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A STRAIGHT DEAL (chapter9)

2006-08-28 14:08

    CHAPTER IX: Concerning aComplex

    All of these books, history and fiction, drop into the American mind during its early springtime the seed of antagonism, establish in fact an anti-English "complex." It is as pretty a case of complex on the wholesale as could well be found by either historian or psychologist. It is not so violent as the complex which has been planted in the German people by forty years of very adroitly and carefully planned training: they were taught to distrust and hate everybody and to consider themselves so superior to anybody that their sacred duty as they saw it in  was to enslave the world in order to force upon the world the priceless benefits of their Kultur. Under the shock of war that complex dilated into a form of real hysteria or insanity. Our anti-English com- plex is fortunately milder than that; but none the less does it savor slightly, as any nerve specialist or psychological doctor would tell you——it savors slightly of hysteria, that hundreds of thousands of American men and women of every grade of education and ignorance should automatically exclaim whenever the right button is pressed, "England is a land-grabber," and "What has England done in the War?"

    The word complex has been in our dictionary for a long while. This familiar adjective has been made by certain scientific people into a noun, and for brevity and convenience employed to denote something that almost all of us harbor in some form or other. These complexes, these lumps of ideas or impressions that match each other, that are of the same pattern, and that are also invariably tinctured with either a pleasurable or painful emotion, lie buried in our minds, unthought-of but alive, and lurk always ready to set up a ferment, whenever some new thing from outside that matches them enters the mind and hence starts them off. The "suppressed complex" I need not describe, as our English complex is by no means suppressed. Known to us all, probably, is the political complex. Year after year we have been excited about elections and candidates and policies, preferring one party to the other. If this preference has been very marked, or even violent, you know how disinclined we are to give credit to the other party for any act or policy, no matter how excellent in itself, which, had our own party been its sponsor, we should have been heart and soul for. You know how easily we forget the good deeds of the opposite party and how easily we remember its bad deeds. That's a good simple ordinary example of a complex. Its workings can be discerned in the experience of us all. In our present discussion it is very much to the point.

    Established in the soft young minds of our school boys and girls by a series of reiterated statements about the tyranny and hostility of England towards us in the Revolution, statements which they have to remember and master by study from day to day, tinctured by the anxiety about the examination ahead, when the students must know them or fail, these incidents of school work being also tinctured by another emotion, that of patriotism, enthusiasm for Washington, for the Declaration of Independence, for Valley Forge——thus established in the regular way of all complexes, this anti-English complex is fed and watered by what we learn of the War of , by what we learn of the Civil War of , and by many lesser events in our history thus far. And just as a Republican will admit nothing good of a Democrat and a Democrat nothing good of a Republican because of the political complex, so does the great——the vast-majority of Americans automatically and easily remember everything against England and forget everything in her favor. Just try it any day you like. Ask any average American you are sitting next to in a train what he knows about England; and if he does remember anything and can tell it to you, it will be unfavorable nine times in ten. The mere word "England" starts his complex off, and out comes every fact it has seized that matches his school-implanted prejudice, just as it has rejected every fact that does not match it. There is absolutely no other way to explain the American habit of speaking ill of England and well of France. Several times in the past, France has been flagrantly hostile to us. But there was Lafayette, there was Rochambeau, and the great service France did us then against England. Hence from our school histories we have a pro-French complex. Under its workings we automatically remember every good turn France has done us and automatically forget the evil turns. Again try the experiment yourself.

    How many Americans do you think that you will find who can recall, or who even know when you recall to them the insolent and meddlesome Citizen Genet, envoy of the French Republic, and how Washington requested his recall? Or the French privateers that a little later, about -, preyed upon our commerce? And the hatred of France which many Americans felt and expressed at that time? How many remember that the King of France, directly our Revolution was over, was more hostile to us than England?

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