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A STRAIGHT DEAL (chapter6)

2006-08-28 14:08

    CHAPTER VI: Who Is WithoutSin?

    Much else is there that it were well they should ponder, and I am coming to it presently; but first, one suggestion. Most of us, if we dig back only fifty or sixty or seventy years, can disinter various relatives over whose doings we should prefer to glide lightly and in silence.

    Do you mean to say that you have none? Nobody stained with any shade of dishonor? No grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-etc. grandfather or grandmother who ever made a scandal, broke a heart, or betrayed a trust? Every man Jack and woman Jill of the lot right back to Adam and Eve wholly good, honorable, and courageous? How fortunate to be sprung exclusively from the loins of centuries of angels——and to know all about them! Consider the hoard of virtue to which you have fallen heir!

    But you know very well that this is not so; that every one of us has every kind of person for an ancestor; that all sorts of virtue and vice, of heroism and disgrace, are mingled in our blood; that inevitably amidst the huge herd of our grandsires black sheep as well as white are to be found.

    As it is with men, so it is with nations. Do you imagine that any nation has a spotless history? Do you think that you can peer into our past, turn over the back pages of our record, and never come upon a single blot? Indeed you cannot. And it is better——a great deal better——that you should be aware of these blots. Such knowledge may enlighten you, may make you a better American. What we need is to be critics of ourselves, and this is exactly what we have been taught not to be.

    We are quite good enough to look straight at ourselves. Owing to one thing and another we are cleaner, honester, humaner, and whiter than any people on the continent of Europe. If any nation on the continent of Europe has ever behaved with the generosity and magnanimity that we have shown to Cuba, I have yet to learn of it. They jeered at us about Cuba, did the Europeans of the continent. Their papers stuck their tongues in their cheeks. Of course our fine sentiments were all sham, they said. Of course we intended to swallow Cuba, and never had intended anything else. And when General Leonard Wood came away from Cuba, having made Havana healthy, having brought order out of chaos on the island, and we left Cuba independent, Europe jeered on. That dear old Europe!

    Again, in , it was not any European nation that returned to China their share of the indemnity exacted in consequence of the Boxer troubles; we alone returned our share to China——sixteen millions. It was we who prevented levying a punitive indemnity on China. Read the whole story; there is much more. We played the gentleman, Europe played the bully. But Europe calls us "dollar chasers." That dear old Europe! Again, if any conquering General on the continent of Europe ever behaved as Grant did to Lee at Appomattox, his name has escaped me.

    Again, and lastly——though I am not attempting to tell you here the whole tale of our decencies: Whose hands came away cleanest from that Peace Conference in Paris lately? What did we ask for ourselves? Everything we asked, save some repairs of damage, was for other people. Oh, yes! we are quite good enough to keep quiet about these things. No need whatever to brag. Bragging, moreover, inclines the listener to suspect you're not so remarkable as you sound.

    But all this virtue doesn't in the least alter the fact that we're like everybody else in having some dirty pages in our History. These pages it is a foolish mistake to conceal. I suppose that the school histories of every nation are partly bad. I imagine that most of them implant the germ of international hatred in the boys and girls who have to study them. Nations do not like each other, never have liked each other; and it may very well be that school textbooks help this inclination to dislike. Certainly we know what contempt and hatred for other nations the Germans have been sedulously taught in their schools, and how utterly they believed their teaching. How much better and wiser for the whole world if all the boys and girls in all the schools everywhere were henceforth to be started in life with a just and true notion of all flags and the peoples over whom they fly! The League of Nations might not then rest upon the quicksand of distrust and antagonism which it rests upon today. But it is our own school histories that are my present concern, and I repeat my opinion——or rather my conviction——that the way in which they have concealed the truth from us is worse than silly, it is harmful. I am not going to take up the whole list of their misrepresentations, I will put but one or two questions to you.

    When you finished school, what idea had you about the War of ? I will tell you what mine was. I thought we had gone to war because England was stopping American ships and taking American sailors out of them for her own service. I could refer to Perry's victory on Lake Erie and Jackson's smashing of the British at New Orleans; the name of the frigate Constitution sent thrills through me. And we had pounded old John Bull and sent him to the right about a second time! Such was my glorious idea, and there it stopped. Did you know much more than that about it when your schooling was done? Did you know that our reasons for declaring war against Great Britain in  were not so strong as they had been three and four years earlier? That during those years England had moderated her arrogance, was ready to moderate further, had placated us for her brutal performance concerning the Chesapeake, wanted peace; while we, who had been nearly unanimous for war, and with a fuller purse in , were now, by our own congressional fuddling and messing, without any adequate army, and so divided in counsel that only one northern state was wholly in favor of war? Did you know that our General Hull began by invading Canada from Detroit and surrendered his whole army without firing a shot? That the British overran Michigan and parts of Ohio, and western New York, while we retreated disgracefully? That though we shone in victories of single combat on the sea and showed the English that we too knew how to sail and fight on the waves as hardily as Britannia (we won eleven out of thirteen of the frigate and sloop actions), nevertheless she caught us or blocked us up, and rioted unchecked along our coasts? You probably did know that the British burned Washington, and you accordingly hated them for this barbarous vandalism——but did you know that we had burned Toronto a year earlier?

    I left school knowing none of this——it wasn't in my school book, and I learned it in mature years with amazement. I then learned also that England, while she was fighting with us, had her hands full fighting Bonaparte, that her war with us was a sideshow, and that this was uncommonly lucky for us——as lucky quite as those ships from France under Admiral de Grasse, without whose help Washington could never have caught Cornwallis and compelled his surrender at Yorktown, October , . Did you know that there were more French soldiers and sailors than Americans at Yorktown? Is it well to keep these things from the young? I have not done with the War of . There is a political aspect of it that I shall later touch upon——something that my school books never mentioned.

    My next question is, what did you know about the Mexican War of -, when you came out of school? The names of our victories, I presume, and of Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott; and possibly the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, whereby Mexico ceded to us the whole of Texas, New Mexico, and Upper California, and we paid her fifteen millions. No doubt you know that Santa Anna, the Mexican General, had a wooden leg. Well, there is more to know than that, and I found it out much later. I found out that General Grant, who had fought with credit as a lieutenant in the Mexican War, briefly summarized it as "iniquitous." I gradually, through my reading as a man, learned the truth about the Mexican War which had not been taught me as a boy——that in that war we bullied a weaker power, that we made her our victim, that the whole discreditable business had the extension of slavery at the bottom of it, and that more Americans were against it than had been against the War of . But how many Americans ever learn these things? Do not most of them, upon leaving school, leave history also behind them, and become farmers, or merchants, or plumbers, or firemen, or carpenters, or whatever, and read little but the morning paper for the rest of their lives?

    The blackest page in our history would take a long while to read. Not a word of it did I ever see in my school textbooks. They were written on the plan that America could do no wrong. I repeat that, just as we love our friends in spite of their faults, and all the more intelligently because we know these faults, so our love of our country would be just as strong, and far more intelligent, were we honestly and wisely taught in our early years those acts and policies of hers wherein she fell below her lofty and humane ideals. Her character and her record on the whole from the beginning are fine enough to allow the shadows to throw the sunlight into relief. To have produced at three stages of our growth three such men as Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, is quite sufficient justification for our existence

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