A Common Enemy

Howard fast

In 1959 a story was published that described three mysterious stores that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, in Tokyo, Paris, and New York City. The shops called themselves Martian Shops and displayed technology that was far in advance of anything heretofore known on earth. The stores were staffed by salespeople wearing skin-tight face masks and gloves.

After a few days the authorities kept the stores under surveillance, and at the end of a week, the staffs of the stores loaded up their cars, and as they were driving away their cars extended wings, took off, and flew away, never to be seen again.

This spooked the governments of the world, who joined together, having found a common enemy.

At the end of the story, it turned out that the Martian Shops were in fact a hoax perpetrated by a rich man who had formed a conspiracy with several hundred people from all walks of life in order to bring about world peace.

What I find most interesting about the story, entitled “The Martian Shop”, on reading it today, is not its unbridled naïveté and cockeyed optimism, which would make even Oscar Hammerstein blush; no, what I find most interesting about “The Martian Shop” is the fact that it was written by a fellow named Howard Fast.

According to his bio in Wikipedia:

In 1943, he joined the Communist Party USA and in 1950, he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities; in his testimony, he refused to disclose the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War (one of the contributors was Eleanor Roosevelt), and he was given a three-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress.

Of course he was blacklisted, and when he tried to publish his novel Spartacus, about a revolt among the Roman slaves, no publisher would touch it. Perhaps they were afraid it would give their employees ideas. So he had to self-publish. It’s good he did, as it became a best seller.

In the 50s he published several stories in the science fiction magazines, which did not care about the blacklist. Many of those stories are included in his story collection The Edge of Tomorrow, including “The Martian Shop”.

It seems to me that Fast had every reason to be pessimistic about government in general after what he had been through, so his writing such an optimistic story about the possibility of world peace seems rather remarkable.

And just a reminder that those Communist witch hunts of the 50s were spearheaded by Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, aided and abetted by his henchman Roy Cohn. Roy Cohn, of course, became a mentor of Donald Jessica Trump, so we can trace a straight line from the outrages of the early 50s to the nightmare that we’re still dealing with today.

Oh, and notice something else. Back in the 50s right wingers had their panties all in a twist over Communism and saw Russia (or the Soviet Union) as the Great Satan. And yet today right wingers are embracing Russia in its war on Ukraine. What’s going on?

As usual right wingers are wrong. Communism never was a threat to this country. Communism is just an economic theory, and one that has never proved particularly practical on a large scale. The real threat then was authoritarianism. So they were sort of half right back then. Communism wasn’t a threat but the authoritarian government of the Soviet Union certainly was.

And what are right wingers embracing today? That’s right. Authoritarian leaders like Putin. 

So I guess we can say right wingers were half right then, but for the wrong reasons. But today they are completely full of shit.


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