’s Statement To HUAC Essay, Research Paper
After a dead serious consideration of the effects of this
committee’s work and of my relation to it, I find that for the following reasons I must
refuse to cooperate with this body.
In the first place, as a teacher, my first responsibility is to my students. To
cooperate with this committee would be to set for them an example of accommodation to
forces which can only have, as their end effect, the destruction of education itself. Such
accommodation on my part would ruin my value as a teacher, and I am proud to say that a
great majority of my students–and I believe this is true of students generally–do not
want me to accommodate myself to this committee. In a certain sense, I have no choice in
the matter–the students would not want me back in the classroom if I were to take any
course of action other than the one I am pursuing.
Secondly, as a teacher, I have a responsibility to the profession itself. We teachers
have no professional oath of the sort that doctors take, but there is a kind of unwritten
oath which we follow to teach as honestly, fairly and fully as we can. The effect of the
committee is destructive of such an ideal, destructive of academic freedom. As Mr. Justice
Douglas has said: "This system of spying and surveillance with its accompanying
reports and trials cannot go hand in hand with academic freedom. It produces standardized
thought, not the pursuit of truth." A teacher who will tack and turn with every shift
of the political wind cannot be a good teacher. I have never done this myself, nor will I
ever. In regard to my teaching I have tried to hold to two guidelines, the first from
Chaucer that "gladly will I learn and gladly teach"; the second a paraphrase of
the motto of the late General Stilwell: "Illiterati on carborundum."
Thirdly, as a poet I must refuse to cooperate with the committee on what I can only
call esthetic grounds. The view of life which we receive through the great works of art is
a privileged one–it is a view of life according to probability or necessity, not subject
to the chance and accident of our real world and therefore in a sense truer than the life
we see lived all around us. I believe that one of the things required of us is to try to
give life an esthetic ground, to give it some of the pattern and beauty of art. I have
tried as best I can to do this with my own life, and while I do not claim any very great
success, it would be anti-climactic, destructive of the pattern of my life, if I were to
cooperate with the committee. Then too, poets have been notorious non-cooperators where
committees of this sort are concerned. As a traditionalist, I would prefer to take my
stand with Marvell, Blake, Shelley and Garcia Lorca rather than with innovators like Mr.
Jackson. I do not wish to bring dishonor upon my tribe.
These, then are reasons for refusing to cooperate, but I am aware that none of them is
acceptable to the committee. When I was notified to appear here, my first instinct was
simply to refuse to answer committee questions out of personal principle and on the
grounds of the rights of man and let it go at that. On further consideration, however, I
have come to feel that such a stand would be mere self-indulgence and that it would weaken
the fight which other witnesses have made to protect the rights guaranteed under our
Constitution. Therefore I further refuse to answer the committee on the grounds of the
fourth amendment. I regard this committee as usurpers of illegal powers and my enforced
appearance here as in the nature of unreasonable search and seizure.
I further refuse on the grounds of the first amendment, which in guaranteeing free
speech also guarantees my right to be silent. Although the first amendment expressly
forbids any abridgement of this and other freedoms, the committee is illegally engaged in
the establishment of a religion of fear. I cannot cooperate with it in this
unconstitutional activity. Lastly, it is my duty to refuse to answer this committee,
claiming my rights under the fifth amendment as a whole and in all its parts, and
understanding that the fifth amendment was inserted in the Constitution to bulwark the
first amendment against the activities of committees such as this one, that no one may be
forced to bear witness against himself.
From North Dakota Quarterly (Fall 1982).