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Sinclair Lewis: It Can(‘t) Happen Here

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

Sinclair Lewis: Selections on war

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Sinclair Lewis

From It Can’t Happen Here (1935)

The grim Secretary of War, Haik, scolded at President Sarason for his influence on the nation, particularly on the troops. Lee laughed at him, but once he was sufficiently flattered by Haik’s tribute to his artistic powers to write a poem for him. It was a poem which was later to be sung by millions; it was, in fact, the most popular of the soldiers’ ballads which were to spring automatically from anonymous soldier bards during the war between the United States and Mexico. Only, being as pious a believer in Modern Advertising as Sarason himself, the efficient Haik wanted to encourage the spontaneous generation of these patriotic folk ballads by providing the automatic springing and the anonymous bard. He had as much foresight, as much “prophetic engineering,” as a motorcar manufacturer.

Sarason was as eager for war with Mexico (or Ethiopia or Siam or Greenland or any other country that would provide his pet young painters with a chance to portray Sarason being heroic amid curious vegetation) as Haik; not only to give malcontents something outside the country to be cross about, but also to give himself a chance to be picturesque. He answered Haik’s request by writing a rollicking military chorus at a time while the country was still theoretically entirely friendly with Mexico. It went to the tune of “Mademoiselle from Armentières”— or “Armenteers.” If the Spanish in it was a little shaky, still, millions were later to understand that “Habla oo?” stood for “¿Habla usted?” signifying “Parlez-vous?” It ran thus, as it came from Sarason’s purple but smoking typewriter:

Señorita from Guadalupe,

Qui usted?

Señorita go roll your hoop,

Or come to bed!

Señorita from Guadalupe

If Padre sees us we’re in the soup,

Hinky, dinky, habla oo?

Señorita from Monterey,

Savvy Yank?

Señorita what’s that you say?

You’re Swede, Ay tank!

But Señorita from Monterey,

You won’t hablar when we hit the hay,

Hinky, dinky, habla oo?

Señorita from Mazatlán,

Once we’ve met,

You’ll smile all over your khaki pan,

You wont forget!

For days you’ll holler, “Oh, what a man!”

And you’ll never marry a Mexican.

Hinky, dinky, habla oo?

If at times President Sarason seemed flippant, he was not at all so during his part in the scientific preparation for war which consisted in rehearsing M.M. choruses in trolling out this ditty with well-trained spontaneity.

His friend Hector Macgoblin, now Secretary of State, told Sarason that this manly chorus was one of his greatest creations. Macgoblin, though personally he did not join in Sarason’s somewhat unusual midnight diversions, was amused by them, and he often told Sarason that he was the only original creative genius among this whole bunch of stuffed shirts, including Haik.

“You want to watch that cuss Haik, Lee,” said Macgoblin. “He’s ambitious, he’s a gorilla, and he’s a pious Puritan, and that’s a triple combination I’m scared of. The troops like him.”

“Rats! He has no attraction for them. He’s just an accurate military bookkeeper,” said Sarason.

That night he had a party at which, for a novelty, rather shocking to his intimates, he actually had girls present, performing certain curious dances. The next morning Haik rebuked him, and — Sarason had a hangover — was stormed at. That night, just a month after Sarason had usurped the Presidency, Haik struck.

There was no melodramatic dagger-and-uplifted-arm business about it, this time — though Haik did traditionally come late, for all Fascists, like all drunkards, seem to function most vigorously at night. Haik marched into the White House with his picked storm troops, found President Sarason in violet silk pajamas among his friends, shot Sarason and most of his companions dead, and proclaimed himself President.

Hector Macgoblin fled by aeroplane to Cuba, then on. When last seen, he was living high up in the mountains of Haiti, wearing only a singlet, dirty white-drill trousers, grass sandals, and a long tan beard; very healthy and happy, occupying a one-room hut with a lovely native girl, practicing modern medicine and studying ancient voodoo.

When Dewey Haik became President, then America really did begin to suffer a little, and to long for the good old democratic, liberal days of Windrip.

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