“Our leader is an empty sack. You could just as well knock him over, put a head with horns on a stick, and follow that. Most of us never choose to believe in the nation, we just come up short on better ideas.”
August 20, 1945
Hell is falling from the skies. A reporter for the Times rode in the plane as a witness, wondering at zero hour whether he should feel sad for “the poor devils about to die.” He decided no, it was a fair exchange for Pearl Harbor. The army’s plan was to drop this bomb on a different Japanese city that morning, a different set of men and dogs and schoolchildren and mothers, but the thick clouds over that city refused to part. Growing tired of circling and waiting, the bomber pilots flew south-ward down the channel and chose Nagasaki, thanks to its clear skies.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a cloud, the world was lost.
Your blood for mine, If not these, then those. War is the supreme mathematics problem. It strains our skulls, yet we work out the sums, believing we have pressed the most monstrous quantities into a balanced equation.
She considered this. “That’s different from putting sins and errors off the map entire. How can it be un-American to paint a picture of sadness?”
“I don’t know. But they did not want to see any waves on the domestic waters.”
For several minutes she knitted at her sock, evidently struggling not to say any more. At length she lost the battle. “If you’re standing in the manure pile, it’s somebody’s job to mention the stink. Those congressmen are saying we have to call it a meadow of buttercups instead of a cesspool. Even the artists have to.”
“Well, but suppose the artist’s job is just to keep everyone amused Maybe get their minds off the stink, by calling it a meadow. Where’s the harm?”
“Nobody will climb out of the pile. There’s the harm. They’ll keep where they are, deep to the knees in dung, trying to outdo each other remarking on the buttercups.”
“Well, I write historical romance. I’m sorry to let you down, but any time you’re looking for the meadow and buttercups, I’m your man.”
“Fiddlesticks, Mr. Shepered. Do ye think I ken ye not?”
June 6, 1947
How are these leaders different from the boys I used to watch at school, trying to make up their teams for football? Before this war we had six great players on the grass. Now only two are left standing. Naturally those two will be rivals, and try to get the rest to line up on their side. Dimes and candy will help, sure.
“If that’s so, than why did Americans make off with the historical artifacts of Mexico to put them, where did he say? In the Peabody Museum?”
It’s the same as your books, Mr. Shepherd. It’s somebody else’s gold pieces and bad luck. If we fill up our museums with that, we won’t have to look at the dead folk lying at the bottom of our own wells.”
“And who is we?”
She pondered this, eyebrows lowered. “Just Americans,” she said at length. “That’s the only kind of person I know how to be. Not like you.”
“You’d do that? Take scissors and cut off your past?”
“I did already. My family would tell you I went to the town and got above my raisings. It’s what Parthenia calls ‘modern.’”
“And what would you call it?”
“American. Like I said. The magazines tell us we’re special, not like the ones that birthed us. Brand-new. They paint a picture of some old-country rube with a shawl on her head, and make you fear you’ll be like that, unless you buy cake mix and a home freezer.”
“… What these men are doing could become permanent.”
“What do you mean?”
Suddenly he looked weary. “ You force people to stop asking questions, and before you kow it they have auctioned off the question mark, or sold it for scrap. No boldness. No good ideas for fixing what’s broken in the land. Because if you happen to mention it’s boken, you are automatically disqualified.”
He shifted himself around to face me. “The thinking of the Communist is that no one who opposes him can possibly have any merit whatsoever. It’s a psychological illness. The Communist cannot adjust himself to logic.”
“That’s a point of view. But I was thinking of what you said about confronting my accuser. I thought the Constitution gave me the right to know the charges against me. And who was bringing them.”
Myers drained his coffee cup and leaned forward with a little grunt to set the cup on the table. We were nearly finished, I could tell.
“Whenever I hear this kind of thing,” he said, “a person speaking about constitutional rights, free speech, and so forth, I think, ‘How can he be such a sap? Now I can be sure that man is a Red.’ A word to the wise Mr. Shepherd. We just do not hear a real American speaking in that manner.”