This booklet is not an apology for murder. It is an honest effort to unravel the tangled mesh of circumstances that led up to the Armistice Day tragedy in Centralia, Washington. The writer is one of those who believe that the taking of human life is justifiable only in self-defense. Even then the act is a horrible reversion to the brute--to the low plane of savagery. Civilization, to be worthy of the name, must afford other methods of settling human differences than those of blood letting.
The nation was shocked on November 11, 1919, to read of the killing of four American Legion men by members of the Industrial Workers of the World in Centralia. The capitalist newspapers announced to the world that these unoffending paraders were killed in cold blood--that they were murdered from ambush without provocation of any kind. If the author were convinced that there was even a slight possibility of this being true, he would not raise his voice to defend the perpetrators of such a cowardly crime.
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About the Author
For two years Chaplin worked in the strike committee with Mother Jones for the bloody Kanawha County, West Virginia strike of coal miners in 1912-13. These influences led him to write a number of labor oriented poems, one of which became the words for the oft-sung union anthem, "Solidarity Forever".
Chaplin then became active in the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, or "Wobblies") and became editor of its eastern U.S. publication Solidarity. In 1917 Chaplin and some 100 other Wobblies were rounded up, convicted, and jailed under the Espionage Act for conspiring to hinder the draft and encourage desertion. He wrote Bars And Shadows: The Prison Poems while serving four years of a 20-year sentence.
Although he continued to work for labor rights after his release from prison, Chaplin was very disillusioned by the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.
However, he was also not pleased by the course of New Deal liberalism. Chaplin maintained his involvement with the IWW, serving in Chicago as editor of its newspaper, the Industrial Worker, from 1932 to 1936. He became active in the cause of preventing Communist infiltration in American unions.
Eventually Chaplin settled in Tacoma, Washington, where he edited the local labor publication. From 1949 until his death he was curator of manuscripts for the Washington State Historical Society.
He is credited with designing the now widely used anarcho-syndicalist image, the black cat. As its stance indicates, the cat is meant to suggest wildcat strikes and radical unionism.