Why Charlie Chaplin was Exiled from the United States

In 1952 Charlie Chaplin's re-entry visa to his home of over 40 years was denied. At that time, with no ability to return to California, he settled in Vevey, Switzerland (a small town in Switzerland residing on the north side of Geneva Lake) and applied for citizenship - with the overshadowing events such as the denial of the re-entry visa to the United States, the Swiss denied Chaplin's request for citizenship. I don't blame the Swiss, I do hold the United States government accountable.

We as Americans, myself included (albeit I wasn't even born yet) are accountable for exiling a great artist and a great man. A man who voiced his opinion for equality and freedom. A man who was sentenced by the art community, a man who was sentenced by the United States without trial. So then, let's have a trial 50 years later.

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin - colorful cartoon clipart representation with a black suite and red bow tie and yellow vest
Charlie Chaplin - colorful cartoon clipart representation with a black suite and red bow tie and yellow vest | Source

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Charlie Chaplin

artistic line drawing of the face of Charlie Chaplin with his Bolla hat and distinctive mustache
artistic line drawing of the face of Charlie Chaplin with his Bolla hat and distinctive mustache | Source

You are my jury - I will provide a handful of facts and give my personal opinion in the end.

Fact #1 Charlie Chaplin Lived in LA for Over 40 Years - Not As a Citizen

In an effort to present the facts fairly, I will start out with a negative - Charlie Chaplin was not a United State's citizen and no account that has arisen details that he ever applied for citizenship in the US. He did apply as I stated for citizenship in Switzerland (after his exile from the US) but that was denied. The Swiss have a unique political philosophy which I commend them for - neutral. The Swiss would have violated their neutral position IF they granted the citizenship to Chaplin after his visa was denied in America.

OK, one red mark against Chaplin. Moving forward.

Fact #2 Charlie Chaplin's Voice Appears Political

Here is my biggest disagreement with the interpretations of Charlie's voice. The argument that was made was that Chaplin felt that communism is what the world should be. I don't interpret this from watching his film and re-reading the words from The Great Dictator.

I see a man who is not trying to make a political statement; I simply see a man who is trying to make a statement about basic humanity. I see a man making a moral argument that we are all equal.

I see a similar cord of agreement with John F. Kennedy's plea for equal treatment, Lincoln's plea for freeing the slaves and Gandhi's plea against classes or castes in society. Similar to the John Lennon's song Imagine - "where we all could be as one". Like these great men who fought with words, legislation for equality, so too, Chaplin was simply seeking the unity of humankind.

Here are Chaplin's very words in The Great Dictator, examine those very words for yourself:

"I'm sorry, but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible - Jew, Gentile - black man - white.

We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other's happiness - not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there's room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men's souls - has barricaded the world with hate - has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

"The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man - cries for universal brotherhood - for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world - millions of despairing men, women, and little children - victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say: 'Do not despair.' The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed - the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes - men who despise you and enslave you - who regiment your lives - tell you what to do - what to think and what to feel! Who drill you - diet you - treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don't hate, only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural!

Soldiers! Don't fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St Luke, it is written the kingdom of God is within man not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power - the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful - to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy - let us use that power - let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world - a decent world that will give men a chance to work - that will give youth a future and old age a security.

By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world - to do away with national barriers - to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason - a world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us unite!

Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up Hannah. The clouds are lifting! The sun is breaking through! We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world - a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and their brutality. Look up, Hannah! The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow - into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. Look up, Hannah... look up!"

Fact #3 Charlie Chaplin Violated the Artist Code & Departed from His Mission of Comedy

There is absolute truth in this statement. The entire artistic work of Chaplin had always, always been devoted to making people smile. His iconic song "Smile" was truly his mission statement in life.

However, I believe the artists are correct, true artists cannot violate their mission. If a soldier violates their mission statement lives are lost. Did Charlie violate this code of conduct? Absolutely, the final ending minutes of The Great Dictator had nothing to do with comedy. And the entertainment value is questionable at best. The words were scolding and the words were meant and clearly intended to scold.

OK, another red mark - he clearly departed from his mission statement of "comedy and entertainment".

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin | Source

"Let us never forget

that government is ourselves

and not an alien power over us.

The ultimate rulers of our democracy

are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials,

but the voters of this country."

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin and a little boy in a black and white photograph
Charlie Chaplin and a little boy in a black and white photograph | Source

Chalie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin | Source

Counterpoint #1 Moral Point - Not Political Point

I contend Chaplin was not making a political statement, his statement was a plea for basic morals - a plea for equality of all men. He meant for his statement to cross all boundaries - he never intended to support one type of government over another. He wanted to denounce ANY government that destroyed equality.

Counterpoint #2 Sense of Obligation - Not Self Indulgence

Charlie Chaplin was a world-renowned figure. His creation of the Tramp with the distinctive mustache, large shoes and over sized eyebrows are known throughout the world even a century later! He was the man who was born a Tramp and worked hard to make people smile that it brought him great riches and fame.

He was a man born into a poor theatrical family in England. He was a starving boy who knew poverty first hand. He came to the United States and had opportunities beyond his wildest imagination. And Charlie had a vivid imagination!

And while Chaplin has been quotes as saying even when he was impoverished in England, he knew he was the world's greatest actor, I believe he always carried a part of the downtrodden man, we grew to know and love as the Tramp with him - across all decades of his life, across all countries that he visited.

Chaplin was reluctant to enter the movies with sound. He had made his career and built his legacy complete. He had no need to make more movies.

The Great Dictator had close to 500,000 feet of film! He edited down to less than 12,000 feet. The expense of editing, the production time of over one year was not a profitable endeavor. To Charlie, this was his duty. He was a soldier en-charged with delivering a message of peace.

In the end, the film grossed less than a true comedy he had launched during the depression. No these endeavors were personal endeavors, his final two films were moral statements. These films were satisfying his sense of obligation to inform the world, have the world ask questions.

This was not a man acting out of self-indulgence seeking his own political agenda. This was a man who loved the world, felt the love of the world and wanted and/or needed to give back to the world. It was his sense of responsibility, a sense of duty. He was a soldier delivering a message of peace and unity. His weapon was his craft - his films.

Counterpoint #3 History Must Be Remembered

Who was it who stated we must remember the holocaust with photos because we would never believe it. Forgetting history is a critical error because then we are more likely to make the same mistakes again. Likewise, with the exile and misunderstanding of Chaplin, we must remember. We must forgive harsh words, harsh critics, We must ourselves soften our voices, clamp our anger and remember Charlie's voice of peace and unity - to all be equal.

Counterpoint #4 Verbal Condemnation - Exile From His Home

The genocide that has occurred throughout the ages is grossly tragic. The verbal condemnation of others is another tragedy albeit not gross but almost as equally as harmful to those we attack and to ourselves.

Hate separates us from God.

Hate is the one sin God cannot forgive.

Our own hate will condemn us in the sight of God.

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin | Source

Let Us Never Forget

"Let us never forget

that government is ourselves

and not an alien power over us.

The ultimate rulers of our democracy

are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials,

but the voters of this country."

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Handsome Charlie Chaplin

black and white portrait of Charlie Chaplin in his youth dress in a white shirt tie and suit coat circa 1920 publicity photo
black and white portrait of Charlie Chaplin in his youth dress in a white shirt tie and suit coat circa 1920 publicity photo | Source

My Verdict - My Personal Opinion

First I must open with the fact that a basic tenet of my religion is forgiveness and being non-judgmental. Judge not least you be judged. However, I will break that rule today in order to pronounce Charlie Chaplin guilty on all three points and completely exonerated.... on all four counterpoints.

Charlie Chaplin - Soldier of Peace, Pilgrim of Peace, A Global Hero

Charlie Chaplin was a soldier of peace, Charlie Chaplin fought for unity as much as any soldier in the combat field.

Charlie Chaplin is a global hero to us all. His exile is an important item in history to be remembered. Chaplin's exile from the United States (irony of all ironies - a self-proclaimed and promoted democratic nation) is a lesson to all nations, to all of humanity to leave our hearts open, love one another irrespective of our personal opinion.

© 2010 Ken Kline

Comments 13 comments

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

It seems anyone who seeks peace, equal rights and justice is met with critics who want these things only for themselves. These are the same people who today oppose welfare, health care for all, union representation and immigration. The fight for justice is eternal.

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

As William says - the fight for justice is eternal! Thanks for sharing these interesting thoughts on Chaplin. Another artist who was exiled from his homeland for his political views was the great bass Paul Robeson. Any chance of one of your great Hubs about him?

Love and peace


GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

The fight for justice takes many forms - from our soldiers in the field to the writers here on HubPages to those who upload videos out on YouTube.

People sadly are one or the other - self serving or seeking to serve yet the critics are everywhere.

Always enjoy your work and your comments. Thank you very much for stopping by. Sorry for the late reply - somehow missed this comment.

GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


Paul Robeson sounds fascinating.

"In 1950, the U.S. revoked Robeson's passport, leading to an eight-year battle to resecure it and to travel again. During those years, Robeson studied Chinese, met with Albert Einstein to discuss the prospects for world peace, published his autobiography, Here I Stand, and sang at Carnegie Hall."

Very important information you shared. The exile of those who are vocal ironically should never have occurred in American history. The fact that it did occur is a reminder that history repeats itself and it is our job duty to learn history and be wiser and not make the mistakes of the past.

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and for stopping by.

katyzzz profile image

katyzzz 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

We are all entitled to our opinions, be they right or wrong, political or otherwise, it does not seem that he imposed any kind of threat, without trial or jury, this was a terrible thing to do to a man, an icon for so many.

His humour is undoubted, I am too ignorant of all of this to comment much more but it seems he really was denied justice, and was probably just a fairly simple man who said things as he perceived them, surely the right of all of us, before political correctness stifled us, or indeed attempted to.

Freedom of speech needs to be an unequivocal right, perish the thought when we all are deemed to be clones of one another and therefore not inclined to an individual point of view.

Meanwhile the world goes backwards, although, hopefully, today, such a thing would not have happened. But we are still being stifled and many lack character sufficient to reject the populist view. Sadly.

GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


I find it hard to judge because I did not live as an adult during that time frame in history. The world was different then and I believe we have made some major inroads in improving communication and allowing freedom of speech.

I do believe we must be aware of the threat for us to mistake people for one of their opinions.

Over my lifetime I have changed my opinion. I believe Charlie wanted to give a new point of view.

If an actor did that today, we might respond in the same way.

I admire your opinion - and the concise statement that I believe is the fundamental - "freedom of speech needs to be an unequivocal right" - very well stated and that is the essence of my belief.

Thank you so much for stopping by and contributing.

Silver Fang 3 years ago

What's sad is that people who fight for social justice like Chaplin of yesterday and the Occupy Movement of today are the ones who are vilified and attacked while those who spout bigotry and intolerance are given a bye. When was the last time a KKK member had their door kicked in at 2 AM or was arrested for marching like the Occupiers have happen to them?

Jeff Blanks 3 years ago

I don't think that speech has a "scolding" tone to it--it's more like a desperate appeal, maybe the speech Chaplin would've liked to hear. I've heard the original, though that's about it--I keep telling myself I need to check out some Chaplin just to see what the shouting's all about. I do know, though, that he made *four* films *after* *The Great Dictator*, all of them talkies, naturally.

CelebrateUSA profile image

CelebrateUSA 2 years ago from Chicago, Illinois Author

Hi Silver Fang,

Throughout our human history, we have had to fight for peace - what is wrong with us - when will we learn we are more similar and we must learn to love each other.

Did you see where Kenny Chesny is now fighting for universal love? Music is unifying - I pray that we can learn from our past mistakes and stop hate and end war.

Understanding how easily we can accept these injustices is the first step. We must learn the history and learn the cues to guide us to better moral wisdom. Humanity is at stake here - it is the duty of each of us.

CelebrateUSA profile image

CelebrateUSA 2 years ago from Chicago, Illinois Author

Hi Jeff Blanks,

I agree - I saw the speech more of a helpful tone not "scolding". I was really surprised to learn this and then when I listened closely I was even more surprised. What is amazing is the lack of information - I never knew this before - thank God for the Internet and revealing the true.

I hear a concerned citizen not a man scolding us. I am glad you hear the same thing from my perspective. Thank you for sharing.

The Old Guard profile image

The Old Guard 15 months ago from U.S.A.

Interesting hub.

I enjoyed the read.

Well done.


DebHanes 9 months ago

Seems the government back then was much the same as the one in power now... rule without opinion. They did not choose to like his thoughts or opinions, and today the people are also ignored and their opinions do not count.

CNT 25 hours ago

Hind sight is always 20/20. Circumstances often elicit and even warrant strong responses that sometimes prove to be not the best choices. Therefore, when you look back and reflect on why people, artists and even governments make decisions; you must also consider the climate and circumstances that those individuals were facing at the time. As the article mentioned, albeit briefly: CC had been watched since 1917. I loved CC and continue to love his movies and yes, even his message; but when he chose to leave the safety of Comedy to spread a very important message, he then entered into a whole new arena where lions can eat you up. Surely he had to know he was taking a risk.

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