Approximately a Preface

In a regular book, this chapter would probably be called the Preface. But nobody reads a preface, and I swore when I started writing that I would have none. So this is Chapter I.

Anyone who writes a book should take the reader into his confidence and tell what he is talking about. There are some authors who write five or six hundred pages of erudite circumlocution [footnote: Should you not understand the meaning of the above word, you thereby get my meaning exactly.], and by the time you wade through it you have forgotten what it's all about—and by whom.

My purpose is to tell an ordinary story of an ordinary man with ordinary ideas, hoping to solve at least a few elementary problems. I want to write a story not so much of myself as of us, of the various emotions and longings that are common to us all. Some of us have lived in poverty, some of us have gotten too fat, some too thin. We are all in the same boat. We all want to reach the shore. We all want to live with some liberty, in ordinary comfort in a world free of war and violence.

I have had some spectacular experiences, and if I were a novelist I could paint them up a little and make a dramatic story. But we all have adventures, and your adventures have no doubt been quite as spectacular as mine. So I will not consciously attempt to tell anything spectacular or bold; at least, there will be no varnish or fancy paint.

In this book there will be no breath-taking suspense; in fact, I will try to inform you in advance of what I am talking about. Although all that I write about is deeply personal and authentic, it is not an autobiography. If it is, it is the autobiography of America, and I hope a story of America to come. Or a story of any individual who wants to be free, and wants others to be free, too.

Sticking closely to one form or another, with treatises, dissertations, statistics, bores me. It bores you, too. A great American who died last year wrote a book which everyone says is one of the finest ever written. But he starts out with being born, tells all about his father's store in California, about his pet horse, and the last time I knew anything about him he was about fifteen years of age. I just stopped reading. I never got to the part about political battles and municipal corruption. I never heard of him again until just before his death, when he wrote me a letter asking me to sign a petition to get McNamara, the dynamiter, out of the penitentiary in California, which I did.

In this nation we have wasted and destroyed; we have been physically brave, quite often intellectually cowardly, and have done foolish things which we as a nation must stop doing. Though I shall talk about my experiences as a Congressman in Washington, as a speaker, soldier, an amateur and very inefficient hobo, a lumberman, a worker, politician, a school boy—yet it will be of the land, our country, and the blood and bones that make it.

As I told you, I expect to give you advance warning of what I am talking about; then I will explain it, and then I will explain what I have said over again. That's no reflection on your intelligence, but it's my way.

And yes, I got help in writing this book. But I wrote every word of it, lived it, and experienced what I am saying. Pretty nearly every department in the Government and many individuals have helped me no end. The employees of the Library of Congress have all worked like Trojans.

Take the Congressional Library. I had thought I could write a book without too much research, since it is not to be a professorial volume. I thought, for instance, that I would never forget a single character of Alice in Wonderland; thinking vaguely of the Cheshire Cat and all those strange characters, I 'phone Mr. Slade, and bellow at this shy soul: "Who were the main characters in Alice and Wonderland, and what was the story of Tweedledee and Tweedledum?"

Mr. Slade, reference librarian, who ought to have a head as big as the Capitol to hold all the information he has in it, hesitates. But it is all a philosopher's fake, for reference librarian that he is, he knows the answers in the first place.

But I shout: "Come on, Mr. Slade, what the hell are you stalling about?"

And Mr. Slade, who knows I am not insulting him, loves this rough treatment as he hides in his stacks and corners, and reels off the answers as though he had swallowed any book you name the day before. For indeed, it is a happy friendship I have with this fellow; he knows that my bellowing, like his pretense of ignorance, are kindly shams and frauds that bind us together.

Then over there is Dr. Schulz, who can correctly state just what the Supreme Court of Babylon did in the year of 2000, or possibly 4500 B.C., whenever it was. Or he can tell you what the Legislature of Maine said about the Dred Scott decision. So, I freely admit, I got everybody's help, ranging from policemen and gas station operators up to—I almost said the Supreme Court. Yes, everybody helped me, man, woman, and child, except the other Nine Human Beings who sit upon the High Bench.

My main brain-truster is Leon Pearson, who works for his brother Drew of the Washington Merry-Go-Round. Leon is a Quaker, and is supposed to have a peaceful disposition. Sometimes he has—but he reads proof, tells me that such and such a paragraph is vague, and a terrible bore. Then I must go back and re-write it.

There is another Leon, too. Leon Henderson, who was chief economist in the NRA, and who knows more about that, and Hugh Johnson, than any man on earth. He should write a book, and I am sure you would like it. But he has done a lot of work for me, and here's his pay, in ink.

This book has me in it, but it mostly has others. Traveling over the face of this Republic, I have lived with the CCC boys, have visited down in the bottom of greasy and black engine rooms—have even attended Chamber of Commerce affairs. I have gotten myself stuck in the wintry mud of soil-conservation projects. H. H. Bennett, chief of the Soil Conservation Service, who has all the earmarks of a modern Savonarola, and who battles to save the soil with an additional touch of Don Quixote and the efficiency and cold-bloodedness of a Henry Ford, has turned his nation-wide department loose to help me, and his people have done it. Out in the New Mexico-Arizona country his Bill McGinnies, formerly Dr. William Albert McGinnies, A.B., A.M., Ph.D., came along with me and Cy Fryer, Big White Chief of all the far-flung empire of the Navajos, and showed me the tragedy of a broken race and a land dead and bleeding; from them I received information to write a chapter, which you will come to if you read long enough, entitled "Fifty Thousand Redskins Bite the Dust." Dr. W. W. Alexander, head of the Resettlement Administration, who knows more about poor white Southerners and poor black Southerners than anybody who lives and breathes, has shown me things of my own South I should long ago have known. He has loaded me down with statistics that would break the back of a horse made of steel. His Mr. Mercey and Mr. Dreir have worked with me like brothers. I have been in Resettlement's Green Belt Towns, here, there, and everywhere. Barnes, Hall, Brown, of the Soil Conservation Service, have shown me this and that, and have helped along.

Another young fellow, Dave Lloyd, Jr., who is bright as a dollar, and who is now doing good work with the LaFollette Civil Liberties Committee, has helped a lot. I mention him as a new type of young American working faithfully day and night for his government. There are many like him in Washington, and in government service all over the nation.

So, after all, this is a preface, with all these names. But I had not intended it to be; I only wanted to mention a few friends.

But the drums are rolling, and it is time to start. It is time for the mavericks of America to assemble on the steps of the Capitol.