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west answers vfw’s letter (1955) Editors’ Note: This essay, West’s reply to a questionnaire by the Dalton, Georgia, chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1955, underscores his view of citizenship and patriotism. During this period, West had been serving as the editor of The Southerner newspaper, a weekly tabloid published by the Union Assembly of God church in Dalton. The Southerner supported a strike by chenille workers in the local textile mills. The two Dalton newspapers hounded West for his past political affiliations; the Dalton Citizen even printed a special “Don West supplement .” This essay appeared in the Dalton Citizen on September 1, 1955, and was reprinted in The Southerner. Under extremely volatile conditions, West resigned from The Southerner in January 1956 after refusing to cooperate with a grand jury and take a “loyalty oath.” Mr. Harry Campbell of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has written an open letter in which he questions my political beliefs. That any man or group should set themselves up as an “inquisitorial body,” assuming the authority to call citizens in question relative to religious or political beliefs is a violation of the spirit and principle upon which this nation was founded. Through the dark ages of struggle and sacrifice the human race has at least partially freed itself from the bondage once imposed by a Pope or political dictator. The whole Protestant movement under Martin Luther was a fight against the evil powers which sought to impose a hard and fast political and religious control. The “protesters” of that period were persecuted and killed. They upheld the belief that there was one Mediator between God and Man, Jesus Christ, and each man should have a free choice to choose in those sacred matters of personal beliefs. Our American heritage stems in part from that struggle. Our fathers came here seeking religious and political liberty. Many of them were of persecuted minorities. Our Constitution with its Bill of Rights expresses their determination that this should truly be land of free men. The First and Fifth Amend01 .Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 51 no lonesome road 52 ments particularly, go back to Magna Charter, back to the dark days when powerful inquisitorial rulers used force,violence,and physical torture to compel “confessions,” even from innocent men. Therefore, it is a major violation of this American principle to answer any question as to personal beliefs on demand. No Pope, no President, no dictator of any kind, and no group in the United States has the right to set themselves up as “Father Confessor,” demanding that free-born citizens make confession to them in such matters. Every true citizen of this nation thanks God, and our far-sighted forefathers for that. Personally,I have many times,by spoken word,in my books or in our newspaper ,made voluntary statements on the matters raised by Mr.Campbell.But as a free-born citizen of the USA, whose ancestors were with James Edward Oglethorpe, and whose whole adult life has been devoted to upholding the contract and spirit of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, it would be nothing less than traitorous for me to accede to the demands of any group in matters of conscience, whether it be President, Pope, or even a little voluntary McCarthy Committee.38 Now Mr. Campbell who writes me the letter may be a good, honest, well intentioned man. I do not know him personally. He and his group may think they act as a loyal citizens. I do not question that. Nor do I condemn them as individuals or citizens.I think many well-meaning citizens today are confused. Under the spell of hysteria once fostered and fed by Sen.Joseph McCarthy,now utterly discredited even among his own fellow senators, many citizens have been led to do things for which they will later be sorry. But I simply cannot assent to the proposition that anybody has any “inquisitor’s” right to demand answers from any citizen relative to his political or religious beliefs. To do so is to violate a basic principle of our Constitution. And I uphold that Document in the fullest confidence that history will further prove our ancestors who produced it were right. On the other hand, for the benefit of many honest citizens who may be confused by what they’ve heard or read,I will restate a number of things about...


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