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Chapter 17

JIMMIE HIGGINS WRESTLES WITH THE TEMPTER

I

Of course, not all the Socialists of Leesville had got the "military bug" like Emil Forster. Late in the afternoon, Jimmie ran into Comrade Schneider, on his way home from work at the brewery, and he was the same old Schneider--the same florid Teuton countenance, the same solid Teuton voice, the same indignant Teuton point of view. All Jimmie had to do was to mention the name of Emil, and Schneider was off. A hell of a Socialist he was! Couldn't even wait for the drill-sergeant to come after him, but had to run and hunt for him, had to go and put himself out in the public square, where the town-loafers could watch him playing the monkey!

No, said Schneider, with abundant profanity, he had not moved one inch from his position; they could send him to jail any time they got ready, they could stand him up before a firing-squad, but they'd never get any militarism into him. Pressed for an answer, the big brewer admitted that he had registered; but he wasn't going to be drafted, not on his life! Jimmie suggested that this might be because he had a wife and six children; but the other was too much absorbed in his tirade to notice Jimmie's grin. He blustered on, in a tone so loud that several times people on the street overheard, and gave him a black look. Jimmie, being less in the mood of martyrdom, parted from him and went to see the Meissners.

The little bottle-packer was living in the same place, having rented the upper part of his house to a Polish family to help meet his constantly-rising expenses. He welcomed Jimmie with open arms--patted him on the back with delight, and opened a bottle of beer to treat him. He asked a hundred questions about Jimmie's adventures, and told in turn about events in Leesville. The local as a whole had stood firm against the war, and was still carrying on propaganda, in the face of ferocious opposition. The working-classes were pumped so full of "patriotic dope", you could hardly get them to listen; as for the radicals, they were marked men--their mail was intercepted, their meetings were attended by almost as many detectives as spectators. A number had been drafted--which Meissner considered deliberate conspiracy on the part of the draft-boards.

Who had been taken? Jimmie asked. The other answered: Comrade Claudel, the jeweller--he wanted to go, of course; and Comrade Koeln, the glass-blower--he was a German, but had been naturalized, so they had taken him, in spite of his protests; and Comrade Stankewitz--

"Stankewitz!" cried Jimmie, in dismay.

"Sure, he's gone."

"Was he willing?"

"They didn't ask if he was willing. They just told him to report."

Somehow that seemed to bring the war nearer to Jimmie's consciousness than anything that had happened so far. The little Roumanian Jew had given him the greater part of his education on this world-conflict; it was over the counter of the cigar-store that Jimmie had got the first geography lessons of his life. He had learned that Russia was the yellow country, and Germany the green, and Belgium the pale blue, and France the light pink; he had seen how the railroads from the green to the pink ran through the pale blue, and how the big fortresses in the pale blue all faced towards the green--something which Meissner and Schneider and the rest of the green people considered a mortal affront, a confession of guilt on the part of the pale blue people. Comrade Stankewitz's wizened-up, eager little face rose before Jimmie; he heard the shrill voice, trying to compose the disputes in the local. "Comrades, all this vill not get us anyvere! There is but vun question we have to answer, are we internationalists, or are we not?"

"My God!" cried Jimmie. "Ain't that awful?"

He had got to the point where he was willing to admit that perhaps the Kaiser had got to be licked, and maybe it was all right for a fellow that felt like Emil Forster to go and lick him. But to lay hold of a man who hated war with all his heart and soul, to drag him away from the little business he had painfully built up, and compel him to put on a uniform and obey other men's orders--well, when you saw a thing like that, you knew about the atrocities of war!

II

Comrade Meissner went on. Worse than that---they had taken Comrade Gerrity. And Jimmie stared. "But he's married!"

"I know," explained Meissner, "but that ain't what counts. What you got to have is a dependent wife. An' the Gerritys didn't know that--Comrade Evelyn held on to her job as stenographer, and somebody must have told on them, for the board jacked him up and cancelled his exemption. Of course, it was only because he was organizer of the local; they want to put us out of business any way they can."

"What did Gerrity do?"

"He refused to serve, and they sent a squad of men after him and dragged him away. They took him to Camp Sheridan, and tried to put him in uniform, and he refused--he wouldn't work, he wouldn't have anything to do with war. So they tried him and sentenced him to twenty-five years in jail; they put him in solitary confinement, and he gets nothin' but bread and water--they keep him chained up by his wrists a part of the time--"

"Oh! OH!" cried Jimmie.

"Comrade Evelyn's most crazy about it. She broke down and cried in the local, and she went around to the churches--they have women's sewing-circles, you know, and things for the Red Cross, and her and Comrade Mary Allen gets up and makes speeches an' drives the women crazy. They arrested 'em once, but they turned 'em loose--they didn't want it to get in the papers."

Comrade Meissner could not have foreseen how this particular news would affect Jimmie; Meissner knew nothing about the strange adventure which had befallen his friend, the amatory convulsion which had shaken his soul. Before Jimmie's mind now rose the lovely face with the pert little dimples and the halo of fluffy brown hair; the thought of Comrade Evelyn Baskerville in distress was simply not to be endured. "Where is she?" he cried. He had a vision of himself rushing forthwith to take up the agitation; to raid the church sewing-circles and brave the wrath of the she-patriots; to go to jail with Comrade Evelyn; or perhaps--who could say?--to put about her, gently and reverently, a pair of fraternal and comforting arms.

Jimmie had the temperament of the dreamer, the idealist, to whom it is enough to want a thing to see that thing forthwith come into being. His imagination, stimulated by the image of the charming stenographer, rushed forth on the wildest of flights. He realized for the first time that he was a free man; while, as for Comrade Evelyn, suppose the worst were to happen, suppose Comrade Gerrity were to perish of the diet of bread and water, or to be dragged into the trenches and killed--then the sorrowing widow would be in need of someone to uphold her, to put fraternal and comforting arms about her--

"Where is she?" Jimmie asked again; and Comrade Meissner dissipated his dream by replying that she had gone off to work for an organization in New York which was agitating for humane treatment for "conscientious objectors". Meissner hunted up the pamphlet published by this organization, telling most hideous stories of the abusing of such victims of the military frenzy; they had been beaten, tortured and starved, subjected to ridicule and humiliation, in many cases dragged before courts-martial and sentenced to imprisonment for twenty or thirty years. Jimmie sat up a part of the night reading these stories--with the result that once more the feeble sprout of patriotism was squashed flat in his soul!

III

Jimmie went to the next meeting of the local. It was a slender affair now, for some of the members were in jail, and some in the training camps, and some afraid to come for fear of their jobs, and some discouraged by incessant persecution. But the old war-horses were there--Comrade Schneider, and gentle old Hermann Forster, and Comrade Mabel Smith, with an account of her brother's mistreatment in the county jail, and Comrade Mary Allen, the Quaker lady. This last was still taking it as a personal affront that America should be going into the bloody mess, in spite of all her denunciations and protests; she was even paler and thinner than when Jimmie had seen her last--her hands trembled and her thin lips quivered as she spoke, you could see that she was burning up with excitement over the monstrous wickedness of the world's events. She read to the local a harrowing story of a boy who had registered as a conscientious objector in New York, and had been taken out to a training-camp and subjected to such indignities that he had shot himself. Comrade Mary had no children of her own, so she had adopted these conscientious objectors, and as she read of their experiences, her soul was convulsed with a mingling of grief and rage.

Jimmie went back to the Empire Shops and applied for a job. They needed thousands of men, so the Herald declared--but they did not need a single one like Jimmie! The man to whom he applied recognized him at once, and said, "Nothin' doin'." For the sake of being nasty, Jimmie went to the headquarters of the newly-formed union, and asked them to force old Abel Granitch to give him work, according to the terms of the agreement with the government. But the union secretary, after thinking the matter over, decided that the provision against black-listing applied only to men who had been out on the last strike, not to the strikers of a couple of years before. "There was no use going out of one's way to look for trouble," said this secretary. Jimmie went away jeering at the union, and damning the war as heartily as ever.

He was in no hurry to get work, having still some money in his pocket, and being able to live cheaply with the Meissners. He went again to watch young Forster drilling, and went home with him and heard an argument with old Hermann. You could see how this family had been split wide open; the old man ordered his traitorous son out several times, but the mother had flung herself into the breach, pleading that the boy was going away in a few days, and perhaps would never return. The evening that Jimmie was there, the paper printed a speech of the President, outlining his purposes in the war, the terms of justice for all peoples, a league of nations and universal disarmament. Emil read this triumphantly, finding in it a justification of his support of the war. Wasn't it a great part of what the Socialists wanted?

Hermann answered grudgingly that the words were all right, but how about the deeds? Also, how about the other Allies--did the President imagime he could boss them? No--to the imperialists of England and France and Italy those fine words were just bait for gudgeons; they would serve to keep the workers quiet till the war was won, and then the militarists would kick out the American President and pick the bones of the carcass of Germany. If they really meant to abide by the President's terms, why didn't they come out squarely and say so? Why didn't they repudiate the secret treaties? Why didn't England begin her career in democracy by setting free Ireland and India?

So it went; and Jimmie listened to both speakers, and agreed with both alternately, experiencing more and more that distressing condition of mental chaos, in which he found himself of two absolutely contradictory and diametrically opposite points of view.

IV

All winter long the papers had been full of talk about a mighty German offensive that was coming in the spring. The German people were being told all about it, and how it was to end the war with a glorious triumph. In America nobody was sure about the matter; the fact that the attack was boldly announced seemed good reason for looking elsewhere. Perhaps the enemy was preparing to overwhelm Italy, and wished to keep France and England from sending troops to the weakened Italian line!

But now suddenly, in the third week of March, the Germans made a mighty rush at the British line in front of Cambrai; army upon army they came, and overwhelmed the defenders, and poured through the breach. The British forces fell back--every hour it seemed that their retreat must be turned into a rout. Day by day, as the dispatches came in, Jimmie watched the map in front of the Herald office, and saw a huge gap opening in the British line, a spear-head pointing straight into the heart of France. Three days, four days, five days, this ghastly splitting apart went on, and the whole world held its breath. Even Jimmie Higgins was shaken by the news--he had got enough into the war by this time to realize what a German triumph would mean. It took a strong pacifist stomach indeed to contemplate such an issue of events without flinching.

Comrade Mary Allen had such a stomach; to her religious fervour it made no difference whatever which set of robbers ruled the world. Comrade Schneider had it also; he knew that Germany was the birth-place and cradle of Socialism, and believed that the best fate that could befall the world was for the Germans to conquer it, and let the German Socialists make it into a co-operative commonwealth by and by. Comrade Schneider was now openly gloating over this new proof of German supermanity, the invincibility of German discipline. But most of the other members of the local were awed--realizing in spite of themselves the seriousness of the plight which confronted civilization.

Jimmie would inspect the bulletin board, and go over to watch the drilling, and then to Tom's "Buffeteria" with Emil Forster. He had always had an intense admiration for Emil, and now the young designer, distressed by the strife at home, was glad of someone to pour out his soul to. He would help Jimmie to realize the meaning of the British defeat, the enormous losses of guns and supplies, the burden it would put upon America. For America would have to make up these losses, America would have to drive the Germans out of every foot of this newly-conquered territory.

Jimmie would listen and study the matter out on the map; and so gradually he learned to be interested in a new science, that of military strategy. When once you have fallen under the spell of that game, your soul is lost. You think of men, no longer as human creatures, suffering, starving, bleeding, dying in agony; you think of them as chess-pawns; you dispose of them as a gambler of his chips, a merchant of his wares; you classify them into brigades and divisions and corps, moving them here and there, counting off your losses against the losses of the enemy, putting in your reserves at critical moments, paying this price for that objective, wiping out thousands and tens of thousands of men with a sweep of your hand, a mark of your pencil, a pressure on an electric button! Once you have learnt to take that view of life, you are no longer a human heart, to be appealed to by pacifists and humanitarians; you are a machine, grinding out destruction, you are a ripe apple, ready to fall into the lap of the god of war, you are an autumn leaf, ready to be seized by the gales of patriotism and blown to destruction and death.

Upton Sinclair

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