Mark Twain still has a lot to say to us. In Mark Twain’s partially completed “Papers of the Adam family,” this is his ‘translation from the Adamic of a letter from Methuselah:’
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 the 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 upon 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 that phrase is an insult to the nation?… Only when a republic’s life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.
This Republic’s life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: “Even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor.” Why, not even a burglar could have said it better. We cannot withdraw from this sordid war because to grant peace to those little people upon their terms–independence–would dishonor us. You have flung away Adam’s phrase–you should take it up and examine it again. He said, “An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.”
… 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.