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Elmer Rice: The expediency of choosing the right side in a war


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

American writers on peace and against war


Elmer Rice
From Imperial City

By the time the Civil War broke out he had made himself invaluable. Eakins, whose family came from Virginia, sympathized with the South and wanted to help underwrite the Confederacy, especially as he believed that the secessionists would win. But James Coleman vigorously opposed this policy and succeeded in winning the majority of the partners. At the time he arranged to finance a large number of contracts for the Federal Army. These contracts merited and, indeed, underwent considerable federal investigation, but nothing came of it. Millions flowed into the strong-boxes of the firm and the name was changed to Eakins, Coleman and Company. When Eakins died shortly thereafter without male descendants, there was no one to challenge the absolute sovereignty of James Coleman.


With a great effort of her will, she returned to Galahad, though she could scarcely make her voice audible. She explained that the poem was a parable that taught us to be chivalrous and selfless. There was more potency in high ideals than in force of arms, a greater conquering power in purity of heart than in brute strength. It was through devotion to what was pure and beautiful that mankind attained to even greater heights. Nobility consisted not in the heritage of blood or worldly goods, but in the dedication of the spirit to a better way of life. No evil, no snare could defeat the valor of goodness.


Christmas was approaching, and more and more the activities of the city centered about the celebration of the greatest of annual festivals. The great metropolis, capital of the earth’s proudest and wealthiest domain, turned its energies to paying homage to the lowly preacher of humility and godliness, Whose teachings had for nineteen hundred years, profoundly stirred the minds and hearts of men, and Whose church had conquered the mightiest empire of antiquity and shaped the course of history. The potency of that Name and of the spiritual force which It symbolized still influenced the lives of the inhabitants of this soaring city of steel, so inconceivably remote from that obscure province of Asia Minor, and so fantastically unlike. Science, art and human cunning had altered the conditions of life almost beyond recognition; but, for the most part, the basic problems of man’s relations to his fellow-man, to society and to the unknown remained unchanged.

Material riches had multiplied almost beyond belief. Man soared above the clouds and sent his words abroad upon waves of ether. He scanned the cosmos and dissected the infinitesimal. He read in the rocks the history of organic life; and his imagination charted the future. He created incredible structures and miracle-working contrivances and the humblest citizen of the modern empire had at his command forces and powers that surpassed the legendary attributes of the Olympians.

But the evils of human society remained unconquered. War, poverty, vice, injustice still ravaged humanity. Reason had invented a thousand remedies for these ills; but, unhappily, the fertile mind was matched with an impotent spirit. Man the builder, man the creator, had conquered the external world, but he had not yet learned to conquer himself. His boundless imaginings were linked to a perishable organism, which clutched blindly and fiercely to security or the shadow of security. The ills of mankind were no more than the collective expression of a multitude of individuals, whose conduct was largely motivated by cruelty, avarice, lust and jealously. Basically, every man was still ruled by fear: fear of his neighbor, fear of the future, fear of the unknown – most of all, fear of himself.

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