A Book Revisited: When The Nazis Came to Skokie

In 1999 we published When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for the Speech We Hate, the third of six books written for UPK by Philippa Strum. The book was an immediate success and a standout in our Landmark Law Cases & American Society series. Recent events have thrust the book back into the spotlight and onto our list of best sellers.

When the Nazis Came to Skokie dramatically tells the story of a neo-Nazi group’s attempt in 1977 to hold a parade in Skokie, Illinois and analyzes its implications for the First Amendment.

In the Chicago suburb of Skokie, one out of every six Jewish citizens in the late 1970s was a survivor—or was directly related to a survivor—of the Holocaust. These victims of terror had resettled in America expecting to lead peaceful lives free from persecution. But their safe haven was shattered when a neo-Nazi group announced its intention to parade there in 1977. Philippa Strum’s dramatic retelling of the events in Skokie (and in the courts) shows why the case ignited such enormous controversy and challenged our understanding of and commitment to First Amendment values.

The debate was clear-cut: American Nazis claimed the right of free speech while their Jewish “targets” claimed the right to live without intimidation. The town, arguing that the march would assault the sensibilities of its citizens and spark violence, managed to win a court injunction against the marchers. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union took the case and successfully defended the Nazis’ right to free speech.

Skokie had all the elements of a difficult case: a clash of absolutes, prior restraint of speech, and heated public sentiment. In recreating it, Strum presents a detailed account and analysis of the legal proceedings as well as finely delineated portraits of the protagonists: Frank Collin, National Socialist Party of America leader and the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor; Skokie community leader Sol Goldstein, a Holocaust survivor who planned a counterdemonstration against the Nazis; Skokie mayor Albert Smith, who wanted only to protect his townspeople; and ACLU attorney David Goldberger, caught in the ironic position of being a Jew defending the rights of Nazis against fellow Jews. While the ACLU did win the case, it was a costly victory-30,000 of its members left the organization. And in the end, ironically, the Nazis never did march in Skokie.

Forcefully argued, Strum’s book shows that freedom of speech must be defended even when the beneficiaries of that defense are far from admirable individuals. It raises both constitutional and moral issues critical to our understanding of free speech and carries important lessons for current controversies over hate speech on college campuses, inviting readers to think more carefully about what the First Amendment really means.

When an academic reviewer offered his evaluation of the manuscript he didn’t hold back.

“I started reading, and it is so well done that I just kept reading,” the reviewer wrote. “In sum, it is a gem of a book, and ought to be a best-seller as well as a prize-winner for the Press and the series.”

Why Vietnam was Unwinnable; An Essay

By Kevin Boylan, author of Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971. This piece was originally published in the New York Times.

While I was working for the Pentagon in the early 2000s, wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan were routinely bused down from Walter Reed Hospital, in Northwest Washington, D.C., to receive their medals. It was a heart-rending experience to see these young men and women, many of them missing eyes, arms, legs or even multiple limbs, being wheeled through the building.

As a trained military historian who had specialized in the Vietnam War, I couldn’t help thinking about that earlier conflict as I watched them slowly making their way down the Pentagon’s corridors. And I wasn’t the only one. Many prominent figures in the government, military and media were drawing parallels with the Vietnam War, and a surprising number of them suggested that its lessons offered hope for victory in Iraq.

Those who made this argument contended that the United States had been on the verge of winning in Vietnam, but threw its chance for victory away because of negative press and a resulting failure of political will at home. This “lost victory” thesis originated with the Nixon administration and its supporters back in the 1970s, but gained considerable traction in the 1980s and ’90s after it was taken up by a group of influential revisionist historians, including Mark Moyar and Lewis S. Sorley III.

Taking their cue from the Vietnam revisionists, Iraq war optimists argued that just as Americans thought we were losing in Vietnam when in fact we were winning, so too were we winning in Iraq despite apparent evidence to the contrary. The problem, the optimists argued, was that — just as during the Vietnam War — naysaying pundits and politicians were not merely undermining popular support for the war, but giving our enemies hope that they could win by waiting for the American people to lose their will to continue the fight.

This kind of talk alarmed me because it discouraged a frank reassessment of our failing strategy in Iraq, which was producing that weekly procession of maimed veterans. And I also knew that the historical premises on which it was based were deeply flawed. America did not experience a “lost victory” in Vietnam; in fact, victory was likely out of reach from the beginning.

There is a broad consensus among professional historians that the Vietnam War was effectively unwinnable. Even the revisionists admit their minority status, though some claim that it’s because of a deep-seated liberal bias within the academic history profession. But doubts about the war’s winnability are hardly limited to the halls of academe. One can readily find them in the published works of official Army historians like Dr. Jeffrey J. Clarke, whose book “Advice and Support: The Final Years, 1965-1973” highlights the irrevocable problems that frustrated American policy and strategy in South Vietnam. Pessimism also pervades “Vietnam Declassified: The C.I.A. and Counterinsurgency,” a declassified volume of the agency’s secret official history penned by Thomas L. Ahern Jr., a career C.I.A. operations officer who served extensively in Indochina during the war.

In contrast, the revisionist case rests largely on the assertion that our defeat in Vietnam was essentially psychological, and that victory would therefore have been possible if only our political leadership had sustained popular support for the war. But although psychological factors and popular support were crucial, it was Vietnamese, rather than American, attitudes that were decisive. In the United States, popular support for fighting Communism in South Vietnam started strong and then declined as the war dragged on. In South Vietnam itself, however, popular support for the war was always halfhearted, and a large segment (and in some regions, a majority) of the population favored the Communists.

The corrupt, undemocratic and faction-riven South Vietnamese government — both under President Ngo Dinh Diem, who was assassinated in a 1963 coup, and under the military cliques that followed him — proved incapable of providing its people and armed forces a cause worth fighting for. Unfortunately for the United States and the future happiness of the South Vietnamese people, the Communists were more successful: By whipping up anti-foreign nationalist sentiment against the “American imperialists” and promising to reform the corrupt socio-economic system that kept most of the country’s citizens trapped in perpetual poverty, they persuaded millions to fight and die for them.

This asymmetry was the insurmountable stumbling block on the road to victory in Vietnam. Defeating the Communist guerrillas would have been an easy matter if the South Vietnamese people had refused to hide them in their midst. Instead, American and South Vietnamese could only grope after the elusive enemy and were rarely able to fight him except on his own terms.

And even as American soldiers began pouring into the country in 1965, there were already enough South Vietnamese troops on hand that they should have been able to defend it on their own. After all, the South Vietnamese forces outnumbered the Communists, were far better supplied, had vastly superior firepower and enjoyed a considerable advantage in mobility thanks to transport planes and helicopters. But their Achilles’ heel was their weak will to fight — and this shortcoming was never overcome.

Some years after the war ended, Lt. Gen. Arthur S. Collins, who had commanded all American troops in the central region of South Vietnam from February 1970 to January 1971, told an Army historian: “I didn’t think there was any way that South Vietnam could survive, no matter what we did for them. What put the final nail in the coffin, from my point of view, was when I learned from questioning [South Vietnamese] general officers that almost without exception their sons were in school in France, Switzerland, or the U.S. If they weren’t going to fight for South Vietnam, who was?”

Despite its ally’s fundamental weakness, the United States might possibly still have won, of course, had it been willing to fully mobilize its own national power. But that would have required raising taxes, calling up the Reserves and other sacrifices that President Lyndon Johnson shrank from asking the American people to make.

In a recent New York Times article, Mr. Moyar, the revisionist historian, decried “the absence of presidential cheerleading” and took Johnson to task for failing to create a “war psychology” that would have made Vietnam into a patriotic crusade (and presumably silenced the war’s critics). Mr. Moyar argued, “The public’s turn against the war was not inevitable; it was, rather, the result of a failure by policy makers to explain and persuade Americans to support it.”

But Johnson was the most astute politician to sit in the White House during the 20th century, and he knew that he faced a paradox. As long as the war in Vietnam didn’t demand too much of them and they believed that victory was just around the corner, most Americans would support it. But if Johnson admitted publicly that South Vietnam could not survive without a full commitment by the United States, he knew that support would crumble.

Such a move would reveal the war’s unpleasant truths: that South Vietnam’s government was an autocratic kleptocracy, that its military was reluctant to fight, that much of its population willingly supported the Communists, that North Vietnam was matching our escalation step by step, that Johnson had committed the country to war without having a plan to win it and that the Pentagon had no real idea when it would be won. And Johnson knew full well that if the public turned against the war, it would reject his leadership and cherished Great Society domestic agenda as well.

So like other presidents before and after him, Johnson tried to conceal the bleak realities of Vietnam from the American people and deliberately misled them about the war’s likely duration and cost. Just about the last thing he wanted was to engender a wartime psychology — much less call for full mobilization. The Communists didn’t need American journalists and antiwar protesters to reveal that public enthusiasm for the war was fragile. Johnson’s refusal to raise taxes or call up the Reserves had made that obvious from the outset — just as our failure to impose new taxes or enact a military draft since 9/11 signals our enemies that America’s will to fight is weak.

Although the United States undoubtedly had the means to prevail in Vietnam, the war was unwinnable at the level of commitment and sacrifice that our nation was willing to sustain. As the renowned historian George Herring put it, the war could not “have been ‘won’ in any meaningful sense at a moral or material cost most Americans deemed acceptable.”

Perhaps the key lesson of Vietnam is that if the reasons for going to war are not compelling enough for our leaders to demand that all Americans make sacrifices in pursuit of victory, then perhaps we should not go to war at all. Sacrifice should not be demanded solely of those who risk life and limb for their country in combat theaters overseas.

Kevin Boylan is a military historian at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the author of “Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971.” He worked for the Department of Defense and Army staff’s War Plans Division from 1995 to 2005.

Charlottesville Curriculum, via the University Press of Kansas

Acquisitions editors Kim Hogeland and Joyce Harrison have created a preliminary reading list of UPK titles related to the past week’s events in Charlottesville, race relations and civil rights.

Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 by Kelly J. Baker

This engrossing exposé looks closely at the Klan’s definition of Protestantism, its belief in a strong relationship between church and state, its notions of masculinity and femininity, and its views on Jews and African Americans. The book also examines in detail the Klan’s infamous 1924 anti-Catholic riot at Notre Dame University and draws alarming parallels between the Klan’s message of the 1920s and current posturing by some Tea Party members and their sympathizers.

 

Republicans and Race: The GOP’s Frayed Relationship with African Americans, 1945-1974 by  Timothy N. Thurber

But since 1964, no Republican presidential candidate has attracted more than 15 percent of the black electorate, and few GOP candidates for other offices have fared much better. No segment of the American electorate is more reliably Democratic than African Americans. The GOP, meanwhile, remains nearly an all-white party. In this path-breaking book, historian Timothy Thurber illuminates the deep roots of this gulf by exploring the contentious, and sometimes surprising, relationship between African Americans and the Republican Party from the end of World War II through Richard Nixons presidency. The GOP, he shows, shaped the modern civil rights movement, but the struggle for racial equality also transformed the GOP.

 

Honoring the Civil War Dead: Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation by John R. Neff

Neff contends that the significance of the Civil War dead has been largely overlooked and that the literature on the war has so far failed to note how commemorations of the dead provide a means for both expressing lingering animosities and discouraging reconciliation. Commemoration—from private mourning to the often extravagant public remembrances exemplified in cemeteries, monuments, and Memorial Day observances—provided Americans the quintessential forum for engaging the wars meaning.

 

The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy by William C. Davis

Davis also illustrates why the cause of the war—a subject of long-standing controversy—boils down to the single issue of slavery; why Southerners, ninety percent of whom didn’t own slaves, were willing to join in the battle to defend their homeland; how the personalities, tactics, and styles of the armies in the turbulent West differed greatly from those in the East; what real or perceived turning points influenced Southern decision making; and how mythology and misinterpretations have been perpetuated through biography, history, literature, and film. Revealing the Confederacy’s myths for what they really are, Davis nevertheless illustrates how much those myths inform our understanding of the Civil War and its place in Southern and American culture.

 

Dred Scott and the Politics of Slavery by Earl M. Maltz

The slave Dred Scott claimed that his residence in a free state transformed him into a free man. His lawsuit took many twists and turns before making its way to the Supreme Court in 1856. But when the Court ruled against him, the ruling sent shock waves through the nation and helped lead to civil war.

 

Plessy v. Ferguson: Race and Inequality in Jim Crow America by Williamjames Hull Hoffer

Hoffer’s compelling reconstruction illuminates the controversies and impact of Plessy v. Ferguson for a new generation of students and other interested readers. It also pays tribute to a group of little known heroes from the Deep South who failed to hold back the tide of racial segregation but nevertheless laid the groundwork for a less divided America.

 

Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry: Loving v. Virginia by Peter Wallenstein

In 1958 Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, two young lovers from Caroline County, Virginia, got married. Soon they were hauled out of their bedroom in the middle of the night and taken to jail. Their crime? Loving was white, Jeter was not, and in Virginia—as in twenty-three other states then—interracial marriage was illegal. Their experience reflected that of countless couples across America since colonial times. And in challenging the laws against their marriage, the Lovings closed the book on that very long chapter in the nation’s history. Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry tells the story of this couple and the case that forever changed the law of race and marriage in America.

 

Murder in Mississippi: United States v. Price and the Struggle for Civil Rights by Howard Ball

Howard Ball reminds us just how problematic the prosecution of the murderers—all members of the KKK—actually was. When the State of Mississippi failed to indict them, the U.S. tried to prosecute the case in federal district court. The judge there, however, ruled that the federal government had no jurisdiction and so dismissed the case. When the U.S. appealed, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court decision, claiming that federal authorities did indeed have the power to police civil rights violations in any state. United States v. Price (1967) thus produced a landmark decision that signaled a seismic shift in American legal history and race relations, for it meant that local authorities could no longer shield racist lawbreakers.

President Trump, Consider the Risks of Pardoning Yourself

The Trump administration’s unorthodox governing and use of social media has created a wealth of interest in many of our backlist titles. Jeffery Crouch’s 2009 release The Presidential Pardon Power has become one of our most popular books. Crouch was asked to write for The Hill. This is what he wrote:

 

The media is abuzz with speculation about President Trump’s clemency powers after the story broke that his lawyers are mulling options for himself and his family.

The president himself on Saturday seemed to confirm the report, asserting that he has “complete power” to pardon relatives, aides and possibly himself.

How does the clemency power work? Who could he pardon? Can he pardon himself? Should he?

The fact is, Trump can pardon any federal crime, ranging from moon-shining to treason. He may grant clemency as soon as an offense is committed: no need to wait for the offender to be sentenced, tried, or even charged with a crime. Overall, the courts have protected a broad, wide-ranging clemency power for the chief executive. Still, he may not pardon a future federal crime, excuse a state offense, or exercise clemency “in cases of impeachment,” as noted in Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution.

The remedy for an unpopular clemency decision comes from Congress. Members can hold hearings, subpoena documents, call witnesses, and otherwise raise the profile of the clemency decision.

They can also delay funding for presidential priorities, drag their feet on his policy priorities, and refuse to confirm presidential nominees. In more extreme cases, they can pursue impeaching the president, or even try to amend the Constitution.

How likely it is Congress will take these actions, with Republicans in control, is another matter completely.

Who could he pardon?

It’s clear that President Trump could pardon anyone caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation – today, if he wanted to do so. He could grant as many or as few pardons as he wished, would not have to specify the crimes they are being pardoned for, and could make the language of the pardon as broad or as narrow as he wanted. Whether the political context would support any of these moves is unclear, but there’s little question that Trump has the legal power to act.

Can he pardon himself?

Most tantalizing, could Trump pardon himself? Few presidents have actually considered a self-pardon, and none has actually tried. If Trump is the first to go through with it, he should know that legal scholars are divided on the question.

On one hand, it is clear that the sparse constitutional language on clemency says nothing about a self-pardon, and the courts have never directly confronted the question. To legal scholars Robert Nida and Rebecca L. Spiro, writing in 1999, the president should be able to self-pardon, largely because the Constitution does not say he is forbidden from doing so.

On the other hand, law professor Brian C. Kalt argued in 1996 that a self-pardon is not allowed by the Constitution. He writes, “a presidential self-pardon … would only be plunder to take home after a career-ending disgrace …” and that the president’s self-pardon would continue to benefit him even after leaving office, and even if he is impeached. Moreover, a self-pardon would be inconsistent with our separation of powers system.

Both sides offer compelling arguments. However, I lean in the direction of Nida and Spiro. The courts have usually given the president a lot of leeway on clemency questions. It’s likely that a self-pardon would end up in front of the Supreme Court. From there, they could find a self-pardon appropriate or not. In fact, it’s entirely possible that they could rule that a self-pardon is permissible, and point out that the remedy for abuse of clemency is what the framers of the Constitution intended for any abuse of power: impeachment.

Should he?

Whether or not Trump could pardon himself is a different question from whether he should, of course. Considerations related to impeachment play a role here, too, even if it may seem a remote possibility while the House of Representatives and the Senate remain under Republican control.

In 1915, the Supreme Court decided in Burdick v. United States that a pardon “carries an imputation of guilt and acceptance of a confession of it.” If President Trump indeed granted himself a self-pardon, it could be seen as a confession that he needed one. Though the pardon would wipe away his legal problems, he would be creating new political complications. The standard for impeachment, “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” is not criminal, it’s political, so an acknowledgment of guilt made via a self-pardon could actually become a starting point for impeachment.

Thus, while legally speaking, President Trump has a green light to pardon others, he should carefully consider whether a self-pardon, for all of its obvious benefits, is really worth the risk.

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Jeffrey Crouch, faculty, washington semester

 

Jeffrey Crouch is assistant professor of American government at American University and author of the book The Presidential Pardon Power. He is the reviews and book editor for AU’s Congress & the Presidency journal.