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Authors: Sinclair Lewis

It Can't Happen Here

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1

The handsome dining room of the Hotel Wessex, with its gilded
plaster shields and the mural depicting the Green Mountains, had
been reserved for the Ladies’ Night Dinner of the Fort Beulah
Rotary Club.

Here in Vermont the affair was not so picturesque as it might have
been on the Western prairies. Oh, it had its points: there was a
skit in which Medary Cole (grist mill & feed store) and Louis
Rotenstern (custom tailoring—pressing & cleaning) announced that
they were those historic Vermonters, Brigham Young and Joseph
Smith, and with their jokes about imaginary plural wives they got
in ever so many funny digs at the ladies present. But the occasion
was essentially serious. All of America was serious now, after the
seven years of depression since 1929. It was just long enough
after
the Great War of 1914–18 for the young people who had been
born in 1917 to be ready to go to college … or to another war,
almost any old war that might be handy.

The features of this night among the Rotarians were nothing funny,
at least not obviously funny, for they were the patriotic addresses
of Brigadier General Herbert Y. Edgeways, U.S.A. (ret.), who dealt
angrily with the topic “Peace through
Defense—Millions for Arms
but Not One Cent for Tribute,” and of Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch—she who was no more renowned for her gallant anti-suffrage
campaigning way back in 1919 than she was for having, during the
Great War, kept the American soldiers entirely out of French cafés
by the clever trick of sending them ten thousand sets of dominoes.

Nor could any social-minded patriot sneeze at
her recent somewhat
unappreciated effort to maintain the purity of the American Home by
barring from the motion-picture industry all persons, actors or
directors or cameramen, who had: (a) ever been divorced; (b) been
born in any foreign country—except Great Britain, since Mrs.
Gimmitch thought very highly of Queen Mary, or (c) declined to take
an oath to revere the Flag, the Constitution, the Bible,
and all
other peculiarly American institutions.

The Annual Ladies’ Dinner was a most respectable gathering—the
flower of Fort Beulah. Most of the ladies and more than half of
the gentlemen wore evening clothes, and it was rumored that before
the feast the inner circle had had cocktails, privily served in
Room 289 of the hotel. The tables, arranged on three sides of a
hollow square, were bright
with candles, cut-glass dishes of candy
and slightly tough almonds, figurines of Mickey Mouse, brass Rotary
wheels, and small silk American flags stuck in gilded hard-boiled
eggs. On the wall was a banner lettered “Service Before Self,” and
the menu—the celery, cream of tomato soup, broiled haddock,
chicken croquettes, peas, and tutti-frutti ice-cream—was up to the
highest standards of the Hotel
Wessex.

They were all listening, agape. General Edgeways was completing
his manly yet mystical rhapsody on nationalism:

“… for these U-nited States, a-lone among the great powers,
have no desire for foreign conquest. Our highest ambition is to be
darned well let alone! Our only gen-uine relationship to Europe is
in our arduous task of having to try and educate the crass and
ignorant masses
that Europe has wished onto us up to something like
a semblance of American culture and good manners. But, as I
explained to you, we must be prepared to defend our shores against
all the alien gangs of international racketeers that call
themselves ‘governments,’ and that with such feverish envy are
always eyeing our inexhaustible mines, our towering forests, our
titanic and luxurious cities, our
fair and far-flung fields.

“For the first time in all history, a great nation must go on
arming itself more and more, not for conquest—not for jealousy—not for war—but for
peace
! Pray God it may never be necessary,
but if foreign nations don’t sharply heed our warning, there will,
as when the proverbial dragon’s teeth were sowed, spring up an
armed and fearless warrior upon every square foot
of these United
States, so arduously cultivated and defended by our pioneer
fathers, whose sword-girded images we must be … or we shall
perish!”

The applause was cyclonic. “Professor” Emil Staubmeyer, the
superintendent of schools, popped up to scream, “Three cheers for
the General—hip, hip, hooray!”

All the audience made their faces to shine upon the General and Mr.
Staubmeyer—all save a couple
of crank pacifist women, and one
Doremus Jessup, editor of the
Fort Beulah Daily Informer
, locally
considered “a pretty smart fella but kind of a cynic,” who
whispered to his friend the Reverend Mr. Falck, “Our pioneer
fathers did rather of a skimpy job in arduously cultivating some of
the square feet in Arizona!”

The culminating glory of the dinner was the address of Mrs.
Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch,
known throughout the country as “the
Unkies’ Girl,” because during the Great War she had advocated
calling our boys in the A.E.F. “the Unkies.” She hadn’t merely
given them dominoes; indeed her first notion had been far more
imaginative. She wanted to send to every soldier at the Front a
canary in a cage. Think what it would have meant to them in the
way of companionship and inducing memories
of home and mother! A
dear little canary! And who knows—maybe you could train ‘em to
hunt cooties!

Seething with the notion, she got herself clear into the office of
the Quartermaster General, but that stuffy machine-minded official
refused her (or, really, refused the poor lads, so lonely there in
the mud), muttering in a cowardly way some foolishness about lack
of transport for canaries.
It is said that her eyes flashed real
fire, and that she faced the Jack-in-office like Joan of Arc with
eyeglasses while she “gave him a piece of her mind that
he
never
forgot!”

In those good days women really had a chance. They were encouraged
to send their menfolks, or anybody else’s menfolks, off to war.
Mrs. Gimmitch addressed every soldier she met—and she saw to it
that she met any of
them who ventured within two blocks of her—as
“My own dear boy.” It is fabled that she thus saluted a colonel of
marines who had come up from the ranks and who answered, “We own
dear boys are certainly getting a lot of mothers these days.
Personally, I’d rather have a few more mistresses.” And the fable
continues that she did not stop her remarks on the occasion, except
to cough, for one hour and
seventeen minutes, by the Colonel’s
wrist watch.

But her social services were not all confined to prehistoric eras.
It was as recently as 1935 that she had taken up purifying the
films, and before that she had first advocated and then fought
Prohibition. She had also (since the vote had been forced on her)
been a Republican Committee-woman in 1932, and sent to President
Hoover daily a lengthy
telegram of advice.

And, though herself unfortunately childless, she was esteemed as a
lecturer and writer about Child Culture, and she was the author of
a volume of nursery lyrics, including the immortal couplet:

All of the Roundies are resting in rows,
With roundy-roundies around their toes.

But always, 1917 or 1936, she was a raging member of the Daughters
of the American Revolution.

The D.A.R. (reflected the cynic, Doremus Jessup, that evening) is a
somewhat confusing organization—as confusing as Theosophy,
Relativity, or the Hindu Vanishing Boy Trick, all three of which it
resembles. It is composed of females who spend one half their
waking hours boasting of being descended from the seditious
American colonists of 1776, and the other and more ardent half in
attacking all
contemporaries who believe in precisely the
principles for which those ancestors struggled.

The D.A.R. (reflected Doremus) has become as sacrosanct, as beyond
criticism, as even the Catholic Church or the Salvation Army. And
there is this to be said: it has provided hearty and innocent
laughter for the judicious, since it has contrived to be just as
ridiculous as the unhappily defunct Kuklux
Klan, without any need
of wearing, like the K.K.K., high dunces’ caps and public
nightshirts.

So, whether Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch was called in to inspire
military morale, or to persuade Lithuanian choral societies to
begin their program with “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” always
she was a D.A.R., and you could tell it as you listened to her with
the Fort Beulah Rotarians on this happy
May evening.

She was short, plump, and pert of nose. Her luxuriant gray hair
(she was sixty now, just the age of the sarcastic editor, Doremus
Jessup) could be seen below her youthful, floppy Leghorn hat; she
wore a silk print dress with an enormous string of crystal beads,
and pinned above her ripe bosom was an orchid among lilies of the
valley. She was full of friendliness toward all the
men present:
she wriggled at them, she cuddled at them, as in a voice full of
flute sounds and chocolate sauce she poured out her oration on “How
You Boys Can Help Us Girls.”

Women, she pointed out, had done nothing with the vote. If the
United States had only listened to her back in 1919 she could have
saved them all this trouble. No. Certainly not. No votes. In
fact, Woman must resume
her place in the Home and: “As that great
author and scientist, Mr. Arthur Brisbane, has pointed out, what
every woman ought to do is to have six children.”

At this second there was a shocking, an appalling interruption.

One Lorinda Pike, widow of a notorious Unitarian preacher, was the
manager of a country super-boarding-house that called itself “The
Beulah Valley Tavern.” She was a deceptively
Madonna-like,
youngish woman, with calm eyes, smooth chestnut hair parted in the
middle, and a soft voice often colored with laughter. But on a
public platform her voice became brassy, her eyes filled with
embarrassing fury. She was the village scold, the village crank.
She was constantly poking into things that were none of her
business, and at town meetings she criticized every substantial
interest in the whole county: the electric company’s rates, the
salaries of the schoolteachers, the Ministerial Association’s high-minded censorship of books for the public library. Now, at this
moment when everything should have been all Service and Sunshine,
Mrs. Lorinda Pike cracked the spell by jeering:

“Three cheers for Brisbane! But what if a poor gal can’t hook a
man? Have her six kids
out of wedlock?”

Then the good old war horse, Gimmitch, veteran of a hundred
campaigns against subversive Reds, trained to ridicule out of
existence the cant of Socialist hecklers and turn the laugh against
them, swung into gallant action:

“My dear good woman, if a gal, as you call it, has any real charm
and womanliness, she won’t have to ‘hook’ a man—she’ll find ‘em
lined up ten deep on her
doorstep!” (Laughter and applause.)

The lady hoodlum had merely stirred Mrs. Gimmitch into noble
passion. She did not cuddle at them now. She tore into it:

“I tell you, my friends, the trouble with this whole country is
that so many are
selfish
! Here’s a hundred and twenty million
people, with ninety-five per cent of ‘em only thinking of
self
,
instead of turning to and helping the responsible
business men to
bring back prosperity! All these corrupt and self-seeking labor
unions! Money grubbers! Thinking only of how much wages they
can extort out of their unfortunate employer, with all the
responsibilities he has to bear!

“What this country needs is Discipline! Peace is a great dream,
but maybe sometimes it’s only a pipe dream! I’m not so sure—now
this will shock you, but I want
you to listen to one woman who will
tell you the unadulterated hard truth instead of a lot of
sentimental taffy, and I’m not sure but that we need to be in a
real war again, in order to learn Discipline! We don’t want all
this highbrow intellectuality, all this book-learning. That’s good
enough in its way, but isn’t it, after all, just a nice toy for
grownups? No, what we all of us must have,
if this great land is
going to go on maintaining its high position among the Congress of
Nations, is Discipline—Will Power—Character!”

She turned prettily then toward General Edgeways and laughed:

“You’ve been telling us about how to secure peace, but come on,
now, General—just among us Rotarians and Rotary Anns—’fess up!
With your great experience, don’t you honest, cross-your-heart,
think
that perhaps—just maybe—when a country has gone money-mad,
like all our labor unions and workmen, with their propaganda to
hoist income taxes, so that the thrifty and industrious have to pay
for the shiftless ne’er-do-weels, then maybe, to save their lazy
souls and get some iron into them, a war might be a good thing?
Come on, now, tell your real middle name, Mong General!”

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