“At worst, the Liberals, the Tolerant, might in the long run preserve some of the arts of civilization, no matter which brand of tyranny should finally dominate the world.
The Revolt started in that part of America which had always been most “radical”, that indefinite word, which probably means “most critical of piracy.” It was the land of the Populists, the Non-Partisan League, the Farmer-Labor Party, and the La Follette, a family so vast as to form a considerable party in itself.
Whatever might happen, exulted Doremus, the revolt proved that belief in America and hope for America were not dead.
It took the impertinent idiocy of government demanding that they march down into the desert and help steal a friendly country, Mexico, to jab them into awakening and into discovering that, while they had been asleep, they had been kidnaped by a small gang of criminals armed with high ideals, well-buttered words and a lot of machine guns.”
It Can’t Happen Here is a semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis.
The ban on information at the Trianon camp had been raised; Mrs. Candy had come calling on Doremus, complete with coconut layer cake, and he had heard of Mary’s death, the departure of Emma and Sissy, the end of Windrip and Sarason. And none of it seemed in the least real, not half so real and, except for the fact that he would never see Mary again, not half so important as the increasing number of lice and rats in their cell.
During the ban, they had celebrated Christmas by laughing, not very cheerfully, at the Christmas tree Karl Pascal had contrived out of a spruce bough and tinfoil from cigarette packages. They had hummed “Stille Nacht” softly in the darkness, and Doremus had thought of all their comrades in political prisons in America, Europe, Japan, India.
But Karl, apparently, thought of comrades only if they were saved, baptized Communists. And, forced together as they were in a cell, the growing bitterness and orthodox piety of Karl became one of Doremus’s most hateful woes; a tragedy to be blamed upon the Corpos, or upon the principle of dictatorship in general, as savagely as the deaths of Mary and Dan Wilgus and Henry Veeder. Under persecution, Karl lost no ounce of his courage and his ingenuity in bamboozling the MM. guards, but day by day he did steadily lose all his humor, his patience, his tolerance, his easy companionship, and everything else that made life endurable to men packed in a cell. The Communism that had always been his King Charles’s Head, sometimes amusing, became a religious bigotry as hateful to Doremus as the old bigotries of the Inquisition or the Fundamentalist Protestants; that attitude of slaughtering to save men’s souls from which the Jessup family had escaped during these last three generations.
It was impossible to get away from Karl’s increasing zeal. He chattered on at night for an hour after all the other five had growled, “Oh, shut up! I want to sleep! You’ll be making a Corpo out of me!”
Sometimes, in his proselytizing, he conquered. When his cell mates had long enough cursed the camp guards, Karl would rebuke them: “You’re a lot too simple when you explain everything by saying that the Corpos, especially the M.M.’s, are all fiends. Plenty of ‘em are. But even the worst of ‘em, even the professional gunmen in the MM. ranks, don’t get as much satisfaction out of punishing us heretics as the honest, dumb Corpos who’ve been misled by their leaders’ mouthing about Freedom, Order, Security, Discipline, Strength! All those swell words that even before Windrip came in the speculators started using to protect their profits! Especially how they used the word ‘Liberty’! Liberty to steal the didies off the babies! I tell you, an honest man gets sick when he hears the word ‘Liberty’ today, after what the Republicans did to it! And I tell you that a lot of the MM. guards right here at Trianon are just as unfortunate as we are, lot of ‘em are just poor devils that couldn’t get decent work, back in the Golden Age of Frank Roosevelt, bookkeepers that had to dig ditches, auto agents that couldn’t sell cars and went sour, ex-looeys in the Great War that came back to find their jobs pinched off ‘em and that followed Windrip, quite honestly, because they thought, the saps, that when he said Security he meant Security! They’ll learn!”
And having admirably discoursed for another hour on the perils of self-righteousness among the Corpos, Comrade Pascal would change the subject and discourse upon the glory of self-righteousness among the Communists, particularly upon those sanctified examples of Communism who lived in bliss in the Holy City of Moscow, where, Doremus judged, the streets were paved with undepreciable roubles.
The Holy City of Moscow! Karl looked upon it with exactly such uncritical and slightly hysterical adoration as other sectarians had in their day devoted to Jerusalem, Mecca, Rome, Canterbury, and Benares. Fine, all right, thought Doremus. Let ‘em worship their sacred fonts, it was as good a game as any for the mentally retarded. Only, why then should they object to his considering as sacred Fort Beulah, or New York, or Oklahoma City?
Karl once fell into a froth because Doremus wondered if the iron deposits in Russia were all they might be. Why certainly! Russia, being Holy Russia, must, as a useful part of its holiness, have sufficient iron, and Karl needed no mineralogists’ reports but only the blissful eye of faith to know it.
He did not mind Karl’s worshiping Holy Russia. But Karl did, using the word “naive,” which is the favorite word and just possibly the only word known to Communist journalists, derisively mind when Doremus had a mild notion of worshiping Holy America. Karl spoke often of photographs in the Moscow News of nearly naked girls on Russian bathing-beaches as proving the triumph and joy of the workers under Bolshevism, but he regarded precisely the same sort of photographs of nearly naked girls on Long Island bathing-beaches as proving the degeneration of the workers under Capitalism.
As a newspaper man, Doremus remembered that the only reporters who misrepresented and concealed facts more unscrupulously than the Capitalists were the Communists.
He was afraid that the world struggle today was not of Communism against Fascism, but of tolerance against the bigotry that was preached equally by Communism and Fascism. But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word “Fascism” and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty. For they were thieves not only of wages but of honor. To their purpose they could quote not only Scripture but Jefferson. That Karl Pascal should be turning into a zealot, like most of his chiefs in the Communist party, was grievous to Doremus because he had once simple-heartedly hoped that in the mass strength of Communism there might be an escape from cynical dictatorship. But he saw now that he must remain alone, a “Liberal,” scorned by all the noisier prophets for refusing to be a willing cat for the busy monkeys of either side. But at worst, the Liberals, the Tolerant, might in the long run preserve some of the arts of civilization, no matter which brand of tyranny should finally dominate the world.
“More and more, as I think about history,” he pondered, “I am convinced that everything that is worthwhile in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”
Yes, this was the worst thing the enemies of honor, the pirate industrialists and then their suitable successors, the Corpos with their blackjacks, had done: it had turned the brave, the generous, the passionate and half literate Karl Pascals into dangerous fanatics. And how well they had done it! Doremus was uncomfortable with Karl; he felt that his next turn in jail might be under the wardenship of none other than Karl himself, as he remembered how the Bolsheviks, once in power, had most smugly imprisoned and persecuted those great women, Spiridinova and Breshkovskaya and Ismailovitch, who, by their conspiracies against the Czar, their willingness to endure Siberian torture on behalf of “freedom for the masses,” had most brought on the revolution by which the Bolsheviks were able to take control, and not only again forbid freedom to the masses, but this time inform them that, anyway, freedom was just a damn silly bourgeois superstition.
So Doremus, sleeping two-and-a-half feet above his old companion, felt himself in a cell within a cell. Henry Veeder and Clarence Little and Victor Loveland and Mr. Falck were gone now, and to Julian, penned in solitary, he could not speak once a month.
He yearned for escape with a desire that was near to insanity; awake and asleep it was his obsession; and he thought his heart had stopped when Squad-Leader Aras Dilley muttered to him, as Doremus was scrubbing a lavatory floor, “Say! Listen, Mr. Jessup! Mis’ Pike is fixin’ it up and I’m going to help you escape jus’ soon as things is right!”
It was a question of the guards on sentry, go outside the quadrangle. As sweeper, Doremus was reasonably free to leave his cell, and Aras had loosened the boards and barbed wire at the end of one of the alleys leading from the quadrangle between buildings. But outside, he was likely to be shot by a guard on sight.
For a week Aras watched. He knew that one of the night guards had a habit of getting drunk, which was forgiven him because of his excellence in flogging troublemakers but which was regarded by the more judicious as rather regrettable. And for that week Aras fed the guard’s habit on Lorinda’s expense money, and was indeed so devoted to his duties that he was himself twice carried to bed. Snake Tizra grew interested, but Snake also, after the first couple of drinks, liked to be democratic with his men and to sing “The Old Spinning Wheel.”
Aras confided to Doremus: “Mis’ Pike, she don’t dast send you a note, less somebody get hold of it, but she says to me to tell you not to tell anybody you’re going to take a sneak, or it’ll get out.”
So on the evening when Aras jerked a head at him from the corridor, then rasped, surly-seeming, “Here you, Jessup, you left one of the cans all dirty!” Doremus looked mildly at the cell that had been his home and study and tabernacle for six months, glanced at Karl Pascal reading in his bunk, slowly waving a shoeless foot in a sock with the end of it gone, at Truman Webb darning the seat of his pants, noted the gray smoke in filmy tilting layers about the small electric bulb in the ceiling, and silently stepped out into the corridor.
The late January night was foggy.
Aras handed him a worn M.M. overcoat, whispered, “Third alley on right; moving, van on corner opposite the church,” and was gone.
On hands and knees Doremus briskly crawled under the loosened barbed wire at the end of the small alley and carelessly stepped out, along the road. The only guard in sight was at a distance, and he was wavering in his gait. A block away, a furniture van was jacked up while the driver and his helper painfully prepared to change one of the tremendous tires. in the light of a corner arc, Doremus saw that the driver was that same hard-faced long-distance cruiser who had carried bundles of tracts for the New Underground.
The driver grunted, “Get in-hustle!” Doremus crouched between a bureau and a wing chair inside.
Instantly he felt the tilted body of the van dropping, as the driver pulled out the jack, and from the seat he heard, “All right! We’re off. Crawl up behind me here and listen, Mr. Jessup. . . . Can you hear me? . . . The M.M.’s don’t take so much trouble to prevent you gents and respectable fellows from escaping. They figure that most of you are too scary to try out anything, once you’re away from your offices and front porches and sedans. But I guess you may be different, some ways, Mr. Jessup. Besides, they figure that if you do escape, they can pick you up easy afterwards, because you ain’t onto hiding out, like a regular fellow that’s been out of work sometimes and maybe gone on the bum. But don’t worry. We’ll get you through. I tell you, there’s nobody got friends like a revolutionist. . . . And enemies!”
Then first did it come to Doremus that, by sentence of the late lamented Effingham Swan, he was subject to the death penalty for escaping. But “Oh, what the hell!” he grunted, like Karl Pascal, and he stretched in the luxury of mobility, in that galloping furniture truck.
He was free! He saw the lights of villages going by!
Once, he was hidden beneath hay in a barn; again, in a spruce grove high on a hill; and once he slept overnight on top of a coffin in the establishment of an undertaker. He walked secret paths; he rode in the back of an itinerant medicine-peddler’s car and, concealed in fur cap and high-collared fur coat, in the sidecar of an Underground worker serving as an M.M. squad-leader. From this he dismounted, at the driver’s command, in front of an obviously untenanted farmhouse on a snaky back-road between Monadnock Mountain and the Averill lakes, a very slattern of an old unpainted farmhouse, with sinking roof and snow up to the frowsy windows.
It seemed a mistake.
Doremus knocked, as the motorcycle snarled away, and the door opened on Lorinda Pike and Sissy, crying together, “Oh, my dear!”
He could only mutter, “Well!”
When they had made him strip off his fur coat in the farmhouse living room, a room with peeling wall paper, and altogether bare except for a cot, two chairs, a table, the two moaning women saw a small man, his face dirty, pasty, and sunken as by tuberculosis, his once fussily trimmed beard and mustache ragged as wisps of hay, his overlong hair a rustic jag at the back, his clothes ripped and filthy, an old, sick, discouraged tramp. He dropped on a straight chair and stared at them. Maybe they were genuine, maybe they really were there, maybe he was, as it seemed, in heaven, looking at the two principal angels, but he had been so often fooled so cruelly in his visions these dreary months! He sobbed, and they comforted him with softly stroking hands and not too confoundedly much babble.
“I’ve got a hot bath for you! And I’ll scrub your back! And then some hot chicken soup and ice cream!”
As though one should say: The Lord God awaits you on His throne and all whom you bless shall be blessed, and all your enemies brought to their knees!
Those sainted women had actually had a long tin tub fetched to the kitchen of the old house, filled it with water heated in kettle and dishpan on the stove, and provided brushes, soap, a vast sponge, and such a long caressing bath towel as Doremus had forgotten existed. And somehow, from Fort Beulah, Sissy had brought plenty of his own shoes and shirts and three suits that now seemed to him fit for royalty.
He who had not had a hot bath for six months, and for three had worn the same underclothes, and for two (in clammy winter) no socks whatever!
If the presence of Lorinda and Sissy was token of heaven, to slide inch by slow ecstatic inch into the tub was its proof, and he lay soaking in glory.
When he was half dressed, the two came in, and there was about as much thought of modesty, or need for it, as though he were the two-year-old babe he somewhat resembled. They were laughing at him, but laughter became sharp whimpers of horror when they saw the gridironed meat of his back. But nothing more demanding than “Oh, my dear!” did Lorinda say, even then.
Though Sissy had once been glad that Lorinda spared her any mothering, Doremus rejoiced in it. Snake Tizra and the Trianon concentration camp had been singularly devoid of any mothering. Lorinda salved his back and powdered it. She cut his hair, not too unskillfully. She cooked for him all the heavy, earthy dishes of which he had dreamed, hungry in a cell: hamburg steak with onions, corn pudding, buckwheat cakes with sausages, apple dumplings with hard and soft sauce, and cream of mushroom soup!
It had not been safe to take him to the comforts of her tea room at Beecher Falls; already M.M.’s had been there, snooping after him. But Sissy and she had, for such refugees as they might be forwarding for the New Underground, provided this dingy farmhouse with half-a-dozen cots, and rich stores of canned goods and beautiful bottles (Doremus considered them) of honey and marmalade and bar-le-duc.
The actual final crossing of the border into Canada was easier than it had been when Buck Titus had tried to smuggle the Jessup family over. It had become a system, as in the piratical days of bootlegging; with new forest paths, bribery of frontier guards, and forged passports. He was safe. Yet just to make safety safer, Lorinda and Sissy, rubbing their chins as they looked Doremus over, still discussing him as brazenly as though he were a baby who could not understand them, decided to turn him into a young man.
“Dye his hair and mustache black and shave the beard, I think. I wish we had time to give him a nice Florida tan with an Alpine lamp, too,” considered Lorinda.
“Yes, I think he’ll look sweet that way,” said Sissy.
“I will not have my beard off!” he protested. “How do I know what kind of a chin I’ll have when it’s naked?” “Why, the man still thinks he’s a newspaper proprietor and one of Fort Beulah’s social favorites!” marveled Sissy as they ruthlessly set to work.
“Only real reason for these damn wars and revolutions anyway is that the womenfolks get a chance, ouch! be careful, to be dear little Amateur Mothers to every male they can get in their clutches. Hair dye!” said Doremus bitterly.
But he was shamelessly proud of his youthful face when it was denuded, and he discovered that he had a quite tolerably stubborn chin, and Sissy was sent back to Beecher Falls to keep the tea room alive, and for three days Lorinda and he gobbled steaks and ale, and played pinochle, and lay talking infinitely of all they had thought about each other in the six desert months that might have been sixty years. He was to remember the sloping farmhouse bedroom and a shred of rag carpet and a couple of rickety chairs and Lorinda snuggled under the old red comforter on the cot, not as winter poverty but as youth and adventurous love.
Then, in a forest clearing, with snow along the spruce boughs, a few feet across into Canada, he was peering into the eyes of his two women, curtly saying good-bye, and trudging off into the new prison of exile from the America to which, already, he was looking back with the long pain of nostalgia.
His beard had grown again, he and his beard had been friends for many years, and he had missed it of late. His hair and mustache had again assumed a respectable gray in place of the purple dye that under electric lights had looked so bogus. He was no longer impassioned at the sight of a lamb chop or a cake of soap. But he had not yet got over the pleasure and slight amazement at being able to talk as freely as he would, as emphatically as might please him, and in public.
He sat with his two closest friends in Montreal, two fellow executives in the Department of Propaganda and Publications of the New Underground (Walt Trowbridge, General Chairman), and these two friends were the Hon. Perley Beecroft, who presumably was the President of the United States, and Joe Elphrey, an ornamental young man who, as “Mr. Cailey,” had been a prize agent of the Communist Party in America till he had been kicked out of that almost imperceptible body for having made a “united front” with Socialists, Democrats, and even choir-singers when organizing an anti-Corpo revolt in Texas.
Over their ale, in this cafe, Beecroft and Elphrey were at it as usual: Elphrey insisting that the only “solution” of American distress was dictatorship by the livelier representatives of the toiling masses, strict and if need be violent, but (this was his new heresy) not governed by Moscow. Beecroft was gaseously asserting that “all we needed” was a return to precisely the political parties, the drumming up of votes, and the oratorical legislating by Congress, of the contented days of William B. McKinley.
But as for Doremus, he leaned back not vastly caring what nonsense the others might talk so long as it was permitted them to talk at all without finding that the waiters were M.M. spies; and content to know that, whatever happened, Trowbridge and the other authentic leaders would never go back to satisfaction in government of the profits, by the profits, for the profits. He thought comfortably of the fact that just yesterday (he had this from the chairman’s secretary), Walt Trowbridge had dismissed Wilson J. Shale, the ducal oil man, who had come, apparently with sincerity, to offer his fortune and his executive experience to Trowbridge and the cause. “Nope. Sorry, Will. But we can’t use you. Whatever happens, even if Haik marches over and slaughters all of us along with all our Canadian hosts, you and your kind of clever pirates are finished. Whatever happens, whatever details of a new system of government may be decided on, whether we call it a ‘Cooperative Commonwealth’ or ‘State Socialism’ or ‘Communism’ or ‘Revived Traditional Democracy,’ there’s got to be a new feeling, that government is not a game for a few smart, resolute athletes like you, Will, but a universal partnership, in which the State must own all resources so large that they affect all members of the State, and in which the one worst crime won’t be murder or kidnaping but taking advantage of the State, in which the seller of fraudulent medicine, or the liar in Congress, will be punished a whole lot worse than the fellow who takes an ax to the man who’s grabbed off his girl. . . . Eh? What’s going to happen to magnates like you, Will? God knows! What happened to the dinosaurs?”
So was Doremus in his service well content.
Yet socially he was almost as lonely as in his cell at Trianon; almost as savagely he longed for the not exorbitant pleasure of being with Lorinda, Buck, Emma, Sissy, Steve Perefixe.
None of them save Emma could join him in Canada, and she would not. Her letters suggested fear of the unworcesterian wildernesses of Montreal. She wrote that Philip and she hoped they might be able to get Doremus forgiven by the Corpos! So he was left to associate only with his fellow refugees from Corpoism, and he knew a life that had been familiar, far too familiar, to political exiles ever since the first revolt in Egypt sent the rebels sneaking off into Assyria.
It was no particularly indecent egotism in Doremus that made him suppose, when he arrived in Canada, that everyone would thrill to his tale of imprisonment, torture, and escape. But he found that ten thousand spirited tellers of woe had come there before him, and that the Canadians, however attentive and generous hosts they might be, were actively sick of pumping up new sympathy. They felt that their quota of martyrs was completely filled, and as to the exiles who came in penniless, and that was a majority of them, the Canadians became distinctly weary of depriving their own families on behalf of unknown refugees, and they couldn’t even keep up forever a gratification in the presence of celebrated American authors, politicians, scientists, when they became common as mosquitoes.
It was doubtful if a lecture on Deplorable Conditions in America by Herbert Hoover and General Pershing together would have attracted forty people. Ex-governors and judges were glad to get jobs washing dishes, and exmanaging-editors were hoeing turnips. And reports said that Mexico and London and France were growing alike apologetically bored.
So Doremus, meagerly living on his twenty-dollar-a-week salary from the N.U., met no one save his own fellow exiles, in just such salons of unfortunate political escapists as the White Russians, the Red Spaniards, the Blue Bulgarians, and all the other polychromatic insurrectionists frequented in Paris. They crowded together, twenty of them in a parlor twelve by twelve, very like the concentration-camp cells in area, inhabitants, and eventual smell, from 8 PM. till midnight, and made up for lack of dinner with coffee and doughnuts and exiguous sandwiches, and talked without cessation about the Corpos. They told as “actual facts” stories about President Haik which had formerly been applied to Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, the one about the man who was alarmed to find he had saved Haik from drowning and begged him not to tell.
In the cafes they seized the newspapers from home. Men who had had an eye gouged out on behalf of freedom, with the rheumy remaining one peered to see who had won the Missouri Avenue Bridge Club Prize.
They were brave and romantic, tragic and distinguished, and Doremus became a little sick of them all and of the final brutality of fact that no normal man can very long endure another’s tragedy, and that friendly weeping will some day turn to irritated kicking.
He was stirred when, in a hastily built American interdenominational chapel, he heard a starveling who had once been a pompous bishop read from the pine pulpit:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. . . . How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”
Here in Canada the Americans had their Weeping Wall and daily cried with false, gallant hope, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Sometimes Doremus was vexed by the ceaseless demanding wails of refugees who had lost everything, sons and wives and property and self-respect, vexed that they believed they alone had seen such horrors; and sometimes he spent all his spare hours raising a dollar and a little weary friendliness for these sick souls; and sometimes he saw as fragments of Paradise every aspect of America, such oddly assorted glimpses as Meade at Gettysburg and the massed blue petunias in Emma’s lost garden, the fresh shine of rails as seen from a train on an April morning and Rockefeller Center. But whatever his mood, he refused to sit down with his harp by any foreign waters whatever and enjoy the importance of being a celebrated beggar.
He’d get back to America and chance another prison. Meantime he neatly sent packages of literary dynamite out from the N.U. offices all day long, and efficiently directed a hundred envelope-addressers who once had been professors and pastrycooks.
He had asked his superior, Perley Beecroft, for assignment in more active and more dangerous work, as secret agent in America, out West, where he was not known. But headquarters had suffered a good deal from amateur agents who babbled to strangers, or who could not be trusted to keep their mouths shut while they were being flogged to death. Things had changed since 1929. The N.U. believed that the highest honor a man could earn was not to have a million dollars but to be permitted to risk his life for truth, without pay or praise.
Doremus knew that his chiefs did not consider him young enough or strong enough, but also that they were studying him. Twice he had the honor of interviews with Trowbridge about nothing in particular, surely it must have been an honor, though it was hard to remember it, because Trowbridge was the simplest and friendliest man in the whole portentous spy machine. Cheerfully Doremus hoped for a chance to help make the poor, overworked, worried Corpo officials even more miserable than they normally were, now that war with Mexico and revolts against Corpoism were jingling side by side.
In July, 1939, when Doremus had been in Montreal a little over five months, and a year after his sentence to concentration camp, the American newspapers which arrived at N.U. headquarters were full of resentment against Mexico.
Bands of Mexicans had raided across into the United States, always, curiously enough, when our troops were off in the desert, practice-marching or perhaps gathering sea shells. They burned a town in Texas, fortunately all the women and children were away on a Sunday-school picnic, that afternoon. A Mexican Patriot (aforetime he had also worked as an Ethiopian Patriot, a Chinese Patriot, and a Haitian Patriot) came across, to the tent of an M.M. brigadier, and confessed that while it hurt him to tattle on his own beloved country, conscience compelled him to reveal that his Mexican superiors were planning to fly over and bomb Laredo, San Antonio, Bisbee, and probably Tacoma, and Bangor, Maine.
This excited the Corpo newspapers very much indeed and in New York and Chicago they published photographs of the conscientious traitor half an hour after he had appeared at the Brigadier’s tent . . . where, at that moment, forty-six reporters happened to be sitting about on neighboring cactuses.
America rose to defend her hearthstones, including all the hearthstones on Park Avenue, New York, against false and treacherous Mexico, with its appalling army of 67,000 men, with thirty-nine military aeroplanes. Women in Cedar Rapids hid under the bed; elderly gentlemen in Cattaraugus County, New York, concealed their money in elm-tree boles; and the wife of a chicken-raiser seven miles NE. of Estelline, South Dakota, a woman widely known as a good cook and a trained observer, distinctly saw a file of ninety-two Mexican soldiers pass her cabin, starting at 3:17 AM. on July 27, 1939.
To answer this threat, America, the one country that had never lost a war and never started an unjust one, rose as one man, as the Chicago Daily Evening Corporate put it. It was planned to invade Mexico as soon as it should be cool enough, or even earlier, if the refrigeration and air-conditioning could be arranged. In one month, five million men were drafted for the invasion, and started training.
Thus, perhaps too flippantly, did Joe Cailey and Doremus discuss the declaration of war against Mexico. If they found the whole crusade absurd, it may be stated in their defense that they regarded all wars always as absurd; in the baldness of the lying by both sides about the causes; in the spectacle of grown-up men engaged in the infantile diversions of dressing-up in fancy clothes and marching to primitive music. The only thing not absurd about wars, said Doremus and Cailey, was that along with their skittishness they did kill a good many millions of people. Ten thousand starving babies seemed too high a price for a Sam Browne belt for even the sweetest, touchingest young lieutenant.
Yet both Doremus and Cailey swiftly recanted their assertion that all wars were absurd and abominable; both of them made exception of the people’s wars against tyranny, as suddenly America’s agreeable anticipation of stealing Mexico was checked by a popular rebellion against the whole Corpo régime.
The revolting section was, roughly, bounded by Sault Ste. Marie, Detroit, Cincinnati, Wichita, San Francisco, and Seattle, though in that territory large patches remained loyal to President Haik, and outside of it, other large patches joined the rebels. It was the part of America which had always been most “radical”, that indefinite word, which probably means “most critical of piracy.” It was the land of the Populists, the Non-Partisan League, the Farmer-Labor Party, and the La Follette, a family so vast as to form a considerable party in itself.
Whatever might happen, exulted Doremus, the revolt proved that belief in America and hope for America were not dead.
These rebels had most of them, before his election, believed in Buzz Windrip’s fifteen points; believed that when he said he wanted to return the power pilfered by the bankers and the industrialists to the people, he more or less meant that he wanted to return the power of the bankers and industrialists to the people. As month by month they saw that they had been cheated with marked cards again, they were indignant; but they were busy with cornfield and sawmill and dairy and motor factory, and it took the impertinent idiocy of demanding that they march down into the desert and help steal a friendly country to jab them into awakening and into discovering that, while they had been asleep, they had been kidnaped by a small gang of criminals armed with high ideals, well-buttered words and a lot of machine guns.
So profound was the revolt that the Catholic Archbishop of California and the radical Ex-Governor of Minnesota found themselves in the same faction.
At first it was a rather comic outbreak, comic as the illtrained, un-uniformed, confusedly thinking revolutionists of Massachusetts in 1776. President General Haik publicly jeered at them as a “ridiculous rag-tag rebellion of hoboes too lazy to work.” And at first they were unable to do anything more than scold like a flock of crows, throw bricks at detachments of M.M.’s and policemen, wreck troop trains, and destroy the property of such honest private citizens as owned Corpo newspapers.
It was in August that the shock came, when General Emmanuel Coon, Chief of Staff of the regulars, flew from Washington to St. Paul, took command of Fort Snelling, and declared for Walt Trowbridge as Temporary President of the United States, to hold office until there should be a new, universal, and uncontrolled presidential election.
Trowbridge proclaimed acceptance, with the proviso that he should not be a candidate for permanent President.
By no means all of the regulars joined Coon’s revolutionary troops. (There are two sturdy myths among the Liberals: that the Catholic Church is less Puritanical and always more esthetic than the Protestant; and that professional soldiers hate war more than do congressmen and old maids. But there were enough regulars who were fed up with the exactions of greedy, mouthdripping Corpo commissioners and who threw in with General Coon so that immediately after his army of regulars and hastily trained Minnesota farmers had won the battle of Mankato, the forces at Leavenworth took control of Kansas City, and planned to march on St. Louis and Omaha; while in New York, Governor’s Island and Fort Wadsworth looked on, neutral, as unmilitary looking and mostly Jewish guerrillas seized the subways, power stations, and railway terminals.
But there the revolt halted, because in the America, which had so warmly praised itself for its “widespread popular free education,” there had been so very little education, widespread, popular, free, or anything else, that most people did not know what they wanted, indeed knew about so few things to want at all.
There had been plenty of schoolrooms; there had been lacking only literate teachers and eager pupils and school boards who regarded teaching as a profession worthy of as much honor and pay as insurance-selling or embalming or waiting on table. Most Americans had learned in school that God had supplanted the Jews as chosen people by the Americans, and this time done the job much better, so that we were the richest, kindest, and cleverest nation living; that depressions were but passing headaches and that labor unions must not concern themselves with anything except higher wages and shorter hours and, above all, must not set up an ugly class struggle by combining politically; that, though foreigners tried to make a bogus mystery of them, politics were really so simple that any village attorney or any clerk in the office of a metropolitan sheriff was quite adequately trained for them; and that if John D. Rockefeller or Henry Ford had set his mind to it, he could have become the most distinguished statesman, composer, physicist, or poet in the land.
Even two-and-half years of despotism had not yet taught most electors humility, nor taught them much of anything except that it was unpleasant to be arrested too often.
So, after the first gay eruption of rioting, the revolt slowed up. Neither the Corpos nor many of their opponents knew enough to formulate a clear, sure theory of self-government, or irresistibly resolve to engage in the sore labor of fitting themselves for freedom. . . . Even yet, after Windrip, most of the easy-going descendants of the wisecracking Benjamin Franklin had not learned that Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” meant anything more than a high-school yell or a cigarette slogan.
The followers of Trowbridge and General Coon, “The American Cooperative Commonwealth” they began to call themselves, did not lose any of the territory they had seized; they held it, driving out all Corpo agents, and now and then added a county or two. But mostly their rule, and equally the Corpos’ rule, was as unstable as politics in Ireland.
So the task of Walt Trowbridge, which in August had seemed finished, before October seemed merely to have begun. Doremus Jessup was called into Trowbridge’s office, to hear from the chairman:
“I guess the time’s come when we need Underground agents in the States with sense as well as guts. Report to General Barnes for service proselytizing in Minnesota. Good luck, Brother Jessup! Try to persuade the orators that are still holding out for discipline and clubs that they ain’t so much stalwart as funny!”
And all that Doremus thought was, “Kind of a nice fellow, Trowbridge. Glad to be working with him,” as he set off on his new task of being a spy and professional hero without even any funny passwords to make the game romantic.
To follow in part 14