Friday, March 2, 2018

Oregonians Propose Volunteer Auto Militia in 1918 to Thwart Invasion

Salem in 1918 was a strange and anxious place. There's a real turn from previous years in the emotional texture and weight of news. World War I and the Russian Revolution dominate the front-page headlines, unsurprisingly. But local news shows narrowed horizons, fear of non-conformists and strangers, and a kind of idolatrous patriotism.

Automobile militia
February 20th, 1918
Fearing coastal invasion in the west, on February 20th, they announced a special volunteer militia "automobile corps." It's like Boy Scouts with Cars for adults!
C. W. Niemeyer, Veteran of the Canadian Contingent, Will Head Movement

The first organized Automobile Corps in existence will be recruited in this state and paraded before a high official of the U. S. war office in Portland on April 20. Authority was granted today by the adjutant general's department for the organization of the corps....[something garbled] As there will be a decidede [sic] element of sport and patriotism in the applicatiin [sic] of the corps, motorists hail with delight the introduction of a military unit whereby they might still further display their love for one's country. All a car owner has to do is to offer his car (any make) and services when required for the conveying of troops rapidly to any point tho military authorities may desire. Acting Adjutant General John M, Williams states that such an organization would be of the utmost value to the state of Oregon, owing to its great strategical value.

The review on April 20th will be followed by a "raid by large enemy forces" somewhere on the Columbia, 'which it will be the duty of the corps to repel. As mobility is the primary motive of the corps efforts are being made to have the speed limits shot to the winds during such times as the corps is "in action." Similar schemes will be held at intervals in conjunction with existing military bodies.

The organization will be known as the State of Oregon Volunteer Automobile Corps, each member of which will be entitled to fly from his car a specially designed flag. The corps will consist of four squadrons of four trains. Each train will be composed of 27 cars, or a total of 435 cars, including three staff cars. One motor truck for the carrying of supplies in the way of oil, gasoline, food, etc., will be attached to each train. Fourteen motor cyclists, equipped with signalling apparatus would serve as scouts, vanguard and rearguard. A section of mechanics would also accompany each train equipped with repair accessories and minor repair parts. The complete establishment or strength of the corps would be 1725 officers, n. c. os. and men and 465 vehicles. The commanding officer would be appointed by the state militia authorities, but all other officers and n. c. os. would be appointed by the members....
February 4th, 1918
But it wasn't just fun and games with speeding and pageantry. Earlier in the month  male "alien enemies" 14 or older had been required to register at the Police Station or Post Office.
Detailed information including personal habits, and business relations of every German together with his photograph and finger prints will be taken by the department or justice in a national registration week beginning today.

A certified card, showing that he has been registered must be carried at all times on the person of German aliens and he may not change his place of residence without first notifying and obtaining the permission of the police or postmaster of the town or city in which he lives....
Later that year the registration was extended to women.

June 3rd, 1918
(Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, there seems to be few real discussions of this episode online, and I could not easily find a good, general reference for linking here.)

Eugenics board and sterilization
February 6th, 1918
We forget about the Eugenics Board and forced sterilization.
Herbert Merithew, a convict at the state penitentiary, has taken an appeal from the order of the state board of eugenics directing that he be sterilized under the provisions of a law passed by the last legislature, according to a letter received today by Attorney General Brown from Dr. A. C. Seeley, president of the board....The eugenics board has ordered that four convicts be sterilized....Merithew is serving a sentence of seven years for an attempted crime against nature, which was committed while he was serving a one-year term...for assault with a dangerous weapon.
In December the State Library just published a online selection of documents about sterilization.

from Same-Sex Affairs by Peter Boag
Peter Boag discusses Merithew's specific case a little in Same-Sex Affairs: Constructing and Controlling Homosexuality in the Pacific Northwest. It seems no rape was also involved on this particular "crime against nature," but Merithew clearly was tangled up in other, real crimes. In the end, Merithew gave up his appeal.

Anarchist or just an annoying Pacifist?
February 19th, 1918
Free speech was not as highly valued. Criticism and protest could be easily recast as espionage.
Portland, Or., Feb. 19. "Would you mind changing that to Siberia? It would be more appropriate," asked Floyd Ramp, Roseburg socialist, immediately after Federal District Judge Wolverton sentenced him to serve two years at McNeil's Island federal prison and pay a fine of $1000, following conviction on a charge of violating the espionage act.

Ramp pave notice of appeal. He announced Seymour Steadman of Chicago will conduct his appeal from the local court.

Ramp was convicted of haranguing California drafted men stopping at Roseburg, seeking to make them dissatisfied with the army. Several times, the troops nearly mobbed him, according to testimony at the trial. Ramp who is not [an] attorney, conducted his own defense, and long arguments with witnesses over political, economic and religious questions were common during his cross examination.
Floyd Ramp, National Archives at Seattle
via Oregon Historical Society and OHQ
The paper even editorialized about a kid who didn't salute the flag:
Miss Hazel Stewart, dismissed from San Francisco schools, for refusing to salute the flag of this country, will fight the order (or her socialist backers will) on the ground or personal liberty. The case should be thrown out of court as soon as it is filed.
Free Speech and saluting the Flag
February 25th, 1918
This girl will be made the central figure in a case by an element which will contend that disrespect toward the flag and abuse of the government are personal rights guaranteed to them under the constitution.

But why should the constitution or any statute be construed by a court to afford protection to persons who have no respect for the constitution or the government founded upon it? Why should such people be allowed the benefit of our schools and other free institutions, or be accorded the protection of the laws they revile?

These radical socialists are placing every possible obstacle in the way of the nation in a time of grave peril. They are aiding and abetting a powerful enemy who seeks to force the world under the domination of military government and to destroy the very foundations of democratic government. If socialists recognize no existing form of government they should not have the right to appeal to the courts of this or any other organized government to guarantee them the right to advocate the overthrow of government and substitution in its stead of their untried and impractical theories.


Anonymous said...

A long twitter thread might be of interest -

"It’s important to understand that this anti-Asian component was in fact the primary driver in this legislation [1924 Immigration act], and hysteria over Asian immigration the predominant fuel in the propaganda campaigns that led to its passage – with, as we shall see, genuinely dire consequences. They called it the "Yellow Peril." It was essentially a conspiracy theory which posited that the Japanese emperor intended to invade the Pacific Coast, and was sending these immigrants to American shores as shock troops to prepare the way for just such a military action. These immigrants, it was believed, would lay the groundwork for acts of sabotage and espionage when the signal was given. As politician James Phelan put it in 1907, the Japanese immigrants represented an "enemy within our gates." One book, “The Valor of Ignorance” by Homer Lea, laid out this plan in great detail. It included maps of western Washington, notably Greys Harbor County, as likely locations for the eventual military invasion. It was a bestseller."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks! The info on Homer Lea, especially, was new. Good context.