"Our Country, Right or Wrong!"

Samuel Clemens

[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.