It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE
The handsome dining room of the Hotel Wessex, with its gilded
plaster shields and the mural depicting the Green Mountains, had
been reserved for the Ladies' Night Dinner of the Fort Beulah
Here in Vermont the affair was not so picturesque as it might
have been on the Western prairies. Oh, it had its points: there
was a skit in which Medary Cole (grist mill & feed store) and
Louis Rotenstern (custom tailoring--pressing & cleaning)
announced that they were those historic Vermonters, Brigham Young
and Joseph Smith, and with their jokes about imaginary plural
wives they got in ever so many funny digs at the ladies present.
But the occasion was essentially serious. All of America was
serious now, after the seven years of depression since 1929. It
was just long enough after the Great War of 1914-18 for the young
people who had been born in 1917 to be ready to go to college . .
. or to another war, almost any old war that might be handy.
The features of this night among the Rotarians were nothing
funny, at least not obviously funny, for they were the patriotic
addresses of Brigadier General Herbert Y. Edgeways, U.S.A.
(ret.), who dealt angrily with the topic "Peace through
Defense--Millions for Arms but Not One Cent for Tribute," and of
Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch--she who was no more renowned for her
gallant anti-suffrage campaigning way back in 1919 than she was
for having, during the Great War, kept the American soldiers
entirely out of French cafés by the clever trick of
sending them ten thousand sets of dominoes.
Nor could any social-minded patriot sneeze at her recent
somewhat unappreciated effort to maintain the purity of the
American Home by barring from the motion-picture industry all
persons, actors or directors or cameramen, who had: (a) ever been
divorced; (b) been born in any foreign country--except Great
Britain, since Mrs. Gimmitch thought very highly of Queen Mary,
or (c) declined to take an oath to revere the Flag, the
Constitution, the Bible, and all other peculiarly American
The Annual Ladies' Dinner was a most respectable
gathering--the flower of Fort Beulah. Most of the ladies and more
than half of the gentlemen wore evening clothes, and it was
rumored that before the feast the inner circle had had cocktails,
privily served in Room 289 of the hotel. The tables, arranged on
three sides of a hollow square, were bright with candles,
cut-glass dishes of candy and slightly tough almonds, figurines
of Mickey Mouse, brass Rotary wheels, and small silk American
flags stuck in gilded hard-boiled eggs. On the wall was a banner
lettered "Service Before Self," and the menu--the celery, cream
of tomato soup, broiled haddock, chicken croquettes, peas, and
tutti-frutti ice-cream--was up to the highest standards of the
They were all listening, agape. General Edgeways was
completing his manly yet mystical rhapsody on nationalism:
". . . for these U-nited States, a-lone among the great
powers, have no desire for foreign conquest. Our highest ambition
is to be darned well let alone! Our only gen-uine relationship to
Europe is in our arduous task of having to try and educate the
crass and ignorant masses that Europe has wished onto us up to
something like a semblance of American culture and good manners.
But, as I explained to you, we must be prepared to defend our
shores against all the alien gangs of international racketeers
that call themselves 'governments,' and that with such feverish
envy are always eyeing our inexhaustible mines, our towering
forests, our titanic and luxurious cities, our fair and far-flung
"For the first time in all history, a great nation must go on
arming itself more and more, not for conquest--not for
jealousy--not for war--but for peace! Pray God it may
never be necessary, but if foreign nations don't sharply heed our
warning, there will, as when the proverbial dragon's teeth were
sowed, spring up an armed and fearless warrior upon every square
foot of these United States, so arduously cultivated and defended
by our pioneer fathers, whose sword-girded images we must be . .
. or we shall perish!"
The applause was cyclonic. "Professor" Emil Staubmeyer, the
superintendent of schools, popped up to scream, "Three cheers for
the General--hip, hip, hooray!"
All the audience made their faces to shine upon the General
and Mr. Staubmeyer--all save a couple of crank pacifist women,
and one Doremus Jessup, editor of the Fort Beulah Daily
Informer, locally considered "a pretty smart fella but kind
of a cynic," who whispered to his friend the Reverend Mr. Falck,
"Our pioneer fathers did rather of a skimpy job in arduously
cultivating some of the square feet in Arizona!"
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