Hal Draper

Who’s Against the War Referendum?

American Legion
Distrusts the People

(11 August 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 58, 11 August 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The American Legion – its national leadership – is opposed to letting the people vote on the issue of peace or war. It denounces the idea of a people’s referendum before any start of armed warfare. And like the others who set themselves against this proposal, the Legion leaders give the show away when they get down to giving reasons.

A war referendum, says National Commander Doherty, would be

“productive of dissension and confusion and in the final analysis result in a divided nation. At best the decision would be a majority one. The proposed amendment implies lack of confidence on the part of our people in their Congressional representatives. This is not in accord with the facts. Other nations would readily interpret it as a sign of weakness.” (N.Y. Times, Jan. 10, 1939)

“To Hell With the Majority”

(1) Mr. Doherty takes for granted that when the United States goes to war, there will be a substantial section of the people who will be against that war, that there will be a “divided nation” which the referendum would only record. Who will have the majority in this division? Will the majority say “no,” or will it succumb to the war hysteria?

Mr. Doherty doesn’t care. A capitalist “democracy” doesn’t stop its war plans just because the majority of the people are against them. As Doherty’s Washington representative, Col. Taylor, pointed out: the expectation of an anti-war vote in a referendum is the best argument against holding any referendum – for these jingos to whom the people are so many cattle.

A Fascist Warning

(2) A democratic vote would be a “sign of weakness”! Here Doherty repeats the essential argument which is made by ... the fascists! The fascists say scornfully to the “democracies”: “You are weak because you must depend on convincing your people to commit suicide; we merely order them; you must step a little carefully to put your war plans across; we can drive forward without asking anyone.” And Doherty’s refutation is: On the war question, at least, there is and can not be a speck of democracy permitted, in the “democracies” any more than in Germany or Italy.

(3) Mr. Doherty is serving notice that when war breaks out, if not before, the regime that will be established in this country will be TOTALITARIAN. Only one point of view – pro-war – could be expressed; for would not a “divided nation” be shown if free speech could be exercised by those against the war? Wouldn’t the running of election candidates of an anti-war party provide a partial count of how many oppose the war, and therefore be impermissible ? – The American people, says Doherty, will be divided by war; but it will be up to the government to hammer them into an appearance of “national unity” in the same way that Hitler gets his 99 percent votes.

No Reliance on Bosses!

(4) If Congress really consists of representatives of the people, then its vote on the war should be a reflection of the “divided nation.” Mr. Doherty, however, does not seem to be worried about a divided Congress, if the President pops the question. He seems to have confidence that the 96 Senators and the 400 odd Representatives, who now have the power to plunge 130,000,000 people into the slaughter, WILL GO ALONG WHEN “THE DAY” COMES.

Every worker who has the same confidence in Congress as Mr. Doherty shows must say: TAKE THE WAR-MAKING POWER AWAY PROM WASHINGTON!

We DO lack confidence in the Congressional Representatives to represent the interests of the American masses. Moreover they have proved it themselves by refusing even to discuss the war referendum a week after the Gallup poll showed that 72 percent of the people favored it.

To rely on the bosses’ men in Washington is to give them a free hand to lead us into war. TAKE THE WAR-MAKING POWER AWAY PROM WASHINGTON! LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

Last updated on 10 March 2016