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Sinclair Lewis: Can’t depend On Providence to supply wars when you need them

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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)

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Secretary of the Treasury Skittle and Attorney General Porkwood shook their heads, but Secretary of War Haik and Secretary of Education Macgoblin agreed with Sarason high-mindedly. Once, pointed out the learned Macgoblin, governments had merely let themselves slide into a war, thanking Providence for having provided a conflict as a febrifuge against internal discontent, but of course, in this age of deliberate, planned propaganda, a really modern government like theirs must figure out what brand of war they had to sell and plan the selling-campaign consciously. Now, as for him, he would be willing to leave the whole set-up to the advertising genius of Brother Sarason.

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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.

Windrip and Sarason had not minded mirth and dancing in the street so long as they could be suitably taxed. Haik disliked such things on principle. Except, perhaps, that he was an atheist in theology, he was a strict orthodox Christian. He was the first to tell the populace that they were not going to get any five thousand dollars a year but, instead, “reap the profits of Discipline and of the Scientific Totalitarian State not in mere paper figures but in vast dividends of Pride, Patriotism, and Power.” He kicked out of the army all officers who could not endure marching and going thirsty; and out of the civil branch all commissioners–including one Francis Tasbrough – who had garnered riches too easily and too obviously.

He treated the entire nation like a well-run plantation, on which the slaves were better fed than formerly, less often cheated by their overseers, and kept so busy that they had time only for work and for sleep, and thus fell rarely into the debilitating vices of laughter, song (except war songs against Mexico), complaint, or thinking. Under Haik there were less floggings in M.M. posts and in concentration camps, for by his direction officers were not to waste time in the sport of beating persons, men, women, or children, who asserted that they didn’t care to be slaves on even the best plantation, but just to shoot them out of hand.

Haik made such use of the clergy–Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Liberal-Agnostic – as Windrip and Sarason never had. While there were plenty of ministers who, like Mr. Falck and Father Stephen Perefixe, like Cardinal Faulhaber and Pastor Niemoeller in Germany, considered it some part of Christian duty to resent the enslavement and torture of their appointed flocks, there were also plenty of reverend celebrities, particularly large-city pastors whose sermons were reported in the newspapers every Monday morning, to whom Corpoism had given a chance to be noisily and lucratively patriotic. These were the chaplains-at-heart, who, if there was no war in which they could humbly help to purify and comfort the poor brave boys who were fighting, were glad to help provide such a war.

These more practical shepherds, since like doctors and lawyers they were able to steal secrets out of the heart, became valued spies during the difficult months after February, 1939, when Haik was working up war with Mexico. (Canada? Japan? Russia? They would come later.) For even with an army of slaves, it was necessary to persuade them that they were freemen and fighters for the principle of freedom, or otherwise the scoundrels might cross over and join the enemy!

So reigned the good king Haik, and if there was anyone in all the land who was discontented, you never heard him speak – not twice.

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