The Origins of the War in Afghanistan

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“…
I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities,
seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its
beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise. Sometimes
the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no matter, the
crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race, whether savage
or civilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting
pain, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority
they don’t dare to assert themselves. Think of it! One kind-hearted
creature spies upon another, and sees to it that he loyally helps
in iniquities which revolt both of them. Speaking as an expert,
I know that ninety-nine out of a hundred of your race were strongly
against the killing of witches when that foolishness was first agitated
by a handful of pious lunatics in the long ago. And I know that
even to-day, after ages of transmitted prejudice and silly teaching,
only one person in twenty puts any real heart into the harrying
of a witch. And yet apparently everybody hates witches and wants
them killed. Some day a handful will rise up on the other side and
make the most noise — perhaps even a single daring man with a big
voice and a determined front will do it — and in a week all the
sheep will wheel and follow him, and witch-hunting will come to
a sudden end.

“Monarchies,
aristocracies, and religions are all based upon that large defect
in your race — the individual’s distrust of his neighbor, and his
desire, for safety’s or comfort’s sake, to stand well in his neighbor’s
eye. These institutions will always remain, and always flourish,
and always oppress you, affront you, and degrade you, because you
will always be and remain slaves of minorities. There was never
a country where the majority of the people were in their secret
hearts loyal to any of these institutions.”

I did not like to hear our race called sheep, and said I did not
think they were.

“Still,
it is true, lamb,” said Satan. “Look at you in war — what mutton
you are, and how ridiculous!”

“In
war? How?”

“There
has never been a just one, never an honorable one — on the part
of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and
this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances.
The loud little handful — as usual — will shout for the war. The
pulpit will — warily and cautiously — object — at first; the
great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and
try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly
and indignantly, “It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no
necessity for it.” Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair
men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with
speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded;
but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and
presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity.
Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned
from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious
men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned
speakers — as earlier — but do not dare to say so. And now the
whole nation — pulpit and all — will take up the war-cry, and
shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open
his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the
statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the 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.”

Mark
Twain, The
Mysterious Stranger
, 1916.

Thanks
to Charles Curley for calling
this to my attention. LR.

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