“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” - A.J. Liebling
My father Bob Wilson took this to heart, and bought one and started his own newspaper, the Prairie Post of Maroa, Illinois in 1958, and ran it until he died in 1972. It never had a circulation of more than 2500 or so, but every week, he would fire off editorials at everyone and everything from local events to the actions of the nations of the world.
He may have been a Quaker peace activist in a Republican district, but his love and support of the farming communities garnered him enough respect that he eventually ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962, though he lost. (He might have tried again, had he not died of an accident while only 49.) Many of his views ring true today. And he might have been willing to change the ones that fell behind the times. Although raised in the casual racism of the 1920s and 1930s, at the age of 15 he took stock of what he was being taught and discarded much of it as being wrong, and lived his life with respect for all.
I decided to transcribe his old editorials (I may make a book for some of my relatives) and every once in a while I will repost one here, as a view of how the world has changed wildly, or remained stubbornly the same.
August 31, 1961
TROUT IN THE MILK
If you see an improvement in the paper this week, it is because the editor's wife is home after three weeks visiting family and friends in her home country of Sweden.
It is revealing to read somebody else's newspapers besides our American ones. She returns with the impression that throughout free Europe, their confidence in the United States has been shaken. Many of these people live in the shadow of the Kremlin, and place all their faith in us as the champion of free men in a free society. When we falter in any way, they make querulous inquiry, “What are the Americans going to do?” We have led them to expect much of us, and they expect much.
It has been America's weakness as well as a part of her charm that, as a brawny young giant, she talked at least as good a performance as she was able to deliver.
Now a new giant has risen, even younger and more boastful than we. The Russians insult us by claiming they made everything first and biggest, from gunpowder to bobby pins. Any American knows WE invented everything first and built it biggest!
Performance counts, however, and Western Europe sees the Russians first in space, while we are stumbling along several years behind.
They see the Communists living on bare necessities while everything is poured into technical advance.
They see Americans “living it up” as if nobody cared. They see us exporting rafts of consumer goods much of which have deteriorated in quality. They see us enjoying an inflated prosperity based on overcharges on everything, much of it financed out of government debt that foreigners doubt will ever be repaid.
The Russians keep their boggles secret, and announce their successes. We report it all – this is the way a free society works – but all Europeans see is Americans buying themselves broke on time payments, all by the light of those fizzling rockets at Cape Canaveral.
We're going to have to do better, but no-one seems to know how. We have a suggestion.
Those fat cats, America's press, sleep on, purring audibly. They should be awake and doing some clawing and scratching when the rockets fail one after another, and America's space program becomes a world joke.
What is the major difference in our programs? The Russian government has only one standard for their space materiel; IT MUST DO THE JOB.
We have two standards over here. Our rocket components are built by private industry for sale to the government. Good old American private enterprise builds it every bit, and they build it IN SUCH A WAY AS TO RETURN A PROFIT TO THEMSELVES.
Some readers will take a deep breath now, and protest that these people are all selfless patriots serving their country, and the profits are merely incidental.
Consider the record. American industry has cheated the American fighting man in every conflict. Civil War soldiers fought live trout in the “milk” they purchased from private suppliers. It the Spanish-American Ware, contractors sent our troops up San Juan Hill on bully beef that was rotten when it was put in the cans. In recent conflicts, the government has secured the best for its forces only by turning industry loose on cost-plus contracts for UNLIMITED PROFITS.
Profits, the central motivating force of the capitalist economy, account for its vigorous growth but can also make it blind to human rights and needs.
Should more of our goods be produced for USE rather than PROFIT? This is one of the aims of the co-operative movement. It is also one of the results of increased participation in management by industrial workers.
President Kennedy has called on us for sacrifice, and for the progress and change which befit a young people who cut their teeth on a revolution for human freedom.
Is it time we made a start?
September 14, 1961
HITLER IN AMERICA
Not many people have had the priceless opportunity of knowing, as we knew, one of the great spirits of this century, William Sollman.
We earnestly hope someday to find time to write a book about Sollman and his message to our world.
Sollman was Adolf Hitler's personal enemy. As a publisher, a statesmen, a German cabinet minister, he watched the rise of Hitlerism and he fought it with every ounce of his strength. If the German people had listened, so much could have been different.
Through his newspapers, and through his fearless speeches in the Reichstag, Sollman was the voice of reason, of decency, of freedom. Hitler knew he must destroy Sollman at any cost. When the Brownshirts had finished beating this slender, studious man with their rifle butts, his friends feared that he might not live till they could spirit him across the border.
From Luxembourg, from Belgium, finally from France, this champion of liberty published his newspapers and hurled the challenge back at the triumphant Hitler. When France fell, he escaped to these shores, where he spent his last years teaching Americans to love democracy and to guard their freedom well.
He taught us that YOU CANNOT WORK WITH THE COMMUNISTS. He distrusted them totally, but he beat them wherever they opposed him. He knew that IT CAN BE DONE.
In a poverty-ridden nation, he considered Communism the urgent problem. In a prosperous nation, however, he warned us that the little Hitlers are far more dangerous.
These are the raving hate-merchants who rise up TO SAVE US FROM COMMUNISM and end by destroying our liberties and becoming worse than the thing they are fighting.
William Sollman was the only German of real stature who denounced the Kaiser's entry into World War I as “madness.” (and was tried for treason) He was the first German to denounce the Nazis and warn the government to imprison Hitler and keep him there. HE TOLD US HOW TO KNOW THEM WHEN THEY APPEAR.
By everything he told us, we tell you now that they have appeared, and that the battle is now joined.
If they win, if they can frighten the voices of freedom into silence, then America will be lost to the new “American-Style” Nazis of THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY.
A few laugh at mention of the name. A shudder of loathing affects others, at the sight of something unclean and hideous, hid itself in the folds of the American flag.
“A bunch of harmless lunatics” according to some, the Birchers believe that almost everybody is Communist, and the government is “from 40% to 60% under effective Communist control.” Robert Welch, their leader, in a 300 page letter entitled “The Politician” and sometimes called “The Black Book”, accused President Dwight D. Eisenhower of “consciously serving the Communist conspiracy for all his adult life.”
So rabid have these people become that dyed-in-the-wool conservatives including Richard Nixon have been forced to denounce them to keep the stench of their vile methods from affecting the reputation of honorable Republicans.
If the Birchers do not like you, you get unsigned letters and anonymous phone calls. Everyone you know is told you are a Communist spy.
Hitler and his Nazis never really got off the ground till he received financial support from the big industrialists to help him fight Communism. In exact parallel, the Birchers have begun to receive handsome gifts from similar sources. With these new funds they are gathering together every lunatic-fringe reactionary element in the country. On August 4th they began the distribution of a monthly bulletin to EVERY DAILY AND WEEKLY NEWSPAPER in America.
They have one object; a nation-wide witch-hunt for every leader and opinion-maker who has a new or a progressive thought in his head. If all of us fall silent now, they will have won.
“This is a republic, not a democracy – Let's keep it that way!” declares Robert Welch. Their ideal “free” republic is the Union of South Africa!
Included with their mailing is a sheet advertising the most obscene essay contest we have ever heard of. They offer prizes totaling $2,500.00 for the best essay setting forth WHY WE SHOULD IMPEACH EARL WARREN! Earl Warren the the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, a man universally respected by everyone but a little nest of White Citizen's Councils in the Deep South.
We know three persons whom we believe to be active in the work of the John Birch Society. One of them is about to be placed by relatives in a mental hospital. The second is not really paranoid, like the first, but simply a born troublemaker. The third is a basically honorable individual, who has been misguided about the purposes of the Society.
We are confident we will receive a letter from one of them (possibly all three) as a result of this editorial. It will be so foul as to be unprintable, unless they accept our advice to boil the slander and the lynch-mob hysteria out of it before they send it.
This may be a bitter fight, and a costly one, but are confident the newspapers of America are not going to be frightened into submission. We are defending one of the basic rights that makes America great, the right to think and speak as we please. We are defending it for ourselves, and for all loyal Americans. We are also defending this right for the lunatic fringe of whatever coloration; this included the Communists, and it also includes the John Birch Society!