Opinion » Bill Cope

Twicetold Twain

Some Thanksgiving twaddle from Badger Bob


Cope didn't write a word of this, just so's you know. The baby asked me, since he's going out of town for Thanksgiving and he doesn't think he can get two columns ready before he leaves. "Waaaa," he says, "Badger Bob, Badger Bob! Please purdy please with sugar on top. Write me a column, and I'll write one, too. And then I can leave on the 23rd an' not have to worry 'bout deadline. Waaaaaa!"

So I says, "What the hell, Cope? You seriously think if you missed a column now and then, anyone would notice?" But he just stands there with that slack-jawed, "There's a spider on my nose" gawk of his until I agree to do his job for him.

That just shows you the problem with Cope, though. One of 'em, anyway. He still thinks you can change morons into enlightened citizens with the written word--which makes him one of the morons in my book. Think about it--it's been 550 years since ol' Gutenberg made the written word available to anyone with at least one good eye, but are we floating in a sea of enlightened citizens yet? Yeah, from where I sit, it looks like the more there is to read, the more dried up the brain pool gets.

To make my point-- and to get this damn column written for Cope, incidentally--I'm sending you home to your Thanksgiving gorge with a few nuggets from another writer. Brace yourselves, children--this guy is one dark dude. You think I'm cynical? Shee-id! I'm Katy Couric compared to this feller. Here's a sample: "Talking of patriotism, what humbug it is; it is a word which always commemorates a robbery. There isn't a foot of land in the world which doesn't represent the ousting and re-ousting of a long line of successive 'owners,' who each in turn, as 'patriots,' with proud swelling hearts defended it against the next gang of 'robbers' who came to steal it and did--and became swelling-hearted patriots in their turn."

That rains on a few parades, doesn't it? And get this: It was written over 100 years ago by probably the best, most famous writer this country ever coughed up. You got it--Mark Twain. I got to thinking about him last week when Steve Martin was presented with that "Mark Twain Prize for American Humor." Phooey! Anymore, they make Twain out like Hee-Haw in a white suit. But I tell you what, partner ... that old boy had some bitter bones under his belt.

Here's another of his takes on patriotism: "There are two kinds of patriotism--monarchical patriotism and republican patriotism. In the one case the government and the king may rightfully furnish you their notions of patriotism; in the other, neither the government nor the entire nation is privileged to dictate to any individual what the form of his patriotism shall be. The Gospel of the Monarchical Patriotism is: 'The King can do no wrong.' We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: 'Our country, right or wrong!' We have thrown away the most valuable asset we have--the individual right to oppose both flag and country when he (just he by himself) believes them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism."

And here's what one of our greatest humans thought of humans: "Oh, it's true. I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feeling and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise. Sometimes the handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no matter the crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race, whether savage or civilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pain, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they don't dare to assert themselves."

Ah, yes, there's more to ol' Sam C. than precocious hillbilly kids and jumping frogs. I've no doubt there were plenty of morons 'round the turn of the century who thought the country would be better off without him. You know ... those Gilded Age Ann Coulters.

But my question is, why did Twain bother? I mean, by his own words, we know he generally considered people too stupid, too venal, too corrupt and cowardly to be touched by words such as his. So why make the effort?

Listen to this: "Oh Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste to their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated lands in rags and hunger and thirst ... Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love ... Amen."

It's his "War Prayer," and you tell me ... how could a man write something as sour and black as that without it coming from a rock-solid conviction that we have another choice? See what I'm getting at? That kind of cynicism can only come from some powerful flow of hope.

'Course, that just makes him one of the morons in my book. A century later, I don't see a damn thing's changed. That's how much good the written word does. Even when it comes from a titan.

So y'all have yourselves a happy Thanksgiving. And here's one last prize from the pen of one marvelous geezer to think about while you're cramming that bird down your gullet: "Thanksgiving Day originated in New England when the Puritans realized they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the annual compliments. The original reason for Thanksgiving Day has long ceased to exist, since the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated ... But still the habit persists as a national holiday, and every year the American presidents and state governors set themselves to the task to hunt up something to be thankful for ..."