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"At what point did we become so… authoritarian,” I argued, unable to think of a nastier word. “That we condemn a man for having an opinion different from ours?”
Chaos erupted. One of the boys in my class kept repeating “He’s a traitor! He’s a traitor!” over and over again in a very loud voice. A 30-something woman was calmly trying to explain to me why I was wrong as if I were a small child. The women around me, who I’d been pleasantly talking with earlier, were alternately shaking their heads and trying to reason with me as though I were a madman.
Why this sudden and violent fervor?
I dared to defend Ezra Pound.
Now, before anyone gets too upset, I am, by no means, a Nazi or a Fascist. I’m not even a Democrat or a Republican. I’m a Libertarian. And, because I believe in freedom of speech, I saw no reason why Ezra Pound should have been confined to a cage, open to the elements, until he had a physical and mental breakdown and then had to suffer through a trial for treason which landed him in a mental hospital for the criminally insane.
Ezra Pound made radio broadcasts. He didn’t kill anyone. He simply spoke his mind. True, his beliefs were fascist. True, he broadcast his speeches as part of Italian propaganda. However, I see no way in which that merits a cage followed by a mental hospital. If he’d killed men, I’d have a different view on the subject. If he’d had the power to order men to be killed, I would have a different view on the subject. The facts of the matter are, though, that he did not have those powers and did not kill people. He spoke his mind over the radio and then studied Italian art. As the professor himself pointed out, the soldiers in WWII would hardly have taken his words to heart since he used the same odd style that pervades his poetry in his speeches. In all likelihoods, they would have gone, “Hey, do you hear this Italian fag on the radio?” and laughed him off.
But even if his words had struck a cord with the American or English soldiers, does that merit caging a man and breaking his spirit? Does speech justify violence against the speaker? Does having a different opinion justify trying to put someone to death? My firm answer is no. People are allowed to have opinions, even wrong ones. That is just my opinion, but I stand by it. Which makes me all the more appalled by the uproar I caused during class. Of course, at the time, I was firmly in a battle stance going…
To those crying out for Ezra Pound’s head and for me to see the reason behind taking his life. And having to firmly explain myself when Jen got it into her head that, “I know you have a soft spot for him, what with him being your research topic and all.”
"No, it’s because I’m a Libertarian," I responded, causing a domino effect of subtle "Oh that explains it, how cute" looks from the classmates who could hear me.
Well, now I have them. Ezra Pound was known for his fascist views. We went into the discussion with “I know he’s a bastard, but his poetry is good.” The next person we’re studying is Gertrude Stein. Gertrude Stein, little known fact, was also fascist. She helped translate propaganda speeches for the Nazi party and was under the protection of the Vichy government in France. She also, ironically, was anti-Semitic and wanted to give Hitler the Nobel Peace Prize for ridding the world of Jews and creating peace within his country. However, since she’s also a lesbian, a Jew, and a woman writer, people tend to skim over that part of her life or justify it as “self preservation” (when, in actuality, as an renowned internationalist, she could have left at the first brick thrown threw a Jewish window). Instead, she stayed in Paris, moving to her summer home in Belley when things got to hot there and eventually died of stomach cancer—an inherited disease in her family. No warrants out for her arrest. Merely praise.
You can’t have it both ways. Either you want both Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein to be executed as traitors or you leave both of them alone. They were doing virtually the same thing in two different countries. Only one is branded as a traitor and one is lauded as a renowned poetess. That is what is supremely unjust.
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