Lem Hooper on Bitter Bread
by Ellis Parker Butler
Justice of the Peace Lemuel Hooper looked up from his newspaper and grinned at Court-officer Durfey, who was removing his uniform coat preparatory to going home.
"Well, Durfey," said the judge, "I see by this paper that the shamelessly insidious American propaganda is still going on."
"What propaganda is that, judge?" Durfey asked.
"Food. We're still sending food to Russia to feed the starving children," explained Judge Hooper. "We're a Machiavellian bunch, and we won't stop it. We're so devilish and deep, Durfey, and so headstrong in our evil ways, that we keep right on with our infernal work of putting bread in the mouths of the famine-stricken Russians. But it is bitter bread, Durfey; it is bitter bread!"
"Who says so?" Durfey asked. "Do them starving Rooshuns say so?"
"They do not," said Judge Hooper, "but the well-fed ladies and gentlemen who call themselves The Friends of Soviet Russia say so. They have printed it out in fair type and in these words -- 'Governments which will not recognize the Workers' Republic and classes of men who hate it are sending bread to the Russian people. This is Bitter Bread.' We ought to try to please them and let the whole lot of Russians starve, but we're such black-hearted capitalistic fiends that we refuse. We will infamously share our bread with the starved Russian, be it bitter or sweet, while we have a loaf left.
"We're a disgusting lot of propagandists, as you can see, Durfey, and we ought to be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. We're no better than Samaritans, and everyone knows they were a low grade of people who never helped a man in distress unless they thought it would get them a complimentary reading notice in the Bible. For many years we have been carrying on in this same nefarious manner, Durfey, and out of the blackness of our hearts sending bread that was no better than ipecac to empty-bellied Armenians and Persians and Syrians. And before that we forced whole cargoes of bread on earthquaked Italians and volcanoed Martiniquans and millions of red, black, brown, white, and yellow folk -- and maybe some spotted ones -- in all parts of the world.
"We're devils, Durfey. We've jammed our bitter bread down the throats of countless dying Chinese and expiring Hindus. No doubt they gagged on it, though they forgot to mention it at the time. Like the foul miscreants we are, Durfey, we have crouched in our den year after year waiting for floods or famines or cataclysms so that we might hurl carloads and trainloads and shiploads of bitter bread at the helpless and hungry without thought of race, religion, or previous condition of servitude. But Soviet Russia has found us out.
"The Soviet Russians have given us a just rebuke, Durfey, and we should feel abashed and humiliated. Think how the starved babes of monarchic Belgium must have writhed as they gnawed the bitter bread made of the capitalistic wheat grown by a plutocratic Minnesota Republican! See the horror on the face of the young Soviet Russian as he lifts his gaunt arm to take the cruel bread sent by a Philadelphia Quaker who may even be a bank director! It's hideous!
"The trouble with us, Durfey, is that we think a stomach that has had nothing in it for weeks, and nothing but grass for weeks before that, wants food and wants it quick. Like the hell-hounds we are we hurry food to it before we investigate whether it is in favor of a gold standard or paper rubles at the ratio of sixteen tons to the dollar. When we hear of a dying child we insult it by feeding it before we ask its ward boss whether it is for equal suffrage or the straight Republican ticket. When we hear of human beings dying by thousands we forget that the important point is whether we and they have the same opinion of the Einstein Theory. We think they want something to eat. That is careless of us.
"I don't know what we can do about it at this late day, Durfey. Under the hideous banner of the capitalistic system we have learned to feed the starving whether they belong to our lodge or the other one. I'm afraid the thing has gone too far to be stopped; it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. It looks as if the Bolshevists would have to grin and bear it.
"As far as I have heard, Durfey, Bolshevikia is the first nation to raise a flag showing a collapsed stomach refusing the food that is offered in all good will and pity. It may be a natty flag, Durfey, and stand well with the Moscow bosses, but I have a notion that a Minneapolis flour-sack on the end of a pole would get more cheers from the hollow-eyed Russians in a starvation camp, and I don't believe they would care a whoop whether the flour came from Texas or Timbuktu.
"I have a feeling, Durfey, that the trouble is that Soviet Russia is like a man with a dog that don't like him any too well. If I have a dog that loves me you may feed him until he is as fat as a beer keg and he will be my dog through thick and thin. If you steal him, Durfey, he will gnaw the rope and come home to me every time. But if that dog don't like me and never did care much for me, and is all the while figuring how he can get away from me and be rid of me, I don't want you to feed that dog. No, sir! Not even if he starves to death! I shouldn't wonder if Soviet Russia is just a little afraid its dog don't love it. I don't know any other reason why its friends should be so touchy. But, however that may be, Durfey, there's one thing sure -- America has learned her lesson."
"You mean no more bread to the starving unless someone checks up their politics first, judge?" Durfey asked.
"Pshaw, no!" exclaimed Judge Hooper. "That wouldn't be a lesson, Durfey; that would be a crime. What we have learned is that starving men, women, and children have no politics; they have hunger."