Mark Twain was no fan of war, which he described as “a wanton waste of projectiles,” and he nurtured a healthy disdain for anyone who suggested that patriotism was best displayed through enthusiastic support for military adventures abroad. The phrase “our country, right or wrong” was, he argued, “an insult to the nation.”
But Twain’s deepest disgust was reserved for politicians who played on fear and uncertainty to promote the interests of what would come to be called the military-industrial complex. Describing how Americans were frequently goaded into war by their leaders, Twain recalled: “Statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”
Twain, a longtime leader of the old Anti-Imperialist League, uttered those words a century ago. But for opponents of George W. Bush’s election year efforts to justify war with Iraq, they ring truer than most of what has been said by Republican or Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s congressional contests.
So much truer, in fact, that some antiwar activists have decided to vote for Twain.
Never mind that the author of “The Innocents Abroad,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Huckleberry Finn” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” has been dead since 1910, nor even that “Mark Twain” is merely the pen name for the prolific Samuel Clemens. Voters in western Wisconsin will be casting ballots Tuesday for Mark Twain for Congress.
The Twain campaign was started in the old Mississippi River town of LaCrosse, where activists with the La Crosse Coalition for Peace and Justice were upset with US Representative Ron Kind, a Democrat who voted in October for the House resolution authorizing George W. Bush to wage a unilateral war against Iraq. Kind, a co-chair of the New Democrat Network, the congressional arm of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, was the only one of five Democrats in Wisconsin’s House delegation to vote in favor of the resolution. In fact, a pair of Wisconsin Democrats, Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Tammy Baldwin, were among the most outspoken congressional foes of the resolution. Baldwin was one of the chief organizers of opposition forces before the House vote on the Iraq resolution, which saw a majority of House Democrats oppose the president’s position.
But Kind voted with a minority of House Democrats to give the president what Constitutional scholars have described as “unprecedented” war-making powers. Kind has said that, while he shares many of the reservations expressed by his constituents in regard to launching a war against Iraq, he thinks Congressional support for the president’s position could cause Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to be more cooperative – thus making it possible to avoid war.