DISLOYALTY, ALIENISM, AND DISSENT.
By act of parliament British conscientious objectors will be disfranchised for the duration of the war and for five years thereafter. That is retaliation in as mild a form as could be devised. From most of the privileges of society as organized in the British empire the objectors cannot be excluded. They are extended, regardless of fitness to enjoy them, and the restriction merely eliminates the political privilege, which is but a means of obtaining and maintaining the social privileges.
Here in the United States we have been dealing in dangerous amiability and foolish leniency with various forms of protest against and opposition to national purpose and action. The conscientious objector sometimes is a person of respected character, prevented by moral scruples from perceiving a social obligation which is quite as sacred as the obligation to his own egoistic morality.
Such a character does not present much of a difficulty. Adjustments which respect sincere scruples can be made, not without compromising the social obligation but without offensively impairing it. This mild form of protest can be treated expediently without great damage, but we have allowed our tolerance to protect selfish and even vile forms of protest and dissent.
Here in Chicago there are evidences of an insolent anti-Americanism which is as dangerous as it is offensive. There are Germans in the city whose attitude toward the country in which they elect to live is one of arrogant insult and contempt. They affect other people whose better sense might dispose them peaceably toward the government if they were not influenced by the conduct and language of aliens — in fact or thought — who seem to have license for anything they choose to do or say.
Americans have been gratified that there has been no disposition toward violence in dealing with aliens in the United States. The desire has been to get along in orderly fashion, but all the restraint cannot be exercised by Americans. A proper sense of the situation must prevail among the aliens, whether they are aliens in fact or in sympathy.
We cannot afford to have restraint and self-control converted into foolish indulgence and tolerance of evil. It not only would not be fair to the men who are going to fight but it might even be dangerous for them. Some of the arrogance of aliens and the sedition and disloyalty of other protestants and dissenters, intellectual or ignorant, will be expressed in acts and the acts will be damaging.
An atmosphere of immunity is created and it encourages the conversion of hostile thought and speech in to hostile acts. Our easy going amiability finds expression in our treatment of spies. This is the only nation at war by which spies are treated as persons scarcely more dangerous than misdemeanants.
We read that spies are taken and that they are hustled off into internment. Such indulgent treatment of persons in an employment punished by death increases the number of spies. The only deterrent is the penalty, and we do not apply the punishment.
The United States will have to tone up its manner of dealing with arrogant alienism and dangerous disloyalty with its internal enemies. Otherwise we shall not be dealing fairly at home with the men sent abroad to fight.