When I was a boy in Hollywood, in the palmy days of the mid-sixties, my father (in addition to his grocery-and-rent-paying engineering job) wrote screenplays. None of these were ever sold, alas. But while I watched Batman and the Green Hornet, and stood bemused at the antics of the hippies, Dad’s fertile imagination ground out tale after tale. One of these, written in 1967, has chilled my marrow ever since, and never more than now.

Entitled The Return of Cromwell, it was set in a future America, sometime after a decade-long war in Asia had ended. The former commander of the Army of the Orient (as our forces in that conflict were called) returns home to a very changed United States. His wife is living with a lad half her age—and women, especially of the mannish variety—were dominant in internal security. The General has several unpleasant misadventures, culminating in his going to his old parish church for comfort, only to find it to be a burned-out wreck, with his former pastor wandering half mad through the ruins. Questioning the cleric, the General discovers it was torched by an irate would-be wedding party when the old priest refused to marry two men. Disgusted by what he has found the country reduced to, the General rallies as much of his old command as he can gather, and they begin a rebellion. Part of the standing army and various other disgruntled folk join him, and eventually they march on Washington and overthrow the government.

Then begins the General’s dictatorship—and it is not a nice, Norman Rockwellesque dictatorship, either. It is a veritable purging of the country, of every element the General and his men find distasteful. The brutality and nastiness of the former regime is paid back with interest, and a grimly Puritanical status quo installed. It can hardly be called a happy ending, so much as a clash of rival dystopias.

Praise the Lord

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