Some Weeks ago the National Conference of Jews and Christians made public an appeal for the Jews of Germany signed by one hundred and forty-two heads of American universities and seventy-seven social scientists. The document, generally represented as a protest, was actually “a scientific approach to a problem and an appeal to common sense.” It was, in brief, a discreet kind of protest.
Among the signers were President Angell of Yale University, President Hopkins of Dartmouth College, President Wilbur of Leland Stanford, Jr. University, President Aydelotte of Swarthmore College, President Mac-Cracken of Vassar, President Pendleton of Wellesley, President Garfield of Williams, and President Sills of Bowdoin College.
Living in Larchmont, N. Y., there is a gentleman named Keith Ainsworth Wood, who describes himself as being neither Jew nor pro- nor anti-Semitc, as one who knows Germany and the German people, having worked as manager of some of the largest automobile plants in Germany.
Mr. Wood has written a letter to the eight college presidents listed above. He has admonished them. He has asked them what in the devil they mean by appealing against anti-Semitism in Germany when there is so much of it in America, and in their own institutions, too. Says he in effect: Clean up your own stables!
Mr. Wood has sent us, and a number of other papers I have no doubt, a copy of his letter to President Angell of Yale, wherein he elaborates his theme of non-interference in the affairs of Germany. He questions the integrity of the National Conference of Jews and Christians in a passing thrust, writing to Dr. Angell in this wise: “So far… I have not seen this organization take more than a pedagogic interest in the anti-Semitic problem in the United States, nor have I seen your name attached to any protest against the social exclusion of Jews from organizations in this country such as college fraternities and other fraternal organizations, golf clubs, colleges, hotels or the economic exclusion of Jews from the personnel of certain banking houses, etc.”
Mr. Wood has looked into the subject and is aware of the fact that Dr. Angell is a member of the fraternity known as Delta Kappa Epsilon. “Will you kindly inform me,” asks Mr. Wood with a touch of what strikes me as insolence, “whether you have ever protested to the national officers of that fraternity on the exclusion of Jews from its membership?” And then, with a when did you stop beating your wife cross-examination attitude, Mr. Wood threatens: “Unless I hear from you to the contrary I am going to assume that you deem ‘it appropriate that individuals far from Germany should express their concern about the intense anti-Jewish campaign’ merely because Germany is far away and, therefore, any protest there can raise no embarrassing personal problems for you and your co-signers of this most remarkable academic document.”
Mr. Wood is inexorable. He asks Dr. Angell “whether Yale University limits the number of Jewish students and to what extent and by what standards of measurement.” And repeats that unless-I-hear-from-you-to-the – contrary-I-intend-to-as-sume threat, which is almost a guarantee of dismissal into the wastepaper basket. Mr. Wood goes on to say that the Germans might almost send their pedagogues here to study American methods of cold pogroms, and goes on to list the ways in which anti-Semitism finds expression in the United States. In closing his admonitory letter Mr. Wood threatens to assume that unless Dr. Angellâ€”and the other college presidentsâ€”inform him, Mr. Wood, to the contrary of his assumptions, then they are pro-Semites in Germany and anti-Semites in America.
Mr. Wood, whoever he may be, gives the effect of being very ingenuous and innocent, but he is, in effect, extremely sly. His letter illustrates the common ground on which the extreme pro-Semite and the extreme anti-Semite meet. Mr. Wood actually makes a sound like that emitted by the indignant pro-Semite in the publication of an injustice to the Jews, but the effect of his remarks, if not the underlying intention, is anti-Semitic. His letter recalls that admonition of Hitler, expressed some months ago, in answer to critics of his anti-Semitic policy. What right have Americans, he asked, to find fault with our policy when their own immigration policy, for instance, is based on exclusions? In fact, he continued, we are taking a leaf out of the American book. Which is of course a clumsy confusion of the issue.
Mr. Wood questions the right of college presidents to protest against cold and hot pogroms because their universities may limit the number of Jewish students, and because there are fraternities, housed in those universities, which bar Jewish students from membership. It seems to me that this insistence on clean hands can go ludicrously far. Has a man who has once spanked a child no right to protest against the slaughter of the innocents? Has a man who has once had a stiff drink of liquor no right to protest against the saloon? Has a man who has once been careless with matches no right to a place in the brigade that is putting out a forest fire? Has a non-Jew, who has voted against the admission of a Jew to his club no right to protest when that same Jew is assaulted and imprisoned? Or when he is thrown out of a job in which he has proved his capacity and devotion? The logic of Mr. Wood’s letter is fanatic. In every one of the cases listed above it would deny the right of protest, denying the distinction between a major and a minor crisis.
When a house is on fire, Mr. Wood, you do not stop to pick up pins in the road. When the flames are licking their way toward the fuse of dynamite, you do not stop to discover whether the chicken or the egg came first in the human scheme of things. First you put out the fire, then you pick up the pins; and after you’ve put out the fire and doused the dynamite you pursue your argument. Men of sense and men of justice are united in their feeling of protest against a fixed policy which makes it an irretrievable error, punishable by physical injury, boycott, starvation and imprisonment, to be a member of a certain race.
After they have crushed that infamy, they may pursue their debate as to whether a club, fraternity or suburban “development” has the right to bar Jews. If Jews may not belong to the Union League Club, they have the possible alternative of forming a Union League Club of their own, from which they may have the pleasure of black-balling members of a subdivision of their race. If Jewish college students may not belong to such and such a fraternity they have the right to organize a fraternity of their own. Of course it is unjust that Jews, as Jews, should be limited in their opportunities, in their places of residence, in their clubs, but these are lesser evils, after all, compared with the infamy of Hitlerism which condemns a whole people, unheard, on the mere ground of having been born into a certain race. So far as I am concerned, I will gladly accept the help of President Angell of Yale, even if he does belong to a non-Semitic fraternity and has his home in a summer colony which does not admit Jewsâ€”if he hasâ€”against the essential evil of Hitlerism. After Jews and non-Jews have achieved justice in the greater battle they can part ways and Jews, perhaps by themselves, perhaps with the help of the National Conference of Jews and Christians, can strive to achieve justice on the American battlefront.
But as for denying President Angell the right to protest with American Jews for German Jews, don’t be silly, Mr. Wood. If I board a train at New York with the intention of changing at Chicago for a South-bound train to New Orleans and a fellow-traveller boards the same train planning to part from me at Chicago for Los Angeles, that man is my fellow-traveller until Chicago. The eight college presidents to whom you deny the right to protest against anti-Semitism in Germany are our fellow-travellersâ€”until Chicago.