It Can't Happen Here

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Chapter 20

The real trouble with the Jews is that they are cruel. Anybody with a knowledge of history knows how they tortured poor debtors in secret catacombs, all through the Middle Ages. Whereas the Nordic is distinguished by his gentleness and his kind-heartedness to friends, children, dogs, and people of inferior races.

Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.

 

The review in Dewey Haik's provincial court of Judge Swan's sentence on Greenhill was influenced by County Commissioner Ledue's testimony that after the execution he found in Greenhill's house a cache of the most seditious documents: copies of Trowbridge's Lance for Democracy, books by Marx and Trotzky, Communistic pamphlets urging citizens to assassinate the Chief.

Mary, Mrs. Greenhill, insisted that her husband had never read such things; that, if anything, he had been too indifferent to politics. Naturally, her word could not be taken against that of Commissioner Ledue, Assistant Commissioner Staubmeyer (known everywhere as a scholar and man of probity), and Military Judge Effingham Swan. It was necessary to punish Mrs. Greenhill—or, rather, to give a strong warning to other Mrs. Greenhills—by seizing all the property and money Greenhill had left her.

Anyway, Mary did not fight very vigorously. Perhaps she realized her guilt. In two days she turned from the crispest, smartest, most swift-spoken woman in Fort Beulah into a silent hag, dragging about in shabby and unkempt black. Her son and she went to live with her father, Doremus Jessup.

Some said that Jessup should have fought for her and her property. But he was not legally permitted to do so. He was on parole, subject, at the will of the properly constituted authorities, to a penitentiary sentence.

 

 

So Mary returned to the house and the overfurnished bedroom she had left as a bride. She could not, she said, endure its memories. She took the attic room that had never been quite "finished off." She sat up there all day, all evening, and her parents never heard a sound. But within a week her David was playing about the yard most joyfully … playing that he was an M.M. officer.

The whole house seemed dead, and all that were in it seemed frightened, nervous, forever waiting for something unknown—all save David and, perhaps, Mrs. Candy, bustling in her kitchen.

Meals had been notoriously cheerful at the Jessups'; Doremus chattered to an audience of Mrs. Candy and Sissy, flustering Emma with the most outrageous assertions—that he was planning to go to Greenland; that President Windrip had taken to riding down Pennsylvania Avenue on an elephant; and Mrs. Candy was as unscrupulous as all good cooks in trying to render them speechlessly drowsy after dinner and to encourage the stealthy expansion of Doremus's already rotund little belly, with her mince pie, her apple pie with enough shortening to make the eyes pop out in sweet anguish, the fat corn fritters and candied potatoes with the broiled chicken, the clam chowder made with cream.

Now, there was little talk among the adults at table and, though Mary was not showily "brave," but colorless as a glass of water, they were nervously watching her. Everything they spoke of seemed to point toward the murder and the Corpos; if you said, "It's quite a warm fall," you felt that the table was thinking, "So the M.M.'s can go on marching for a long time yet before snow flies," and then you choked and asked sharply for the gravy. Always Mary was there, a stone statue chilling the warm and commonplace people packed in beside her.

So it came about that David dominated the table talk, for the first delightful time in his nine years of experiment with life, and David liked that very much indeed, and his grandfather liked it not nearly so well.

He chattered, like an entire palm-ful of monkeys, about Foolish, about his new playmates (children of Medary Cole, the miller), about the apparent fact that crocodiles are rarely found in the Beulah River, and the more moving fact that the Rotenstern young had driven with their father clear to Albany.

Now Doremus was fond of children; approved of them; felt with an earnestness uncommon to parents and grandparents that they were human beings and as likely as the next one to become editors. But he hadn't enough sap of the Christmas holly in his veins to enjoy listening without cessation to the bright prattle of children. Few males have, outside of Louisa May Alcott. He thought (though he wasn't very dogmatic about it) that the talk of a Washington correspondent about politics was likely to be more interesting than Davy's remarks on cornflakes and garter snakes, so he went on loving the boy and wishing he would shut up. And escaped as soon as possible from Mary's gloom and Emma's suffocating thoughtfulness, wherein you felt, every time Emma begged, "Oh, you must take just a little more of the nice chestnut dressing, Mary dearie," that you really ought to burst into tears.

Doremus suspected that Emma was, essentially, more appalled by his having gone to jail than by the murder of her son-in-law. Jessups simply didn't go to jail. People who went to jail were bad, just as barn-burners and men accused of that fascinatingly obscure amusement, a "statutory offense," were bad; and as for bad people, you might try to be forgiving and tender, but you didn't sit down to meals with them. It was all so irregular, and most upsetting to the household routine!

So Emma loved him and worried about him till he wanted to go fishing and actually did go so far as to get out his flies.

But Lorinda had said to him, with eyes brilliant and unworried, "And I thought you were just a cud-chewing Liberal that didn't mind being milked! I am so proud of you! You've encouraged me to fight against—Listen, the minute I heard about your imprisonment I chased Nipper out of my kitchen with a bread knife! … Well, anyway, I thought about doing it!"

 

 

The office was deader than his home. The worst of it was that it wasn't so very bad—that, he saw, he could slip into serving the Corpo state with, eventually, no more sense of shame than was felt by old colleagues of his who in pre-Corpo days had written advertisements for fraudulent mouth washes or tasteless cigarettes, or written for supposedly reputable magazines mechanical stories about young love. In a waking nightmare after his imprisonment, Doremus had pictured Staubmeyer and Ledue in the Informer office standing over him with whips, demanding that he turn out sickening praise for the Corpos, yelling at him until he rose and killed and was killed. Actually, Shad stayed away from the office, and Doremus's master, Staubmeyer, was ever so friendly and modest and rather nauseatingly full of praise for his craftsmanship. Staubmeyer seemed satisfied when, instead of the "apology" demanded by Swan, Doremus stated that "Henceforth this paper will cease all criticisms of the present government."

Doremus received from District Commissioner Reek a jolly telegram thanking him for "gallantly deciding turn your great talent service people and correcting errors doubtless made by us in effort set up new more realistic state." Ur! said Doremus and did not chuck the message at the clothes-basket waste-basket, but carefully walked over and rammed it down amid the trash.

He was able, by remaining with the Informer in her prostitute days, to keep Staubmeyer from discharging Dan Wilgus, who was sniffy to the new boss and unnaturally respectful now to Doremus. And he invented what he called the "Yow-yow editorial." This was a dirty device of stating as strongly as he could an indictment of Corpoism, then answering it as feebly as he could, as with a whining "Yow-yow-yow—that's what you say!" Neither Staubmeyer nor Shad caught him at it, but Doremus hoped fearfully that the shrewd Effingham Swan would never see the Yow-yows.

So week on week he got along not too badly—and there was not one minute when he did not hate this filthy slavery, when he did not have to force himself to stay there, when he did not snarl at himself, "Then why do you stay?"

His answers to that challenge came glibly and conventionally enough: "He was too old to start in life again. And he had a wife and family to support"—Emma, Sissy, and now Mary and David.

All these years he had heard responsible men who weren't being quite honest—radio announcers who soft-soaped speakers who were fools and wares that were trash, and who canaryishly chirped "Thank you, Major Blister" when they would rather have kicked Major Blister, preachers who did not believe the decayed doctrines they dealt out, doctors who did not dare tell lady invalids that they were sex-hungry exhibitionists, merchants who peddled brass for gold—heard all of them complacently excuse themselves by explaining that they were too old to change and that they had "a wife and family to support."

Why not let the wife and family die of starvation or get out and hustle for themselves, if by no other means the world could have the chance of being freed from the most boresome, most dull, and foulest disease of having always to be a little dishonest?

So he raged—and went on grinding out a paper dull and a little dishonest—but not forever. Otherwise the history of Doremus Jessup would be too drearily common to be worth recording.

 

 

Again and again, figuring it out on rough sheets of copy paper (adorned also with concentric circles, squares, whorls, and the most improbable fish), he estimated that even without selling the Informer or his house, as under Corpo espionage he certainly could not if he fled to Canada, he could cash in about $20,000. Say enough to give him an income of a thousand a year—twenty dollars a week, provided he could smuggle the money out of the country, which the Corpos were daily making more difficult.

Well, Emma and Sissy and Mary and he could live on that, in a four-room cottage, and perhaps Sissy and Mary could find work.

But as for himself—

It was all very well to talk about men like Thomas Mann and Lion Feuchtwanger and Romain Rolland, who in exile remained writers whose every word was in demand, about Professors Einstein or Salvemini, or, under Corpoism, about the recently exiled or self-exiled Americans, Walt Trowbridge, Mike Gold, William Allen White, John Dos Passos, H. L. Mencken, Rexford Tugwell, Oswald Villard. Nowhere in the world, except possibly in Greenland or Germany, would such stars be unable to find work and soothing respect. But what was an ordinary newspaper hack, especially if he was over forty-five, to do in a strange land—and more especially if he had a wife named Emma (or Carolina or Nancy or Griselda or anything else) who didn't at all fancy going and living in a sod hut on behalf of honesty and freedom?

So debated Doremus, like some hundreds of thousands of other craftsmen, teachers, lawyers, what-not, in some dozens of countries under a dictatorship, who were aware enough to resent the tyranny, conscientious enough not to take its bribes cynically, yet not so abnormally courageous as to go willingly to exile or dungeon or chopping-block—particularly when they "had wives and families to support."

 

 

Doremus hinted once to Emil Staubmeyer that Emil was "getting onto the ropes so well" that he thought of getting out, of quitting newspaper work for good.

The hitherto friendly Mr. Staubmeyer said sharply, "What'd you do? Sneak off to Canada and join the propagandists against the Chief? Nothing doing! You'll stay right here and help me—help us!" And that afternoon Commissioner Shad Ledue shouldered in and grumbled, "Dr. Staubmeyer tells me you're doing pretty fairly good work, Jessup, but I want to warn you to keep it up. Remember that Judge Swan only let you out on parole … to me! You can do fine if you just set your mind to it!"

"If you just set your mind to it!" The one time when the boy Doremus had hated his father had been when he used that condescending phrase.

He saw that, for all the apparent prosaic calm of day after day on the paper, he was equally in danger of slipping into acceptance of his serfdom and of whips and bars if he didn't slip. And he continued to be just as sick each time he wrote: "The crowd of fifty thousand people who greeted President Windrip in the university stadium at Iowa City was an impressive sign of the constantly growing interest of all Americans in political affairs," and Staubmeyer changed it to: "The vast and enthusiastic crowd of seventy thousand loyal admirers who wildly applauded and listened to the stirring address of the Chief in the handsome university stadium in beautiful Iowa City, Iowa, is an impressive yet quite typical sign of the growing devotion of all true Americans to political study under the inspiration of the Corpo government."

Perhaps his worst irritations were that Staubmeyer had pushed a desk and his sleek, sweaty person into Doremus's private office, once sacred to his solitary grouches, and that Doc Itchitt, hitherto his worshiping disciple, seemed always to be secretly laughing at him.

 

 

Under a tyranny, most friends are a liability. One quarter of them turn "reasonable" and become your enemies, one quarter are afraid to stop and speak and one quarter are killed and you die with them. But the blessed final quarter keep you alive.

When he was with Lorinda, gone was all the pleasant toying and sympathetic talk with which they had relieved boredom. She was fierce now, and vibrant. She drew him close enough to her, but instantly she would be thinking of him only as a comrade in plots to kill off the Corpos. (And it was pretty much a real killing-off that she meant; there wasn't left to view any great amount of her plausible pacifism.)

She was busy with good and perilous works. Partner Nipper had not been able to keep her in the Tavern kitchen; she had so systematized the work that she had many days and evenings free, and she had started a cooking-class for farm girls and young farm wives who, caught between the provincial and the industrial generations, had learned neither good rural cooking with a wood fire, nor yet how to deal with canned goods and electric grills—and who most certainly had not learned how to combine so as to compel the tight-fisted little locally owned power-and-light companies to furnish electricity at tolerable rates.

"Heavensake, keep this quiet, but I'm getting acquainted with these country gals—getting ready for the day when we begin to organize against the Corpos. I depend on them, not the well-to-do women that used to want suffrage but that can't endure the thought of revolution," Lorinda whispered to him. "We've got to do something."

"All right, Lorinda B. Anthony," he sighed.

 

 

And Karl Pascal stuck.

At Pollikop's garage, when he first saw Doremus after the jailing, he said, "God, I was sorry to hear about their pinching you, Mr. Jessup! But say, aren't you ready to join us Communists now?" (He looked about anxiously as he said it.)

"I thought there weren't any more Bolos."

"Oh, we're supposed to be wiped out. But I guess you'll notice a few mysterious strikes starting now and then, even though there can't be any more strikes! Why aren't you joining us? There's where you belong, c-comrade!"

"Look here, Karl: you've always said the difference between the Socialists and the Communists was that you believed in complete ownership of all means of production, not just utilities; and that you admitted the violent class war and the Socialists didn't. That's poppycock! The real difference is that you Communists serve Russia. It's your Holy Land. Well—Russia has all my prayers, right after the prayers for my family and for the Chief, but what I'm interested in civilizing and protecting against its enemies isn't Russia but America. Is that so banal to say? Well, it wouldn't be banal for a Russian comrade to observe that he was for Russia! And America needs our propaganda more every day. Another thing: I'm a middle-class intellectual. I'd never call myself any such a damn silly thing, but since you Reds coined it, I'll have to accept it. That's my class, and that's what I'm interested in. The proletarians are probably noble fellows, but I certainly do not think that the interests of the middle-class intellectuals and the proletarians are the same. They want bread. We want—well, all right, say it, we want cake! And when you get a proletarian ambitious enough to want cake, too—why, in America, he becomes a middle-class intellectual just as fast as he can—if he can!"

"Look here, when you think of 3 per cent of the people owning 90 per cent of the wealth—"

"I don't think of it! It does not follow that because a good many of the intellectuals belong to the 97 per cent of the broke—that plenty of actors and teachers and nurses and musicians don't get any better paid than stage hands or electricians, therefore their interests are the same. It isn't what you earn but how you spend it that fixes your class—whether you prefer bigger funeral services or more books. I'm tired of apologizing for not having a dirty neck!"

"Honestly, Mr. Jessup, that's damn nonsense, and you know it!"

"Is it? Well, it's my American covered-wagon damn nonsense, and not the propaganda-aeroplane damn nonsense of Marx and Moscow!"

"Oh, you'll join us yet."

"Listen, Comrade Karl, Windrip and Hitler will join Stalin long before the descendants of Dan'l Webster. You see, we don't like murder as a way of argument—that's what really marks the Liberal!"

 

 

About his future Father Perefixe was brief: "I'm going back to Canada where I belong—away to the freedom of the King. Hate to give up, Doremus, but I'm no Thomas à Becket, but just a plain, scared, fat little clark!"

 

 

The surprise among old acquaintances was Medary Cole, the miller.

A little younger than Francis Tasbrough and R. C. Crowley, less intensely aristocratic than those noblemen, since only one generation separated him from a chin-whiskered Yankee farmer and not two, as with them, he had been their satellite at the Country Club and, as to solid virtue, been president of the Rotary Club. He had always considered Doremus a man who, without such excuse as being a Jew or a Hunky or poor, was yet flippant about the sanctities of Main Street and Wall Street. They were neighbors, as Cole's "Cape Cod cottage" was just below Pleasant Hill, but they had not by habit been droppers-in.

Now, when Cole came bringing David home, or calling for his daughter Angela, David's new mate, toward supper time of a chilly fall evening, he stopped gratefully for a hot rum punch, and asked Doremus whether he really thought inflation was "such a good thing."

He burst out, one evening, "Jessup, there isn't another person in this town I'd dare say this to, not even my wife, but I'm getting awful sick of having these Minnie Mouses dictate where I have to buy my gunnysacks and what I can pay my men. I won't pretend I ever cared much for labor unions. But in those days, at least the union members did get some of the swag. Now it goes to support the M.M.'s. We pay them and pay them big to bully us. It don't look so reasonable as it did in 1936. But, golly, don't tell anybody I said that!"

And Cole went off shaking his head, bewildered—he who had ecstatically voted for Mr. Windrip.

 

 

On a day in late October, suddenly striking in every city and village and back-hill hide-out, the Corpos ended all crime in America forever, so titanic a feat that it was mentioned in the London Times. Seventy thousand selected Minute Men, working in combination with town and state police officers, all under the chiefs of the government secret service, arrested every known or faintly suspected criminal in the country. They were tried under court-martial procedure; one in ten was shot immediately, four in ten were given prison sentences, three in ten released as innocent … and two in ten taken into the M.M.'s as inspectors.

There were protests that at least six in ten had been innocent, but this was adequately answered by Windrip's courageous statement: "The way to stop crime is to stop it!"

The next day, Medary Cole crowed at Doremus, "Sometimes I've felt like criticizing certain features of Corpo policy, but did you see what the Chief did to the gangsters and racketeers? Wonderful! I've told you right along what this country's needed is a firm hand like Windrip's. No shilly-shallying about that fellow! He saw that the way to stop crime was to just go out and stop it!"

 

 

Then was revealed the New American Education, which, as Sarason so justly said, was to be ever so much newer than the New Educations of Germany, Italy, Poland, or even Turkey.

The authorities abruptly closed some scores of the smaller, more independent colleges such as Williams, Bowdoin, Oberlin, Georgetown, Antioch, Carleton, Lewis Institute, Commonwealth, Princeton, Swarthmore, Kenyon, all vastly different one from another but alike in not yet having entirely become machines. Few of the state universities were closed; they were merely to be absorbed by central Corpo universities, one in each of the eight provinces. But the government began with only two. In the Metropolitan District, Windrip University took over the Rockefeller Center and Empire State buildings, with most of Central Park for playground (excluding the general public from it entirely, for the rest was an M.M. drill ground). The second was Macgoblin University, in Chicago and vicinity, using the buildings of Chicago and Northwestern universities, and Jackson Park. President Hutchins of Chicago was rather unpleasant about the whole thing and declined to stay on as an assistant professor, so the authorities had politely to exile him.

Tattle-mongers suggested that the naming of the Chicago plant after Macgoblin instead of Sarason suggested a beginning coolness between Sarason and Windrip, but the two leaders were able to quash such canards by appearing together at the great reception given to Bishop Cannon by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and being photographed shaking hands.

Each of the two pioneer universities started with an enrollment of fifty thousand, making ridiculous the pre-Corpo schools, none of which, in 1935, had had more than thirty thousand students. The enrollment was probably helped by the fact that anyone could enter upon presenting a certificate showing that he had completed two years in a high school or business college, and a recommendation from a Corpo commissioner.

Dr. Macgoblin pointed out that this founding of entirely new universities showed the enormous cultural superiority of the Corpo state to the Nazis, Bolsheviks, and Fascists. Where these amateurs in re-civilization had merely kicked out all treacherous so-called "intellectual" teachers who mulishly declined to teach physics, cookery, and geography according to the principles and facts laid down by the political bureaus, and the Nazis had merely added the sound measure of discharging Jews who dared attempt to teach medicine, the Americans were the first to start new and completely orthodox institutions, free from the very first of any taint of "intellectualism."

All Corpo universities were to have the same curriculum, entirely practical and modern, free of all snobbish tradition.

Entirely omitted were Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Biblical study, archaeology, philology; all history before 1500—except for one course which showed that, through the centuries, the key to civilization had been the defense of Anglo-Saxon purity against barbarians. Philosophy and its history, psychology, economics, anthropology were retained, but, to avoid the superstitious errors in ordinary textbooks, they were to be conned only in new books prepared by able young scholars under the direction of Dr. Macgoblin.

Students were encouraged to read, speak, and try to write modern languages, but they were not to waste their time on the so-called "literature"; reprints from recent newspapers were used instead of antiquated fiction and sentimental poetry. As regards English, some study of literature was permitted, to supply quotations for political speeches, but the chief courses were in advertising, party journalism, and business correspondence, and no authors before 1800 might be mentioned, except Shakespeare and Milton.

In the realm of so-called "pure science," it was realized that only too much and too confusing research had already been done, but no pre-Corpo university had ever shown such a wealth of courses in mining engineering, lakeshore-cottage architecture, modern foremanship and production methods, exhibition gymnastics, the higher accountancy, therapeutics of athlete's foot, canning and fruit dehydration, kindergarten training, organization of chess, checkers, and bridge tournaments, cultivation of will power, band music for mass meetings, schnauzer-breeding, stainless-steel formulæ, cement-road construction, and all other really useful subjects for the formation of the new-world mind and character. And no scholastic institution, even West Point, had ever so richly recognized sport as not a subsidiary but a primary department of scholarship. All the more familiar games were earnestly taught, and to them were added the most absorbing speed contests in infantry drill, aviation, bombing, and operation of tanks, armored cars, and machine guns. All of these carried academic credits, though students were urged not to elect sports for more than one third of their credits.

What really showed the difference from old-fogy inefficiency was that with the educational speed-up of the Corpo universities, any bright lad could graduate in two years.

 

 

As he read the prospectuses for these Olympian, these Ringling-Barnum and Bailey universities, Doremus remembered that Victor Loveland, who a year ago had taught Greek in a little college called Isaiah, was now grinding out reading and arithmetic in a Corpo labor camp in Maine. Oh well, Isaiah itself had been closed, and its former president, Dr. Owen J. Peaseley, District Director of Education, was to be right-hand man to Professor Almeric Trout when they founded the University of the Northeastern Province, which was to supplant Harvard, Radcliffe, Boston University, and Brown. He was already working on the university yell, and for that "project" had sent out letters to 167 of the more prominent poets in America, asking for suggestions.

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