Sinclair Lewis: The only thing not absurd about wars was that they kill a good many millions of people
From It Can’t Happen Here (1935)
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 N.E. 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 A.M. 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.
…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.