Thursday 16 May 2024

The Un-American wey that a Lee-Science Fan fae the Left wis haunelt (Translated Blog Post)

Chan Davis (1929-2022) wis weel kent tae fans o lee-science in the 1940s an 1950s. He wis a fanzine editor, an early filker, kent for his daffin at Worldcon, an a ongauin screivar wi Astounding Science Fiction.

But the publict in general is mair likely tae mind o him as a mathematician…an as a political presonar.

Gien his jotters fae the Versity o Michigan in 1954, an the jyle for a saxmonth in 1960, on chairges o contemption o the Congress brocht bi the Hoose Comatee anent Unamerican Haunling, Davis haes lang wantit for the kind o vizzie that screivar Dr Steve Batterson plenishes throu his new buik The Prosecution of Professor Chandler Davis.

“Almost all HUAC witnesses with Communist connections were avoiding the jeopardy of contempt prosecution either by naming the names of others or declining to answer questions under the Fifth Amendment.,” explains biographer Dr. Steve Batterson. “Finding both stay out of jail options to be intolerable, Chandler refused to cooperate asserting the Freedom of Speech protection of the First Amendment. He intended to use the standing gained by an expected conviction to obtain a hearing before the Supreme Court and hopefully end HUAC’s persecution of the left. During the height of McCarthyism, it was a course of enormous risk and courage.”

Awtho it sterts aff as a fairly evenforrit life story o Davis, The Prosecution of Professor Chandler Davis soon taks the lang swatch o jist hoo the American law system wirks…or daesna. The buik shaws us a douce American mathematician warslin wi a system that haed failt in hainin the ceevil richts o its ceetizens.

“Even though I’m a mathematician, I’m also sort of a Supreme Court groupie … so the legal aspects of this intrigued me,” Batterson says. “And 10 years earlier, the Hollywood 10 had gone to jail when they based their defense on the First Amendment. So why did Chandler try something that hadn’t worked. It took me a while to understand.”

The buik howks faur intae the law pleas o the Davis case – an in parteeclar the Barenblatt V United States case whaurby the Supreme Coort ruled that the Communist Pairty wis that kenspeckle a threit tae the beild o Americae that it owergaed the kintra’s commitment tae free speech. A raivelt hesp tae be shair, but Batterson expoonds thir maiters clear an pyntitly.

“It always surprised me that I would talk to mathematicians and they wouldn’t know about Chandler Davis’ story,” Batterson recawed. “It was a long time ago, and the story was just … getting lost.”

 An emeritus professor o mathematics at the Emory Versity in Georgia, Batterson haed been aquaint wi Davis for mair nor 20 year. He haed read Schrecker’s history o McCarthyism No Ivory Tower, that comprehendit a chepter on Chandler Davis, sae he kent muckle anent the case.

“Chandler and I happened to be at the same conference in Banff [Canada] in 2010, and were on a hike together in the mountains. When I asked Chandler about the case he was very forthright with me. He wasn’t reluctant to talk about it because he knew he’d done what was right,” Batterson recawed. “The story fascinated me. He was a mathematician who went to jail … I mean that's a pretty unusual thing to happen!” said Batterson.

Lee-science an the warld o fans haes jist a neuk in this buik, tho it shuid be unnerstood that thir cheils becam less important tae Davis the mair he wis in hauns wi his cawing ower the years. Awtho Chan Davis kythes in fanzines aw throu the 1940s, he fell awa fae the warld o fans aboot the time that he wis up agin the Hoose Comatee anent Unamerican Haunling. Awtho John W. Campbell haed been a freen o Davis, thay haed fell oot wi ane anither in the late 1940s over the heid o Campbell’s takkin agin Eebrew culture.

“After he had been fired in 1954, he wrote what he later called some of his best science fiction stories,” Batterson notit (The stories in question comprehendit The Star System an Adrift on the Policy Level). “He thought that possibly he could make a living as a science fiction writer under an assumed name. But that’s not what he wanted. He was a mathematician, and he didn’t want to be forced into a career change by the government.”

The buik sterts oot wi the fairly evenforrit story o Davis’s early life. His bairnheid as the son o academics fae the Left that wis memmers o the Communist Pairty, his education at Harvard an his haun in the warld o lee-science fans, his airmy service, an his mairrage tae Natalie Zemon-Davis. Aw o this serrs tae bring us tae the hert o the wark: Davis’s bittie time spent at the Versity o Michigan, gettin his jotters, an the sax-year lang lawplea that landit him in the jyle.

“It was incredibly courageous what Chandler did,” Batterson said. “He was 27 or 28 years old when this all started. He had a wife and one child at the time – with another on the way. His wife was a graduate student, and it wasn’t clear at the time that she would go on to become one of the greatest historians of her generation.” Batterson expoonds.

In the time efter he tint his job, the Davis faimly gaed haun tae mooth. Whan freens an colleagues got up siller for them, the FBI endit up wi a leet o aw thaim that haed gien; but dowily it seems that no mony in the lee-science community stood by thair sometime billie.

“There’s not a lot of mention of science fiction or fandom in the FBI documents,” Batterson notit. “The FBI didn’t consider that to be disreputable.” Batterson said.

Efter he wis lowsed o his saxmonth sentence in the jyle in 1960, the faimly flittit tae Canadae whaur Davis an his wife becam professors at the Versity o Toronto. Aince mair he wis in aboot the warld o fans, an set furth a puckle stories syne. In 1989, he wis ane o the guests at the 47th Worldcon held in Boston. Baith he an his wife wis weel-quotit in regaird o thair academic cawings.
Chan Davis an Natalie Zemon-Davis
wis kenspeckle academics steidit in Toronto
(Eemage bi gait o University of Toronto )

In the seeven decades fae Davis compeared afore the Hoose Comatee, his poseetion haes been for the maist pairt exonert.

“These kinds of stories are always relevant. At the time, there was the censorship of left-wing political views under McCarthyism. But you find even now (in Florida for example) an attempt at censorship of left-wing political views,” Batterson notit. “Most people think that they’d take a principled stand, but when push comes to shove ... they bend just a little. Chandler Davis didn’t bend, and I find that interesting.” Batterson said.

Awtho the three foregauin life stories that Batterson haed wrutten wis set furth bi academic presses that haed parteeclar intress in warks o mathematics, The Prosecution of Professor Chandler Davis wis set furth bi the forrit-thinking publisher Monthly Review Press, makkin hit faur mair easy tae get a haud o.

Over the bygane decade, the warld o lee-science fans haes stertit tae warsle wi the histories o its kittle icons. Braw life histories o Asimov, o Heinlein, o Campbell (amang ithers) haes shawn hoo muckle thay haed feet o cley. It maks a chenge tae be pit in mind o aw thaim athin the lee-science community that wis willin tae staun agin the blatters o the day, an rare tae hae this braw volume anent Dr Chandler Davis’s life.

Set ower in Scots bi Dr Dauvit Horsbroch, 2024

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