When They Came for Those Other People

 

Much discussion these days about “cancel culture”…the formation of on-line mobs demanding the cancellation of college speakers and comedians, of plays and movies…demanding the trashing and un-publishing of books and the firing and future unemployability of their human targets. I’m reminded of the following poem:

Into our town the hangman came,
smelling of gold and blood and flame.
He paced our bricks with a diffident air,
and built his frame on the courthouse square.

The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
only as wide as the door was wide
with a frame as tall, or a little more,
than the capping sill of the courthouse door.

And we wondered whenever we had the time,
Who the criminal? What the crime?
The hangman judged with the yellow twist
of knotted hemp in his busy fist.

And innocent though we were with dread,
we passed those eyes of buckshot lead.
Till one cried, “Hangman, who is he,
for whom you raised the gallows-tree?”

Then a twinkle grew in his buckshot eye
and he gave a riddle instead of reply.
“He who serves me best,” said he
“Shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree.”

And he stepped down and laid his hand
on a man who came from another land.
And we breathed again, for anothers grief
at the hangmans hand, was our relief.

And the gallows frame on the courthouse lawn
by tomorrow’s sun would be struck and gone.
So we gave him way and no one spoke
out of respect for his hangmans cloak.

The next day’s sun looked mildly down
on roof and street in our quiet town;
and stark and black in the morning air
the gallows-tree on the courthouse square.

And the hangman stood at his usual stand
with the yellow hemp in his busy hand.
With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike,
and his air so knowing and business-like.

And we cried, “Hangman, have you not done,
yesterday with the alien one?”
Then we fell silent and stood amazed.
“Oh, not for him was the gallows raised.”

He laughed a laugh as he looked at us,
“Do you think I’ve gone to all this fuss,
To hang one man? That’s the thing I do.
To stretch the rope when the rope is new.”

Above our silence a voice cried “Shame!”
and into our midst the hangman came;
to that mans place, “Do you hold,” said he,
“With him that was meant for the gallows-tree?”

He laid his hand on that one’s arm
and we shrank back in quick alarm.
We gave him way, and no one spoke,
out of fear of the hangmans cloak.

That night we saw with dread surprise
the hangmans scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute,
the gallows-tree had taken root.

Now as wide, or a little more
than the steps that led to the courthouse door.
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
half way up on the courthouse wall.

The third he took, we had all heard tell,
was a usurer and infidel.
And “What” said the hangman, “Have you to do
with the gallows-bound…, and he a Jew?”

And we cried out, “Is this one he
who has served you well and faithfully?”
The hangman smiled, “It’s a clever scheme
to try the strength of the gallows beam.”

The fourth man’s dark accusing song
had scratched our comfort hard and long.
“And what concern,” he gave us back,
“Have you … for the doomed…the doomed and black?”

The fifth, the sixth, and we cried again,
“Hangman, hangman, is this the man?”
“It’s a trick”, said he, “that we hangman know
for easing the trap when the trap springs slow.”

And so we ceased and asked no more
as the hangman tallied his bloody score.
And sun by sun, and night by night
the gallows grew to monstrous height.

The wings of the scaffold opened wide
until they covered the square from side to side.
And the monster cross beam looking down,
cast its shadow across the town.

Then through the town the hangman came
and called through the empy streets…my name.
I looked at the gallows soaring tall
and thought … there’s no one left at all

for hanging … and so he called to me
to help take down the gallows-tree.
And I went out with right good hope
to the hangmans tree and the hangmans rope.

He smiled at me as I came down
to the courthouse square…through the silent town.
Supple and stretched in his busy hand,
was the yellow twist of hempen strand.

He whistled his tune as he tried the trap
and it sprang down with a ready snap.
Then with a smile of awful command,
He laid his hand upon my hand.

“You tricked me Hangman.” I shouted then,
“That your scaffold was built for other men,
and I no henchman of yours.” I cried.
“You lied to me Hangman, foully lied.”

Then a twinkle grew in his buckshot eye,
“Lied to you…tricked you?” He said “Not I…
for I answered straight and told you true.
The scaffold was raised for none but you.”

“For who has served more faithfully?
Than you with your coward’s hope.” said He,
“And where are the others that might have stood
side by your side, in the common good?”

“Dead!” I answered, and amiably
“Murdered,” the Hangman corrected me.
“First the alien … then the Jew.
I did no more than you let me do.”

Beneath the beam that blocked the sky
none before stood so alone as I.
The Hangman then strapped me…with no voice there
cried “Stay!” … for me in the empty square

–Maurice Ogden

I haven’t been able to find out much about the author of this poem. It was first published (in 1954) in Masses and Mainstream magazine, which suggests that the author was at least somewhat sympathetic to Marxism…if this is true, it would be very ironic, in that Marxist regimes have been among the largest employers of hangmen in all of human history. Still, the work stands on its own as a very good poem.

There are always aspiring hangmen. Sometimes, they are Inquisitors. Sometimes, they are Brownshirts or Ku Klux Klan members. Today, they often take the form of radical Muslims demanding submission, or college punks calling themselves “social justice warriors” and attempting to destroy the careers of those whose opinions they don’t like.

Keep in mind:

That night we saw with dread surprise
the hangmans scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute,
the gallows-tree had taken root…

The wings of the scaffold opened wide
until they covered the square from side to side.
And the monster cross beam looking down,
cast its shadow across the town

Appeasing the hangman never makes him go away: quite on the contrary, it only allows and encourages him to increase the scale of his operations.

See this review of Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds…the review is authored by distinguished philosopher Roger Scruton, himself a recent target of cancel culture. Scruton:

For your accusers are not interested in your deeds; they are interested in you, and in the crucial fact about you, which is whether or not you are “one of us”. Your faults cannot be overcome by voluntary action, since they adhere to the kind of thing that you are. And you reveal what you are in the words that define you.

These words may be taken out of context, even doctored to mean the opposite of what you said — as happened recently to me in an interview given to the New Statesman — but this will not affect the verdict, since there is no objective trial, no “case for the defence”, no due process. You are accused by the mob, examined by the mob and condemned by the mob, and if you have brought this on yourself, then you have only yourself to blame. For the mob is by nature innocent: it washes its own conscience in a flow of collective indignation, and by joining it you make yourself safe.

The entire Scruton piece is very much worth reading, and the book sounds worthwhile though depressing.

(I posted the poem in 2015 at Chicago Boyz, where there are a few comments)

 

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There are 21 comments.

  1. Arahant Member

    David Foster: The entire Scruton piece is very much worth reading, and the book sounds worthwhile though depressing.

    Unfortunately, those often go together. Probably one of the most worthwhile books I ever read was Pudd’nhead Wilson. I would call it rather disturbing instead of just depressing, but it was worth reading.

    • #1
    • September 24, 2019, at 2:15 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Arahant Member

    David Foster: Still, the work stands on its own as a very good poem.

    I’d give the idea a 10, execution a 5, at most. Martin Niemöller put it considerably more succinctly.

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    • #2
    • September 24, 2019, at 2:22 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    That said, the tetra-podic nature of the poem could make it fun to chant out loud, hitting the stresses hard (once one finds them).

    • #3
    • September 24, 2019, at 2:24 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. Jimmy Carter Member

    All this talk of Murray’s book makes Me think of Canetti’s Crowds and Power:

    It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched. That is the only situation in which the fear changes into its opposite. The crowd he needs is the dense crowd, in which body is pressed to body; a crowd, too, whose psychical constitution is also dense, or compact, so that he no longer notices who it is that presses against him. As soon as a man has surrendered himself to the crowd, he ceases to fear its touch. Ideally, all are equal there; no distinctions count. Not even that of sex. The man pressed against him is the same as himself He feels him as he feels himself. Suddenly it is as though everything were happening in one and the same body.

    Foster, have You ever reviewed that one?

    • #4
    • September 24, 2019, at 2:33 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Richard Easton Member

    Georgi Markov’s “The Truth That Killed” has a wonderful parable as its introduction of how a revolutionary against oppression gradually turns into an oppressor as he gains power.

    • #5
    • September 24, 2019, at 2:46 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. David Foster Member
    David Foster Post author

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):
    All this talk of Murray’s book makes Me think of Canetti’s Crowds and Power:

    Haven’t read it, but sounds interesting. Reminds me: in a documentary about WWII and specifically about the rise of the Nazis to power, a man who had been strongly anti-Nazi reflected on the powerful emotional pull that the Nazi rallies exerted even on him—a longing, which he resisted, to be part of the psychological warmth of the crowd.

    • #6
    • September 24, 2019, at 2:53 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. Jimmy Carter Member

    David Foster (View Comment):
    a man who had been strongly anti-Nazi reflected on the powerful emotional pull that the Nazi rallies exerted even on him—a longing, which he resisted, to be part of the psychological warmth of the crowd.

    Yes, exactly.

    Reading Yer posts and the links You have provided ’round Here, I highly recommend it. To all Ricochetoise, really.

    Years ago Member @flownover mentioned it and I bought it the next day. Love it. Fascinating. 

    • #7
    • September 24, 2019, at 3:08 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. lowtech redneck Coolidge

    Latest example: https://www.redstate.com/brandon_morse/2019/09/24/fox-news-crumples-like-cheap-suit-apologizes-michael-knowless-comments-greta-thunburg/

    In the case of most would-be gatekeepers, its not just cowardice, its malice.

    • #8
    • September 24, 2019, at 3:09 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. David Foster Member
    David Foster Post author

    Above our silence a voice cried “Shame!”
    and into our midst the hangman came;
    to that mans place, “Do you hold,” said he,
    “With him that was meant for the gallows-tree?

    That is one of the scariest things about our current situation: people who try to defend the targets of cancelling, or even maintain personal relationships with them, are soon themselves targets for cancellation. See this post from Jonathan Kay for an example:

    A few weeks ago, shortly after I left my magazine gig, I had breakfast with a well-known Toronto man of letters. He told me his week had been rough, in part because it had been discovered that he was still connected on social media with a colleague who’d fallen into disfavour with Stupid Twitter-Land. “You know that we all can see that you are still friends with him,” read one of the emails my friend had received. “So. What are you going to do about that?”

    “So I folded,” he told me with a sad, defeated air. “I know I’m supposed to stick to my principles. That’s what we tell ourselves. Free association and all that. It’s part of the romance of our profession. But I can’t afford to actually do that. These people control who gets jobs. I’m broke. So now I just go numb and say whatever they need me to say.”

    • #9
    • September 24, 2019, at 4:15 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  10. Gossamer Cat Coolidge

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Above our silence a voice cried “Shame!”
    and into our midst the hangman came;
    to that mans place, “Do you hold,” said he,
    “With him that was meant for the gallows-tree?

    That is one of the scariest things about our current situation: people who try to defend the targets of cancelling, or even maintain personal relationships with them, are soon themselves targets for cancellation. See this post from Jonathan Kay for an example:

    A few weeks ago, shortly after I left my magazine gig, I had breakfast with a well-known Toronto man of letters. He told me his week had been rough, in part because it had been discovered that he was still connected on social media with a colleague who’d fallen into disfavour with Stupid Twitter-Land. “You know that we all can see that you are still friends with him,” read one of the emails my friend had received. “So. What are you going to do about that?”

    “So I folded,” he told me with a sad, defeated air. “I know I’m supposed to stick to my principles. That’s what we tell ourselves. Free association and all that. It’s part of the romance of our profession. But I can’t afford to actually do that. These people control who gets jobs. I’m broke. So now I just go numb and say whatever they need me to say.”

    How on earth have we ceded any real power to a bunch of dweebs with a keyboard and 240 characters?

    • #10
    • September 24, 2019, at 4:45 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  11. The Reticulator Member

    Suggested revision to your title:

    “When They Came for Those Other People, or, Is this the hill to die on?”

    • #11
    • September 24, 2019, at 6:11 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. David Foster Member
    David Foster Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Suggested revision to your title:

    “When They Came for Those Other People, or, Is this the hill to die on?”

    Would have been a pretty good title (though long)

    • #12
    • September 24, 2019, at 7:59 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. David Foster Member
    David Foster Post author

    In his memoirs, longtime IBM CEO Tom Watson Jr described his personal experience with McCarthyism. A set of vertical blinds was involved.

    Blinds of this type were not common at the time. An engineer who was in Watson’s office for a meeting made a sketch of the blinds, and inadvertently left it in his shirt pocket when he took the shirt to the dry cleaner. The laundry man thought the paper looked suspicious, and sent it to McCarthy. Pretty soon, a group of investigators came and said to the engineer, “We’ve identified this as a plan for a radar antenna, and want to hear about it. We want to be perfectly fair. But we know it is a radar antenna and the shirt it was found in belongs to you.”

    The engineer explained about the vertical blinds, and the investigation team then asked to see Watson. The chief executive officer of IBM showed them the blinds and demonstrated the way they worked.

    They looked them over very carefully and then left. I thought I had contained it, but I wasn’t sure, and I was scared. We were working on SAGE (the computerized air defense system–ed) and it would have been a hell of a way to lose our security clearance.

    Shortly after the incident with the vertical blinds, Watson was invited to a lunch at Lehman Brothers, along with about 20 other high-ranking businesspeople. During the lunch, he mentioned his concerns about McCarthyism.

    Of the twenty-odd people present, I was the only one who took that position. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the following week I got letters from several people who had been there, and they all had a similar message: “I didn’t want to commit myself in public, but I certainly agreed with everything you said.

    The difference from today’s Cancel Culture: today, the people who were afraid to speak out in public would also be afraid to communicate in writing privately, since emails and other electronic messages are so easy to forward.

    • #13
    • September 24, 2019, at 8:05 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  14. Stad Thatcher

    David Foster: Appeasing the hangman never makes him go away: quite on the contrary, it only allows and encourages him to increase the scale of his operations.

    Like the French Revolution . . .

    • #14
    • September 25, 2019, at 5:40 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. Randy Webster Member

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Georgi Markov’s “The Truth That Killed” has a wnim

    Animal Farm, for that matter.

    • #15
    • September 25, 2019, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Georgi Markov’s “The Truth That Killed” has a wonderful parable as its introduction of how a revolutionary against oppression gradually turns into an oppressor as he gains power.

    Thanks for pointing us to Markov.

    Mussolini’s life is also such a parable. In the Nineteen Teens, he was considered to be a dynamic, stirring and poetic idealist, so much so that the poets, artists, playwrights and other shining lights from Europe and America went to Italy to see him and talk to him.

    Within five years of that adulation, word was out that he was planning on having some of those people arrested. I think all of them managed to flee Italy before the boot came down. And we all know how it ended for that man, and his nation.

    • #16
    • September 25, 2019, at 12:35 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Above our silence a voice cried “Shame!”
    and into our midst the hangman came;
    to that mans place, “Do you hold,” said he,
    “With him that was meant for the gallows-tree?

    That is one of the scariest things about our current situation: people who try to defend the targets of cancelling, or even maintain personal relationships with them, are soon themselves targets for cancellation. See this post from Jonathan Kay for an example:

    A few weeks ago, shortly after I left my magazine gig, I had breakfast with a well-known Toronto man of letters. He told me his week had been rough, in part because it had been discovered that he was still connected on social media with a colleague who’d fallen into disfavour with Stupid Twitter-Land. “You know that we all can see that you are still friends with him,” read one of the emails my friend had received. “So. What are you going to do about that?”

    “So I folded,” he told me with a sad, defeated air. “I know I’m supposed to stick to my principles. That’s what we tell ourselves. Free association and all that. It’s part of the romance of our profession. But I can’t afford to actually do that. These people control who gets jobs. I’m broke. So now I just go numb and say whatever they need me to say.”

    This sort of internalized persecution of any of us deviants is terrifying. (And by deviants, I mean those who are too intelligent and thoughtful to hold to the New Left’s party line willingly.) But what can a deviant do, when to show any indication of even the most minor opposition to some totally crazy proposed new policies means being black listed from your profession, as a teacher, social worker or even health professional?

    • #17
    • September 25, 2019, at 12:48 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. David Foster Member
    David Foster Post author

    The ‘Cancel Culture’ in America today is 90% perpetrated by the “Progressives” (at least), and it is frightening to think about the levels which it would reach should the Democrats win major electoral victories in 2020.

    • #18
    • September 25, 2019, at 1:39 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    It’s nice to be retired. Several years ago, a young woman posted on Facebook that men should have no right to comment on abortion . I posted a comment that was sarcastic, saying I agreed as long as all the babies aborted were female. Half are male and I thought men had some rights there. She collected the identities of every female “friend” I had on Facebook and sent them all a rant about how I was in favor of sex selective abortion. I learned that my daughter took this seriously and told her mother about it. That is how I learned about this campaign. I don’t know the reactions of others. None ever contacted me to learn the truth.

    • #19
    • September 25, 2019, at 2:26 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    It’s nice to be retired. Several years ago, a young woman posted on Facebook that men should have no right to comment on abortion . I posted a comment that was sarcastic, saying I agreed as long as all the babies aborted were female. Half are male and I thought men had some rights there. She collected the identities of every female “friend” I had on Facebook and sent them all a rant about how I was in favor of sex selective abortion. I learned that my daughter took this seriously and told her mother about it. That is how I learned about this campaign. I don’t know the reactions of others. None ever contacted me to learn the truth.

    That is very scary but it it does not surprise me. When I was pregnant, circa mid-1970’s, I was told by some radical feminists that I should undertake a sonogram to see if my baby was going to be a girl or boy, and abort the fetus if he was male.

    So how come they find that sex selective practice offensive now? (Calling Saul Alinsky to the white courtesy phone…)

    • #20
    • September 25, 2019, at 3:04 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. David Foster Member
    David Foster Post author

    A horrifying case in point:

    https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/343244/

    • #21
    • September 26, 2019, at 6:02 AM PDT
    • 1 like