In 1967, Ezra Pound told Allen Ginsberg, “The worst mistake I made was that stupid suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism.” Some say it was an apology. Pound died in Venice in 1972, shortly after his 87th birthday. In one of his final cantos, he wrote, “I have tried to write Paradise … Let the Gods [and] those I love try to forgive what I have made.” The above was well after the treason case.
Pound was energetic, obsessive, paranoid, determined to get his ideas before world leaders, and committed to writing his personal “compendium of human knowledge.” In 1924, he moved to Italy, where he resided until being flown to the U.S. for trial. In Italy, he met Mussolini and got involved with fascist politics. He was torn between two worlds: literature and economics/politics. As for the latter, he believed that Roosevelt and Churchill were wrong, that Fascism was the way to bring order to the world. In 1940, he landed a gig on Italian State Radio, two days a week, with unlimited freedom of expression.
Pound’s broadcasts start when America is on the sidelines. He writes his own scripts, delivers them with gusto in an affectedly country-boy dialect. Like his cantos, they cover politics, economics, history, and culture, interspersed with reminiscences, allusions, and quotations. Some Italian officials worry that he’s transmitting coded military secrets to the Allies. He calls for getting rid of “the Jews, the Bank of England, Franklin Roosevelt …, Winston Churchill, publishers, night-clubs, usury, birth control, … painters like Rembrandt, [and] composers like Beethoven ….”
Transcripts of the broadcasts are available online, as are some crude audio recordings. “Ezra Pound Speaking” continued into late summer, 1943, when the first indictment was returned. It was superseded by one handed up in 1945.
There have been few cases of treason tried in America. The two cases that get the most press are Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr, the former convicted in absentia, the latter acquitted. Most cases since then have involved minor figures selling unimportant secrets. What made the Pound case fascinating was the defendant’s high-profile status and that he was accused of breaking the law while speaking on radio.
Treason is the only crime defined in the U.S. Constitution. It consists of (a) waging war against the United States, or (b) “adhering to enemies of the U.S., as by giving them aid and comfort. “The “aid and comfort” clause has been the topic of much debate and interpretation.
Here’s an excerpt from the broadcast recorded in Nov. 1941:
“What I am ready to fight AGAINST is havin’ ex-European Jews making another peace worse than Versailles,….Namely the United States bein’ left with war baby bases in Aberdeen, Singapore, Dakar, South Africa, and the Indian Ocean! All draggin’ the tail of their coat, and making dead mathematically sure of another war … in ten or fifteen years after the present one ….I wish Herb Hoover would say MORE about the stink of Versailles. …
“As for the Australians, they deserve a Nippo-Chinese invasion. [T]heir contribution to civilization is not such as to merit even a Jewish medal. Why the heck the Chinese and Japs don’t combine and drive that dirt out of Australia, and set up a bit of civilization in those parts, is for me part of the mystery of the orient.”
That, Pound’s fifth radio essay, aired as Japanese bombers were flying toward Pearl Harbor. Less than a week later, Italy declared war on America. Next week, we shall conclude the discussion of U.S. v. Pound.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.