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    'Do you believe they'd really explode the bomb?' the President asked.

    'Mr. President,' the secretary countered, 'would you have believed they would invade the United States with twenty longbowmen,
    landing in Manhattan off a chartered sailing vessel?'
        -The Mouse That Roared

Sadly Leonard Wibberley's hilarious satire, The Mouse that Roared seems to be making the slow sad transit from wildly popular bestseller and hit movie in the 50s and 60s to cult classic in the 70s and 80s to largely forgotten in the 90s and 00s.  The book, which was originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post from December 1954 to January 1955 as The Day New York Was Invaded, is no longer in print--despite the fact that the tattered copy I'm holding is something like the 30th printing.  And the film does not seem to have been transferred to DVD, though I did find a copy of the equally funny sequel, The Mouse on the Moon.  Our growing amnesia is unfortunate, both because this is just a funny story, and also because current events reveal it to still be timely.

The tale concerns the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, a tiny European nation which "lies in a precipitous fold of the northern Alps."  It was founded in 1370 by British soldier of fortune Roger Fenwick, under not altogether honorable circumstances.   Practically the only thing that is produced there, and the only reason anyone has ever heard of it, is a fine wine called Pinot Grand Fenwick.  Other than this one export, the nation remains happily isolated, a medieval remnant in the modern world, ruled over by Duchess Gloriana XII--"a pretty girl of twenty-two" in the book, a more matronly woman in the film, so that Peter Sellers can play her--and her prime minister, the Count of Mountjoy (also played by Peter Sellers).

As the story begins, crisis has descended upon the Grand Duchy in the form of revenue shortfalls.  It is determined that the most effective way of raising money is to declare war on the United States, the pretext for which is the introduction of a San Rafael, California winery of a wine called Pinot Grand Enwick, a provocation that can not be allowed to stand.  As Gloriana explains the aims of the war :

    The fact is that there are few more profitable undertakings for a country in need of money than to declare war on the United States
    and be defeated.  Hardly an acre of land is forfeited in such wars.

    It is usually agreed, to be sure, that heavy industries and other installations and activities which could be used in future wars are
    to be dismantled, destroyed and their reestablishment banned.  And it usually evolves that this is not done, because it is decided that
    to follow such a plan would either wreck the economy of the defeated nation, or make it incapable of defending itself against other
    foes.  In either or both cases, the Americans would feel called upon, such is their peculiar nature, to help out at their own expense.

    Again it is usually decided that the nation and people which lose to the United States shall be made to suffer national and individual
    hardship for the aggression.  And the ink is no sooner dry on such agreements than the United states is rushing food, machinery,
    clothing, money, building materials and technical aid for the relief of its former foes.

    Once more, it is always laid down that the defeated armies must be disbanded and never again be allowed to reform.  But, a little later,
    it is discovered that these armies are in an oblique but nonetheless definite manner essential to the security of the United States itself.
    Either the defeated enemy must have an army and navy and air force of its own, or the Americans must remain there in an indefinite
    occupation.

    Americans, particularly American soldiers, do not like to remain long outside their own country.  And in a matter of months, or at most
    years, the United States is first requesting and then begging its former enemies to raise an army to defend their own territory.  It is
    not unheard of that these defeated foes are able to state the terms under which they will raise an army for their own policing and defense.
     Those terms have involved the payment of large sums of money by the United States, or the extension of generous credits, revision
    of trade agreements in favor of the defeated nation, return of shipping, rehabilitation of factories destroyed in the war, and even the gift
    of the equipment needed for an army.

    All in all, as I said before, there is no more profitable and sound step for a nation without money or credit to take, than declare war
    on the United States and suffer a total defeat.

It's easy to see why the fortunes of this story changed over the years; written just a few years after the Marshall Plan, it resonated in an America that had won WWII and rebuilt its enemies.  But in the late 60s and early 70s, the Left determined that America was evil and that there was nothing honorable nor humorous about the Cold War, Vietnam, or any of the other seemingly benign extensions of American power.  Wibberley's witty insight must have seemed the stuff of delusions or insidious propaganda to folks who had convinced themselves that we were really an imperialist nation.  But now that the "blame America first" crowd has been routed, you can read that speech above, or watch the movie, and hear the eerie echoes coming from Afghanistan.  What might Mr. Wibberley have made of the absurd notion that at the same we were bombing the Taliban and Al Qaeda we were bombing the rest of the Afghanis with food supplies?  And the rest of the war has played out exactly as the Duchess Gloriana would have predicted--the Taliban had no sooner been routed than we started pouring in money and rebuilding that broken nation.  You could read through thousands of pages of anti-American screeds by Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, Barbara Kingsolver, and their ilk, without increasing your understanding of the world by one iota.  But in that one speech, Leonard Wibberley basically explains the entire 20th (or American) Century.

At any rate, Tully Bascombe, chief forest ranger of the Duchy (again played by Sellers in the film), and twenty longbowmen charter a boat and invade Manhattan, intending to surrender as quickly as possible.  But by happy coincidence, the whole city is underground for an air raid test, and  when first Tully and his chain mail clad "army" are mistaken for aliens and then they capture a scientist, Dr. Kokintz, and his super-lethal quadium (or Q) bomb, Grand Fenwick ends up winning the war.  Armed with the Q bomb, Fenwick forms a League of Little Nations and dictates its own peace terms and blackmails the U.S. and Russia into a general nuclear disarmament.

Tully, hero of Fenwick's great victory, of course gets the girl--Dr. Kokintz's daughter in the film; the Duchess herself in the novel.  This gives Mr. Wibberley one last opportunity for a very amusing, though thoroughly politically incorrect, observation, as Mountjoy tries to convince the Duchess that she must take a husband :

    'I hope,' said Gloriana warily, 'that you are not going to suggest that I marry the American minister because I won't do it.
    I've been reading about the Americans in a women's magazine and they're all cruel to their wives,'

    'Cruel to their wives?' echoed the count.

    'Precisely.  They treat them as equals.  They refuse to make any decisions without consulting them.  They load them up with
    worries they should keep to themselves.  And when there isn't enough money, they send them out to work instead of earning
    more by their own efforts.  Some of them even make their wives work so they can go to college.  They are not men at all.
    They are men-women.  And their wives are women-men.  If I am to marry, I want a husband who will be a man and let me
    be a woman.  I'll be able to handle him better that way.'

Of course, the ultimate truth of this sharp observation lies in the final line, Gloriana's certainty that theoretical "equality" is unnecessary for her to actually control a husband.

Both book and movie are a great deal of fun.  They are well worth seeking out.  That their satire is once again applicable to the events of the day should be reason enough for a revival.

(Reviewed:08-Mar-02)

Grade: (A)

Websites:

See also:

    -About Leonard Wibberley (Bethlehem Books)
    -ESSAY : Leonard Wibberley in Hermosa Beach (The Aesthetic)

FILM :
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Leonard Wibberley (Imdb)
    -INFO : The Mouse That Roarded (1959) (Imdb.com)
    -INFO : The Mouse That Roared (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Jack Arnold (Imdb)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Peter Sellers (Imdb)
    -REVIEW : of The Mouse That Roared (Doug Pratt's Laserdisc Review)

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