The Watering Hole; Friday April 24 2015; Mark Twain’s Insights

“I believe our Heavenly Father invented man because
he was disappointed in the monkey.”
(Mark Twain in “Eruption”)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I don’t know who it was that first came up with that little bit of ingeniousness, but it sure does hit the spot every now and then. Following are a handful of quotes by Mark Twain that I found and saved about the time Bush decided to invade Iraq. What struck me was that it takes only familiarity with today’s events, perhaps with a word change here and there, to make the entire of the intervening century disappear.

The first excerpt is from “A Pen Warmed Up in Hell: Mark Twain in Protest”. Change the word ‘Pacific” to ‘Middle East’ and ‘Philippines’ to ‘Iraq’ and . . .

“(I used to be) a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific … Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? . . . I said to myself, “Here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American Constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.

“But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem.

“It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”

Next, a snippet from Twain’s “Letters From the Earth” (Letter vii) which for some odd reason tends to remind me of any number of our present day’s wingnut religionistas:

“I will tell you a pleasant tale which has in it a touch of pathos. A man got religion, and asked the priest what he must do to be worthy of his new estate. The priest said, “Imitate our Father in Heaven, learn to be like him.” The man studied his Bible diligently and thoroughly and understandingly, and then with prayers for heavenly guidance instituted his imitations. He tricked his wife into falling downstairs, and she broke her back and became a paralytic for life; he betrayed his brother into the hands of a sharper, who robbed him of his all and landed him in the almshouse; he inoculated one son with hookworms, another with the sleeping sickness, another with gonorrhea; he furnished one daughter with scarlet fever and ushered her into her teens deaf, dumb, and blind for life; and after helping a rascal seduce the remaining one, he closed his doors against her and she died in a brothel cursing him. Then he reported to the priest, who said that that was no way to imitate his Father in Heaven. The convert asked wherein he had failed, but the priest changed the subject and inquired what kind of weather he was having, up his way.”

And from “Glances at History,” Twain’s opinion on the slogan Our Country, right or wrong in “Letters from the Earth”:

“Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object – robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused this change? Merely a politician’s trick – a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor – none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, “Our Country, right or wrong,” and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that the phrase is an insult to the nation?”

Finally this, also from “Letters From the Earth”:

“But it was impossible to save the Great Republic. She was rotten to the heart. Lust of conquest had long ago done its work; trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home; multitudes who had applauded the crushing of other people’s liberties, lived to suffer for their mistake in their own persons. The government was irrevocably in the hands of the prodigiously rich and their hangers-on; the suffrage was become a mere machine, which they used as they chose. There was no principle but commercialism, no patriotism but of the pocket.”

Welcome to 2015 and beyond, everyone. Also, thanks to Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens; November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910) for his insightful vision.

OPEN THREAD

P.S.: OK, can’t resist. One more quickie:

“Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion — several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven. . . . The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.” (Mark Twain, The Lowest Animal essay; 1897)

9 thoughts on “The Watering Hole; Friday April 24 2015; Mark Twain’s Insights

  1. Samuel Clemens was a genuine genius. His ability to turn a phrase still puts me in awe.
    This era has no equal, with Jon Stewart being the closest approximation today.
    I remember a quip that went something like,
    I’d engage you in a battle of wits, but my ethical standard prohibits me taking advantage of the disabled.

  2. postcard: downtown San Francisco
    1911

    SFO Museum
    Quite a different scene around the Ferry Building in 1911, in this shot of early pioneering French aviator Hubert Latham soaring over downtown San Francisco.

  3. Revolution! Anti-Gay Activists Threaten Uprising If Supreme Court Approves Marriage Equality

    In a conference call with other movement figures, [James] Dobson was steadfast in his opposition. If the Supreme Court strikes down the state bans and states across the country fail to convene “a state constitutional convention to re-examine the Constitution” on marriage, Dobson warned, “we’re going to see a general collapse in the next decade or two.”

    Worse, Dobson said, there could be a war: “Talk about a Civil War, we could have another one over this.”

    “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.”
    ~Mark Twain

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