Convenient Patriots, Well-buttered Words, and Machine Guns (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 170)

A Mexican Patriot (aforementioned he also worked as an Ethiopian Patriot, a Chinese Patriot, and a Haitian Patriot) came across, to the tent of a 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 <fascist party in control> 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 <an obvious impossibility to anyone not delusional within the context of the book>.

To answer this threat, America, the one country that had never lost a war and never started at unjust one <obvious satire>, 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.

Then suddenly, America’s agreeable anticipation of stealing Mexico <whatever sovereign country> was checked by a popular rebellion against the whole Corpo regime.

These rebels had most of them, before the election, believed in Buzz Windrip’s fifteen points; believed that when he said he wanted to return the power pilfered by the bankers and the industrialists to the people, he more or less meant that he wanted to return the power of the bankers and industrialists to the people. 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 diary and motor factory, and it took the impertinent idiocy of demanding that they <the newly drafted US citizenry> 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 kidnapped by a small gang of criminals armed with high ideals, well-buttered words, and a lot of machine guns <Drones, Tomahawk Missiles, and the Mother of All Bombs>.

It Can’t Happen Here

Sinclair Lewis          1935

Unnoticing Small Unempathic Acts (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 143)

We should be mindful that unempathetic acts can have long-term consequences. Consider that back in 1542 Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet entitled Against the Jews (calling on Catholics to attack them) in which he advocated burning synagogues and destroying Jewish homes. Four hundred years later the young Adolf Hitler quoted Martin Luther in Mein Kampf to give his own Nazi racist views some respectability, going on to create the concentration camps like the one nine-year-old Thomas Buergenthal was in, with gas chambers that ended up killing 6 million Jews. This shows how dangerous it can be if small unempathic acts go unnoticed. My cousin Sacha (whose comic character Borat exposed contemporary anti-Semitism by posing as an anti-Semite himself) quotes Cambridge historian Ian Kershaw’s chilling phrase: “The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference.

The Science of Evil

Simon Baron-Cohen          2011

More Weight (WPMY 132)

ELIZABETH: Giles is dead.

He looks at her incredulously.

PROCTOR: When were he hanged?

ELIZABETH, quietly, factually: He were not hanged. He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm. It is the law, for he could not be condemned a wizard without he answer the indictment, aye or nay.

PROCTOR: Then how does he die?

ELIZABETH, gently: They press him, John.

PROCTOR: Press?

ELIZABETH: Great stones they lay upon his chest until he plead aye or nay. With a tender smile for the old man: They say he give them but two words. “More weight,” he says. And died.

The Crucible

Arthur Miller          1952

Replacing Natural Community with Ritual Conformity and Persecution; The Salem Witch Trials, Nazi Germany, America of 1950, and Today (WPMY 130)

What replaces the sense of natural community in The Crucible, as perhaps in Nazi Germany and, on a different scale, 1950’s America, is a sense of participating in a ritual, of conformity to a ruling orthodoxy and hence a hostility to those who threaten it. The purity of one’s religious principles is confirmed by collaborating, at least by proxy, in the punishment of those who reject them. Racial identity is reinforced by eliminating those who might “contaminate” it, as one’s Americanness is underscored by identifying those who could be said to be un-American. In the film version of his play, Miller, free now to expand and deepen the social context of the drama, chose to emphasize the illusory sense of community: “The CROWD’s urging rises to angry crescendo. HANGMAN pulls a crude lever and the trap drops and the two fall. THE CROWD is delirious with joyful, gratifying unity.”

Alexis de Tocqueville identified the pressure toward conformity even in the early years of the Republic. It was a pressure acknowledged equally by Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, and Thoreau. When Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt abandons his momentary rebellion to return to his conformist society, he is described as being “almost tearful with joy.” Miller’s alarm, then is not his alone, nor is his sense of the potentially tyrannical power of shared myths that appear to offer absolution to those who accept them. If his faith in individual conscience as a corrective is also not unique, it is, perhaps, harder to sustain in the second half of a century that has seen collective myths exercising a coercive power, in America and Europe.

Introduction to The Crucible (Miller 1952)

Christopher Bigsby          1995