Elegant Union (John Clark Smith) - 8

John Clark Smith
A Novel by John Clark Smith

V

19

 

Titus and Karna were sitting in the Café du Croissant on the Rue Montmartre in Paris on the evening of July 31, 1914. Several men were in animated conversation near the open windows of the Café. 

A man was pacing outside the café.

Fischer sat at a nearby table.

The Café manager approached one of the men who had his back to the window, and said,

“I’m sorry, Monsieur Jaurès, but I would prefer if you left for your own safety and the safety of my customers. I worry about you.”

“I’ll leave in a minute,” Jaurès said. “I’m almost done.”

The manager nodded and returned to the kitchen.

“You see?” a friend of Jaurès, an editor at the magazine L’Humanité, said. “I told you. Now even a café manager worries about you. You risk too much. We need you, Jean.”

“There’s no time for worry about me,” Jaurès said. “We should worry about Russia mobilizing, because Germany has threatened to mobilize if Russia doesn’t change course. That damn Poincaré and his secret deals. What was Poincaré thinking by going to St. Petersburg now? We have to let our readers know. The Tsar doesn’t want war. We know that.”

“What we know is that no one in France except you trusts the Germans.”

“I trust my socialist brothers. But Wilhelm? The German military? No. They’re all from the same aristocratic crippled mold. They’ve been preparing for war since 1871. And so have we, regrettably.”

“Nor should we trust them. All those secret strategies and maneuvers.”

“But mostly I don’t trust anyone who values war,” Jaurès said. “And that’s what we need to emphasize, the tremendous cost of war. We must keep publishing about those causes that could bring on war: imperialism, militarism, colonialism, patriotism, nationalism, and expansionism. I’ll write a column on how we should use our resources in other ways. We must never stop trying to prevent war. Never!”

A man interrupted them and proudly displayed a picture of a child. Jaurès smiled and complimented the parent.

Titus’s eyes began to water as he stared at the face of Jaurès.

“What is it?” Karna asked. “His passion? His optimism? His affection for a child?”

“His life, Karna,” Titus said, “a magnificent life, a life lived for others, a life that should have been the savior of humanity, a model for us all, too good for existence.”

Titus pointed to the man pacing outside the Café.

“And there’s another life, the life of a fanatic, who is fired up by hate. Look at his crazed look, the sense of right filling his brain, as if Madame France will applaud him. His eyes are filled with revenge. All he thinks about is how he will kill and change history!”

The fanatic approached the café window area and shot Jaurès twice in the back of his head. 

Karna drew back with a look of horror. Several women screamed. Those sitting in the café jumped up and ran out of the entrance. Those on the street outside gathered and mumbled to each other. Within a few minutes, the street was filled with curious onlookers and those wanting to get a glimpse of the body and know what happened. 

Karna and Titus did not move.

“You knew?” Karna said. “You knew it would happen.”

Titus gestured toward Fischer in another corner of the café.

“There’s the culprit,” Karna said. “Look at him. That smug face. As if it’s an achievement or something new to eliminate Jaurès. We all know. The good die. Those who wave the flag of peace sometimes get a bayonet in their guts.

“Fischer saw the Great War as a pinnacle, a crux, and a catalyst of the future. All critical events resulted from it. His masterwork.”

“Masterwork!” Karna scoffed, turning his eyes away from the horror of Jaurès’ head and limp body on the floor and the sight of people frantically running out of the café. “What is your masterwork?”

“Mine?” Titus said as they left the café. “To nurture Jaurès. From the beginning. At the École normale supérieure. At the University of Toulouse during his research on the French Revolution, and on and on. His potential was unlimited. Brilliant. He could have…he would have changed the world. But--”

“--your way failed,” Karna said. “Jaurès was the sacrificial lamb.”

Titus nodded.

“But you could’ve warned Jaurès or distracted the fanatic.”

“There were two basic choices. I could choose what I do without caring who I am. Or I can care who I am and choose according to who I am.”

“But you let him win, you let yourself lose. Jaurès is dead. The hero is dead. It’s not fair.”

They moved to two chairs in another patio but within sight of those dealing with the death of Jaurès. 

“Jaurès is just part of it,” Titus said. “A few months before this, there was Caillaux, a Minister of Finance, once a Prime Minister. He was not Jaurès, but Caillaux could probably have made some of Jaurès’ programs happen. That was his gift and my nurture. But then entered Fischer. What does he do? Caillaux’s new wife kills the editor of the magazine Figaro because the editor had decided to publish her love letters to Caillaux. The resulting scandal destroyed Caillaux’s career.”

“Fischer gave her the gun?”

“Oh no. She thought of the gun, he gave her the strength. She knew nothing about guns. And that’s what he does: He bolsters. She thought that her husband and she had been treated unjustly. He gave her the confidence. It wasn’t all Fischer. The thought was already in her. By the way, the court let her off. They said it was a crime of passion.”

“Why does Fischer want to eliminate Caillaux and Jaurès?”

“He foresaw how the world would look after a war, and he liked it. Jaurès wanted peace, but also for Jaurès, a different world. Fischer thought the War was in line with the universe and would bring the world into a new age, a better age. He was right. It was a new age, but not the age Jaurès would have wanted. It led the way for German anger, to the next world war, to the making of nuclear weapons, to the mess in the Cold War, the Middle East, Korea, China and Taiwan, Russia, Ukraine, and many other situations.”

“But he succeeds.”

“Yes. He does. His world is one of slow change, treasured traditions, and the status quo. Those who wanted change have suffered.”

“Who?”

“Socrates, Cicero, Hus, Lincoln, Gandhi, and Malcolm X, to name a few. Thoreau, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Alice Paul ended up in jail. Many others were unknown or forgotten—who outside France and academia even remembers Jaurès?—but would have had an impact. The Great War itself twisted history where entire lands were assassinated, and other lands burst into existence. Fischer wanted history to move at a traditional pace, in the way of Edmund Burke.”

Titus’s mind began to fill up with the memory of those whom Fischer stopped or distracted, who often gave their lives. No words would come. He looked ahead with sorrow in his eyes and wiped tears off his face with a napkin. The Great War was one example of many.

“Fischer influenced Asquith, the British Prime Minister,” Titus continued. “When his mind should have been on the toughest decisions about the Great War, Asquith was like a teenager enthralled by and writing love letters to his new mistress. To prevent the bloodletting, you need a clear mind. When you kill the angels who fight for peace, it’s like blasting holes in the dikes that hold back the floods of stupidity. Who will stop the tragedy with such men of weakness installed? No one, especially when someone is setting emotional traps.” 

“Why don’t you stop it?” Karna asked in a disappointed tone.

“I tried, long before Jaurès and Caillaux, and long after them. Even when the Great War started, I was nurturing Lloyd-George, I was nurturing Woodrow Wilson, I was nurturing Bethmann, the German Chancellor, and so many others that--”

“--so many?”

“Yes. So many. Each of these men had advisers and confidantes. A War doesn’t start or stop without a lot of voices and choices. And Fischer was there too. I nurtured Wilson to turn away from the pre-War causes and the War itself. I nurtured Lloyd George’s pacifism before Fischer distracted him. And think about Bethmann. His beloved wife Martha—she was his whole world—died just months before the critical start. Now how did that happen? Rather convenient, wouldn’t you say, for certain manipulators?’

They watched the medical attendants take away the body of Jaurès. Fischer also left, though waiting to the very end to be certain Jaurès was dead. 

“I still fail to understand why you put so much effort into the Great War,” Karna said.

For the first time Titus gave a cold stare to Karna and assumed a professorial manner.

“The Great War, like the Black Plague, would be one of the pivots of all history, and one of three critical shifts in recent history. The others were the industrial revolution with its destruction of the environment and climate; and the making and use of the atomic bomb, though the bomb too is connected to the Great War. The War was not just a war. It was a fork in human being and progress. After the War, the world changed on many fronts, in part due to the Treaty of Versailles, but in many ways. The division of the world that happened from the Treaty created such a mess that it will require hundreds of years to fix. The War was when the world started another descent, though the time before was also charged with blind acts of bad energies. I think, if the extremists had not killed Alexander I of Serbia, and Peter had not taken the throne and permitted the radicalization of Serbia, the War may never have come. I nurtured Alexander, but Fischer was inspiring the Black Hand and the Young Bosnians. He was also misleading the Russians. They should have stopped Austria-Hungary and Serbia from an interest in Bosnia, but the Tsar, as I said, was weak. There’s madness in weakness, and madness in strength, as we also saw in Stalin and his ilk. I believe the Russian ambassador Hartwig might have sought a better solution to the Balkan problem, even though he was pro-Serbia. His death was another strange event in the pre- and post war period.”

“Strange?” Karna asked.

“Hartwig dropped dead of a massive heart attack in a chair in the Austrian embassy in July, 1914. Note the month. The Russians and Austrians become enemies. But at this time the Russian Ambassador was in the Austrian embassy. It was a chair the Serbians said was built for electrocution. What a good way to anger the Russians who had such bitterness at Austria-Hungary for taking Bosnia. First get rid of Alexander I—who, by the way, also favored the Austria-Hungary empire—and then eliminate in the Austrian embassy a Russian ambassador who everyone knew favored pan-Serbian expansionist plans.”

“Coincidences?”

“There are no coincidences. I knew Fischer was seeking ways to push aside Alexander and Hartwig to stoke the war coals in Russian and Serbia. But he didn’t stop there. Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, had pacifist tendencies and had no interest making or starting a war. He would’ve been another powerful anti-war voice. But at the end of June, a month before Jaurès was assassinated, Bosnian radical youths, with support from others, including the Black Hand, assassinated Franz Ferdinand, and his voice too was conveniently silenced.”

“Were you there?” Karna asked.

“I tried to nurture Franz Ferdinand and others not to travel to Sarajevo, a place filled with Serbians against the Empire. His father coerced him, but that was hardly the only reason. Franz was also a stubborn romantic. This was his one opportunity to travel and be in ceremony with his wife, who was never welcome anywhere in the Empire and was disliked by the Emperor. In Sarajevo she could receive respect. So he went in a military capacity. I realized Fischer was there, after the first attack on Franz Ferdinand failed. The Archduke wanted to visit the victims of that attack and changed the route. A messenger was charged with telling the driver of the change. But Fischer knew that the messenger liked some maid inside the Governor’s residence who wanted to see the celebrities. She distracted the messenger long enough so that the change never reached the driver in time. That failure caused the Archduke’s car to be waylaid and to turn around. The car stopped close to where the assassin conveniently stood. The killer simply crossed the street and shot the Archduke and his wife. Of course, if not for the Emperor’s prejudice against Ferdinand’s wife, the Archduke may not have traveled. Family! Always a headache.”

“So Fischer interfered?”

“Not interfered. If it wasn’t the girl, it would’ve been something or someone else. He gave a little strength of mind to a thought or act that might not have happened otherwise.”

“But he won,” Karna said. 

Titus shrugged. 

“Sad,” Karna said.

“Not in his opinion,” Titus said. “In the 1770’s, he worked hard to convince the British parliament to include representatives from the American colonies. I thought otherwise and won. In July and August 1789 in France, he was working to stop the participants at the National Assembly at various points, but I nurtured a group to eliminate feudalism in the Night of August 4 and then a couple of weeks later to create the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. They forged ahead despite his attempts.”

“You were behind the French and American revolutions?”

“Hardly. The French and American people were responsible. But sometimes the will of the people needs help. I nurtured several of the leading participants and their arguments, and at a few points I gave confidence, especially when Fischer surfaced. But Fischer made it a struggle. He tried to cause havoc in France with the weather, the famine, and then the Great Fear, and he tried to turn the British to see America differently, but both those attempts went against him. 

“After 1789, he thought he had the right to try to derail future revolutionary efforts. He had a hand in the failures of the revolutions of 1848, the Taiping Revolt, the Paris Commune, and the 1905 Russian Revolution—the true Russian Revolution—and the 1919 Hungarian. He was involved in turning the Russian Civil War into a Bolshevik tyranny. He succeeded, as did I, in the temporary achievements of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 before it slipped into civil war. Then came another missed opportunity for humanity, the Spanish Civil War. He gave support to Franco, the side of tradition, the church, the status quo, and fascism. It ended in tyranny. Neither of us had any part in World War II. That was madness hewn from madness, though it too could have been prevented.

“In the United States, after his failure to prevent the War of Independence, Fischer worked for decades to distort the vision behind the documents of 1776, 1781, and 1787, as well as the amendments, using prejudice as his main weapon, as well as the fear of democracy and the power of greed. He worked hard to destroy the reputation of the greatest founding father, Thomas Paine, despite his amazing achievements in Common Sense and the Rights of Man. He also found ways to institute that confusing machinery, the electoral college. In each of those cases his taste for violence, his suspicion of change, his love of the status quo, and his keen understanding of human weakness would overcome my own work. The power of the people—never particularly strong by the way—steadily gave way to the power of the rich, the corporations, the military, and the media, what I like to call the Four Horsemen.”

“But why was the Great War your focus?” Karna said. “Was that not Ratanna’s project?”

“Yes. Ratanna and I worked together. Two prior events warped her: The horror of the Black Plague and the failure of the Peasant Revolt of 1381. Both sunk her in misery from which she never fully recovered. She wanted me to assume her work. After the Terror of the French Revolution and the disaster of the Great War, she turned to the contemplative state you saw, and I became more active. We switched places, so to speak. She feels responsible, especially after the horrible mistakes at Versailles and the messy partitioning of Europe and the Middle East. Finally, the dropping of the atomic bombs pushed her to a nervous breakdown and forced her into retirement. She sometimes doesn’t know what age she’s in.”

Titus shook his head in sorrow.

“Could I have found some way to save Jaurès?” Titus said. “Or the Hungarian Prime Minister Tisza, who tried to preach caution? Or Bethmann? Or the millions who died not knowing why?”

Titus stood up and walked to the table where Jaurès had sat and touched the chair in which he sat.

“Can anyone stop such a world, that expects war, sometimes wants war, that thinks war will solve their problems, that is strengthened by selfishness, patriotism, prejudice, and slips into the abyss of nihilism, that wipes out entire generations of youth because of their prejudices?”

“You withdrew into a troubled existence,” Karna said.

Titus nodded.

They began to walk down the street.

“I come to this time,” Titus said, “not only to praise Jaurès or remember why I chose existence, but to ease my regrets and remember how good humanity can be. There are and will always be people like Jaurès.”


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