Saturday, November 02, 2013

Mr. Dooley and the War Lovers

Oh, now I know why I've been rattling on about Theodore Dreiser.  It's because I have been reading Evan Thomas' admirable The War Lovers, about the great spasm of bellicosity that led us to grab an empire we didn't need from paltry and pathetic Spain--and the spasm of aversion and regret that almost restrained us.

They say that history is written by the victors but it isn't quite that.  The real point is that the victors' story is so full of cheery self-congratulation that you lose sight of all the reservations and second thoughts even if they are right before your eyes.  So we remember Theodore Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst, the bumptious bullyboys who carried us into the Spanish American war as if it were a picnic.  You tend to forget people like Thomas Reed, speaker of the House of Representatives who threw up his hands in dismay when he saw he couldn't do anything to stop it.   And beyond the leaders: one of the virtues of Thomas' book is that it shows you the mindless awfulness of the war fever as it possessed not just the leaders but the masses of Americans who cheered them on.  Another virtue is that he shows how even at high tide, war fever was far from universal--and how, as the war slogged on in the Philippines, more and more Americans came to wonder what it was all about, and even Roosevelt himself seemed almost (but not quite) ready to distance himself from what was, in large part, his own creation.

Which beings me to one of the most refreshing creatures in the whole menagerie--Finley Peter Dunne, Chicago newsman, sometimes friend and colleague of Theodore Dreiser, supra, surely one of the sharper political commentators we've ever had the good fortune to enjoy. It is Dunne who created Mr. Dooley, the Chicago saloon keeper who did so much to deflate the pretensions of the war madness.  Of course he didn't prevail; he wouldn't have been funny if he had prevailed.  But it's a bit of a consolation to recall that he was able to hold an audience--to evade lynching--even at the height of the war enthusiasm.   In the following excerpt he instructs his friend Hennesey on the correct approach for us to take against a country which, as Mr. Dooley suggests, most of us couldn't have found on the map.  "Mack" is William McKinley, nominally the President of the United States but often a seeming spectator at his own sideshow.  Anyway:
I know what I'd do if I was Mack," said Mr. Hennessy. "I'd hist a flag over th' Ph'lippeens, an' I'd take in th' whole lot iv thim." 
"An' yet," said Mr. Dooley, "tis not more thin two months since ye larned whether they were islands or canned goods. Ye'er back yard is so small that ye'er cow can't turn r-round without buttin' th' woodshed off th' premises, an' ye wudden't go out to th' stock yards without takin' out a policy on yer life. Suppose ye was standin' at th' corner iv State Sthreet an' Archey R-road, wud ye know what car to take to get to th' Ph'lippeens? If yer son Packy was to ask ye where th' Ph'lippeens is, cud ye give im anny good idea whether they was in Rooshia or jus' west iv th' thracks ?" 
"Mebbe I cudden't," said Mr. Hennessy, haughtily, "but I'm f'r takin' thim in, annyhow."
"So might I be," said Mr. Dooley, "if I cud on'y get me mind on it. Wan iv the worst things about this here war is th' way it's makin' puzzles f'r our poor, tired heads. Whin I wint into it, I thought all I'd have to do was to set up here behind th' bar with a good tin-cint see-gar in me teeth, an' toss dinnymite bombs into th' hated city iv Havana. But look at me now. Th' war is still goin' on; an' ivry night, whin I'm countin' up the cash, I'm askin' mesilf will I annex Cubia or lave it to the Cubians? Will I take Porther Ricky or put it by? An' what shud I do with the Ph'lippeens? Oh, what shud I do with thim? I can't annex thim because I don't know where they ar-re. I can't let go iv thim because some wan else'll take thim if I do. They are eight thousan' iv thim islands, with a popylation iv wan hundherd millyon naked savages; an' me bedroom's crowded now with me an' th' bed. How can I take thim in, an' how on earth am I goin' to cover th' nakedness iv thim savages with me wan shoot iv clothes? An' yet 'twud break me heart to think iv givin' people I niver see or heerd tell iv back to other people I don't know. An', if I don't take thim, Schwartzmeister down th' sthreet, that has half me thrade already, will grab thim sure. 
"It ain't that I'm afraid iv not doin' th' r-right thing in th' end, Hinnissy. Some mornin' I'll wake up an' know jus' what to do, an' that I'll do. But 'tis th' annoyance in th' mane time. I've been r-readin' about th' counthry. 'Tis over beyant ye'er left shoulder whin ye're facin' east. Jus' throw ye'er thumb back, an' ye have it as ac'rate as anny man in town. 'Tis farther thin Boohlgahrya an' not so far as Blewchoochoo. It's near Chiny, an' it's not so near; an', if a man was to bore a well through fr'm Goshen, Indianny, he might sthrike it, an' thin again he might not. It's a poverty-sthricken counthry, full iv goold an' precious stones, where th' people can pick dinner off th' threes an' ar-re starvin' because they have no step-ladders. Th' inhabitants is mostly naygurs an' Chinnymen, peaceful, industhrus, an' law-abidin', but savage an' bloodthirsty in their methods. They wear no clothes except what they have on, an' each woman has five husbands an' each man has five wives. Th' r-rest goes into th' discard, th' same as here. Th' islands has been ownded be Spain since befure th' fire; an' she's threated thim so well they're now up in ar-rms again her, except a majority iv thim which is thurly loyal. Th' natives seldom fight, but whin they get mad at wan another they r-run-a-muck. Whin a man r-runs-a-muck, sometimes they hang him an' sometimes they discharge him an' hire a new motorman. Th' women ar-re beautiful, with languishin' black eyes, an' they smoke see-gars, but ar-re hurried an' incomplete in their dhress. I see a pitcher iv wan th' other day with nawthin' on her but a basket of cocoanuts an' a hoop-skirt. They're no prudes. We import juke, hemp, cigar wrappers, sugar, an' fairy tales fr'm th' Ph'lippeens, an' export six-inch shells an' th' like. Iv late th' Ph'lippeens has awaked to th' fact that they're behind th' times, an' has received much American amminition in their midst. They say th' Spanyards is all tore up about it. 
"I larned all this fr'm th' papers, an' I know 'tis sthraight. An' yet, Hinnissy, I dinnaw what to do about th' Ph'lippeens. An' I'm all alone in th' wurruld. Ivrybody else has made up his mind. Ye ask anny con-ducthor on Ar-rchy R-road, an' he'll tell ye. Ye can find out fr'm the papers; an', if ye really want to know, all ye have to do is to ask a prom'nent citizen who can mow all th' lawn he owns with a safety razor. But I don't know." 
"Hang on to thim," said Mr. Hennessy, stoutly. "What we've got we must hold." 
"Well," said Mr. Dooley, "if I was Mack, I'd lave it to George. I'd say: 'George,' I'd say, 'if ye're f'r hangin' on, hang on it is. If ye say, lave go, I dhrop thim.' 'Twas George won thim with th' shells, an' th' question's up to him."
--From Mr. Dooley in Peace and War, first published in 1898 and available at  Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.  "George" is elsewhere identified as Mr. Dooley's cousin George Dooley, of whom his Chicago expositor says "whin we come to find out about him, we'll hear he's ilicted himself king iv th' F'lip-ine Islands. Dooley th' Wanst."  

1 comment:

marcel said...

Something about this reminds me of the old line about the accepted or traditional maritial division of labor: "she handles everything about the kids and the house and leaves the important questions, like the economy and war and peace, to me."