Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
 


Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 23, 2008

At the church-wide Primary conference held in June 1918, a children’s operetta was presented for the entertainment of the assembled officers. Called “The Assembling of Nations,” the play was popular enough that its producer “prepared the following description of the steps in the preparation of the cantata, so that all who desire may be able to repeat our success,” which description was published in the September 1918 issue of The Children’s Friend.

World War I, then flaming toward its bloody end, was considered a suitable subject for the patriotic LDS children of Salt Lake City to present in poetry, song and dance. Father Time opens the action with this lament:

O! Woe is me! Such discontent
Holds full sway on this continent.
For four long years, both near and far,
We’ve been subjects of the god of war.
Will this turmoil never cease
And o’er this land again reign peace?
O! Nineteen Eighteen, I implore,
What good for me have you in store.

The character “1918″ bids Father Time to have courage, assuring him that peace will come. But first, the character “War” steps up for his speech:

I am Mars, the god of war;
All powerful am I!
I rule the nations far and wide,
The earth, the sea, and sky.
Sorrow comes where’er I go,
Destruction’s in my wake;
I love to see the homeless ones,
And many orphans make.
Ha! ha! the god of war am I,
So cunning and so bold.
To rule and reign I’ve come to stay,
And never will grow old.

But courageous little “1918″ steps up and orders “War” to depart: “Your day is done, you’ll rule no more!” He bids “Peace” to speak.

I’ll do my best to help each nation
Build for a better generation.
The United States shall be the spot
For a crucible, or melting pot,
Where all may come and succor find
And share good-will of all mankind.

“Peace” calls on the Boy Scouts, who accompany Uncle Sam, Columbia, and a color guard, followed by the representatives of American heroism: 12 nurses and 12 surgeons (no soldiers here, just those who deal with the aftermath). “Peace” says,

Now, Uncle Sam, Columbia too,
There’s work a-plenty here to do:
Prepare to mother, house, and feed,
And minister to all in need.
Buoy up their hopes, their fears allay,
For refuge they’ve found in the U.S.A.

These characters, with the help of choruses of little fairies and butterflies, prepare to receive the world. Columbia announces,

And now the feast is ready,
We’re all rigged out in state.
Oh, dear, I hope they’ll all be here,
And no one will be late.

For the greater part of the program, the nurses and surgeons then escort representatives of various nations to the front of the stage, who sing or dance or recite something relative to their homelands. The nations represented are France, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia. Welcome, world — er, that is, Europe!

Everyone finally marches off in glory, leaving an empty stage. After a few moments of silence, the characters “Hop Sing” and “Ah Chee” enter timidly, surprised that no one is there to welcome them. Their lines, I kid you not, are:

Hop Sing:

These Amelicans not-ee much nice-ee
To Ah Chee and poor Hop Sing.
Invite Chin-ee to glate big party;
When we come — not-ee one thing.

Ah Chee:

We go back to poor old China;
Maybe ‘Melican feel bad quick.
No one loves a little old Ching Wong;
Ah Chee and Hop Sing get-ee right sick.

They dance, and look around, and wonder if anyone will come to greet them. At first, no one does. Then they are joined by representatives of Japan and Hawaii, who perform. But no Americans appear, and finally the curtain drops.

Scene II opens with all the American heroes back on stage accompanied by all the representatives of all the nations, with the fairies and butterflies. The Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiians are together at the front of the stage. Columbia greets them:

“Oh! here’s our Chinese visitors,
And the Japanese a-smile.
With a bunch of Hula Hula girls
To help the time beguile.
Welcome to America,
And meet each other guest,
And may you find a haven here
Of happiness and rest.

Uncle Sam figuratively embraces everyone, and turns to the work of the future:

And now the reconstruction
Of our work will soon begin;
And only good will here abide,
There’ll be no place for sin.
For long the death-knell has been run
Of cruel autocracy.
Each nation here will thrive and grow
In true democracy.
May we give thanks and praises
And let our voices ring
To Him who watches o’er us,
Our gracious Lord, our King.

The entire company joins in “The Star Spangled Banner.” The Boy Scouts salute, flags are waved, heads are bared, mamas and papas applaud, and the curtain falls.



4 Comments »

  1. Coincidentally, this morning Heidi at Juvenile Instructor posts a relevant discussion of Mormon Perceptions of Asian Race, 1880-1930.

    Besides the stereotyped Chinese accent Heidi mentions and which is illustrated here, how are we to understand this children’s play, with its non-reception of the Asians who nevertheless are included in the promise Uncle Sam makes at the end?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2008 @ 9:26 am

  2. As always, thanks for adding another piece of information to my conception from an area that was completely off my radar.

    My first thought about Chinese and Japanese inclusion in the promises was that it recognized their status as Allies in WWI, but Germany was also included, so never mind. (On another note, I am surprised Germany was included at a time when German-Americans faced significant discrimination and animus in other American cities.)

    My second thought is that the list includes nations with a significant local presence–but that doesn’t account for the absence of Greeks and other Eastern Europeans (unless “Russians” covers those nationalies). Mexico (and other Latin American nations) was also excluded, but that might have been because the local Hispanic population was relatively small and/or included many native-born Americans.

    My third thought is that the “cruel autocracy” and the move to democracy might acknowledge Japan’s recent efforts at Westernization and China’s overthrow of its emperor earlier in the decade.

    So… those are my three ideas, none of which get me very far.

    Comment by Edje — June 23, 2008 @ 11:18 am

  3. In the Broadway words of the King of Siam, “It is a puzzlement.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

  4. Perhaps its an acknowledgement of the hypocrisy of the stanza that says…

    Prepare to mother, house, and feed,
    And minister to all in need.
    Buoy up their hopes, their fears allay,
    For refuge they’ve found in the U.S.A.

    but which really means only those from Europe need bother apply. This is juxtaposed with an ideal version of how the author believes we should treat Asians. A morality play of sorts.

    Comment by BruceC — June 23, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI