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Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

Pacific NW Antiwar History

Ch 3: Resistance to Cold War Logic

by Jessie Kindig

By the end of World War II, the US and the USSR emerged as the two world superpowers, constantly battling for military, political, and economic dominance. This Cold War instigated a massive nuclear arms race, espionage, proxy wars, and a huge propaganda campaign. Anti-Soviet hysteria in the US led to the repression of the entire political left, as communists, pacifists, socialists, and liberals were all accused of harboring “anti-American” ideas.

Though World War II production had made Seattle’s aircraft industry the most recognized in the nation, the Cold War years also saw Seattle receive a more dubious distinction. The 1946 state elections brought Republican control of the state legislature, and a coalition of both Republicans and Democrats were caucusing to rid state politics, labor unions, universities, and public schools of “communist” infiltrators—a broad definition often including New Deal and Popular Front liberals.[1]

In 1948, State Representative Albert Canwell’s Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities launched hearings on the “communist sympathies” of several University of Washington professors, and the University became the first in the nation to dismiss tenured professors for ties to the Communist Party.[2]

The trials didn’t go unopposed; students at the University, some of whom had been taught by the accused professors, organized the Student Organization for Academic Freedom (SOAR), and worked to contact the University President, Board of Trustees, and State Legislatures to have the Canwell Committee abolished. The Canwell Committee targeted the left-leaning Washington Pension Union and Seattle Repertory Playhouse as well, and civilian picketers marched in protest in front of the Washington Pension Union too.[3]

[Hear an interview with Lyle Mercer, part of the SOAR at UW and the HUAC Abolition Committee]

At the University of Washington, the militarism of the Cold War also meant that ROTC service was mandatory for all male students. Christian socialist and pacifist student Ivan King won an appeal of his service on conscientious objector grounds, and in 1957 helped form the Anvil Club, a socialist student organization that aimed to sustain progressive social action during the era. When ROTC had its annual parades in the UW’s red square, the Anvil Club held small counter-demonstrations. The Club also hosted meetings on women’s, civil, and labor rights, as well as communism and socialism, though the University administration insisted that they have a “truth observer” present at the meetings to silence or “correct” anything that was deemed to be too radical.[4] [Hear an interview with Ivan King, chairman of the Anvil Club at UW and 1950s student activist]

The activism of students like Ivan King and Lyle Mercer kept antiwar, pacifist, and radical sentiments alive, and both King and Mercer went on to take part in civil right and social struggles in the 1960s. Their stories are emblematic of the way that resistance to the Cold War was able to provide a small but important base of activism that would explode in the next decade.

next chapter: Ch. 4: Vietnam War

Copyright (c) 2008 Jessie Kindig

[1] Richard C. Berner, Seattle Transformed: World War II to Cold War (Seattle: Charles Press, 1999), 207.

[2] Jane Sanders, Cold War on Campus: Academic Freedom at the University of Washington, 1946-64 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979).

[3] Berner, Seattle Transformed, 209.

[4] Ivan King, interview with Trevor Griffey, 25 May 2006, Seattle Civil Rights Project, <>