BEST OF 2014: Sacco and Vanzetti Common Knowledge
I've enjoyed doing the Common Knowledge series, and it seems like there's really no end to the number of stories that have been misleading or misunderstood in the past. I still have quite a few lined up in my links to get to when the mood strikes me, stuff like the Rosenbergs, Internment camps, and more. One of the biggest linked and read stories I did this year was one on a "trial of the century" from the early 20th, about two radicals who got a lousy trial but were guilty as sin. But back then, you couldn't squeeze out of it by being a popular radical like Bill Ayers. Their names were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti and they were darlings of the hard left. An excerpt:
Upton Sinclair wrote a book about how the men were innocent and railroaded, but later letters were found indicating that he feared for his life and decided "It is much better copy as a naive defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public." Sinclair's biographer Pasco later said in an interview with NPR:
I think he cut some corners on this. He thought that a larger truth was that there was repression in America and that that was his subject and that innocent people sometimes were found guilty. I think that he showed a similar kind of ethical lapse later on when he was very hesitant in the late 1930s and early 1940s to condemn Stalin.
Even if the men were guilty, he felt that the larger context of the world in which they were living rendered their guilt perhaps less important than it might have been otherwise.
As the son of one of the group of Boston revolutionaries told Pasco, “They all lied. They did it for the cause.” The cause was more important than the crimes or the lives taken, more important than the robbery of working class people's payroll. More important than the truth.
One of the attorneys for Sacco and Vanzetti, Fred Moore, was a strong defender of the pair, but when he became convinced that they were actually guilty of the crimes, they fired him. Moore later told Sinclair that the men were guilty and further how he'd created fraudulent alibis for the men.
One of the primary men behind the public outcry defending Sacco and Vanzetti was Willi Münzenberg, who worked for Josef Stalin. He raised half a million dollars for their defense and publicity, of which the Committee only saw about $6000. As Chuck DeVore points out in Human Events:
Known by historically minded conservatives as “anti-anti-communism,” this crusading mindset of the left in America made the Cold War all the more dangerous by disarming a large segment of the American population to the notion that the Soviet Union and communism was a deadly enemy to be resisted. Instead, the theory of “moral equivalency” took hold, largely due to the efforts of people such as Upton Sinclair, whose influential writings portrayed the United States as a bad nation with no standing to criticize the U.S.S.R., a Socialist workers’ paradise.
In 1926, a bomb destroyed the house of the man who called the police on Sacco. While in prison, Sacco called for the public death of the judge, who he blamed for everything now instead of his lawyers.