"Our Country, Right or Wrong!"
[A statement that appeared after "Twain's"
death with the title "Glances at History," in Letters
From the Earth, pp. 97-98., 1909. Clemens was active in the
Anti-Imperialist League and was pointedly critical of the imperialist
policies of powerful nations, including the United States]
We, free citizens of the Great Republic, feel an honest pride in her
greatness, her strength, her just and gentle government, her] wide
liberties, her unsmirched flag, her hands clean from oppression of the
weak and of malicious conquest, her hospitable door that stands open
to the hunted and the persecuted of all nations; we are proud of the
judicious respect in which she is held by monarchies ... and proudest
of all of that lofty patriotism which we inherited from our fathers,
which we have kept pure, and which won our liberties in the beginning
and has preserved them unto this day. While that patriotism endures
the Republic is safe, her greatness is secure, and against them the
powers of the earth cannot prevail.
I pray you pause and consider. 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 framing. 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. ...And
every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a
traitor. 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 this phrase is an insult to the nation?
For, in a republic, [the country] is the common voice of the people.
Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility,
must speak. And it is a weighty responsibility, not to be flung aside
at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty
catch-phrases of politicians. Each must, for himself alone, decide
what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and
which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against
your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both
to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may...
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 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 raid because to grant peace to those little people
upon their terms - independence -- would dishonor us.
You have planted a seed, and it will grow.
[Twain then predicted] But it was too late 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.