It Can't Happen Here

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Chapter 37

His beard had grown again—he and his beard had been friends for many years, and he had missed it of late. His hair and mustache had again assumed a respectable gray in place of the purple dye that under electric lights had looked so bogus. He was no longer impassioned at the sight of a lamb chop or a cake of soap. But he had not yet got over the pleasure and slight amazement at being able to talk as freely as he would, as emphatically as might please him, and in public.

He sat with his two closest friends in Montreal, two fellow executives in the Department of Propaganda and Publications of the New Underground (Walt Trowbridge, General Chairman), and these two friends were the Hon. Perley Beecroft, who presumably was the President of the United States, and Joe Elphrey, an ornamental young man who, as "Mr. Cailey," had been a prize agent of the Communist Party in America till he had been kicked out of that almost imperceptible body for having made a "united front" with Socialists, Democrats, and even choir-singers when organizing an anti-Corpo revolt in Texas.

Over their ale, in this café, Beecroft and Elphrey were at it as usual: Elphrey insisting that the only "solution" of American distress was dictatorship by the livelier representatives of the toiling masses, strict and if need be violent, but (this was his new heresy) not governed by Moscow. Beecroft was gaseously asserting that "all we needed" was a return to precisely the political parties, the drumming up of votes, and the oratorical legislating by Congress, of the contented days of William B. McKinley.

But as for Doremus, he leaned back not vastly caring what nonsense the others might talk so long as it was permitted them to talk at all without finding that the waiters were M.M. spies; and content to know that, whatever happened, Trowbridge and the other authentic leaders would never go back to satisfaction in government of the profits, by the profits, for the profits. He thought comfortably of the fact that just yesterday (he had this from the chairman's secretary), Walt Trowbridge had dismissed Wilson J. Shale, the ducal oil man, who had come, apparently with sincerity, to offer his fortune and his executive experience to Trowbridge and the cause.

"Nope. Sorry, Will. But we can't use you. Whatever happens—even if Haik marches over and slaughters all of us along with all our Canadian hosts—you and your kind of clever pirates are finished. Whatever happens, whatever details of a new system of government may be decided on, whether we call it a 'Cooperative Commonwealth' or 'State Socialism' or 'Communism' or 'Revived Traditional Democracy,' there's got to be a new feeling—that government is not a game for a few smart, resolute athletes like you, Will, but a universal partnership, in which the State must own all resources so large that they affect all members of the State, and in which the one worst crime won't be murder or kidnaping but taking advantage of the State—in which the seller of fraudulent medicine, or the liar in Congress, will be punished a whole lot worse than the fellow who takes an ax to the man who's grabbed off his girl… . Eh? What's going to happen to magnates like you, Will? God knows! What happened to the dinosaurs?"

So was Doremus in his service well content.

 

 

Yet socially he was almost as lonely as in his cell at Trianon; almost as savagely he longed for the not exorbitant pleasure of being with Lorinda, Buck, Emma, Sissy, Steve Perefixe.

None of them save Emma could join him in Canada, and she would not. Her letters suggested fear of the un-Worcesterian wildernesses of Montreal. She wrote that Philip and she hoped they might be able to get Doremus forgiven by the Corpos! So he was left to associate only with his fellow refugees from Corpoism, and he knew a life that had been familiar, far too familiar, to political exiles ever since the first revolt in Egypt sent the rebels sneaking off into Assyria.

It was no particularly indecent egotism in Doremus that made him suppose, when he arrived in Canada, that everyone would thrill to his tale of imprisonment, torture, and escape. But he found that ten thousand spirited tellers of woe had come there before him, and that the Canadians, however attentive and generous hosts they might be, were actively sick of pumping up new sympathy. They felt that their quota of martyrs was completely filled, and as to the exiles who came in penniless, and that was a majority of them, the Canadians became distinctly weary of depriving their own families on behalf of unknown refugees, and they couldn't even keep up forever a gratification in the presence of celebrated American authors, politicians, scientists, when they became common as mosquitoes.

It was doubtful if a lecture on Deplorable Conditions in America by Herbert Hoover and General Pershing together would have attracted forty people. Ex-governors and judges were glad to get jobs washing dishes, and ex-managing-editors were hoeing turnips. And reports said that Mexico and London and France were growing alike apologetically bored.

So Doremus, meagerly living on his twenty-dollar-a-week salary from the N.U., met no one save his own fellow exiles, in just such salons of unfortunate political escapists as the White Russians, the Red Spaniards, the Blue Bulgarians, and all the other polychromatic insurrectionists frequented in Paris. They crowded together, twenty of them in a parlor twelve by twelve, very like the concentration-camp cells in area, inhabitants, and eventual smell, from 8 P.M. till midnight, and made up for lack of dinner with coffee and doughnuts and exiguous sandwiches, and talked without cessation about the Corpos. They told as "actual facts" stories about President Haik which had formerly been applied to Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini—the one about the man who was alarmed to find he had saved Haik from drowning and begged him not to tell.

In the cafés they seized the newspapers from home. Men who had had an eye gouged out on behalf of freedom, with the rheumy remaining one peered to see who had won the Missouri Avenue Bridge Club Prize.

They were brave and romantic, tragic and distinguished, and Doremus became a little sick of them all and of the final brutality of fact that no normal man can very long endure another's tragedy, and that friendly weeping will some day turn to irritated kicking.

He was stirred when, in a hastily built American interdenominational chapel, he heard a starveling who had once been a pompous bishop read from the pine pulpit:

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof… . How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."

Here in Canada the Americans had their Weeping Wall and daily cried with false, gallant hope, "Next year in Jerusalem!"

Sometimes Doremus was vexed by the ceaseless demanding wails of refugees who had lost everything, sons and wives and property and self-respect, vexed that they believed they alone had seen such horrors; and sometimes he spent all his spare hours raising a dollar and a little weary friendliness for these sick souls; and sometimes he saw as fragments of Paradise every aspect of America—such oddly assorted glimpses as Meade at Gettysburg and the massed blue petunias in Emma's lost garden, the fresh shine of rails as seen from a train on an April morning and Rockefeller Center. But whatever his mood, he refused to sit down with his harp by any foreign waters whatever and enjoy the importance of being a celebrated beggar.

He'd get back to America and chance another prison. Meantime he neatly sent packages of literary dynamite out from the N.U. offices all day long, and efficiently directed a hundred envelope-addressers who once had been professors and pastrycooks.

He had asked his superior, Perley Beecroft, for assignment in more active and more dangerous work, as secret agent in America—out West, where he was not known. But headquarters had suffered a good deal from amateur agents who babbled to strangers, or who could not be trusted to keep their mouths shut while they were being flogged to death. Things had changed since 1929. The N.U. believed that the highest honor a man could earn was not to have a million dollars but to be permitted to risk his life for truth, without pay or praise.

Doremus knew that his chiefs did not consider him young enough or strong enough, but also that they were studying him. Twice he had the honor of interviews with Trowbridge about nothing in particular—surely it must have been an honor, though it was hard to remember it, because Trowbridge was the simplest and friendliest man in the whole portentous spy machine. Cheerfully Doremus hoped for a chance to help make the poor, overworked, worried Corpo officials even more miserable than they normally were, now that war with Mexico and revolts against Corpoism were jingling side by side.

 

 

In July, 1939, when Doremus had been in Montreal a little over five months, and a year after his sentence to concentration camp, the American newspapers which arrived at N.U. headquarters were full of resentment against Mexico.

Bands of Mexicans had raided across into the United States—always, curiously enough, when our troops were off in the desert, practice-marching or perhaps gathering sea shells. They burned a town in Texas—fortunately all the women and children were away on a Sunday-school picnic, that afternoon. A Mexican Patriot (aforetime he had also worked as an Ethiopian Patriot, a Chinese Patriot, and a Haitian Patriot) came across, to the tent of an 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 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.

To answer this threat, America, the one country that had never lost a war and never started an unjust one, 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.

 

 

Thus—perhaps too flippantly—did Joe Cailey and Doremus discuss the declaration of war against Mexico. If they found the whole crusade absurd, it may be stated in their defense that they regarded all wars always as absurd; in the baldness of the lying by both sides about the causes; in the spectacle of grown-up men engaged in the infantile diversions of dressing-up in fancy clothes and marching to primitive music. The only thing not absurd about wars, said Doremus and Cailey, was that along with their skittishness they did kill a good many millions of people. Ten thousand starving babies seemed too high a price for a Sam Browne belt for even the sweetest, touchingest young lieutenant.

Yet both Doremus and Cailey swiftly recanted their assertion that all wars were absurd and abominable; both of them made exception of the people's wars against tyranny, as suddenly America's agreeable anticipation of stealing Mexico was checked by a popular rebellion against the whole Corpo régime.

 

 

The revolting section was, roughly, bounded by Sault Ste. Marie, Detroit, Cincinnati, Wichita, San Francisco, and Seattle, though in that territory large patches remained loyal to President Haik, and outside of it, other large patches joined the rebels. It was the part of America which had always been most "radical"—that indefinite word, which probably means "most critical of piracy." It was the land of the Populists, the Non-Partisan League, the Farmer-Labor Party, and the La Follettes—a family so vast as to form a considerable party in itself.

Whatever might happen, exulted Doremus, the revolt proved that belief in America and hope for America were not dead.

These rebels had most of them, before his 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 dairy and motor factory, and it took the impertinent idiocy of demanding that they 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 kidnaped by a small gang of criminals armed with high ideals, well-buttered words and a lot of machine guns.

So profound was the revolt that the Catholic Archbishop of California and the radical Ex-Governor of Minnesota found themselves in the same faction.

At first it was a rather comic outbreak—comic as the ill-trained, un-uniformed, confusedly thinking revolutionists of Massachusetts in 1776. President General Haik publicly jeered at them as a "ridiculous rag-tag rebellion of hoboes too lazy to work." And at first they were unable to do anything more than scold like a flock of crows, throw bricks at detachments of M.M.'s and policemen, wreck troop trains, and destroy the property of such honest private citizens as owned Corpo newspapers.

It was in August that the shock came, when General Emmanuel Coon, Chief of Staff of the regulars, flew from Washington to St. Paul, took command of Fort Snelling, and declared for Walt Trowbridge as Temporary President of the United States, to hold office until there should be a new, universal, and uncontrolled presidential election.

Trowbridge proclaimed acceptance—with the proviso that he should not be a candidate for permanent President.

 

 

By no means all of the regulars joined Coon's revolutionary troops. (There are two sturdy myths among the Liberals: that the Catholic Church is less Puritanical and always more esthetic than the Protestant; and that professional soldiers hate war more than do congressmen and old maids.) But there were enough regulars who were fed up with the exactions of greedy, mouth-dripping Corpo commissioners and who threw in with General Coon so that immediately after his army of regulars and hastily trained Minnesota farmers had won the battle of Mankato, the forces at Leavenworth took control of Kansas City, and planned to march on St. Louis and Omaha; while in New York, Governor's Island and Fort Wadsworth looked on, neutral, as unmilitary-looking and mostly Jewish guerrillas seized the subways, power stations, and railway terminals.

But there the revolt halted, because in the America, which had so warmly praised itself for its "widespread popular free education," there had been so very little education, widespread, popular, free, or anything else, that most people did not know what they wanted—indeed knew about so few things to want at all.

There had been plenty of schoolrooms; there had been lacking only literate teachers and eager pupils and school boards who regarded teaching as a profession worthy of as much honor and pay as insurance-selling or embalming or waiting on table. Most Americans had learned in school that God had supplanted the Jews as chosen people by the Americans, and this time done the job much better, so that we were the richest, kindest, and cleverest nation living; that depressions were but passing headaches and that labor unions must not concern themselves with anything except higher wages and shorter hours and, above all, must not set up an ugly class struggle by combining politically; that, though foreigners tried to make a bogus mystery of them, politics were really so simple that any village attorney or any clerk in the office of a metropolitan sheriff was quite adequately trained for them; and that if John D. Rockefeller or Henry Ford had set his mind to it, he could have become the most distinguished statesman, composer, physicist, or poet in the land.

Even two-and-half years of despotism had not yet taught most electors humility, nor taught them much of anything except that it was unpleasant to be arrested too often.

So, after the first gay eruption of rioting, the revolt slowed up. Neither the Corpos nor many of their opponents knew enough to formulate a clear, sure theory of self-government, or irresistibly resolve to engage in the sore labor of fitting themselves for freedom… . Even yet, after Windrip, most of the easy-going descendants of the wisecracking Benjamin Franklin had not learned that Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" meant anything more than a high-school yell or a cigarette slogan.

The followers of Trowbridge and General Coon—"The American Cooperative Commonwealth" they began to call themselves—did not lose any of the territory they had seized; they held it, driving out all Corpo agents, and now and then added a county or two. But mostly their rule, and equally the Corpos' rule, was as unstable as politics in Ireland.

So the task of Walt Trowbridge, which in August had seemed finished, before October seemed merely to have begun. Doremus Jessup was called into Trowbridge's office, to hear from the chairman:

"I guess the time's come when we need Underground agents in the States with sense as well as guts. Report to General Barnes for service proselytizing in Minnesota. Good luck, Brother Jessup! Try to persuade the orators that are still holding out for Discipline and clubs that they ain't so much stalwart as funny!"

And all that Doremus thought was, "Kind of a nice fellow, Trowbridge. Glad to be working with him," as he set off on his new task of being a spy and professional hero without even any funny passwords to make the game romantic.

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