons are teenagers, and because they are black teenagers in Chicago they are at risk of being assaulted and killed simply for being young black men. Laurie has deep empathy for families trapped in war zones. She also firmly believes in silencing all guns.
Lately, we’ve been learning about the extraordinary determination shown by Ben Salmon, a conscientious objector during World War I who went to prison rather than enlist in the U.S. military. Salmon is buried in an unmarked grave in Mount Carmel Cemetery, on the outskirts of Chicago.
In June, 2017, a small group organized by “Friends of Franz and Ben” gathered at Salmon’s gravesite to commemorate his life.
Mark Scibilla Carver and Jack Gilroy had driven to Chicago from Upstate NY, carrying with them a life size icon bearing an image of Salmon, standing alone in what appeared to be desert sands, wearing a prison-issue uniform that bore his official prison number. Next to the icon was a tall, bare, wooden cross. Rev. Bernie Survil, who organized the vigil at Salmon’s grave, implanted a vigil candle in the ground next to the icon. Salmon’s grand-niece had come from Moab, Utah, to represent the Salmon family. Facing our group, she said that her family deeply admired Salmon’s refusal to cooperate with war. She acknowledged that he had been imprisoned, threatened with execution, sent for a psychiatric evaluation, sentenced to 25 years in prison, a sentence which was eventually commuted, and unable to return to his home in Denver for fear of being killed by antagonists. Charlotte Mates expressed her own determination to try and follow in his footsteps, believing we all have a personal responsibility not to cooperate with wars.
Bernie Survil invited anyone in the circle to step forward with a reflection. Mike Bremer, a carpenter who has spent three months in prison for conscientious objection to nuclear weapons, pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and stepped forward to read from an article by Rev. John Dear, written several years ago, in which Dear notes that Ben Salmon made his brave stance before the world had ever heard of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, or Mohandas Gandhi. There was no Catholic Worker, no Pax Christi, and no War Resisters League to support him. He acted alone, and yet he remains connected to a vast network of people who recognize his courage and will continue telling his story to future generations.
Had his wisdom and that of numerous war resisters in the U.S. prevailed, the U.S. would not have entered W.W. I. The author of War Against War, Michael Kazin, conjectures about how W.W. I would have ended if the U.S. had not intervened. “The carnage might have continued for another year or two,” Kazin writes, “until citizens in the warring nations, who were already protesting the endless sacrifices required, forced their leaders to reach a settlement. If the Allies, led by France and Britain, had not won a total victory, there would have been no punitive peace treaty like that completed at Versailles, no stab-in-the back allegations by resentful Germans, and thus no rise, much less triumph, of Hitler and the Nazis. The next world war, with its 50 million deaths, would probably not have occurred.”
But the U.S. did enter WWI, and since that time each U.S. war has caused a rise in taxpayer contributions to maintain the MIC, the Military-Industrial complex, with its vise-like grip on educating the U.S. public and marketing U.S. wars. Spending for militarism trumps social spending. Here in Chicago, where the number of people killed by gun violence is the highest in the nation, the U.S. military runs ROTC classes enrolling 9,000 youngsters in Chicago public schools. Imagine if equivalent energies were devoted to promoting means and methods of nonviolence, along with ways to end the war against the environment and creation of “green” jobs among Chicago’s youngest generations.
If we could share Laurie’s revulsion in the face of weapons and inequality, imagine the possible results. We would never tolerate U.S. shipment of weapons to opulent Saudi royals who use their newly purchased laser guided munitions and Patriot missiles to devastate the infrastructure and civilians of Yemen. On the brink of famine and afflicted by an alarming spread of cholera, Yemenis also endure Saudi airstrikes that have wrecked roadways, hospitals and crucial sewage and sanitation infrastructure. 20 million people (in regions long plagued by U.S. gamesmanship), would not be expected to die this year from conflict-driven famine, in near-total media silence. Just four countries, Somaliland, Southern Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen are set to lose fully one third as many people as died in the entirety of the Second World War. None of that would be a normal occurrence in our world. Instead, perhaps religious leaders would vigorously remind us about Ben Salmon’s sacrifice; rather than attend the annual Air and Water show, (a theatrical display of U.S. military might which turns out a million “fans”), Chicagoans would make pilgrimages to the cemetery where Ben is buried. At this point, Mount Carmel cemetery is known for being the burial place of Al Capone.
The small group at the gravesite included a woman from Code Pink, a newly ordained Jesuit priest, several Catholic Workers, several couples who were formerly Catholic religious and have never stopped ministering to others and advocating for social justice, five people who’ve served many months in prison for their conscientious objection to war, and three Chicago area business professionals. We look forward to gatherings, in Chicago and elsewhere, of people who will take up the organizing call of those who celebrated, on July 7th, when representatives of 122 countries negotiated and passed a U.N. ban on nuclear weapons. This event happened while warlords wielding hideous weapons dominated the G20 gathering in Hamburg, Germany.
Laurie envisions building creative, peaceful connections between Chicago youngsters and their counterparts in Afghanistan, Yemen, Gaza, Iraq, and other lands. Ben Salmon guides our endeavors. We hope to again visit Salmon’s gravesite on Armistice Day, November 11, when our friends plan to set up a small marker bearing this inscription:
“There is no such thing as a just war.”
Ben J. Salmon
Oct. 15, 1888 – Feb. 15, 1932
Thou Shalt Not Kill
A Prayer Vigil will be held at Ben Salmon's grave site in Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois (suburb of Chicago) on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. From 9 am to 4 pm, you are welcome to stop by to sign a guest book or be anonymous, offer a prayer, and talk with others as you wish. There will be a press conference at 11 am where the parallels between Pope Francis' prayers, earlier on June 20th, at the graves of two Italian priests who objected to war and prayers at conscientious objector Ben Salmon's grave will be discussed. Friends of Franz and Ben will be at the site to share in prayer and conversation.
When driving to the site, the most convenient route is through the entrance on Roosevelt Road. Signs will be placed to guide you from Roosevelt Road to the grave. Ben Salmon's grave is at latitude 41°51'52.2"N and longitude 87°54'35.1"W (41.864501, -87.909758). The map below is the zoomed-in satellite overlay from Google maps. One thing to note on the map is that Ben Salmon's grave is in an area of unmarked graves surrounded by rows of monuments and markers. The Friends of Franz and Ben are fund raising to have a simple marker placed on Ben's grave.
On June 5, 1917, pacifist Ben Salmon made his opposition to war known nationally despite the efforts of the US Government and the American Catholic Church to persuade him to join in the Great War (now known as World War 1). Ben’s resume would not have qualified him to dispute law and doctrine with his adversaries as his formal schooling extended only through graduation from a Catholic elementary school, but years of work as clerk, union organizer, legislative candidate, and weekly newspaper editor and his deep faith in Jesus and thorough knowledge of the New Testament more than made up for his lack of degrees. The conflict quietly began when Ben submitted his draft registration card and wrote to President Woodrow Wilson.
In 1917, all males from 21 to 30 years old were required to register for the draft on June 5. The draft was needed to fill the ranks of the US Army engaged in the Great War. Ben obediently filled in his registration card until he came to the question: “Do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)?” This query he simply answered with: “Conscience.” The Selective Service Act of 1917 that codified the June 5 registration date, specifically spelled out draft exemptions and one such exemption allowed members of traditional peace churches (e.g., Mennonites, Quakers, Brethren) to be exempted from combat, though they would be required to perform non-combatant service. However, the Roman Catholic Church did not have a history of forbidding its members to participate in war so Ben’s faithful attendance at Mass did nothing to back up his claim.
Ben Salmon revealed the basis for his conscientious objection to war and also stated his refusal to contribute in any manner to the death of fellow workingmen in the following letter, which was sent to Commander-In-Chief Woodrow Wilson. (Also found at http://www.bensalmon.org/uploads/8/2/5/7/82576010/wilsonnoconscription.pdf)
DENVER, COLO., June 5, 1917.
HIS EXCELLENCY, WOODROW WILSON,
President of the United States,
Washington, D. C.
My Dear Mr. Wilson:
Complying with your edict, I registered today. Your mandate was autocratic, and contrary to the Constitution, nevertheless, acquiescence caused injustice against no one but myself, consequently, I submitted. But, I must now tell you that I refuse to submit to conscription.
Regardless of nationality, all men are my brothers. God is "our Father who art in heaven." The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is unconditional and inexorable.
If the parent orders the child to do wrong, the child should disobey. If the State commands the subject to violate God's law, the subject should ignore the State. Man is anterior to the State, and God is supreme.
Both by precept and example, the lowly Nazarene taught us the doctrine of non-resistance, and so convinced was He of the soundness of that doctrine that he sealed His belief with death on the cross. The great mass of the people still adhere to Christ's teachings against war, regardless of the fact that cardinals, priests and ministers have repudiated the Christian ideal and bowed to the god of expediency.
There are many ways to avoid war. Now that you are in it, there are many ways to get out of it without sacrificing, or threatening to sacrifice, a single life. Solution of the problem, without breaking the commandments of God, is merely a question of desire and determination.
Aside from right or wrong, why concern ourselves about German injustice while unmindful of the disorder of our own house? In America, millions of impoverished citizens vainly send forth their mute appeal for justice. Their supplications are answered with greater tyranny, renewed iniquities, and a further disregard of their rights and their liberties. Show me any German cruelty that can outdo in horror the massacre of the women and children in the tent colony at Ludlow! And, the underlying cause of the Ludlow tragedy manifests itself daily throughout the length and breadth of this land of liberty, although it is only when given spontaneous expression that we even notice the misery and sorrow and seething despair that is slowly eating out the heart of our boasted civilization in America. Why not correct the wrongs at home? ". . . Hypocrite, cast first the beam out of thy own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to take out the mote from thy brother's eye."--St. Luke, vi-42.
I am not an alien sympathizer. I was born in Denver, of Canadian-American parents, and I love America. This letter is not written in a contumelious spirit. But, when human law conflicts with Divine law, my duty is clear.
Conscience, my infallible guide, impels me to tell you that prison, or death, or both, are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the army, and contributing, either directly or indirectly, to the death of my fellow workingmen.
I voted for you and worked for your election in 1916, and I still have faith in you. Hopeful that you may yet see the right and have the courage to follow it, I am, sincerely yours,
(Signed) BEN J. SALMON.
(The Ludlow massacre occurred in April 1914 in Southern Colorado during a coalminers’ strike that began in September 1913. The strikers’ tent colony was burned while Colorado National Guard troops watched. Fourteen women and children sheltering in a root cellar beneath a tent were killed by the conflagration.)
Evidence for Salmon’s claim that “cardinals, priests and ministers have repudiated the Christian ideal and bowed to the god of expediency” came from a letter sent by Cardinals Gibbons and O’Connor and the other Archbishops of the US Catholic Church to President Wilson two weeks after war was declared on April 6, 1917. The Archbishops wrote: “Inspired by neither hate nor fear, but by the holy sentiments of truest patriotic fervor and zeal, we stand ready, we and all the flock committed to our keeping, to cooperate in every way possible with our President and our national Government, to the end that the great and holy cause of liberty may triumph, and that our beloved country may emerge from this hour of test, stronger and nobler than ever.” The Archbishops also informed President Wilson that “Our people, now as ever, will rise as one man to serve the Nation.” The Archbishops soon formed the National Catholic War Council in August 1917 to organize Catholic support for the American war effort and consequently contributed to the death of fellow Christians. Note that the majority of Catholics did rise to serve the Nation’s warring, but a handful of Catholics joined with Ben Salmon in conscientious objection to war and refused to participate in the killing of their brothers.
Being politically astute, Ben Salmon employed a printing house and “ A few thousand copies of this letter were published and distributed, principally in Denver. My object in distributing them was to let it be known beforehand that, if ever called for service I would not respond.” This common sense approach did not, however, prevent the authorities from inducting Ben into the Army against his will in May 1918.
Since Ben Salmon refused to put on uniform, salute any officers, or perform any work for the Army, he was held in the guard houses of several army Camps before being tried by court-martial. Copies of the letter to Wilson figured prominently in his trial as Ben had been accused of propaganda for sharing some of the printed copies with fellow prisoners. Ben represented himself at the court-martial trial and responded to the propaganda charge with: “The propaganda that I engaged in was showing a copy of a letter that I had written to President Wilson to some fellow conscientious objectors, and leaving several of them keep copies of it. These conscientious objectors could not be influenced by me, for they had taken a firm stand against service long before they ever met me, their ancestors for hundreds of years back had refused military service in several foreign countries, they belonged to a religious sect known as The Hutterian Brethren.” Nevertheless, the court-martial condemned the letter to be “of a such a nature as would, however, tend to disloyalty and to a refusal to accept military service”. The military court found him guilty of “tending to influence said members [the Hutterian COs] to refuse to accept any kind of service in the army, and tending to induce insubordination, and disloyalty among said members to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.” He was also found guilty of desertion and sentenced to death (commuted to 25 years hard labor) about a year after he initially registered his opposition to war.
Thus, Ben Salmon’s conscience made its debut on the national stage on June 5, 1917. His letter sent that day to President Wilson clearly stated his firm resolve to follow Christ’s path and abstain from any action that would contribute to killing one of his brothers, his brothers being all men. He knew it would be a hard task to convince the Government and the US Catholic Church that his stand was based on his conscience and was not based on fear of dying in battle. As Ben stated in his letter, “prison, or death, or both, are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the army, and contributing, either directly or indirectly, to the death of my fellow workingmen.” Unfortunately for Ben, it took more than two years in military prison, months in solitary, and a hunger strike to convince the authorities of his conscientious objection. The treatment he received while in prison resulted in his early death at age 43. Fortunately for us, during his imprisonment Ben Salmon typed out his rebuttal of the Catholic doctrine of just war and a detailed justification of his absolutist stand against killing any of his neighbors. His inspiring words can be found at www.bensalmon.org/bens-magnum-opus.html.
For those of you who have started to read Ben Salmon's Magnum Opus and found it to be TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read), relief is now available. But first let me point out that you are in good company. It seems as though the staff of St. Elizabeths Hospital, where Ben's sanity was being evaluated, also found it difficult to read all that he had written. Here are some excerpts from the daily observations made by the doctor and attendants in charge of Ben's ward:
Aug 5, 1920 - Patient was provided with a typewriter and spends most of his time during the day writing an account of himself, consisting mostly of the defense of his attitude to recent war, based on religion, political and moral grounds.
Dr. Karpman assembled all the examination notes, ward clerk observations, and Ben's account of himself and presented the 31 pages to the 28 psychiatrists of the sanity reviewing board. The board met on October 4, 1920 and determined after an hour's deliberation that Ben was sane. The papers contained in Ben Salmon's case file, obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration where St. Elizabeths Hospital records are kept, show that Dr. Karpman at one time considered presenting all 230 pages of Ben's complete statement to the board but finally delivered a 16-page outline of Ben's explanation of his 'extreme attitude'. Apparently the 16 page outline was sufficient for the physicians to reach their conclusion of sanity.
Ben's outline summary read by the physicians is available as either a copy of the original document or as a transcribed version. There are differences between the outline and the complete statement (known on this website as Ben's Magnum Opus). For example, the Magnum Opus contains many anecdotes, news stories, and the sentence-by-sentence rebuttal of Just War theory that are not included in the outline summary. However, the 16-page outline gives the essence of Ben Salmon's absolutist conscientious objector stand in a much shorter read than the 230 pages of his Magnum Opus and is less likely to generate a TL;DR response. Perhaps, reading the outline will whet your appetite for the 'main statement' (i.e., Magnum Opus) Ben often refers to in the 16-page outline.
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)
Maryknoll Sister Elizabeth Salmon, third child of Ben and Elizabeth Salmon, was interviewed at her home by Jack Gilroy and the interview was filmed by Wilton Vought. Wilton has assembled Sr. Elizabeth's comments on her father, Ben, and posted the resulting video on youtube.com for all to see. Though she was only 7 when her father passed away, she follows in his footsteps and to this day continues to spread peace.