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Reveille for Writers

A call to all men of good will to be counted in the march up freedom road. The ivory tower no refuge from the atom bomb.

By Howard Fast

From the time human beings learned to record their thoughts and set them down, the pen has been a weapon of free men. That the pen is mightier than the sword is not merely a homily; and even though the sword has turned into an atom bomb, the written word remains a more potent tool of freedom.

I address myself to writers, not because the struggle is limited to them, but because they are so singularly and powerfully armed. For that reason, too, they are feared: they are bought off, bribed and cozened with enormous rewards, and the only thing asked in return is that they struggle no more, protest no more, that their clear, loud voices be blurred and muted--and that they seek no more for the truth.

What has happened in this land of ours? There were giants here once. I think of Thoreau, who went to jail rather than support an unjust, imperialist war; I think of Clemens, who hated injustice and bigotry, and fought it on every hand; I think of Emerson and his clear vision of democracy, of Whitman and the songs of freedom he sang, of Bryant, who hated so murderously those who made men slaves, of Garrison, who would not retreat or equivocate, of Stowe, who wrote to expose slavery, of John Swinton, who wrote to make men free.

I think back further, and there were the giants of revolution who served revolution so well with their pens, Tom Paine and Timothy Dwight and Joel Barlow and Philip Freneau.

And in the near, close past, there were Jack London, and Vachel Lindsay and Upton Sinclair and Frank Norris and Lincoln Steffens and Theodore Dreiser and John Reed and a hundred more who hated bigotry and shame and the degradation of man.

And only yesterday, in the immediate yesterday of our own lives, there were pens that knew neither fear nor intimidation--the pens of Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Erskine Caldwell, Clifford Odets, Albert Halper and Sinclair Lewis--to name only a few.

Then what has happened in this land of ours? What dry terror has muted these voices, paralyzed the pens, allowed wrong to be added to wrong and shame to shame--with only silence as commentary?

Today, with the memory of bursting bombs so fresh and terrible, the threat of a third world war looms terribly close.

In Hunter College, in the Bronx, a group of imperialist puppets lead an attack on the Soviet Union; in Washington, a group of native fascists, styling themselves a "Committee on Un-American Activities," traduce democracy, violate every ethic of decency, and lead an all-out attack on the constitutional rights of Americans.

A Negro community in Tennessee is ravaged by state police; two Negroes in Freeport, Long Island, are murdered by a police officer; in three other places in the South, Negroes were murdered and no legal action was taken against the murderers.

A half a million veterans are homeless, and no effectual measures are being taken to provide homes for them; veteran's protest Churchill's war mongering, and are jailed; and coal miners, thousands of them veterans, strike because they face actual starvation.

In Long Island, the Ku Klux Klan revives and declares war on Jews and labor unions. A bill is up in congress to emasculate trade unions more thoroughly than ever before.

Two German Communists, one of whom had been in a Hitler concentration camp for nine years, are sentenced to five years additional imprisonment by an American military court for "subversive activity."

And around the world, the war goes on--in Indonesia, Greece, Spain, Egypt, Palestine, India, Burma, China, the Philippines--and men fighting for democracy die under the bullets of the imperialists.

Was it for this that thirty million lives were laid down?

Then what is the responsibility of the writer? Is his conscience to be no more than the conscience of another? Is his guilt to be no more than the guilt of another? Is his silence to be sold at the lush price offered today?

Is it enough for him to engage in the delicate antics of literary debate? Is it enough for him to speak in abstruse terms of the properties of decency? Is it enough for him to do the right thing on the safe periphery of the struggle of mankind for a better world, and yet never touch the core of the subject?

I think not. For look at the place and position of the writer: he is articulate, among the masses of the inarticulate; he is trained to think, to deliberate, to weigh the material of life and seek for the truth, and he has the ear of thousands and very often the respect of thousands. He comes of a great tradition in the struggle for human freedom, and his very existence is based upon part of that tradition--the right of men to speak and publish their thoughts without restraint or the fear of duress.

In that great tradition, he has noble predecessors. In all the centuries of recorded history, how many writers were punished, tortured, imprisoned, and slain too because they aligned themselves on the side of freedom!

Again, in that tradition, he has the example of what tyranny does to art; he has seen the dry terror of European fascism shrivel and destroy art; he has seen the barren desert that calls itself the culture of fascism.

Can there be neutrality for the writer until the last rotten seed of fascism has been destroyed? Are there ivory towers immune from the deadly radiation of the atom bomb? Can we see hope and a good life destroyed when we have paid such a price--when we have come closer to a united and peaceful world than ever before?

We are still in a fight where only the stars are neutral. We are still in a condition where men of good will must stand up and be counted, or lower their heads in shame. NEW MASSES is a part of that fight; NEW MASSES has been in that fight for the dignity and freedom of man for a generation--deep in it, hard in it. What a roll call of American writers can remember how the pages of NEW MASSES were open to them when all other pages were closed!

NEW MASSES is still in that fight, and the pages of NEW MASSES are still open. They are open to all Americans who love justice and hate wrong.

There were giants in the land once; there can be giants again. But, as always before, they must come out of the people's struggle for a better world.