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New pamphlet, "Alcatraz – Uncle Sam's Devil's Island"

category north america / mexico | history of anarchism | press release author Saturday March 10, 2007 21:43author by KSL - Kate Sharpley Library Report this post to the editors

"Experiences of a Conscientious Objector in America during the First World War" by Philip Grosser

The Kate Sharpley Library has just published a new edition of Philip Grosser's account of his time imprisoned on the notorious prison island of Alcatraz. Philip Grosser was sent to Alcatraz because he didn't want to murder anyone, even on government orders. He was a Boston anarchist and anti-militarist who refused to be drafted into the slaughter of World War One.

He was, in his own words, 'not a very good example to other drafted men', and stayed a stubborn rebel who could not be turned into a soldier. As an anarchist he denied the government's right to run or throw away his life. For that reason he had to face the inhumanity of authority defied.
Grosser's account of his time inside is an early exposé of official brutality in America's most notorious prison. It's also a powerful account of resistance and endurance. The original pamphlet was first published by Grosser's friends after his death in the 1930s. It's been expanded with letters by, to and about him from the Alexander Berkman papers at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam. They shed a little more light on the life of a rebel who could be counted on in the struggle for human freedom.

"Phil was one of the finest comrades it has been my good fortune to meet. And well I remember his stand during the war. I know all the humiliation and tortures he had to go through because of his loyalty to a high ideal." – Alexander Berkman

ISBN-13: 9781873605240 ISBN-10: 1873605242
32 page pamphlet with portrait.
£3 post paid (£2 to KSL subscribers) from:
Kate Sharpley Library, BM Hurricane, London, WC1N 3XX, UK
or $4 from
Kate Sharpley Library, PMB 820, 2425 Channing Way, Berkeley CA 94704, USA
(Copies will be available at the San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair.)

Extract from the original introduction:
This is the story of a heretic, who trod that pathway of pain hollowed out by the feet of nonconformists throughout the ages. His heresy,—in 1917 the heresy,—consisted of a passionate belief that the common people of all lands were brothers, and that it was wrong to have any traffic with the business of slaughtering them. (A quaint idea, nineteen centuries old.)…
He was afraid of heroics, scornful of pity, resentful of invasion of his personal privacy, reticent of intellectual or spiritual revealment. We pressed him one night for the philosophy that impelled his extremity of endurance, and at last forced out of him the simple statement, "Well, if you must have it, it comes down to this: I figure that there are times and occasions when a man either has to show down or show up."
Unless you are prepared, for whatever faith is in you, to undergo the crucifixion of the chaining up, or tread the path of insanity in the black eternity of the dungeon, or in the cage, I do not think you are entitled to condemn his faith. It is at least a living one which will take a man voluntarily through hell.

Extract from the pamphlet:
I was never a soldier, yet I spent three years of my life in military prisons. After I registered for the draft as an objector to war on political grounds, I refused to submit to a physical examination for military purposes and refused to sign an enlistment and assignment card. Instead of being tried for violation of the war-time conscription act, which was a Federal civil offence, I was turned over to the military and was subjected to all forms of punishment as an erring soldier, not as a civilian who refused to participate in a war waged "to make the world safe for democracy."…
On Dec. 2, 1920, the authorities of Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, California, were ordered by the War Department to set me free. They put me in solitary confinement for refusing to sign soldier's release papers which stated that I was a recruit unassigned not eligible for re-enlistment, had no previous enlistment, no horsemanship, no markmanship, etc. My answer was that I never consented to obey the draft act, that I did not recognize the government's right to make a soldier automatically, that I did not sign any papers to get into military jails and that I would not sign any papers to get out. A wire was sent to the War Department to have my release cancelled and to have me court-martialed again for disobedience to military orders. Evidently the War Department did not care to keep me any longer, for an order was given to let me go free without my signature. So I was inducted into the service of the United States Army automatically, after being transferred from one military prison to another, without serving a single day in a military barracks.
The government gave me a new prison-made suit of clothes, a Dishonorable Discharge and a "donation" of $10. I was free to face the world and the American Legion.

Comrades wanting to research the life of Philip Grosser further will probably want to know:
He was born in 1890. He committed suicide in Boston in October 1933, and was buried October 20, 1933.
From December 1926 to April 1927 he was living at 11 North Anderson Street, Boston. Between 1928 and 1929 he lived at 83 Holworthy St., Roxbury, Mass. In June 1931 he was living at 37 Joy St., Boston. In the second half of 1931 he seems to have moved regularly between that address and 9 Anderson St., Boston. He was living at the Anderson Street address between January and September 1932.

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