Chronicles falls short of its usual high standards by giving so much space to “Faulkner in Japan: The ‘American Century’” in the August issue (Society & Culture). As far as I can tell amidst all the unanchored theorizing, the author wants to make America’s greatest writer out to be a clueless dupe of postwar “American Century” folderol. It is Mr. Morgan who is clueless. There is a much simpler explanation for anyone really familiar with Faulkner’s essays and commentaries on public affairs. He was not a dupe of anything. He was chivalrously trying to project a bit of hope into the bleak and fearful time of the early atomic age. The piece tells us nothing worthwhile about either Faulkner or the times. At the time of his death, Faulkner had partly completed a book: “The American Dream—What Happened To It?” in which he appears as anything other than a foolish optimist and an “American Century” promoter.
Mr. Morgan Replies:
I should have thought that, of all people, the great Clyde Wilson would have appreciated a ringing damnation of Mr. Lincoln and his legacy of pummeling prostrate enemies into the bloodied ground. Alas, if two unreconstructed Southerners cannot agree on such basic things as this, then it is no wonder that our cause was lost from the get-go.
Dr. Wilson is very charitable toward Mr. Faulkner, but I hope I will be forgiven for finding as much unanchored theorizing in Dr. Wilson’s letter as he found in my own humble piece. I presented evidence—circumstantial, to be sure, but evidence all the same—that William Faulkner was the cat’s paw for the U.S. State Department, gadding about Japan and carrying on about democracy and the wonders of mankind. I will admit that Faulkner was chivalrous—both in general and even, perhaps, in this particular case—and it may even be that he was trying to bring hope to a bleak and fearful time. But if Faulkner really and truly believed that the same federal government that burned Atlanta, made war against the Apache, dethroned the sovereigns of the Sandwich Islands, subjugated the Philippines, and ushered in the very age of atomic warfare that Dr. Wilson rightly laments was suddenly going to switch tunes and play a happy, hopeful song, then he was, I am sorry to say, a dupe among dupes, and a fool among fools.
Look where one will among our involvement with the Far East, the shadow of Lincoln (and Roosevelt) is everywhere. Not even America’s greatest writer could see it at the time, which might mean that conservatives still have a lot of work to do in order to tell the true history of our country. And no one, I hasten to add, has done more on that score than Clyde Wilson.