'We posture as apostles of fair play, as good sportsmen, as professional knights-errant - and throw beer bottles at the umpire when he refuses to cheat for our side,' H.L. Mencken wrote of his fellow Americans. 'We deafen the world with our whoops for liberty - and submit to laws that destroy our most sacred rights . . . We play policeman and Sunday-school superintendent to half of Christendom - and lynch a darky every two days in our own backyard.'
A few years later, after attending a national political convention dominated by 'intellectual jellyfish', he predicted that 'on some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.' Later still, as America stood on the verge of involvement in a foreign conflict, he warned against the 'demagogues' who would suppress dissent in order to push their war agenda:
Any argument against the war itself, and any criticism of the persons appointed to carry it on, will become aid and comfort to the enemy. The war will not only become moral over all, it will become the touchstone and standard of morality . . . It is not long afterward that anyone ventures to inquire into the matter more particularly, and it is then too late to do anything about it. The dead are still dead, the fellows who lost legs still lack them, war widows go on suffering the orneriness of their second husbands, and taxpayers continue to pay, pay, pay. In the schools children are taught that the war was fought for freedom, the home and God.
LRB 6 July 2006 | PDF Download