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Howard Fast Revisits Foley Sq.

By Howard Fast

It is a long time since I was last at Foley Square, where reason, honor and decency are at the bar before that "gentle" judge, Harold R. Medina.

The world turned and storms broke and cleared, and the People's Army of Liberation took Nanking first and then Shanghai; the Berlin blockade was lifted, and the man who sat like a lord over America's armed might, trapped like a hurt beast in a maze, hurled himself from a high window to the only solution for the contradictions that beset him. All this and more, but Harold Medina has not changed, nor has prosecutor McGohey--nor apparently, have any of the suave, smooth-shaven gentlemen who act for the government at Foley Square.

Their sameness is rather frightening and rather terrible; for they make the same motions and speak the same lines and do the same things, over and over and over--like damned players in some ancient passion that will be acted to its finish, a finale to all the countless generations of class oppression.

There is Harry Sacher for the defense; here is change with a vengeance, for two months have made him older, more tired; his anger is deeper; he gives you the impression of a man whose understanding of the forces that oppose him has been tempered to a white heat. There was no sign of humor when I watched him; when a thing becomes sufficiently evil and monstrous, it is very hard to laugh at it.

He was questioning John Gates, who sat on the witness stand for the defense. Two months ago, when I was last at Foley Square, Budenz sat in that same chair.

Here are classic players indeed; for Budenz had cringed, whispered, and wet his lips, a white-faced Iscariot, whereas Gates surrounds himself with a cold calm and an immense pride. His voice is even, firm and completely contained, and in its very calmness there is an unmistakable scorn for the accusers. You watch him, and you begin to understand how easy and how good it is to speak the truth.

But other things have not changed. I note on a slip of paper nine questions, all in a row, which Harry Sacher puts to Gates. Nine time, Prosecutor McGohey rises to his feet and says, "Objection." Nine times, all in a row, without break or interruption, Judge Harold Medina answered, "Sustained." And each of the times, there is a grimace through the court, not humor, but like a twitch, like an involuntary tic.

Now, after all these months, no one is astonished that in a court of "justice," there is not even a little trace of justice; but people still react, and the twitch, the involuntary tic, is the reaction.

And when Gates reads the things he wrote, the hard, logical phrasing, the reasoned arguments, the impassioned consistency toward freedom--when he reads these things, there are no reactions from the judge, from the prosecutor, from the bright law-school boys who assist him: and once again you have the feeling that this is predecided, that no words, no arguments, no reasons, no truths can reach the nugget of humanity that supposedly lives in all human creatures, including these.

So I look around me, after two months away, and regret that I cannot work with pen and picture, as Daumier did, rather than with words. Here are Rushmore and Knickerbocker, the renegade and the pro-Nazi: Rushmore like a long, bloodless bird, his immense nose nodding as he whispers to the wizen-faced, pink-haired Knickerbocker. Daumier drew them a hundred times; a picture is better than to try to describe in words how such men live. When I was here last, they were whispering in such a fashion--and it almost seems that one, long-drawn filthy word has contained them all that time.

The trial continues. There will be more witnesses like John Gates, honest men and brave men--strange men who have only one major purpose in life, to serve mankind and to put an end to all things evil and rotten. I said strange; to you and me they are not strange, but in this court at Foley Square, where so many sit who could not comprehend, much less accept an unselfish or honest action, they are strange indeed.

In that long series of sustained objections, which I spoke of before, there was one moment when Medina h e s i t a t e d. McGohey faced him, and I could not see McGohey's face, yet Medina's was plain enough. Then a momentary hush came over the court, and I think everyone wondered what was in the Judge's mind before he said, "Sustained."

I have said before that this is a monstrous tragic-comedy that goes on at Foley Square; could it be that, now and again, Judge Medina realizes this?