THE SUCKER TRADITION
"A sucker is born every minute."--American proverb, commonly attributed to P. T. BARNUM
THE AMERICANS, with their Puritanical heritage, are prone to preen themselves on their superior national morality, and their politicians long ago learned that it is profitable to harp on this theme. Huntington Wilson, a career diplomat of the Taft period, used to speak of "the national foible for grandiloquent sentimentality." Nor are other countries immune from such an affliction. Macaulay's observation in 1831 has become a classic: "We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality."
The superficial student of American history would not expect to find any trace of sentimental softness in our national character. We emerged from a primitive struggle for existence, in which no holds were barred and in which the principle of the survival of the fittest worked in its crudest form. One cannot agree with the quipster who said that the Pilgrim Fathers first fell on their knees, and then fell on the aborigines, but there can be no doubt that we pushed aside, despoiled, or destroyed the Indians in a ruthless campaign that continued almost without interruption for nearly three centuries. We evicted the redman as thoroughly and as methodically as we exterminated the passenger pigeon and the buffalo. The Indian gave us many things, including corn and tobacco, but above all he gave us a toughness of fiber that contributed powerfully to making us great.
Our centuries-long battle with the elements and with the natives developed within us a certain callousness to human suffering. Just as omelettes are not made without breaking eggs, wildernesses are not conquered without breaking necks, and in our haste to get on with the job we developed an extraordinary indifference to life and limb.
Like other peoples, and particularly in recent years, we have also developed a marked callousness toward wartime atrocities. In 1914 we were scandalized when the Germans goose-stepped into Belgium, and in 1915 we were horrified when they torpedoed the Lusitania. We were aroused over the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese in 1932, and we developed considerable sentiment for boycotting Japanese goods, with a consequent falling off in the sale of Woolworth knickknacks. We were distressed by the poison-gas attacks of the Italians on the Ethiopians, and by the brutal bombing of Barcelona by Franco. But we were becoming less distressed, and gradually we came to accept these things as a part of what is known as "civilized" warfare. The destruction of Warsaw by the Germans in 1939, and of Rotterdam in 1940, were so much more diabolical than the invasion of Belgium