Four Days Late And One Whiskey Short...
Our story begins last thursday when those gutsy monitors at LGF Watch - I say "gutsy" because anyone who uses perfectly good intestinal fortitude reading LGF, when such fortitude could be used for holding down mass quantities of whiskey, has far more guts than anyone has a right to - spotted Our Man Chuckles quoting HLM. Leave it to Our Man Chuckles to pick one of the ugliest HLM aphorisms (and take it totally out of context). Some people's bloodlust knows no bounds in either gore or bad taste. The LGFWatchers duly noted that, yes, HLM was an anti-semite, and given the pro-Israel bias of Our Man Chuckles perhaps he ought to think twice about referring to HLM lest he anger the Irony Goddesses a little too much. Then, in an update, they point to a "Lizard" (someone who comments at LGF) complaining about the anti-semitism on display at LGFWatch - anti-semitism expressed by quoting HLM!
Well, we here at RUFNKM don't like pissing off the Irony Goddesses. We've got direct experience with what that entails and can promise you it ain't effin' pretty (ask jay about the time he got punched in the face for buying someone a drink). In addition, some of us RUFNKMers actually claim some fealty to a certain strain of Menckenism: the pro-beer, pro-liberty, pro-cigar-smoking, pro-teaching-of-evolution, pro-Baltimore, anti-fundamentalist, bad-driving one. So we thought it'd be illustrative of something to at least posit both something of a defense of HLM's better qualities and an offering to the Irony Goddesses to keep them happy.
While admitting HLM's ugly prejudices, one must not forget that, among other things he was as staunch an anti-Saltine (Red Stater) as they come (warning, PDF). One wonders how the average Lizard would feel knowing that Chuckles happily quotes a man who describes them and their home states as "little removed from savagery", " a vast plain of mediocrity, stupidity, lethargy" or when he writes:
The most booming sort of piety, in the South, is not incompatible with the theory that lynching is a benign institution. Two generations ago it was not incompatible with an ardent belief in slavery.
(Hark lumpen brothers! Chuckles does not repsect you for your intellect but for how you make him feel authentic; he actually is a big sissy Blue Stater! Your guns prop up his masculinity while he's secretly laughing at your savagery. I didn't want to be the one to tell you, but it's true. Can't trust Southern Californians. Elitist SOB's to a man, including The Hat...sell you and your grandmother out for a few extra points...don't think I'm effin' kidding you...)
Ok, so maybe being anti-Saltine isn't exactly admirable, so eff that. Mencken was more often than not just plain anti-American. He took Germany's side in WWI, wrote awful things about St. Wilson The Robust (that in and of itself oughtta piss off a Lizard - The Robustness of St. Wilson provides the gravitas of our current foreign policy, no?), and had the gaul to mention the "butcheries in foreign and domestic parts - mountains of dead Filipinos, Mexicans, Haitians, Dominicans, West Virginia Miners, perhaps even Prussians" - corpses stacked high in the name of the moral mission of the United Fruit Comp...err...U...S...Of...A... So it was that the greater part of HLM's spleen was reserved for the 100% American of the Chuckles and Co. variety. You can randomly crack open any HLM anthology and find at least five pieces taking dead aim (uhg, sorry...everyone always writes about Mencken using ballistic metaphors so now I'm stuck doing it too...) with both barrels (see?) at that hapless creature.
And because the Irony Goddesses desire offerings and because we must prove HLM wasn't really all bad we must now quote at length from the essay from which the "mountains of dead" comes. It's called (oh chuckle Chuckles!) "Star-Spangled Men" and...oh eff it...you'll like it. I promise:
But even the civil arm is robbed of its just dues in the department of gauds and radioactivity, no doubt by the direct operation of military vanity and jealousy. Despite a million proofs (and perhaps a billion eloquent arguments) to the countrary, it is still the theory at the official ribbon counter that the only man who serves in a war is the man who serves in uniform. This is soft for the Bevo officer, who at least has his service stripes and spurs that gnawed into his desk, but it is hard upon his brother Elmer, the dollar-a-year man, who worked twenty hours a day for fourteen months buying soap-powder, canned asparagus and raincoats for the army of God. Elmer not only labored with inconceivable diligence; he also faced hazards of no mean order, for on the one hand was his natural prejudice in favor of a very liberal rewarding of commercial enterprise, and on the other hand were his patriotism and his fear of Atlanta Penitentiary...Even the American Legion fails them, for though it certainly does not bar non-combatants, it insists that they shall have done their non-combating in uniform.
What I propose is a variety of the Distinguished Service Medal for civilians [Sully, you get one too!] - perhaps, better still, a distinct order for civilians, closed to the military and with badges of different colors and areas to mark off varying services to democracy. Let it run, like the Japanese Paulownia, from high to low - the lowest class for the patriot who sacrificed only time, money, and a few nights' sleep; the highest for the great martyr who hung his country's altar with his dignity, his decency and his sacred honor. For Elmer and his nervous insomnia, a simple rosette, with an iron badge bearing the national motto, "Safety First"; for the university president [now blog-master] who prohibited the teaching of the enemy language in his learned grove, heaved the works of Goethe [Qutb?] out of the university library, cashiered every professor unwilling to support Woodrow [Dubya] for the first vacancy in the Trinity, took the stump for the National Security League, and made two hundred speeches in moving picture theatres - for this giant of loyal endeavor let no 100 per cent American speak of anything less than the grand cross of the order, with a gold badge in stained glass, a baldric of the nation colors, a violet plug hat with a sunburst on the side, the privilege of the floor of Congress, and a pension of $10,000 a year [don't worry Pamela, we'll adjust for inflation]. After all, the cost would not be excessive; there are not many of them. Such prodigies of patriotism are possible only to rare and gifted men."
Leave it to HLM to assume only gifted men could be prodigies of patriotism; RUFNKM is not so unevolved (which is why we gave the shout out to Pamela). In any case, it's getting late, I'm getting far too drunk to be typing, so it's time we raise our glasses to both Elmeretta and Elmer; defending our liberties (against what? only they are perceptive enough to perceive - hic!) by their very presence on the internet. We live in such better times. Cheers!
Update In The Cold Light of Sobriety: I forgot the cautionary note - which was really the important part. After 30 years of insulting his country, his country's leaders and his fellow citizen-buffoons who kept electing those leaders, Mencken was rewarded with a stroke that left him unable to write and barely able to read. He died a few years later - but not before literally crapping himself in public. That Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky have so far escaped similar fates may say something about how the forces of cosmic justice make subtle distinctions between various psychological underpinnings of dissent.