Book Review

A Trial On Trial: The Great Sedition Trial Of 1944

by Lawrence Dennis and Maximilian St. George. Torrance, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1984, 503pp, $11.00, Pb, ISBN 0-939484-20-X.

Reviewed by L. A. Rollins

About fifteen years ago, in the midst of the raging debate over American involvement in the Indochina War, which I had come to oppose, I wrote a heated denunciation of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial of 1969. At that time I knew nothing of the Great Sedition Trial of 1944, which was, in some ways, a strikingly similar judicial farce.

Of course, the Sedition Trial of 1944 has been consigned to the Orwellian memory hole by America's post-World-War-Two political, economic, intellectual, cultural, academic and media establishments. After all, a basic and unquestioned premise of all post-war Establishment thinking has been the necessity and nobility of Roosevelt II's interventionist warmongering. And the reality of the mass sedition trial of 1944 rather glaringly conflicts with at least one aspect of the mythological version of Roosevelt's War, the myth that the Roosevelt regime displayed an unusually tender solicitude for civil liberties during wartime. The IHR's reprinting of Dennis and St. George's classic work on the 1944 Sedition Trial is an important contribution to the task of "blasting the historical blackout" that still keeps most Americans in the dark about Roosevelt's War.

Lawrence Dennis was himself one of the twenty-nine defendants charged with conspiring to undermine the morale of the armed forces in violation of the Smith Act of 1940. His co-author Maximilian St. George, was defense attorney for Joseph McWilliams, another of the defendants in the trial.

The book is not so much an account of the trial as an analysis of it. Dennis and St. George identify the people and the purposes behind the trial, how and why it came about. And they devote much of the book to a dissection of the government's case against the accused seditionists. This detailed legal discussion is, perhaps inevitably, somewhat repetitious and, therefore, somewhat tedious. But there is much here that should be of interest to civil libertarians as well as revisionists.

The prosecutor, O. John Rogge, accused the defendants of membership in a world-wide Nazi conspiracy. His case consisted largely of out-of-context quotations from the writings of the defendants. These quotations were supposed to show that the defendants agreed with Nazi criticisms of Communism, democracy, Jews and/or the warmongering Roosevelt regime. Thus, agreement with the Nazis on one or more points was made out to be the equivalent of full-fledged, conscious participation in a conspiracy to Nazify the planet. Dennis and St. George painstakingly debunk this ludicrous attempt to prove guilt-by-association. They also include a chapter calling for an end to the abuse of the charge of "conspiracy." Perhaps those revisionists with a penchant for parroting conspiracy theories based on similar guilt-by-association arguments will take heed of the author's views.

Dennis and St. George point out (p. 83) that "One of the many ironies of the mass Sedition Trial was that the defendants were charged with conspiring to violate a law aimed at communists and a communist tactic, that of trying to undermine the loyalty of the armed forces. What makes this so ironical is that many of the defendants, being fanatical anti-Communists, had openly supported the enactment of this law." How's that for being hoisted with one's own petard? As the authors go on to say, "The moral is one of the major points of this book: laws intended to get one crowd may well be used by them to get the authors and backers of the law. This just another good argument for civil liberties and freedom of speech."

Perhaps the backers of the prosecution of Ernst Z√ľndel in Canada for publishing "false news" about "the Holocaust" should contemplate this particular point. Imagine how many Canadian Holocausters would end up behind bars if the law against publishing "false news" about "the Holocaust" were ever used against them. There wouldn't be enough jails to hold 'em.

Here is another of the ironies of the Sedition Trial. As Dennis and St. George pointed out for the benefit of the "extremists of the left" who supported the trial, the same sort of guilt-by-association argument could easily be used to make a similar case against those same leftists. They write (p. 211), "If anti-Semitism equals Nazism and Nazism equals conspiracy to cause insubordination, any brand of socialism can be made to equal Russian communism and, if popular feeling were aroused against Russia, Russian communism could equal conspiracy to commit almost any crime in the catalogue." This is a rather prescient statement, considering it was first published in 1945. Three years later, with the Cold War in full swing, the Truman regime indicted twelve top Communist leaders (including Eugene Dennis) under the Smith Act.

In Chapter XIX, "Beating an Improper Prosecution," Dennis and St. George give their advice on how to fight a free speech battle in American courts. Thus, at a time when the Zionist Inquisitors are resorting more and more to outright governmental censorship to stamp out historiography heresy, A Trial on Trial takes on increasing practical importance. I recommend it highly.

From The Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1985 (Vol. 6, No. 1), pages 123-124.