Slander's Mask of Humor
From The Army and Navy Journal
We observe that Mark Twain has taken a friend of his, Mr. William J. Lampton, to task because he has been guilty of writing a patriotic poem. In a letter to Mr. Lampton, described by the Philadelphia "North American" as a "gently satirical epistle," Mr. Clemens says:
Dear Lampton: Will you allow me to say that I like those poems of your very much? Especially the one which so vividly pictures the response of our young fellows when they were summoned to strike down an oppressor and set his victim free. Write a companion to it and show us how the young fellows respond when invited by the Government to go out to the Philippines on a land-stealing and liberty-crucifying crusade. I notice that they swarm to the recruiting office at the rate of 800 a month, out of an enthusiastic population of 75,000,000 free men; and that no American-born person can pronounce their names without damage to his jaw, nor spell them without a foreign education.
This statement concerning enlistments has five per cent. of truth in it, which is, perhaps, as large a proportion as we could expect of an author who has so long been accustomed to contribute to the good nature of the world by statements so exaggerated and grotesque that we never by any possibility mistake them for anything but humorous extravagances. In the case of the letter printed above Mark Twain appears to have made an attempt at telling the truth, in which case he cannot object if he is held to the rule of exactness which binds other men when they assume to argue serious propositions.
The applications at the recruiting offices during the months when recruiting was for the Philippines and China were nearly fifteen times what Mark Twain says they are, or 11,735 for July, 1900, and 11,760 for August. The average for the thirteen months ending with last January was 8,000, or 104,816 altogether. Commencing with last month, February, the recruiting has been wholly for the Regular Army, and it has been steadily on the increase, so that the prospect is that the total for March will be in excess of the high totals for July and August last. The enlistments for March 6 indicate a monthly total of 13,400 applications, and those for March 15 a total of 17,144, or twenty-one times what Mark says they are.
These are facts proved by the official records at the War Department, and the liveliness of a humorist's imagination cannot alter them. The difficulty Mr. Clemens finds in speaking the names of our soldiers is, apparently, an illustration of the inability to pronounce one's native tongue which sometimes affects those who travel abroad. Over 88 per cent. of these soldiers, according to the latest statistics, are native-born Americans, and the remaining eleven and one-half per cent., of foreign birth, are either citizens or have legally declared their intentions of becoming such. The requirements for the Service are very exacting, including, besides citizenship and the ability to read and write the English language, physical and moral qualifications in excess of those demanded for ordinary occupations. Of one hundred men offering to enlist, seventy-eight are rejected, the remaining twenty-two furnishing our Army with a class of men personally superior to theaverage soldier of any other service.
It is unfortunate for the reputation of Mark Twain that he should go out of his way to slander these men because they believe in the right and duty of our Government to enforce its authority over all of the territory belonging to the United States. Mr. Clemens denied that proposition during our Civil War, when he enjoyed the experience of a guerrilla rebel, chased all over the State of Missouri, which he has so amusingly described. History has already recorded the verdict that our soldiers were right then, and that Mr. Clemens and his friends were wrong. It will not require forty years to prove that those who sustain the Government are right now, the Filipinos themselves being witnesses to the fact. But whatever Mr. Clemens may think of this, he can hardly justify himself for making use of the weapons of slander and misrepresentation against the Government and the soldiers who are loyally obeying its orders. It is melancholy to find the genial Mark in descending into the arena of partisan falsification giving up to the party what was meant for mankind.
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