April 19, 1956 (p.6)|
The Current Scene
Winds of Fear;In the course of the government's seizure of the Daily Worker's premises, an incident occurred which bears retelling. The Treasury men were estimating the value of the battered desks and typewriters which comprise most of the paper's property; and Harry Sacher, attorney for the Daily Worker, asked me whether I wouldn't go out and hire an independent professional appraiser, whose estimate we might measure against the Treasury's.
Since there is a considerable cluster of auction rooms around 12th and 13th and University Place, I foresaw no great problem. As I was leaving, some newspaper men asked where I was going, and when I told them, they sensed a story and suggested that they go with me. These reporters were from various New York papers, covering the story of the seizure of the Daily Worker, and they saw this as good background material. They brought photographers with them, so that they might photograph the appraiser and the auction rooms he represented. For my part, I was glad to have them, as evidence that our selection of an appraiser was not rigged.* * * ;THEY CHOSE the places, and we visited three auction rooms, one after another. In each place, the manager literally turned pale when the name "Daily Worker" was brought up. "Treasury Department" excited the same fear, and when the reporters pushed the matter, the furniture men began to babble in terror and confusion pitiful to behold. They swore that they had never heard of "The Daily Worker," that they never read newspapers, that they knew nothing about office furniture, that they had customers to take care of and wives and children at home.
Their terror was so painful that all but two of the newspapermen left me in embarrassment, with some mumbled explanation concerning the unwillingness of anyone to get mixed up in something that was none of his business. But two others, representing the two most respectable journals in town, stayed with me, and on our fourth try, we found a furniture expert who was willing to come. It is true that I was a little ambiguous in my representation to him, for he seemed not fully aware of the circumstances until a dozen reporters and photographers crowded into the Daily Worker elevator with him. Then, suddenly, he awoke to the situation and actually began to writhe and plead for release. The elevator was going up as he moaned, "Let me out--for God's sake, let me out--I got a family--I got customers--let me out--I don't want to get mixed up in nothing--let me out!"* * *;IT WAS A pitiful and somewhat awful spectacle, and the reporters present were dismayed and--bewildered. They had not realized how conditioned they were to their own neutrality, nor were they ever called upon before to lure a plain citizen into such circumstances. They tried to plead with the appraiser, so that their own story might not vanish, but they couldn't penetrate his hysteria and fear. We took him downstairs, thanked him, and let him go to wherever the winds of fear blew less coldly, and then went up to the Treasury people and confessed our inability to find an appraiser who was bold enough to appraise "red" furniture.
I had not thought to make anything of this small and painful incid ent, but the other night we talked to some friends who had recently been to the Dominican Republic-- and among other things, we discussed the strange, unresolved disappearance of a Columbia University professor who had earned the enmity of Trujillo. According to the newspapers, the Dominican dictator could extend his reign of fear and terror into the midst of New York City, and successfully.* * *ONE OF OUR friends then told of her experiences in Trujillo City, perhaps the most terrible "city of fear" in all the world today. She told us first how beautiful Trujillo City is, how fine the buildings, how clean the streets, how lovely the parks. No beggars, no loungers, and almost no people--for in Trujillo City, one does not stroll unless one has to. But everywhere, armed soldiers. She went to the zoo on a lovely, sunny day. The zoo in Trujillo City is very beautiful and modern, she said, but in the zoo were only animals and soldiers, not a child, not a woman, not a man. The quiet of fear, the silence of death was all over the place. She took a cab and went sightseeing; she talked to the driver until a little of his fear was overcome, and he said to her, "Madam, I will drive you around Trujillo's palace, and you will see what strange fruit he grows on his coconut trees." Then he drove her around the palace. The streets outside were deserted, the whole neighborhood quiet and almost deserted, but behind the high walls of Trujillo's palace were lines of tall coconut trees, and in the top of each tree, a machine gun nest.
* * * ;OF COURSE, we are not yet a Trujillo City--and good men willing, never will be. But how contemptible and weak a country becomes when fear is the only relationship it can establish with its citizens. I am not old, yet I can remember when such an incident as I described would be unthinkable in America, when Americans came and went as they pleased, when American associated with whom they pleased when they pleased, when Americans spoke their minds openly and proudly--and when the informer was regarded as a thing less than human, even as he is in all other lands.
It is only yesterday that we were that kind of a country and that kind of a people, and yet we were proud and strong and feared no one on all the earth. Today, we have sold our pride to police informers, racists, and two-bit bully-boys who ape Adolf Hitler, and the winds of fear blow everywhere. It is not the end, not by any means, but there is only one way back. When we ennoble dissent, pin a badge of merit upon radicalism, and fight to the death for the right of any American to say what he pleases where he pleases--then we will be America again.