DECEMBER 18, 1952
NEW YORK, Wednesday—I read with some interest the following paragraph in one of yesterday evening's papers: "A Federal Grand Jury indicted Owen Lattimore today on seven perjury counts which included a charge that he lied when he swore he never was a promoter of communism and communist interests."
To be indicted for something that may so easily be a matter of difference of opinion and hard to prove must be very baffling.
For instance, in the early days many people hoped that what has now come to be the dominant group in China, and a communist-led and controlled group, might be only an agrarian reform group. Everybody, I think, knew that conditions in China for years had been so bad for the people that reforms in government were long overdue. When a small movement began to better the conditions of the people, many outsiders reflected their sympathy, realizing the conditions that faced the people of China and hoping that this new movement would develop into a middle-of-the-road, democratic effort rather than a communist effort.
I have no idea whether Mr. Lattimore ever held this hope, but I could not help feeling that if one had held it and had tried to bring about reconciliation between different groups in China and this particular group, one might today be considered as having been "a promoter of communism and communist interests." Yet, one might never have thought of helping the Communists and certainly would not have wished to do so.
Mr. Lattimore has proclaimed his innocence and will fight the charges against him. In Mr. Lattimore's case, be judged by a jury of your peers should mean, I suppose, a jury of university professors. And that is about what this case will require, for those who are going to decide these questions should have a knowledge of Far Eastern affairs and their history.
It was Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin who accused Mr. Lattimore of being "a top secret agent" of Soviet Russia in the United States and a Communist party member "for several years." This Mr. Lattimore also promptly denied.
I don't know Mr. Lattimore well but judging his case, like a considerable number of others, is going to require great knowledge to achieve a fair and just decision.
I thought his statement was interesting: "All that I can do is, in the words of a namesake of mine, to be of good comfort and play the man; for if I should not it would be an evil day in our country for freedom of conscience, of research and of comment. These are freedoms that should be guarded by all, but by university professors with a special devotion."
That is a statement that we should ponder. Anyone who is really a subversive, who has lied about his activities and who has knowingly promoted communism, should, of course, be discovered and prevented from any further harmful activities. But we should be equally diligent in seeing that no one is not given a fair trial by people who are capable of understanding the real situation which had existed and which exists today throughout the world, or we will stamp out all freedom of thought and of expression.