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Hermann Hagedorn: The fourth estate turning the thoughts of our children to war

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

American writers on peace and against war

Hermann Hagedorn: Selections against war

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Hermann Hagedorn
From Makers of Madness
A Play in One Act and Three Scenes

POLLEN

[He picks up one of the papers off the floor.

I see you have been honoring me by reading them. Don’t my papers tell you that there’s going to be war?

CONROY

No one pretends, Pollen, that your papers are wonders of undecorated truth.

POLLEN

Well, this time, trust them. What if they do lie about facts occasionally? I am not interested in facts. Facts are always misleading. But I know something about psychology –

CONROY

And you’re sure?

GROSVENOR

How can you be sure?

POLLEN

[Standing at the window.

Because the people are smelling blood. That’s why. And now they won’t let up till they’re satisfied. I’ve watched the war-feeling growing for a year. I tried ’em out on headlines and editorials, first little mild fellows to set them thinking. Then, when their thoughts were set toward trouble, well, we increased the percentage of oxygen.

[Thoughtfully.

It’s been extremely interesting. The psychology of crowds is one of the most satisfying subjects I have ever studied. Say, fifteen, twenty millions, that individually hate you, but as a crowd, a body of readers, unconsciously, perhaps, even against their will, do exactly what you say. We’re going to have war, because the people have now got to a state in which they believe that nothing short of war will save them from utter ruin. They want war. I know it. The circulation of my papers has mounted by the hundred thousand daily. And it isn’t only because the people want the news. They want the excitement. It’s the gambling instinct in them. They’ve seen the ball rolling, and they can’t keep out of the game. The very bigness of the thing lures them on; the bigger the issue, the bigger the fascination. The millions of men and the billions of dollars – that lures them. And the awfulness – the dead, the wounded, the horrors, that lures them like nothing else. There was one thing missing until tonight.

GROSVENOR

[Fascinated.

What was that?

POLLEN

Fear. They were too cocksure. But I gave them fear in the eight o’clock extra. There was a rumor that the rest of Europe would take part.

GROSVENOR

[With a malicious glance.

That looks well for your business, Conroy.

CONROY

I’m not complaining.

POLLEN

We’re playing the thing up in the late editions all over the country. It’ll give the people a queer catch in the throat. They’ll see the possibility of a fierce struggle, even of defeat. There’ll be a wonderful wave of patriotism. You watch. The people’ll rise right up. In twenty-four hours there won’t be a man in the country that’ll be able to tell black from white. All they’ll see will be red.

[Pointing out of the window.

Look at the people out there, standing round. They can’t stay indoors. They’re waiting for the extras. They won’t believe ’em when they read ’em, but they can’t resist the excitement. Well, the bonfire’s ready. Nothing lacking now except the match.

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POLLEN

[Laughing softly.

There you go.

[He presses a bell-button on the wall, bends over the writing-desk and writes a line which he encloses in an envelope.

You’re easy. And there are a hundred million like you. When it comes to war, reason goes to sleep. You both of you knew perfectly well that I had absolutely no later news than you, but you let yourself be hypnotized like children. I can do anything I want with you.

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POLLEN

I merely advise you. It isn’t always considered patriotic when the people want war, for a Senator to want peace too hard. I shall strive to point that out to twenty million people or so tomorrow morning. Make your will, Senator. The avalanche is coming. You’ll be the loneliest voice that ever came out of the wilderness. I prophesy your swift demise.

HARRADAN

This is wartime. Most of us are ready to die, if necessary. Only some of us would rather die in the service of peace than in the service of war. You’re a very powerful man, Mr. Pollen. I don’t doubt at all that you can kill me if you put your mind on it. You have poisoned the whole nation. You are at liberty to kill me outright, but I won’t let you slow-poison me.

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CONROY

[Bluntly.

And why shouldn’t we be down here? I’m in a legitimate business. Guns. And I’m looking after my interests. I’m not declaring war. But if there is a war I don’t see any reason why I should get left in the scramble.

HARRADAN

War! God, do you know what the word means? I’ve been in two wars. I’ve seen and heard and – smelt battlefields. And I’ve seen women and children waiting at home – and waiting.

POLLEN

I’ll give you a thousand dollars, Senator, for a thousand-word article on the horrors of war. You can’t make it strong enough.

MAYNARD

[Laughing.

That’s one on you, Senator.

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HARRADAN

…You and your kind are stirring up the millions to dream of war, to shout about defending our national honor – What honor is there in murder? – stirring their blood with the fifes and drums of your rhetoric! Through your newspapers, you are turning the thoughts of our children to war, our children who should be to us the symbol of a nobler, purer future rising out of the sordid wreckage of the present – you make them drunk with your cant about national glory – glory! – until their innocent faces glow feverishly up to you, hungry for battle. You will not rest until you hear the terrible savage cry from their lips – War, war! You shall not hear it if I can prevent it! I am going to the Senate now. In fifteen minutes your names shall be a byword and a hissing among the nations. The best you can do is to take your vile guns and turn them on yourselves!

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[The stage grows light again. In the foreground, a black group of trees may be dimly discerned; beyond are indistinct hills and the last glow of a bloody sunset. Smoke and dust blacken the scene. Even before the cloud breaks to reveal the valley for a moment, the low roar is suddenly broken by the rattle of musketry, followed by the booming of artillery and the drumming sound of the machine guns. A trumpet sounds the charge. The dust cloud breaks. A thickly crowded mass of men is vaguely seen through the twilight charging with cries and curses. The rear ranks press over the fallen, waver, shout and fall back. The rattle of musketry continues. The men return to the charge, are repulsed once more with awful slaughter and again return. The dust cloud passes over the scene. It is night now. The wounded are tossing on the field, shrieking. Ghouls prowl about. A flock of buzzards flies across the moon. In the distance is heard a shout of victory, then the national anthem once more, played by a trumpeter. A thousand voices seem to rise out of the ground, moaning, drowning out the music. Then a woman’s voice, clear and distinct.

VOICE

How long, O Lord? How long?

[Cries and wailings answer the cry. Silence. Again the bugle, drowned out by cries, cries, cries.

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