Sunday, May 14, 2006

** Ambling around the library, I saw a book called "Lord Haw-Haw" and was confused. I thought I knew who Lord Haw Haw was and would have expected a book about him to be with the books about World War II rather than, as it was, with the books about law.

I thought Lord Haw-Haw was a British guy who broadcast pro-Nazi programs in English from Germany during World War II. His show was aimed at Brits and ticked many of them off quite a bit, making fun of them and their sufferings as bombs from the country he was praising fell on cities around Britain.

I was pretty much right about that, except for the assuming he was British. What nationality he was was a debatable point. His parents were born in Ireland when it was not an independent country but part of the United Kingdom. His father, Michael Joyce, went to the US, married, fathered William Joyce (later Lord Haw Haw) who was a US citizen by reason of birth, and then, when William was three, went back to Ireland to stay. The father felt like as he continued to live in Ireland he (and his child William) ceased to be US citizens because that's how Michael felt, or something. He had not the legal mind.

Since the son, Lord Haw-Haw, was ultimately tried for treason against the United Kingdom, this citizenship muddle mattered.

Anyway, in reading this book next to its shelf on fifth floor, legal, when I would have expected it to be in third floor, history, in the huge 940's section that includes World War II, I came upon this in the introduction, written in 1964:

"Somehow he got under the nation's skin; for the British he probably qualifies as the most hated man of the Second World War and time has scarcely modified the angry reaction to his activities. His trial was sensational because of the possibility that his unexpected defense would succeed, and the judge's ruling in his case extended the law of treason."

--J. A. Cole, "Lord Haw-Haw and William Joyce: The Full Story"

Yes, indeed, the book does belong in the law section. "The judge's ruling in his case extended the law of treason."

That's one of the time that the rubber really meets the road in law: when people are so ticked off at someone that they want the law to get him regardless of what the law is.

It's hard to think clearly in such times. It's hard to think clearly about such times. Like the author of the book saying Lord Haw-Haw was the most hated figure of World War II. Surely Hitler was more hated, and some other German leaders. I think maybe he means that he was the British person most hated by the British--but that's tricky because whether he was British or not was in legal play. Was he legally British? Factually British? Since the British justice system executed him for treason, he for sure qualifies as being legally British.

Times when people are so mad they want to change the laws, and sometimes do, are important times, so I'm going to read this book, not just for the interesting, ever more distant history but also for info about what happens when the law meets intense unified public emotion, which can happen any time at all, and will continue to happen as long as we have laws and people.

**Then I notice that the Lord Haw-Haw book is in the miscarriages of justice section of the Dewey Decimal system--trials that tons of people think were wrong, usually because of the pressure of general opinion, the people's mood, sometimes because of the mood of the head of state.

I skim a little of a book about Angelo Herndon, whom I hadn't heard of. Black Communist organizer in the South in the nineteen thirties. Thrown in jail for having "dangerous tendencies" to cause public disorder.

Five years of court stuff later, the Supreme Court of the US said that having "dangerous tendencies" is not a reason to lock folks up. It surely is an appealing idea though, for people who are scared, or for people in charge who want to get power by scaring people in general.

This section of the library has a ton of books on the Rosenbergs--current conventional wisdom based on Soviet files and the way the trial came down is that the Federal government framed a guilty man. And killed an innocent woman. One of the super-cynical things is that no one including the prosecutors ever thought Ethel Rosenberg was guilty of espionage. They charged her to put pressure on both of them to make a deal so their young children would end up with one parent.

In the game of chicken both sides played with Ethel Rosenberg's and the kids, nobody pulled back and both Rosenbergs were executed and the kids had no parents. Well, they were adopted, they had parents, but not their birth parents, at least one of whom was sacrificed to ideas and a fierce government.

The miscarriage of justice section has a book about the trial of Sir Thomas More, an event in a movie I love, "A Man for All Seasons." The movie doesn't spend much time on the trial--the fix was in, the king wanted him dead for his attitude, and the trial sent him to be killed for words he didn't say.

But reading a whole book about exactly how the trial came down would be a good supplement to the movie.