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Thursday, June 12, 2003 02:20 pm

Strange Weather Lately

The author recalls two "country boys from Middle America"--Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln--in a lecture presented at the Mark Twain House.

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“Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln were country boys from Middle America, and both of them made the American people laugh at themselves and appreciate really important, really moral jokes.”

The following was adapted from a Clemens Lecture presented in April for the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut. It originally appeared in the Chicago-based political magazine In These Times.

What other American landmark is as sacred to me as the Mark Twain House? The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln were country boys from Middle America, and both of them made the American people laugh at themselves and appreciate really important, really moral jokes.

I note that construction has stopped of a Mark Twain Museum here in Hartford--behind the carriage house of the Mark Twain House. Work persons have been sent home from that site because American conservatives, as they call themselves, on Wall Street and at the head of so many of our corporations have stolen a major fraction of our private savings, have ruined investors and employees by means of fraud and outright piracy.

Shock and awe.

And now, having installed themselves as our federal government, or taken control of it from outside, they have squandered our public treasury and then some. They have created a public debt of such appalling magnitude that our descendants, for whom we had such high hopes, will come into this world as poor as church mice.

Shock and awe.

What are the conservatives doing with all the money and power that used to belong to all of us? They are telling us to be absolutely terrified, and to run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off. But they will save us. They are making us take off our shoes at airports. Can anybody here think of a more hilarious practical joke than that one? And they have turned loose a myriad of our high-tech weapons, each one costing more than a hundred high schools, on a Third World country, in order to shock and awe human beings like us, like Adam and Eve, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

What are conservatives? They are people who will move heaven and earth, if they have to, who will ruin a company or a country or a planet, to prove to us and to themselves that they are superior to everybody else, except for their pals. They take good care of their pals.

Class war? You bet.

They have proved their superiority to admirers of Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain and Jesus of Nazareth, with an able assist from television, making inconsequential our protests against their war. What has happened to us? We have suffered a technological calamity. Television is now our form of government. On what grounds did we protest their war? I could name many, but I need name only one, which is common sense.

One of the most humiliated and heartbroken pieces Twain ever wrote was about the slaughter of 600 Moro men, women, and children by our soldiers during our liberation of the people of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Our brave commander was Leonard Wood, who now has a fort named after him. Fort Leonard Wood.

What did Abraham Lincoln have to say about such American imperialist wars? Those are wars which, on one noble pretext or another, actually aim to increase the natural resources and pools of tame labor available to the richest Americans who have the best political connections.

It is almost always a mistake to mention Abraham Lincoln in a speech about something or somebody else. He always steals the show. I am about to quote him.

Lincoln was only a Congressman when he said in 1848 what I am about to echo. He was heartbroken and humiliated by our war on Mexico, which had never attacked us. We were making California our own, and doing it as though butchering Mexican soldiers who were only defending their homeland against invaders wasn't murder.

The person Congressman Lincoln had in mind when he said what he said was James Polk, our president at the time. Abraham Lincoln said of Polk, his president, our armed forces' commander-in-chief, "Trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood--that serpent's eye, that charms to destroy, he plunged into war."

Holy smokes! And I thought I was a writer!

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