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Upton Sinclair: Gigantic stir of war preparation for global territorial aggrandizement


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

American writers on peace and against war

Upton Sinclair: Selections on war


Upton Sinclair
From Boston (1928)


The fall of 1917. All about Cornelia a gigantic stir of war preparation, but very little intellectual preparation to match it. She did not have to go far in her studies to learn that the various peoples of Europe had been fighting among themselves for centuries, and in this fighting had frequently shifted partners. Whatever enemy they had at the time, they hated that enemy just as heartily, and accused him of atrocities, and did not hesitate to have priests and bishops invoke the aid of God to overcome him. Always the real cause of war was a desire to take land from the other nation; plus the fear that the other nation would reverse the procedure – as indeed it would.

Could the same situation exist in this greatest and most cruel of all conflicts?


Quincy went everywhere, and met everybody. He could tell you what the British ambassador had said to Major Higginson last week. The evening before he had dined at Fenway Court, the palace of the eccentric but brilliant Mrs. “Jack” Gardner, and had there met Sir Leslie Buttock, the latest of the procession of British propagandists who were coming to fascinate and thrill the American plutocracy. Sir Leslie was making the transcontinental tour, and after he praised the champagne of a Minnesota banker, or the cigars of a Seattle ship-builder, each of these provincials was an insider and social equal for the rest of his life, and the price was five – ten – twenty billions – to be used in doubling the area of the British empire.

A British diplomat once gave the official definition of a lie – a falsehood told to a person who has a right to the truth. All diplomats and propagandists who came to Boston did “Mrs. Jack” the honor of admitting her into the inner circle. At her dinner-parties you took off your propaganda-coat, so to speak, and lounged in your military shirt-sleeves. So Quincy Thornwell could tell his aunt exactly why the war was lasting so long. The price of Italy repudiating her alliance with Austria and Germany had been the Trentino and Trieste, which meant the mastery of the Adriatic. Japan’s price was Shantung from China. Russia was to have Constantinople. France was to have Alsace-Lorraine, and if possible the Rhine. Britain was to have all the German colonies, an empire in themselves. When you talked to Quincy about any of these powers giving up their spoils because of the beautiful speeches of Woodrow Wilson, he showed his good manners by pretending it was your idea of being humorous.

And yet there were a hundred million or so good Americans who really believed that their President was somehow going to achieve that miracle!…If you mentioned the secret treaties, they would say that these matters were too delicate for public discussion; the President of course had sources of information that were not open to us.

“But why not?” cried Cornelia, and could get no convincing answer. Either the allies were going to give up their predatory aims or they were not. If they were, why not publish the fact? Such declaration would save millions of lives and billions of treasure – for manifestly, one reason for enemy resistance was the fear of consequences of defeat. But if you tried to point this out, you were called pro-German, and people turned their backs on you. They had adopted a slogan, “Win the war!” – which meant that they found it easier to fight than to think…

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