hearing the name of Nobel Prize Winner Sinclair Lewis, The Jungle often comes to mind first because of the impact this book made in its time and ever since. Yet, It Can't Happen Here should be judged just as -- if not more -- important than any of Lewis' books. The work, which describes what would happen if America voted in a dictator such as Stalin or Hitler to "save the day," clearly reflects the fears of Lewis' own time. It also strongly warns today's readers what could occur if civil society does not keep watchful.
The main story of It Can't Happen Here revolves around Doremus Jessup, a moderate 60-year-old Republican and editor of a small-town newspaper in Vermont. Everyone, including Jessup, said in 1935, "If there ever is a Fascist dictatorship here, American humor and pioneer independence are so marked that it will be absolutely different from anything in Europe." What occurred next, proved them wrong.
Under the Corpo (Corporate) Movement, a dictator by the name of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip runs for president during the throes of the depression to save his country from welfare cheats, promiscuity, runaway crime, and a liberal press. His campaign is based on family values, the symbol of the flag and patriotism. He portrays advocates of traditional U.S. democracy as anti-American.
At first, Windrip grabs the country by storm. He is just what the doctor ordered. However, after he wins the election, the evil truth is revealed in his platform "The Fifteen Points of Victory for the Forgotten Men." The document declaration included that: all finances and labor unions would be under Federal control; everyone must follow the New Testament; all companies must give the government six percent of their profits made in war; the U.S. would build its munitions and armed forces larger than any other country in the world; the government would double the present supply of money; the U.S. cannot "too strongly condemn the un-Christian attitude of otherwise progressive nations in their discrimination against the Jews"; all Negroes cannot vote, be lawyers, teachers or doctors and will be taxed heavily; and all working women must solely be homemakers and mothers.
The thirteenth point clearly denounced left-wing members. Ironically, however, Communism so closely aligns the fascism of the Windrip presidency.
Any person advocating Communism, Socialism, or Anarchism, advocating refusal to enlist in the case of war, or advocating alliance with Russia any war whatsoever, shall be subject to trial of high treason, with a minimum of twenty years of hard labor in prison and a maximum of death on the gallows, or other form of execution that the judges may find appropriate.
The last of the 15 points totally negated all that had made America strong since its beginnings:
Congress shall, immediately upon our inauguration, initiate amendments to the Constitution providing (a), that the President shall have the authority to institute and execute all necessary measures for the conduct of the government during this critical epoch; (b), that Congress shall serve only in an advisory capacity...; and -, that the Supreme Court shall immediately have removed from its jurisdiction the power to negate... any or all acts of the President...
Windrip explains his view very clearly: "There are two parties, the Corporate and those who don't belong to any party at all, and so, to use a common phrase, are just out of luck!"
When hearing Windrop's platform, Jessup begins to think the worst. He believes that even if people worry at first about Buzzy, even if he has a few faults, they'll rouse the country for him as a great liberator, "I don't know whether he's more of a crook or an hysterical fanatic," he comments. In fact, riots and revolts eventually do break out against Windrop's tyranny, but they are repeatedly crushed by the president's private army, the Minute Men.
Jessup tries his best to handle the new regime and its censorship. One of his failings is not using the newspaper as a means to lambaste the higher Corpo echelon. Instead, he is more concerned with the local fascist Shad Ledue, an alcoholic handyman who had climbed the ladder to top of the local New England Corpos. Because of his anti-government actions, Jessup is sent to a detention camp and tortured. The government kills his son-in-law, and one daughter sacrifices herself to assassinate a political leader and the other is nearly raped by a fascist.
In the meantime, it comes as no surprise that Windrip's regime starts a war with Mexico. What else do totalitarian governments do to exert their power? The war is a farce, and the American forces prove themselves useless.
Jessup feels guilty that he did not foresee the coming tyranny and had not done something more before the situation had became so severe. However, when he escapes the detention camp, Jessup rights his wrongs by becoming part of a massive resistance in Canada. The group ironically joins socialists, liberals and even mainstream conservatives in the same cause of ending the dictatorship.
The Canadian resistance joins United States rebels under General Coon's direction to end Windrip's rule. They begin to slowly eat away at Windrip's infestatation. Even Windrip's own men do not remain loyal. He is overthrown by his own Secretary of State, who helped him form the new government.
The book concludes with Jessup running from one safe house to another as he continues his fight against the fascist regime. In the middle of the night he is warned that a posse is out to get him:
So Doremus rode out, saluted by the meadow larks, and onward all day, to a hidden cabin in the Northern Woods where quiet men awaited news of freedom. And still Doremus goes on in the red sunrise, for a Doremus Jessup can never die.
The book makes today's reader question can something like this indeed happen in the United States with its present political structure? It depends on whom is asked and when. During Bill Clinton's presidency, many conservative and rightwing groups warned that some of his actions bordered on non-democratic measures -- to say the least. One of these organizations was America's Future, a 50-year-old organization "dedicated to the preservation of two great fundamental American principles: the competitive, private enterprise system that has made our country strong and prosperous, and the constitutional form of government that has kept us free from the tyranny of individuals or factions." In 1998, an America's Future editorial stated:
The similarities between the typical revolutionary regime and the Clinton administration are striking, and ominous...Among the items on that agenda: abortion on demand, federal child-care programs, more middle-class 'entitlements' for education.
Likewise, the WorldNet Daily, the largest independent online news site, stated this same year about the Clinton administration:
Whatever it takes to rule, so be it. The Constitution be damned. We've got important public policy reforms to enact. If the Congress won't cooperate, then we'll make the Congress irrelevant -- go over their heads. Mussolini would be proud -- not to mention Jiang Zemin.
And in 2003, the author of a website called the "Veteran of the War Against Liberals" cited what he had learned in life including:
sign saying "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes You Free) posted above an execution camp gate doesn't mean that anybody gets out of there alive, and a room labeled "Showers" doesn't necessarily make you clean. Bill Clinton notwithstanding, the meaning of "is" is plain when such perverted language gets you killed. While all tyrants are liars, it is true that not all political liars are would-be tyrants-- but they bear close watching.
And keep your rifle handy.
Today, not much has changed except for the person being lambasted. A spokesperson for the Ashbrook Center, which teaches the meaning and significance of America by providing an academic forum for the study, research and discussion of the principles and practices of American Constitutional government and politics, recently noted:
Senator Kerry makes much of his right to speak freely on topics of great importance. He surely possesses this right -- the gift of a Constitution designed to protect the natural and political rights of American citizens. But he puts me in mind of the sophist (sophistes) of Socrates's time. The sophist was one who used rhetoric not to seek the truth, but to achieve personal power..."
Further, a book Unfit for Command by Jerry Corsi and John O'Neil argues that, "John Kerry is a liar and a fraud, unfit to be the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces." The authors then add: That's not just the opinion of American conservatives: As this book shows, most of the men who served with Kerry in Vietnam feel this way.
On the other hand, the Democrats are not being quiet about President Bush's supposed tyranny and fascism. Says the author of opednews.com:
Shortly before the beginning of the WWII, Sinclair Lewis wrote a book titled, It Can't Happen Here. It described a U.S. that was taken over by…