Home > Uncategorized > Theodore Dreiser: If he went he might be shot, and what would his noble emotion amount to then? He would rather make money, regulate current political, social and financial affairs

Theodore Dreiser: If he went he might be shot, and what would his noble emotion amount to then? He would rather make money, regulate current political, social and financial affairs

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

American writers on peace and against war

Theodore Dreiser: The logic of military victory, an apologue

Theodore Dreiser and Smedley Butler: War is a Racket

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Theodore Dreiser
From The Financier (1912)

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There came in this period the slow approach, and finally the declaration, of war between the North and the South, attended with so much excitement that almost all current minds were notably colored by it…Cowperwood was only twenty-five at the time, a cool, determined youth, who thought the slave agitation might be well founded in human rights – no doubt was – but exceedingly dangerous to trade. He hoped the North would win; but it might go hard with him personally and other financiers. He did not care to fight. That seemed silly for the individual man to do. Others might – there were many poor, thin-minded, half-baked creatures who would put themselves up to be shot; but they were only fit to be commanded or shot down. As for him, his life was sacred to himself and his family and his personal interests. He recalled seeing, one day, in one of the quiet side streets, as the working-men were coming home from their work, a small enlisting squad of soldiers in blue marching enthusiastically along, the Union flag flying, the drummers drumming, the fifes blowing, the idea being, of course, to so impress the hitherto indifferent or wavering citizen, to exalt him to such a pitch, that he would lose his sense of proportion, of self-interest, and, forgetting all – wife, parents, home, and children – and seeing only the great need of the country, fall in behind and enlist. He saw one workingman swinging his pail, and evidently not contemplating any such denouement to his day’s work, pause, listen as the squad approached, hesitate as it drew close, and as it passed, with a peculiar look of uncertainty or wonder in his eyes, fall in behind and march solemnly away to the enlisting quarters. What was it that had caught this man, Frank asked himself. How was he overcome so easily? He had not intended to go. His face was streaked with the grease and dirt of his work – he looked like a foundry man or machinist, say twenty-five years of age. Frank watched the little squad disappear at the end of the street round the corner under the trees.

This current war-spirit was strange. The people seemed to him to want to hear nothing but the sound of the drum and fife, to see nothing but troops, of which there were thousands now passing through on their way to the front, carrying cold steel in the shape of guns at their shoulders, to hear of war and the rumors of war. It was a thrilling sentiment, no doubt, great but unprofitable. It meant self-sacrifice, and he could not see that. If he went he might be shot, and what would his noble emotion amount to then? He would rather make money, regulate current political, social and financial affairs. The poor fool who fell in behind the enlisting squad – no, not fool, he would not call him that – the poor overwrought working-man – well, Heaven pity him! Heaven pity all of them! They really did not know what they were doing.

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