Gideon Planish, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 29

Dr. and Mrs. Planish attended church every Sunday, except when Peony slept late, which she did not do oftener than three Sundays a month. They usually favored the pastors who were patrons of the DDD, such as Chris Stern, Rabbi Lichtenselig, Msgr. Fish and the Reverend Dr. Elmer Gantry. This morning they sat under Dr. Gantry.

In his sermon, the Reverend said that Europe was at war because people, particularly in this section of New York, did not go to church more regularly. He and God were displeased.

“Handsome buck, Elmer. Wasn’t he born in New York?” Peony speculated.

“I don’t know. I’ve heard that he comes from a fine old Massachusetts family and went for some time to Harvard, but Who’s Who gives him as graduating from a Western college. I believe that later he served in some of the most barren parts of Alaska, and refused a bishopric. You can see it in his bearing — fine upstanding type of manly leader.”

“Was that his daughter in the front row — with the half-size hat?”

“No, I believe that’s his new radio secretary. A wonderful new type of intellectual woman the radio is breeding, don’t you think?”

“I do not,” said Peony.

He had to leave her for luncheon, which he took with the National Directors, in the Council Room of the DDD Building. The food, brought in from an apartment-hotel restaurant down the block, was generously provided by Colonel Marduc, though the Colonel himself was in the country, and was represented by Sherry Belden and Winifred.

It was the regular quarterly meeting of the DDD directors. Present, besides the Doctor, Sherry, and Winifred, were Ed Unicorn, Professor Topelius, Chris Stern — who came late and would have to run away at three, for Sunday, as he said laughingly, “was his busy day”— Walter Gilroy, Henry Caslon Kevern, Judge Vandewart, Professor Campion, Albert Jalenak, president of the Spinning Wheel chain of stores for women, General Gong, Mrs. Natalia Hochberg, Otis Canary, the poet-orator, and a new friend, Mr. Johnson of Minneapolis.

They were gay and chatty during lunch, except for Mr. Johnson of Minneapolis, who listened so much that they were suspicious, for in that group, listening was only the price you had to pay for being the next to be listened to. However, he was just a provincial, not a crowned New Yorker.

They were a bunch of laughing boys and girls together till the waiter took out the last choked ash-tray. By magic then, they turned from friends into a stiff legislature, filled with stage-fright and pomposity. That was but natural, for was not the whole beclouded country waiting for this small and precious council to decide the fate of the next century?

Dr. Planish said, with the quietness of a veteran legislator, “In my official capacity as directive secretary, I declare this regular quarterly meeting of the board of directors in session, and as temporary chairmen pro tem, I call for nominations for chairman of the meeting, and with your kind permission and in order to save time, for important though our discussions will be today, and who knows, just possibly fraught with significance for future agenda not only of this but of all other enlightened organizations of the better class of Americans, yet I am also fully bearing in mind the fact that all of us have innumerable contacts, countless calls upon our time, and demands that we co-ordinate and develop the certainty that out of the chaos of our era, we seem slowly to be acquiring a nucleus, at least, and that a not merely dialectic and Utopian asseveration, and so, as I say, I will save time by, however irregularly, nominating one who, though the next to the youngest among you, for you are that, I guess, Winifred, but next to you, I mean, the youngest, although I don’t suppose there is really any great span of difference between his age and yours, Mr. Canary, and you, Mrs. Hochberg, gallantry as well as a true admiration of your rare qualities as well as that ever-charming appearance which, and I would admit it to my dear wife just as readily as I would to you people, and so I would say that you certainly still LOOK incomparably younger — and a lot handsomer! — than him, and I would say that if you and I had not for so long worked faithfully shoulder to shoulder for every cause that promises enlightenment and the rebuke of sloth and selfishness and windy talking and wordy demagoguery wherever found, in high places or low, for so many years, and so, as I say, I nominate Sherry Belden.”

(He meant that he nominated Sherry Belden.)

After throwing this bomb, he went on, “And just to be regular, unless there are any further nominations, may I call for a second to my nomination?”

Mrs. Homeward screamed, “Second mosh. Look, Gid, in consideration of the news that the Japanese diplomatic representatives are to be at the State Department today, and will, I think, end all this nonsense about Japan being a menace —”

“Just a minute, please, Winnie!” The Doctor reflected inwardly, “By God, a meeting is one place where I can make that woman shut up, and do a little talking myself!”

He intoned, from the ritual by which a committee meeting is to be distinguished from a country-store argument, “Sbeen moved n seckd Mr. Belden servz chairm meet all fave sigfy sayn aye contrarmine no ayes zavit Mr. Belden take chair.”

Winifred shouted, “Oh, Sherry, before you start, before I forget it, I want to express an idea I have — I have some very important inside information about the Japanese delegation, who are sincerely seeking for peace —”

Dr. Planish extinguished it.

“Just a minute, please, Winifred. There’s one piece of formal business we ought to get through before we get down to work — just to keep the records straight. This is Mr. Johnson, the director of the Minneapolis Powerhouse, a fine honest worker right after my own heart. He hasn’t felt entirely satisfied with our progress, and so he has come on to New York to find out what we’re actually doing to promote peace and Democracy. I’m sure that after he has sat in with us today, he’ll understand better that our labors are not merely fundamental but, uh, well — pragmatic. So I move you, Mr. Chairman — hey, Sherry, listen, will you? I’m making a formal motion — I move you that Mr. Johnson of Minneapolis be temporarily elected a full member of this executive board for today.”

“Arar sex that motion?” muttered Mr. Belden.

“Seckmosh,” said Professor Campion, a great authority on Rules of Order.

“Muvseck Mist Johnss templeckt memboard tday aw fave sigfy raise riteand mosh namus carry,” ordered Mr. Belden. “Now, boys and gals, we got to get down to brass tacks and get busier ‘n a cat on a glass sidewalk. There’s a hell of a lot of traffic on the trunk highway of international conflict; we got to jump the gun the second the green light shows, and jam the accelerator clear through the floor and drive like Billy-be-damned on to some clear delineation of the basic spiritual aspects of that monumental coming American Century, when we shall be called upon to fortify the global struggle.”

All of Colonel Marduc’s Bright Young Men, all of his private corps of trouble-shooters, felt that they had to curse and be metaphorical and folksy, just as they had to wear tweed jackets and gray bags, to show that, for all their college training and managerial talent, they had not become stuffy. They never said “No” when “Hell no” would do just as well, and of them all, none was more beautifully buttered over with the Common Touch than Sherry Belden. He had been reading Kipling’s “If” since the age of ten.

Sherry continued, “You will all be glad to know that Colonel Charles B. Marduc approves of what we have been trying to do, and he has been pleased to make another generous contribution to our war chest of ten thousand dollars!”

Everybody applauded, except Mr. Johnson of Minneapolis, who said, “What for?”

General Gong snorted, “Hush!”

Sherry went on, “The first thing on our agenda today is the report of the Committee for the Determination of a Definition of the Word ‘Democracy’ for Propaganda, of which committee Otis Canary has been our invaluable chairman. Come on, Ote, let’s hear your report.”

In his time, Mr. Otis Canary had also been one of Marduc’s Bright Young Men; he also had worn the gray bags and the hearty slang, but now he was a free-lance poet and essayist. His tall, clear, high face was still as open and friendly as Sherry Belden’s, but his manner had become more pontifical.

“Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,” said Mr. Canary, making it perfectly clear to whom he was speaking, “before I communicate this definition upon which we have agreed, I want to thank my colleagues on the committee: Mrs. Homeward and —”

Winifred shrieked, “Oh, I didn’t really do a thing. You see, I’ve been so busy with some reports I have from friends long resident in Japan and who really understand the Japanese aspirations, which are entirely peaceful and conciliatory —”

“PLEASE!” said Mr. Canary. (That meant “shut up.”) “Just a minute, Mrs. Homeward. As I say, I want to thank my friends and co-workers, Mrs. Homeward and — PLEASE, JUST A MIN-IT, MRS. HOMEWARD! — and Professor Campion and Mr. Jalenak and Mr. Gilroy for their unceasing labors on this titanic task of accurately defining Democracy — a basic scientific determination that may in some degree be directional in all ideological activities for the next hundred years to come. We have all been working on it like demons, ten and twelve hours a day, meeting at five for cocktails and pounding right ahead, threshing this all out, till midnight or later. In its final form — and now at last we have it —”

“All right, let’s!” said Mr. Johnson.

“In its final form, we have adopted this definition: ‘Democracy is not a slavish and standardized mold in which all individuality and free enterprise will be lost in a compulsory absolute equality of wealth and social accomplishments. It is a mountain vista rather than a flat prairie. It is a way of life rather than a way of legislation. It is a religious aspiration rather than a presumptuous assertion that final wisdom inheres in man and not in the Divine, for it boldly asserts that whatever differences of race, creed and color the Almighty has been pleased to create shall also be recognized by us.’ So!” Mr. Canary gave an embarrassed but happy laugh. “There’s your definition of Democracy.”

“Where?” demanded Mr. Johnson.

Not exactly ignoring Mr. Johnson, but throwing at him a New Haven glare, Chairman Belden cried, “Jesus, Ote, that’s the most magnificent piece of lyric prose, as well as the most tender and brave and profound job of straight thinking, that I’ve heard since the Gettysburg Address! Gentlemen and ladies, byes and gals, I want someone to put a motion trying to express our profound gratitude to Mr. Canary and his whole committee for formulating this stirring definition, to Colonel Marduc for financing the dinners during the conferences, and to Dr. Planish for his tireless checking and re-checking and re-re-checking of other definitions. Who will put this motion? Mr. — uh — Johnson, is it?”

“It is.” Mr. Johnson was standing up, solid and placid. “Look, Belden. I honestly don’t want to throw a monkey-wrench into this juke-box, but I came on East to find some group of people who weren’t exhibitionists, who were really trying to organize all men of good will to back the Government and wake up the voters. I’d hoped to find a bunch at least as sensible as the average high-school football team.”

In the hall, the telephone was ringing, and the bored Dr. Planish went out to answer it, as Mr. Johnson offensively blundered on:

“What do I find here? A bunch of congenital alumni and two very articulate women, all sitting around logrolling, telling one another how smart you are, except when you stop to thank your real boss, Charley Marduc, or to have a well-bred laugh at us innocents out in the Bible Belt —”

A mutter of resentment was rising, but it was stilled as Dr. Planish lumbered in, stammering, “That was my wife telephoning — news — the Japanese have just bombed our ships in Hawaii, and we are in the war.”

They all babbled at once that they must rush out and take charge of the country, and they grabbed at briefcases if not at muskets.

Dr. Planish felt confused as he telephoned the news to Colonel Marduc, on his farm in Dutchess County, but the Colonel sounded jubilant:

“We’ll wipe out all those little yellow devils in three months, and maybe I’ll go back into the army and accept a major-generalship, and then make Tom Blizzard President — I’ve decided to let him have it. I want you and Winifred and Belden to meet me in my office tonight, eight sharp, and we’ll make plans. Hooray!”

The Doctor walked painfully home. He was loyal to Marduc, but during all the years when he had been making a living out of shouting that he loved America, he really had loved his country, and it made him sick just now to go on peddling that love for profit. He was willing to quit the DDD and enlist. He was even willing to keep silent.

Yet when he came into the house and found his daughter Carrie talking with a young Columbia graduate student, the Doctor snapped back into his lifelong habit of being a professional wisdom-dealer — fact-softener — brain-picker — information-retailer — lay-high-priest — unofficial censor of all officials — critic so skilled in judgment that he did not need to know anything about anything in order to tell everybody everything about everything.

Carrie’s young man was nervous of hands, widely spectacled, and probably scared, but his eyes were steady.

The Doctor roared, “Well, fella, I can’t tell you how I envy you this hour of opportunity. I wish I were young enough to shoulder a musket!”

Carrie purred, “Now isn’t that funny! I was just telling Stan how important you and Colonel Marduc and Mrs. Homeward are. He ought to study you and your influence instead of ancient Rome.”

It sounded all right, but Dr. Planish was suspicious. He couldn’t, however, waste this audience.

“Yes, it’s a great chance you have, my boy. Perhaps you and your valiant generation will correct the errors that so many of the leaders of my generation have committed. It’s up to you young folks — with such aid as I can continue to give you — to win the war and win the peace.”

The graduate student remarked, “I’ve got to be getting back uptown,” astounded the Doctor by kissing an unresistant Carrie, and walked out. Before the Doctor could get under way, it was Carrie who attacked:

“Daddy, listen. Please don’t hand out any more slogans to my friends — not even ‘win the war, win the peace.’ That was a beautiful war-cry once, and it meant something to us, but all of us have had it thrown at us so many times in the last six months that it’s just a sound.”

“My God, to think that I could have a daughter who can be frivolous at a time like this, when men are fighting!”

“I won’t stand your saying that! We’re not frivolous! Maybe we know all the horrors, the creeping plague and the old churches smashed and the starving babies and the cynicism of men like Goebbels, better than you do, because our imaginations are younger. And we’re going to do something. That boy who was just here — six months ago he was a pacifist, three months ago he was an isolationist, and tomorrow he’ll enlist in the Marine Corps, if they’ll have him. He used to use slogans, like you. Now he wants to use a machine-gun.”

“But we have to have slogans! This is an ideological war — the first war in history that’s entirely between two different sets of ideas. We got to have slogans — and trained leaders to coin them!”

“Didn’t the French Revolutionists think they were fighting for a set of ideas, too, and didn’t they have a slogan — Liberty, Equality, Fraternity? Maybe if they hadn’t had so many perfectly swell songs and so many powerful orators and leaders, the Revolution would’ve had a better run.”

“I told you you were frivolous — you and all your friends — shamefully frivolous in this dark hour of need.”

“Well, most of them are going to be frivolous in khaki, in a few weeks. They’ll fight — like the Civil War. But to people that try to get publicity for themselves out of telling the soldiers how noble they are, they’ll just say, ‘So what!’ Can’t you see that?”

“I see that my own daughter has become flippant to the point of blasphemy!” said Dr. Planish, and walked out of the house.

But he could not, as he sat in the Lafayette Cafe, go on hating her. She was too serious, and for once, this man who made a profession of preaching seriousness was actually serious himself.

In his hotel, Mr. Johnson of Minneapolis was writing to his son, who had been his junior partner but who was now a corporal in the United States Army:

Dear Son:

Am writing from NY. Have seen Life w Father, very funny show, father in the play not unlike me, when you’re not around to kid me out of it. Your mother phones from Mpls that she is well, she is also a funny woman, sometimes funnier than she thinks. Well, it has come, with Pearl Harbor, you were wiser than I, getting into the army so early, tomorrow Monday morning I shall go out and see if I can enlist in some branch of the service, it would be fun if we could be together, hope however you are more careful with yr rifle than sometimes you were with shotgun when we hunted duck together, well I guess I jumped you for that sufficiently at that time.

I had hoped country could stay out, but I was wrong, and now shall think only of war. Have the business in shape so that Dave can wind it up. When you & I get back from the war we can start a new one. This town is full of stuffed shirts, do you know what is funny, son, they all bellyache here because the English come over and tell them what they ought to do about the war, and so they, the Easterners, tell us Middlewesterners what WE ought to do abt war. A gassy uplifter here named Planish — I guess he was born in the Great Valley himself, but he’s conveniently gone and forgot it, and this old windbag said to me, “I’m so sorry I haven’t got time to go out and awaken the Middlewest to the realities and emergency of the international situation!” Have you still got that young Polish doctor from Winona for a lieutenant? Tell him what Planish said, will you, and write me his comment. If I get into the service too, do not worry about yr mother and sisters, son, if anything happens — there is plenty insurance in their names, have found that place where we got such fine seafood that time, had a good dinner but sure did miss you, eating alone.

Yr father.

Dr. Planish had walked little, the past few years, but on this restless Sunday of December 7th, he walked all the way up to Colonel Marduc’s office. He was wretchedly wondering if he always did know what was going to happen.

But he lost his indecision when he came into the buoyant presence of Colonel Marduc, who put a new rose in his buttonhole, lighted a gigantic cigar, pounded his desk and roared:

“Here’s our chance. Germany will come in, and war must inevitably make a new political set-up, and Tom Blizzard and I are ready to step in. But I’m not so much interested in office during the war — that’s only temporary. What I want is influence after it. All right, call it POWER, if you want to!

“We must start right now identifying my name with post-war negotiations, and play it up so people will turn to me whether the war is lost or won. If we win, and I think we will, I have a new peace plan that nobody has hit on yet. We’d better get a lot of publicity on it, and get people referring to it as ‘The Marduc Plan’. Realize you’re the first person — except Winifred — that’s ever heard those words, ‘The Marduc Plan’? You won’t be the last! And here it is:

“After the war, in order to make the Germans keep the peace permanently, we neither slaughter the whole lot of ’em — as a lot of sound people advocate, and there certainly is much to be said for that solution — nor do we let ’em into any new League of Nations, as the sentimentalists want. No. We just take their imperial government away from ’em, and reduce ’em to the small separate kingdoms and duchies that they were before 1870 — a lot of small weak states. Doesn’t that sound good? Doesn’t it? And who can tell — the plan might even get adopted — why, it might even work!”

“But Colonel, mightn’t those small states get to fighting one another, and just increase the chances of new wars?”

“Who the hell cares what they do? Besides, a little war now and then is good for business. Yessir! The idea of the Marduc Plan, then, ought to bring me a prominent seat at the final peace conference, and lead right to the post of Secretary of State . . . if not higher . . . but I’d be satisfied to let Tom Blizzard have the big job, if he’ll get busy and move fast. I’m certainly not going to wait around while he backs and fills. Don’t tell anybody this, but maybe the Japs did me a big service at Pearl Harbor!”

By just vigorously not hearing the last sentence, Dr. Planish was able to rouse to action, and forget the warnings of Carrie. “Fine! What do you think I better do now? God, I hope nothing will happen to the DDD!”

“It won’t, my boy. I’ll protect you. No, just carry on with the Powerhouses. Send ’em all a mimeographed bulletin tomorrow and remind ’em that we warned ’em about this Pearl Harbor danger months ago. Months!”

“But I don’t think we did.”

“Of course we didn’t! What’s that got to do with it? And begin to send out hints about the Marduc Plan — don’t tell ’em what it is yet. Write some letters to the papers, under different names, demanding that Congress send for me to tell ’em what we’re fighting for. I don’t think they will, but they might have enough sense to. And phone Bultitude, if you can get him; tell him to start making hints about my Plan, or I’ll expose him. Try him tonight — he’ll be plenty worried. So!”

“I’ll get busy right away, Colonel,” said Dr. Planish.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57