• U.S.

Letters, Jul. 15, 1940

11 minute read

Don’t Tread on Me!


. . . Long ago when this country was very young our emblem was not the eagle—it was the rattlesnake, coiled to strike, with the slogan, “Don’t Tread On Me!” This was the spirit that won our freedom. With this spirit we can survive—if our brains and our guts haven’t been bred out of us.


New York City



… In World War I, I was one of the first flock of volunteer assistant secretaries to the General Munitions Board (later the War Industries Board) and subsequently an Aircraft Armament officer in the A. E. F. For the past number of years, I have been editor of a national magazine devoted to Conservation of our Natural Resources, and also a New Mexico dude and cattle rancher.

As a regular reader of your Letters, I have recently gone out of my way to do some canvassing of public opinion in the Rocky Mountain region on my own hook. . . . The almost unanimous opinion of those to whom I have talked seems to be as follows:

1) The Rocky Mountain west believes generally that the Allies have irretrievably lost the war, and that the reason lies in the fact that they called names and offered criticism of Germany without the force necessary to back it up. This is a serious error in any barroom, and today international law and barroom law are about the same. The U. S. is less well prepared to back up its criticisms of the Axis Powers than the Allies were. Therefore it is the height of foolishness for our nation to stick its head in the lion’s jaws and incur the enmity of the German people, particularly at the present time. . . . The highly vocal but locally infinitesimal minority of our people who call for aid to the Allies “short of war” gives an entirely wrong impression of real public sentiment hereabouts. We feel that such actions are not “short of war” but provocative of war itself. We are unconvinced that our frontier is in Europe.

2) A short time ago New Mexico seemed overwhelmingly pro-New Deal and pro-Roosevelt, but people are saying that the President has permitted his personal pro-Ally bias to betray our nation into what is already almost a state of war. Today it seems likely that Roosevelt would be defeated in this State solely on the basis of his recent conduct of international affairs. Recently people are saying that Wendell Willkie is the one possible savior in sight.

3) In this section of the country we have never had much confidence in the Government of the Republic of Mexico. To us, South American Governments seem equally unreliable. They will take all the credits we give them and then double-cross us. South Americans are not followers of abstract ideals—they are realists. Therefore, any lasting solidarity between North and South America is an impractical dream—unless we take a leaf from Hitler’s book and go in for conquest or domination. The only sensible and practical course that remains for us as a nation is to stop throwing mud and epithets and try to get along with Germany, at least until we have actually built up our defenses to the point where we can back up our words with something more than meaningless blusterings. Just because we believe in applying to our nation the old and extremely sound doctrine of “Put up or shut up,” does that make us “Isolationists”?

4) There exists strong sentiment in this part of the country toward making friends with Japan on the same basis. Whatever may have been our idealistic notions a while ago, we cannot save China. Japan knew that we could not do so. A realistic view of the present situation would indicate that a cessation of fighting would save more lives and prevent further useless destruction. Does it make any practical difference to us who owns the rubber and the tin, provided we can trade with the owner? If we do not like the owner, then again the only argument worth making is still an argument that can be backed up by force.

5) Lindbergh may not be exactly right in everything, but in this section of the country it is believed that those who are falling over themselves in their zeal to criticize him are either selfishly inspired or victims of impractical “idealism” and propaganda. We believe that a policy which results in extending war to the whole world will not save Democracy but destroy it forever.

6) Whether we like it or not, the time for talking in terms of abstract idealism is past. This is not cowardice or isolationism, but simply a realistic facing of the facts as they now exist. To the people of the Rocky Mountain west, Democracy means after all mainly the preservation of our own personal freedom and our homes. We cannot get along without the rest of the world and we know it, but we fail to see that we cannot try to adapt ourselves to a changing world and still keep our own faith in those particulars which are important. We resent the term “Isolationist” as typical of the “weasel words” used by crooked politicians, for we are trying to be “Realists” as opposed to those whose thinking is based upon a possibly outmoded European setup. We are not Pros for anything except our own general scheme of Democracy, and we see no sense in those who apparently wish us to bite off our nose to spite our face.


Abiquiu, N. Mex.

> To Reader Pack, thanks for an excellently synthesized statement of attitudes which have lately shown signs of a trend. He might also consider well whether he does not voice two typical illusions; namely, 1) that appeasement offers an easy and successful way to stand up against dictators; 2) that citizens of one part of the country—even the Rocky Mountain West—show greater perspicacity about the nation’s welfare than citizens of any other part.—ED.

Novelist Sinclair Wonders


One of the mysteries which have puzzled me during 45 years as a professional writer has been the nameless persons who judge books for our big business magazines and newspapers. What have they done which gains them the authority to patronize the creative writers of their time? “Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, that he is grown so great?” I am set to wondering again by reading the beginning of your review of my novel, World’s End [TIME, June 24].

“To the literary, the novels of Upton Sinclair (The Jungle, King Coal, Oil, Boston, etc.) are not literature. To historians, they are not history. To propagandists, they are not propaganda. But to millions of plain people, they are all three of those things.”

I suppose it is a question of definition. “Literary,” of course, means the little coterie of New York intellectuals; but what does “plain” mean? Was Jack London plain? He hailed The Jungle as the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin of wage slavery.” I have before me an old circular of the book which quotes in its praise Arthur Brisbane, Robert Hunter, ThomasWentworth Higginson, LondonPunch, David Graham Phillips and the Hon. Winston Churchill—an odd list of “plain people.” . . .

And then I look up some of the circulars about Oil!, and find enthusiastic letters from William E. Borah, John Farrar, John Haynes Holmes, Floyd Dell, Robert Herrick, Lewis Mumford, Arthur Davison Ficke, William Ellery Leonard . . . Norman Thomas. Some of the above are “literary” and they found that Oil! was literature. Some of them are propagandists, and they found that it was propaganda.

Now comes a new novel, a very long one, 740 pages. Your reviewer says that “as an interpretation of history, World’s End needs to be read with a certain care if it is not to be limitlessly untrustworthy. Sinclair’s dice are loaded, etc.” The fact is that World’s End was read by several historians and participants in the Paris Peace Conference and corrected in accordance with their detailed suggestions. . . .

I have to put up as best I can with TIME’S complaints concerning my simplicity of mind. After all, in the course of my 40 years’ battle for social justice, I have been called worse things than “a healthy, sincere, and well-informed old gentleman!” I shall keep on trying, and maybe after I am dead the then literary editor of TIME will discover that I was a novelist.


Pasadena, Calif.

>TIME did not deny that Reader Sinclair was a novelist; it only explained what kind of novelist he was.—ED.

Good & Mad


I’d like to know more about this “ordinary diplomatic procedure” which enables any foreign power to study our supposedly secret M-Day plan, as explained in your reply to Mr. Wayne, TIME, July 1, p. 8, Letterscolumn.

… I know that diplomatic procedure is completely ununderstandable to the normal logical mind, but I can see no advantage in showing any secret plan to any foreign power at any time whatsoever. It appears to be the height of stupidity. . . .

The more I think about this the madder I get. Has the M-Day plan been changed since 1934? And if not, why not?


New York City

>Nowadays it is harder to borrow the Government’s M-Day plans. But it is salutary to recall Nazi study of them in 1934 as a good instance of how easygoing democracies get licked by the dictators.—ED.

Beef for Bombers


The greatest mistake the U. S. can make at this time is to send food or any other materials which can relieve Hitler of the necessity of supplying like relief to the peoples of the countries he has occupied.

According to a recent issue of your magazine [TIME, June 17], the whole of Europe is imminently threatened with famine. If this is so, and Great Britain can hold out for a few months, it is quite possible that Hitler’s whole conquest would collapse due to starvation and its attendant disorders. . . .


Los Angeles, Calif.


. . . Europe has an abundance of only one thing—armaments—andsince Hitler himself has set the example of barter, I suggest that we trade with him on his own terms—that we barter bushels for battleships, beef for bombers, grain for guns.


Madison, Wis.

>If such a fanciful swap could be made—fine! But let no such idea serve Reader Watters as unwittingly callous alibi for not giving to the Red Cross. Twice $20,000,000 would be little enough for relief in Nazi-conquered territory—not only for desperately needed food but for life-&-death hospital supplies. No International Red Cross relief goes to Germany—at the Nazis’ own request. Nor should anyone naivelyimagine that Red Cross relief will break the blockade against Hitler.—ED.

Untapped Resources


The weakest link in our national defense today is the helpless feeling that saps the morale of our people. They want to “do something” to help. . . .

Give the people a chance to “do something” to take part in national defense. At least 50% of this fifth-column hysteria is a sublimation of that frustrated desire “to do something to help.” That should give you some hint of the untapped spiritual resources of our people.


Ponca City, Okla.

>For an example of how one U. S. citizen did something about it, see TIME, July 8.—ED.

Agfa Ansco


In your issue of June 3, on p. 72, you stated that Agfa Ansco is controlled by I. G. Farbenindustrie of Germany.

As a consequence of a merger in December 1939, Agfa Ansco Corporation became a division of General Aniline & Film Corporation. The latter has issued and outstanding 2,529,700⅔ shares of stock, each share being entitled to one vote. Approximately 20,000 shares of the corporation are owned by German interests. This represents less than 1% of the voting power of the stock.

A Swiss corporation owns approximately two-thirds of the stock of General Aniline & Film Corporation. The I. G. Farbenindustrie owns stock in this Swiss corporation in an amount which represents approximately 10½% of the voting power of its outstanding shares.

Neither I. G. Farbenindustrie nor any other German national have any direct or indirect interest in General Aniline & Film Corporation other than the above.

If Switzerland falls into German hands, Agfa Ansco will not pass under German control for several reasons: 1) the actual Swiss shares giving voting control of General Aniline & Film Corp. are held in Manhattan; 2) Swiss law provides that title to this stock can be changed only under existing Swiss law even though the Swiss Government is forced to leave Switzerland; 3) Swiss law further provides that no officer or employe of a Swiss corporation remaining in occupied territory has any authority to act for his employer.

Therefore, the statement appearing in your publication is without basis in fact.


Vice President

General Aniline & Film Corporation

New York City

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