The Pasteboard Charlemagnes

If a vote had been taken in Europe on the fifteenth day of last June on the question of a general European war the majority against the insane proposition would have been so great that the war-lords on the thrones of the world and the little war-lords who dream of Glory as a sort of mephitic rainbow hanging over a world covered with withered skulls would have scurried to cover, not to be heard from again for some years.

But an Archduke and an Archduchess of the reigning house of Austria were assassinated one sunny day in Bosnia, and the world began, in its secret dressing-room, to prink itself for slaughter. Not that the Archduke or Archduchess were of any special moment in the economic, social or political makeup of the world. Not that a crowned head more or less adds to or subtracts from the general utility or general inutility of things. But it was the Excuse that the Military Spirit and the Dream of Conquest had been waiting for.

A pistol shot from a boy blew off the Lid. The curtain that covered the stage of Sinister Designs dropped, disclosing to the astounded gaze of the human race the beginning of the first act in a tragedy that must have been rehearsed under their very noses for fifty years—so well was everything staged. The Old Ghost, like Hamlet’s father, was in arms again, mailed and accoutered for murder, walking the ramparts of the world.

Pro Patria! rings out again from the brazen throats of a thousand trumpets. When did that mystic call—Pro Patria!—ever fail the Parasites who live on human weakness and who go into their Valhallas wearing their aureoles of human blood? The war-lords of the ages, standing like muezzins on their palace roofs, have since the dawn of “civilization” sounded their mystic Pro Patria in the ears of this pitiful Man stalled on a star for the amusement of the Military Spirit and the beatification of some super-thug. When have they ever called “For Mankind”? One King did, and he was crucified.

To-day Europe is a shambles. Towns are dynamited and blown up scientifically just as they do it in the “movies,” dearie. There is a smear of human flesh on the cathedrals and the city halls. There is blood for breakfast, dinner and supper.

And meanwhile from Siberia—aye, from far-away Japan—to Land’s End there rings Pro Patria! And the great Blood-Guzzlers, the Borgias of the Military Spirit, the hereditary gunmen, the Marquis de Sades of Glory—are they at the front? These pasteboard Charlemagnes and Hannibals who are the products of “Civilization’s” tired sheets where are they? Where Iago should be—behind the screen.

“Ah!” says the Military Spirit in the ear of those who are of the War Party in all times, “why should you dip your dear pinky-pinky hands in blood? With a million workingmen and my Pro Patria I’ll do the job for you. For you, dear Emperor and Czar, the chariot of the gods; for these dupes the giant crematoriums which roll over the battlefields. It is enough that you should go to the hospitals once in a while and void your pity on a sick peasant or stick your finger in the wound of a longshoreman. You are the patron saint of the new murder machines. Let us test them on the poor. The widows and orphans will be taken care of in the almshouses and morgues. Shed a tear if you will, but mind you do it in public and it is bulletined to the world.”

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There are many platitudinarians who will tell you that the Military Spirit is a “spirit that makes for righteousness,” that it is the “base of all civilized countries,” that it is the great corrective and purgative, that it is the sword that has always kept the rational balances among the races. Like everything that is uttered by the beneficiaries of the Status Quo, there is an element of truth in all this. But as a matter of fact these militarists and upholders of militarism have hunted up these psychological reasons and put them forth in order to justify what they love instinctively and a priori—that is murder, loot and glory.

For every instinct there is a justification. The sword is the basis of civilization and the arts; therefore praised be the sword! The reasoning is perfect, but the motive is transparent. The militarist, like all reasoners, is a hypocrite. What he loves is war, bonfires and foraging. He would be sublime if he dared affirm it (as the mighty Attila did—Attila who never talked morality and Pro Patria—Attila who had the courage of his [13] will-to-transgress and who spurned masks). But not your militarist of this century! He kills “to spread the arts and sciences,” to extend the “arts of peace” (pah!), to carry “our superior civilization” to the “benighted.” Do you catch a whiff out of that cesspool of platitudes? He paints his juggernaut to look like a trolley car. Ageless, smiling, lecherous faker!

The gleam and glitter of the sublime hung about Napoleon. He was a great bandit. He was a militarist—the militarist—because he loved conquest and glory. He was a superman because he recognized no standard but his own. His cynicism was as naked as his sword, and cut as deep. But read the speeches and listen to the prayers of the present-day papier mache ephiphanies of the ancient war-lords. There are no greater cowards in all the world’s history than these rulers and their lobbygows. Morally, mentally and most generally physically (for your fuming militarist sits on the Board of Strategy and “moves” with the government when the enemy is at the gates) they are chicken-hearted. They have the paranoiac’s dream of Grandeur, and they are supper-men, not supermen. When they shall be carried into Valhalla by the Valkyries of Big Business to the tune of one of Mendelsshon’s chocolate-caramel masterpieces they will be set to work keeping the armor bright for Hannibal, Caesar, Attila and Napoleon.

War-lords! Saviors of their country! Men of Destiny! They are nothing but uniformed gunmen and the silent partners of the moneyed vampires of the poor, who pay all bills. They recolor maps with the gore of fellowmen, because they are bored to death by their stables and boudoirs. In effect, the psychology of the militaristic spirit and the “war-lords” in this twentieth century is the psychology of bluff and fake and ennui.

But the psychology of human credulity is quite another thing. Why have the peoples in Europe, in this twentieth century, “fallen for the old stuff”? How is it that Mankind in this super-enlightened (!) age has consented to be the “fall guy” for the Things Higher Up. That is the tragic question. That is the vital question. That is the question. Is militarism, after all, rooted in the human heart, and must the paradox be enunciated that the human race loves the thing that kills it? That eternal Imp of the Perverse that lies buried in the vats of the Heart—does that account for the pitiful surrender of the millions to the demon tocsin of militarism? Is murder the eternal law of the universe?

Militarism that bludgeons individuality; militarism that turns our quivering, aspiring bodies and minds into mannikins; militarism that admits nothing sacred into its hideous brain; militarism that finds within its own soul absolution for every chime, flourishes on human credulity. That single word Authority must be struck out of our social and political lexicon before the Kings and generals and the Fake of the Brass Button and the Gunman in Epaulettes are no more.

Not only must Authority in the shape of a single man or a group of men be shattered—herculean task!—but the oldest superstition must be shattered—hopeless task, maybe—the superstition of patriotism. Thousands of individuals have already shattered this foolish, fanatical love of country. Until the brain dominates the heart in racial matters, the spectre of Militarism will always be just around the corner. For the world must face one great truth, and that is this: Militarism will never be killed until fanatical patriotism is killed. Tolstoi long ago pointed this out. To many men who are against militarism that sounds almost like blasphemy. All truth does.

There are antimilitarists who mouthe and drool about the “evils of war” and the “horrors of rule by the sword.” But they never dare face the psychic root of the militarist instinct. It is in themselves. The radical socialists and individualists alone point to the remedy: Cease the fanatical worship of a printed piece of bunting, send the national hymns to the musical limbo, cut from the Lexicon of Abracadabra the Pro Patria.

The answer to the European massacre is that the human race must take possession of the planet by right of eminent domain. Imaginary boundaries must cease. In no other way can militarism be abolished. Already does there walk the earth some administrative redeemer, some genius who will restore this little star to those who own it? Who knows?

To that mighty trinity in Europe who have fomented this war—the Reigning Houses, the Thugs of Big Business and the Money Sharks—there must be shown no mercy—for they know what they do. But for the millions who are killing one another, all pity and all forgiveness—for they know not what they do. “Lay down your arms”—yes; but not until you have swept the blood-lappers from the world!


Source: Puck, Sept. 19, 1914, pp. 12 – 13