The University at War: Carlyle King and Pacifism

On Campus News, 3 November 1995

Anti-British, anti-imperialistic and pacifistic views were not widely accepted in Saskatchewan in 1938. As assistant professor of English Carlyle King found out, such views could jeopardize your employment.

An outspoken pacifist and CCF activist, King made a series of speeches in 1938. In each speech he criticized British imperialism, attacked the policies of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and called for international disarmament.

In its coverage of King's speeches, the Star Phoenix ran such provocative headlines as "Should not Fight for the British Empire," "British Foreign Policy Criticized by Professor," and "Professor King in Bitter Attack on Chamberlain." Not surprisingly, such headlines prompted a strong reaction. King was attacked by individuals, by newspaper editorialists, by at least four branches of the Canadian Legion, and by such Anglo organizations as the Sons of England Benefit Society, and the English Speaking League of Saskatchewan. Eight submissions were made to the University's Board of Governors, only one in King's defence.

He was accused of being a seditious communist and his pacifistic views were ridiculed: "Let young Canadians understand that the day England goes down to defeat that day Canada will be occupied by the enemy in spite of the vapourizings and whinings of the Woodsworths, Coldwells, and Kings. These sniffling pacificists and their comical creeds give me a pain in the neck."

There was fear that King was influencing his students and demands that "measures necessary to protect students from subversive influence be taken at once." One man told the president he would send his children elsewhere to avoid leftist doctrine.

The rhetoric could be extreme. Reverend Samuel Farley of the First Presbyterian Church in Regina was reported as having said that "we should be courageous enough to exterminate from our staff those who seek to discredit or undermine the empire."

After two meetings with President James Thomson, King decided to "refrain completely from public speeches on the subject of peace." There is no record of the meetings and it is difficult to estimate the effect on a junior professor when a university president warns him about what he says in public. In a letter to Frank Underhill in the spring of 1938, King was unequivocal in stating that he had been coerced into silence by the president and concluded that "this man Thomson has the makings of a first-rate fascist."

King had tested free speech and found that there were sharp limits to what could be said in Saskatchewan and the University in 1938. His political beliefs, however, did not hurt his career. In 1950 he became head of English and would become vice-principal of the Saskatoon campus. A branch of the Saskatoon Public Library is named in his honour.

Stan Hanson and Don Kerr