Judge Hooper on Troubled Waters
by Ellis Parker Butler
As Judge Lem Hooper, our eminent Justice of the Peace, eased himself into the barber's chair for his monthly haircut, Dr. Blick -- who is Riverbank's most talkative dentist -- greeted him from the next chair.
"Looks sort of stormy over in that Turkish neighborhood, Judge," he suggested.
"Shouldn't wonder, Joe; shouldn't wonder!" said Judge Hooper.
"You don't seem much worked up about it, anyway," said Dr. Blick.
"As a matter of fact, I ain't, Joe," admitted the Judge. "Since I had my house wired for electric lights I don't use hardly any kerosene at all; maybe a drop or two now and then when I've got a rusty screw I want to loosen up, but I guess a pint of coal oil lasts me pretty near five years these days. That ain't hardly enough to make me care who grabs the casus belli."
"Casusbelly?" queried Dr. Blick. "What's that, Judge? One of the districts over there? Sounds sort of Turkish to me; some place up around the Caucasus, ain't it?"
"Well, I'll tell you, Joe," said Judge Hooper. "The casus belli is what you find underneath, over in them foreign lands, when you pry up whatever it is they say they are going to war about. It's whatever you've got and I want, Joe, and what I'm going to take away from you if I can prove to the folks at home that you're a Mormon or a son of Satan or eat peas with your knife. Parabolically speaking, Joe, it is what the cop slips out of your pocket and into his own after he has righteously bumped you on the head for expectorating on the sidewalk. It may be a pint of rye or a slab of eating tobacco, but you never see it again. It is the perquisite of the Triumph of Right and the unsuspected melon the big lad knew was there all the while. Over yonder in Europe and the townships East and South thereof it has been anything from grass to gold, but now it's oil. It's what you need most in your business from time to time, Joe, whatever it may be.
"Long before the days of Noah, Joe, Gag, the king of Mogag, spake to his general, saying: 'Lo, my flocks have increased mightily and there is good grass in the land of Tilgath, king of Rubdub. And, behold, my anger is kindled against Tilgath, king of Rubdub, for that he weareth his whiskers curled, whereas all true believers wear them braided. Go ye, therefore, unto King Tilgath and smite him with the edge of the sword, and slay him, and exterminate him. And don't you fret about my flocks, general; they'll be along in a couple of weeks. And, by the way, general, if you see any other good grazing land find out who is the king thereof and we'll see if we can't stir up some kind of a ruckus with him; we've got to corral the good grass country while the getting is good.'
"If the grass in the other fellow's meadow is good, Joe, the fact that you wear a belt while he prefers suspenders is a sufficient reason for smiting the sinful wretch. If you're big enough to grab him by the throat you can convert him to more seemly pant upholders and also persuade him to sign a nine hundred year lease of the lush pasture And after you have the lease, Joe, what do you care whether he wears suspenders or belts or goes around in a kimono? Nothing!
"Once it was grass, Joe, and then it was good wheat for the Populi, then iron for the forge, and then again gold for the mint, and now it is oil for the navy and the tin lizzie. The casus belli is what you think you are going to need and know the other fellow has. If someone invented a ship that would burn ice, Joe, it would be only a couple of days before some premier discovered that the emperor of Greenland had insulted his dear old flag and that the North Pole ought to pay an indemnity of a billion tons of ice per annum or be sawed off at the base. And, if there was no emperor of Greenland the premier would create one for insulting purposes only. At the present moment, Joe, there are scads of premiers eager to be insulted most distressfully by anyone who has a pool of crude oil in his backyard. If the Republic of Mexico, with the oil wells located thereon and therein, should slip out from under Mr. Monroe's doctrine some night and settle down on and near the Black Sea you'd be surprised how the criminality of the rulers of the land of the Montezumas would burst into shocking proportions before breakfast the next morning. Troops would be on the way before noon, Joe, and every afternoon paper would have a biography of Cortez for which he could sue for libel if he wasn't so thoroughly dead.
"I'm just a little afraid, Joe, that you're so far from the scene of conflict that you can only see the big letters on the banner that say 'Civilization Must Be Preserved,' and can't see the little ones that add 'In Oil.' I suspect, Joe, that our own -- so to speak -- premier down at Washington is about the only one that don't smell like a gasoline tank these days; we want nothing but the right to run our car up alongside the Mesopotamian oil tank and buy at the market price, just like other folks. We ought to have that right, Joe, it seems to me, as long as we are free, white and twenty-one, but I don't see any good reason why we should take our canoe over there and dump it into troubled waters."