Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
Penguin Island

By Anatole France

(French man of letters, 1844–1924. In the following passage one of the most learned of the Penguins pays a visit to America)
AFTER a voyage of fifteen days his steamer entered, during the night, the harbor of Titanport, where thousands of ships were anchored. An iron bridge thrown across the water and shining with lights, stretched between two piers so far apart that Professor Obnubile imagined he was sailing on the seas of Saturn, and that he saw the marvellous ring which girds the planet of the Old Man. And this immense conduit bore upon it more than a quarter of the wealth of the world. The learned Penguin, having disembarked, was waited on by automatons in a hotel forty-eight stories high. Then he took the great railway that led to Gigantopolis, the capital of New Atlantic. In the train there were restaurants, gaming-rooms, athletic arenas, telegraphic, commercial, and financial offices, a Protestant Church, and the printing-office of a great newspaper, which latter the doctor was unable to read, as he did not know the language of the New Atlantans. The train passed along the banks of great rivers, through manufacturing cities which concealed the sky with the smoke from their chimneys, towns black in the day, towns red at night, full of noise by day and full of noise also by night.  1
  “Here,” thought the doctor, “is a people far too much engaged in industry and trade to make war. I am already certain that the New Atlantans pursue a policy of peace. For it is an axiom admitted by all economists that peace without and peace within are necessary for the progress of commerce and industry.”  2
  As he surveyed Gigantopolis, he was confirmed in this opinion. People went through the streets so swiftly propelled by hurry that they knocked down all who were in their way. Obnubile was thrown down several times, but soon succeeded in learning how to demean himself better; after an hour’s walking he himself knocked down an Atlantan.  3
  Having reached a great square he saw the portico of a palace in the classic style, whose Corinthian columns reared their capitals of arborescent acanthus seventy metres above the stylobate.  4
  As he stood with his head thrown back admiring the building, a man of modest appearance approached him and said in Penguin:  5
  “I see by your dress that you are from Penguinia. I know your language; I am a sworn interpreter. This is the Parliament palace. At the present moment the representatives of the States are in deliberation. Would you like to be present at the sitting?”  6
  The doctor was brought into the hall and cast his looks upon the crowd of legislators who were sitting on cane chairs with their feet upon their desks.  7
  The president arose, and, in the midst of general inattention, muttered rather than spoke the following formulas which the interpreter immediately translated to the doctor.  8
  “The war for the opening of the Mongol markets being ended to the satisfaction of the States, I propose that the accounts be laid before the finance committee.…”  9
  “Is there any opposition?…”  10
  “The proposal is carried.”  11
  “The war for the opening of the markets of Third-Zealand being ended to the satisfaction of the States, I propose that the accounts be laid before the finance committee.…”  12
  “Is there any opposition?…”  13
  “The proposal is carried.”  14
  “Have I heard aright?” asked Professor Obnubile. “What? you an industrial people and engaged in all these wars!”  15
  “Certainly,” answered the interpreter, “these are industrial wars. Peoples who have neither commerce nor industry are not obliged to make war, but a business people is forced to adopt a policy of conquest. The number of wars necessarily increases with our productive capacity. As soon as one of our industries fails to find a market for its products a war is necessary to open new outlets. It is in this way we have had a coal war, a copper war, and a cotton war. In Third-Zealand we have killed two-thirds of the inhabitants in order to compel the remainder to buy our umbrellas and braces.”  16
  At that moment a fat man who was sitting in the middle of the assembly ascended the tribune.  17
  “I claim,” said he, “a war against the Emerald Republic, which insolently contends with our pigs for the hegemony of hams and sauces in all the markets of the universe.”  18
  “Who is that legislator?” asked Doctor Obnubile.  19
  “He is a pig merchant.”  20
  “Is there any opposition?” said the President. “I put the proposition to the vote.”  21
  The war against the Emerald Republic was voted with uplifted hands by a very large majority.  22
  “What?” said Obnubile to the interpreter; “you have voted a war with that rapidity and that indifference!”  23
  “Oh! it is an unimportant war which will hardly cost eight million dollars.”  24
  “And men.…”  25
  “The men are included in the eight million dollars.”  26
  Then Doctor Obnubile bent his head in bitter reflection.  27
  “Since wealth and civilization admit of as many causes of poverty as war and barbarism, since the folly and wickedness of men are incurable, there remains but one good action to be done. The wise man will collect enough dynamite to blow up this planet. When its fragments fly through space an imperceptible amelioration will be accomplished in the universe and a satisfaction will be given to the universal conscience. Moreover, this universal conscience does not exist.”  28

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