Thursday, October 17, 2013

How Times Have Changed - Free Speech Was Tested and Lost

How times have changed, and for the better...

After World War II there was a period called the "Cold War" between the United States and the Communist Soviet Union.  It was also a time in the United States when citizen's First Amendment Rights were questioned and stepped upon.

There was a  fear that the "Reds" were going to take over the United States.  Legislators grew concerned that the movie industry could serve as a source of subversive propaganda and spread the idea of Communism.  They established the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC as it was known.

In October of 1947, more than 40 people with connections to the movie industry received subpoenas to appear before HUAC on suspicion of holding communist loyalties. Prominent Hollywood witnesses were grilled and asked bluntly, "Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?"  Maybe out of patriotism or fear, some witnesses, including director Elia Kazan, actors Gary Cooper and Robert Taylor and studio executives Walt Disney and Jack Warner, gave the committee names of colleagues they suspected of being communists.

There was, however, a group called "The Hollywood Ten" who resisted, complaining that the hearings were illegal and violated their First Amendment rights.  The Ten included Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dytryk, Ring Lardner Jr, John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ormitz, Robert Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo. They refused to cooperate with the investigation by denouncing the HUAC anti-communist hearings as an outrageous violation and demanding they had the right to belong to any political organization they chose.  The Ten were cited for contempt of Congress.  Each man was found guilty and sentenced to spend a year in prison and pay $1,000 fine.  While in prison, Edward Dmytryk decided to cooperate with the government.  In 1951, he testified at the HUAC hearing and provided the names of more than 20 industry colleagues he claimed were communists.

A more lasting punishment came as a result of the movie industry blacklist.  Studio executives did not want their business to be associated with radical politics in the minds of the movie-going public, and agreed that they would not employ the Hollywood Ten or anyone else suspected of being affiliated with the Communist Party. The motion picture industry blacklist grew steadily as Congress continued its investigations into the 1950's. The blacklist finally ended in the 1960's.

The Hollywood Ten were considered controversial at the time they launched their protests. Some viewed their punishment as justified, while others viewed them as heroic figures who spoke out against the abuses of the "Red Scare," and in defense of the U. S. Constitution.

The horror of this period in time was the fact that people's lives were destroyed out of fear with no evidence other than the word of another person who was in fear for his life and pursuit of happiness being taken away by the very government that was supposed to protect their rights.

Free Speech was tested, and it lost.

The attached video of the "Hollywood Ten 1950" is an important accounting of their persecution, and relevant to our rights as American Citizens today.