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Jack Wilson

The Case of Lew Ayres

A Courageous Man – a Futile Gesture

(April 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 14, 5 April 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In that popular Dr. Kildaire movie series, Lew Ayres, Hollywood star, became the symbol of a kind of doctor of which this world needs many more: one who fights incessantly against ignorance, prejudice, conservatism and the other opponents of human progress in the field of medicine.

Dr. Kildaire always got in hot water with the “powers-that-be” by acting according to his burning faith in justice, truth and the common people.

Unlike a vast herd of Hollywood stars, Lew Ayres did not separate his personal life and convictions from the ideas and roles he portrayed on the screen.

Ayres achieved great recognition for his appearance as a young soldier in that brilliant anti-war movie, All Quiet on the Western Front.

It was this movie, he told a draft board last week, that gave him an unshakable conviction that all wars were futile. And that is why he expressed opposition to the present World War and why he was classified as a conscientious objector.

The significance of this bold stand far outweighs the futile method by which Ayres sought to oppose the present world slaughter.

Like many other movie actors, Ayres could have obtained a soft post in the Army, traveling around the country, and being lionized by café society. It was the easy road.

Ayres Takes the Hard Read

Instead, Ayres, took the hard road, filled with curses and slanders; he sacrificed his personal career in order to be true to his convictions. This was the action of a brave man.

His action was the first rift in the propaganda capital of America, Hollywood. It was in the best tradition of artists and actors of other trying times, who sought to place themselves on the side of suffering humanity.

Of course, Ayres will be hounded and cursed, especially in Hollywood, by those who know better, by those whose guilty consciences are irritated by the example of an honest man.

Muni and Douglas

Not so long ago, Paul Muni, a notable actor, appeared in the splendid production, The Life of Emile Zola, which exposed, the Dreyfuss frame-up that rocked France. But Muni was afraid to speak up against the equally infamous Moscow Trials because of the threats and power of the Stalinist machine.

And Melvyn Douglas, to take another example, obtained a reputation as a friend of the “oakies” and of “unpopular” causes by his activities. Yet, recently he refused to voice his real opinion of the Minneapolis frame-up trials, although his organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, denounced the verdict against the Minneapolis Trotskyists.

There are many other examples of the cowardice and fear on the part of the Hollywood crowd. It is precisely because Lew Ayres rose above this putrifying atmosphere that his action is symbolic.

We hold no brief for conscientious objectors. Their philosophy is as futile a way of struggle as, the very imperialist slaughter they seek to resist. Ours is a fighting creed, provided there is something worth fighting for, as our war for labor and democratic rights testifies.

We do not expect the bewildered masses, fed with lies and other propaganda, to come directly to a clear-cut program which offers them a real way out of their toil and troubles and miseries. But we welcome each manifestation of the break of dawn.

And the Lew Ayres’ action was the first national symptom. In its own way it is interlinked with the struggle labor is making to preserve itself from the would-be Hitlers of of America.

There will be many more “Lew Ayres.” Men who sacrifice career and life in the struggle for humanity, each in his own way.

And when these brave men join together behind a program of socialism, the dawn of a new world will be at hand.

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