December 28, 2005


JAILED FOR THEIR WORDS: A law passed during World War I pitched Montanans into prison for critical remarks; law students are seeking clemency for them (Maurice Possley, December 28, 2005, Chicago Tribune)

On April 23, 1918, with the U.S. in the depths of World War I, Fred Rodewald, a German immigrant homesteader who had settled with his family on 320 acres in eastern Montana, uttered a sentence that forever changed his life.

He suggested that Americans "would have hard times" if Germany's kaiser "didn't get over here and rule this country."

That remark earned him 2 years in prison for violating Montana's Sedition Act. When he went off to the penitentiary in Deer Lodge, the 42-year-old Rodewald left behind a pregnant wife and eight children. An armistice ended the war less than a month later.

Now, nearly 90 years later, law students at the University of Montana have begun a quest and are prowling dusty archives and musty courthouse storage rooms across the state to clear Rodewald and 73 other Montanans convicted of sedition.

The project provides a contrast between the waning days of World War I, when a farmer could be jailed for suggesting that it was "a rich man's war," and today, when citizens can criticize the war in Iraq without fear of prosecution, if not without fear of government surveillance.

If only a Democrat were in office for the WoT, John Murtha and Cindy Sheehan would be behind barbed wire....

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 28, 2005 12:37 PM

No OJ, They'd be supporting the war.

Posted by: Genecis at December 28, 2005 1:32 PM

Don't suggest they aren't patrotic for bashing their country, either.

Posted by: sharon at December 28, 2005 2:43 PM

Really does make one long for the good ol' days when a Cindy Sheehan, Mary Mapes, Joseph Wilson, Ward Churchill or even Howard Dean could be made to shut up, doesn't it?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 28, 2005 3:40 PM

"I know that it is hard for Americans to realize the magnitude of the war in which we are involved. We have problems in this war no other nations have. Fortunately the great majority of American citizens of German descent have in this great crisis of our history shown themselves splendidly loyal to our flag. Everyone had a right to sympathize with any warring nation, but now that we are in the war there are only two sides and the time has come when every citizen must declare himself American or traitor. We must disappoint the Germans who have always believed that the German-Americans here would risk their property, their children's futures, and their own necks and take up arms for the Kaiser. The foreign minister of Germany once said to me, "Your country does not dare do anything against Germany because we have in your country 500,000 German reservists who will rise in arms against your government if you dare to make a move against Germany."

Well, I told him that that might be so, but that we had 501,000 lampposts in this country and that that was where the reservists would be hanging the day after they tried to rise. And if there are any German-Americans here who are so ungrateful for all the benefits they have received that they are still for the Kaiser there is only one thing to do with them, and that is to hog-tie them, give them back the wooden shoes and the rags they landed in, and ship them back to the fatherland.

I have traveled this year over all the United States, through the Alleghenies, the White Mountains, and the Catskills; the Rockies and the Bitterroot Mountains; the Cascades, the Coast Range, and the Sierras, and in all these mountains there is no animal that fights and kicks and squeals and scratches that would bite and squeal and scratch equal to a fat German-American if you commenced to tie him up and told him that he was on his way back to the Kaiser."--Amb. James "W." Gerard, 1917

Posted by: Noel at December 28, 2005 10:15 PM

Temporal forum shopping.

One of the reasons we have a statute of limitations and an ex post facto rule is a core value that conduct should be judged by the standards in effect at the time of its commission.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 29, 2005 1:01 PM