Back in the days of great national wars, among peoples who cared, the citizens used to tack up battlefield maps in their kitchens or parlors, with little flag pins marking out the front, and every night they would move them, or not, depending on the news. In France, at least, the practice died out as early as when the little paper flags were swept away, first by the winds of debacle, and then by the winds of indifference. At the height of that war, not a soul, or almost, showed the slightest concern—an attitude piously passed down, father to son, from then on. The daily map in La Pensée National—clearly suggesting a vast battlefield under attack by an advancing army— made so feeble an impression on the minds of the masses, that the paper’s sales increased by not one single copy. At the end of a few days, the student assistant editor in chief proposed that they change the daily caption, by adding something like: “Full-Scale War! Follow the Front!” “Damn right it’s war,” said Machefer, “but who’s going to believe us? War? When our helpless enemies are dying left and right, thousands and thousands of miles away! No, the people can’t think, their minds have been put to sleep. For them, there’s only one kind of war, the kind they lay their stupid wreaths for, year after year. You can spread your word ‘war’ in black and white, in an eight-column headline, and the Frenchman won’t much care one way or the other. That is, unless he’s seen the enemy face to face, or heard the guns, or gotten his ration book! All it would get us is a bunch of housewives rushing to stock upon coffee, and oil, and sugar, and a bunch of snot-nosed brats rushing into the streets of the Latin Quarter. No, forget it. Let’s wait. 

When the starving bastards show up off our shores, then we’ll use the word ‘war,’ and hope it hits home. In the meantime let’s leave the caption as is. ‘Truth’ is the word that counts. Nowadays nothing is as frightening as the truth. It’s such a mysterious word. No one knows what’s behind it. No one wants to. They avoid it. But it frightens them all the same. In a healthy country, when the chips are down, there are always at least a few who’ll get so scared that they’ll turn and look their fear in the eye, instead of running. And they’ll pounce on it, and try to destroy it. That’s what I’d like to see. But I don’t have much hope. Is our country still healthy enough? That’s the question …”

As best he could judge, Machefer wasn’t alone. The shrewdest minds in the opposite camp had adopted an identical position, but for very different reasons. Confrontation, invasion, struggle between the races, penance by the West, end of imperialism—and other disquieting notions, put forward the first day without much reflection—vanished from the lips of the monster’s most faithful servants. They too began speaking of truth. And how sweet it was to hear! They made no bones about it, spelled it out to the letter, blithely forgetting their twenty years’ worth of hammer and tongs (and sickle), aimed at the shameful paradise of the Western World. Paradise? Why of course, why not? (It was even the title of one of Clément Dio’s brilliant columns.) A paradise not so shameful anymore, all things considered, and one that we Westerners could suddenly take pride in. An immense, expansive paradise, limitless in its bounty, where finally we could reach out, in a spirit of brotherhood and peace, and take in those pathetic, starving souls from the Ganges, so desperately searching for a happier life … We should note here, too, for the record, a most interesting sidelight. Namely, that all through the country, every strike and social protest seemed to come to a most abrupt halt. After all, the Western worker was living in paradise all of a sudden. Do they have strikes in paradise? Certainly not. At least, so decreed the brains of the leading unions, two or three of whom knew precisely what they were doing. Weak-kneed as ever, the other unions—giants with feet of clay—wobbled meekly behind them. Could that be one explanation? … 

By the second day even Durfort had changed his aim. It almost seemed that the word had gone out, that everyone had agreed. (Of course, the strings were all pulled by the beast, and the puppets never knew what moved them.) No more did he speak of the “gigantic prison rising up in peaceful revolt,” or the need to “reexamine the ties that bind us, man to man.” He picked simple stories from his. filecard brain. Often even true ones. Stories about Third World children, adopted not so long ago, and now caring for their aged French parents. Stories about dark-skinned immigrants, model citizens today, some even with seats on town councils. Josiane and Marcel were moved to tears. … As for Vilsberg and Rosemonde Real, they injected their own special hypos into the flabby and copious rumps of public opinion. With barely a squawk. Everyone on the “Armada Special,” questioners and questionees, seemed to be of one mind. Judging by those good people of France screened by the switchboard at RTZ, skin colors are mere illusions, and everyone’s soul is the same underneath.

During all those early broadcasts, in fact, there was only a single discordant note. It sounded when a certain listener insisted on getting on the air: “Hamadura … Indian and Frenchman, or Frenchman from India, if you like … Ex-deputy from Pondicherry, while it still belonged to France …” “ Welcome to our program, Monsieur Hamadura,” clucked Rosemonde the magnificent, “we’re delighted to have you. In a sense, you represent the spearhead of the movement, the living proof of what can be accomplished when …” “Ha ha!” broke in the welcome Monsieur Hamadura. “Thank you just the same! You make me laugh, only it’s no laughing matter. Spearhead indeed! I’d rather be the last of the last in that Indian mob! You don’t know my people—the squalor, the superstitions, the fatalistic sloth they’ve wallowed in for generations. You don’t know what you’re in for if that fleet of brutes ever lands in your lap! Everything will change in this country of yours. My country now too. They’ll swallow you up, they’ll …” When Rosemonde had recovered from the first moment of shock, she pressed the red button in front of her, the emergency switch that let them get rid of a bothersome caller. “Obviously not a typical case!” Vilsberg cut in, calmly. “At any rate, Rosemonde, I imagine the gentleman said all he had to say. What strikes me as strange is the fact that he’s an Indian. But I’m sure there’s a reason. Perhaps our sociologist friend would venture an opinion …” The sociologist stopped to think. It was irrefutable: “An acute sense of repeated frustration, expressed in the rejection of one’s own race … Caste prejudice … A common phenomenon in India … It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the gentleman’s skin is quite light, and that he belongs to the Brahman aristocracy …”

A tactical slip at the switchboard, and all of a sudden Monsieur Hamadura’s voice came bounding over the air again: “I’m as black as a nigger!” he laughed. “Even worse,” the sociologist countered, as Rosemonde dispatched the gentleman for good. “What we have here then is the classic case, so typical of the colonial context, of assimilation into the host culture’s power elite, with a subsequent revulsion against one’s own roots. The case of the white man’s dog that hates the black. It’s a very common syndrome And that was that. No more was said. But we haven’t seen the last of Monsieur Hamadura …

As usual, it was Clément Dio, in La Pensée Nouvelle, who scored the most points. His spectacular special on “The Civilization of the Ganges” had something for all those who thought they could think. Arts, letters, philosophy, history, medicine, morality, the family and society—everything found its way into the issue, signed by the best names in the business. Considering all the wonders that the Ganges had bestowed on us already—sacred music, theater, dance, yoga, mysticism, arts and crafts, jewelry, new style in dress—the burning question, by the end of the issue, was how we could manage to do without these folk any longer! As for the rest of us—spiritual sons of the Latins and Greeks, of Judeo-Christian monks and Barbarians from the East—could it be that what we needed to perfect our work of art was to throw our doors open to the Ganges, even if only to balance the materialism of our present-day life? The thought was advanced with caution, of course, but it came from Clément Dio, and nobody found it the least bit surprising. … And so, the press settled down to its cruising speed, cleverly playing on three basic themes, in varying combinations: the paradise of the West, the Last Chance Armada, and the role of Ganges culture in mankind’s ultimate perfection. Meanwhile, public opinion went sailing off unconcerned, especially since three days had gone by with no word of the fleet, last seen by some fishermen from Madras, somewhere along the twelfth parallel north. Sole item of front-page news. Not much, but something the press could go to town on. No visible connection with any earthshaking event—if “visible” applies in the case of such blind opinion. But the beast gloated and rubbed its claws. The Pope published a tear-jerking message. A few social-minded bishops made something of a stir (in the spirit of Vatican III, they explained), along with the various world committees and philanthropic leagues, worked up by the usual troop of the beast’s unflagging faithful. Just enough to fill out the prologue. At which point the International Ganges Refugee Commission, springing fully armed from the brain of the minister, Jean Orelle, held its opening meeting in Paris. Its members were veterans in the rat race to gnaw at the UN cheese, old hands with UNESCO and UNICEF, with Food and Agriculture, World Health, and UN Relief. They all knew their trade inside and out, and the dictates of their own gilt-edged existence. In short, they decided to sit back and wait. 

The only distant reaction worth noting comes to us from Australia. Set off by themselves in their remote corner of the planet, the Australians have the distinction of belonging to the white race. They live like nabobs in that vast, empty land, assured of the limitless wealth of their mines and their flocks. One thing they do quite well is read maps. The armada, when it left the mouth of the Ganges, appeared to head south. To the south lies Indonesia. Skirt it as far as the Straits of Timor, and suddenly, there’s Australia—precisely the route the Japanese were taking through the Pacific in World War II, before they were stopped just in time at the straits. Meeting in Canberra, as it did every Tuesday, for supposedly “routine deliberations”—a prosperous and vulnerable nation knows how to conceal its panic—the government published a communiqué, which, though buried in a mass of other texts, didn’t pass unnoticed. “The Australian government,” it stated, “considers it necessary to call attention to the fact that entry of all foreign nationals into the country is subject to the provisions of the Immigration Act, and that under no circumstances will these provisions be abated or rescinded.” Plain and simple. Now, when you consider the model severity of the Australian Immigration Act, encouraging, as it does, the entry of Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, English, French—in short, all those white of skin and Christian of soul, while relentlessly excluding any trace of yellow, black, or brown—you will understand that, for the Australians, champions of the Western World stuck away in the farfiung hinterlands of Asia, this reminder was intended to rally public sentiment. It encouraged the Australians, in rather veiled terms, to steel themselves against undue compassion, and served notice on the Ganges fleet to keep its distance.

Australia is a free country, and its press releases aren’t censored. In no time the news had circled the globe. In the sickest of the Western nations, it crackled through the air like a racist manifesto, to a caustic accompaniment of slur and aspersion. It was clear to the beast that the battle had at last been joined. In London, Paris, Washington, Rome, The Hague, great mobs of young people, shaggy but well behaved, laid peaceful siege to the Australian embassies, with rhythmic chants of “Ra-cists Fas-cists We’re-All-from-the-GangesNow!” Except in Washington, where the “pigs” still clung to some of their nasty, brutal habits left over from the “long, hot summers,” the police were satisfied just to cordon off the embassies with massive but motionless detachments. It had been a long time since any democratic regime had been willing to lift its clubs in a racist cause. Besides, it would have been pointless. The demonstrators were content to demonstrate, careful not to endanger property, life, or limb. Some had even been seen waiting patiently in line for a red light to change before stepping off at a crosswalk. The beast had long since understood that violence was counterproductive, that it frightened public opinion, and risked waking it up with a start. The only violence it had let itself commit over the past few years—and that, more and more—had been in the name of wholesome, unassailable, and utterly selfless causes: art works stolen, then ransomed to aid some suffering people or other; airplanes hijacked, and hostage passengers released in exchange for medicines, food, and clothing; banks held up to benefit victims of some natural disaster, or some civil war … That kind of thing. Good, altruistic violence. Just another way of raising money, of giving to charity on a worldwide scale. Reasonable people took their heads in their hands, unable to cope with the moral upheaval. If they came to the conclusion that altruism doesn’t justify out-and-out brutality, they made sure not to spread the word. Besides, who would have listened? Even when the beast directed its violence at inequalities of lesser dimension: when grocers in some poor part of town were attacked and beaten; apartments, left vacant for the summer, invaded by African squatters; shops looted, and their merchandise scattered through the slums; shady financiers grilled by guerrilla tribunals and convicted; abusive bosses, cleverly chosen, kidnapped and held … No, not a soul protested! And justice itself, shaken to the roots of its majestic calm, uncertain whether its laws had been made to bully society or defend it, never failed to agree that, indeed, there had been extenuating circumstances, never failed to free its prisoners, who would leave the courtroom in a cloud of glory. Enough to demoralize those men and women who considered themselves good law-abiding citizens; in other words, almost the entire population. In short, through its own diabolical devices, the beast had tucked cops and courts of the Western World safely away in its pocket, and was free now to indulge in what it termed “the shaping of opinion.” And so, once again, opinion was shaped to believe that racism in the cause of self-defense is the scourge of humanity. 

As for the shape that Western opinion should really have taken—namely, the realization of the mortal threat to its very existence— the Australian government’s action served no purpose whatever. Trumped up, doctored, wrenched out of context—an excellent example is the photo of the Immigration Act splashed across the cover of Dio’s La Pensée Nouvelle—it turned out to harm that same white world that it meant to protect. Much like that other defensive maneuver, when the Western shipping magnates—rather cruelly, perhaps, but in their own best interests—rerouted their vessels to keep them a good two days away from the refugee fleet. And that, just after the press conference of Minister Jean Orelle. It must have been written in the Book of Fate, in the chapter on the white man, that flashes of good sense, twitches of courage, or simple reflexes of self- preservation, were destined to remain rare exceptions, hidden or deformed, never able to add up to a meaningful whole. That could be one explanation …

In no time the Australian government’s Immigration Act was forgotten, no longer relevant as the fleet changed course and headed southwest. The world learned the news when the armada, entering the Straits of Ceylon, between that large island and the tip of India, was spotted halfway between both coasts at the western end of the straits, just off Tuticorin. An Associated Press helicopter, bristling with telephoto and wide-angle lenses, flew over it some twenty times, at different altitudes. Among the photos that were published in the press the world over, certain ones were appropriately overwhelming, just enough to move sensitive souls without terrifying them unduly. One curious detail, however: the close-up shot of the monster child, perched on the bridge of the India Star, astride the shoulders of a gigantic Hindu, gazing out at the sea through his motionless eyes—that bloodcurdling photo, realistic beyond endurance, was published a mere six times in all. And then, only by papers of piddling circulation and infamous political stripe, like La Pensée Nationale. Are we, perhaps, to think that a few of the beast’s devotees, in high, key places, guessed how devastating such a photo would be, and pulled the plug before it could make all the rounds? Or that, somehow, the editors in chief of the major Western papers decided against it on their own? Be that as it may, the fact remains that public opinion, for the most part, didn’t even know it existed. That could be one explanation …

Another sidelight in passing, for the record. In Paris, our friend Mohammed—the one they called “Cadi One-Eye”—ran across a copy of La Pensée Nationale on a newsstand, with the monster child spread across page one. He bought the paper, cut out the picture, tacked it up on the wall in his kitchen, and chortled to his wife Élise: “Isn’t he something, our ugly little brother! Some fun if he ever lands here! Then, by God, you’ll see the shit fly!” The same thought went through the minds of assorted Third World diplomats and students, despite the fact that, thanks to their Mercedes cars, their fancy dormitories, double-breasted suits, embassies, white sheets and social successes, they were worlds apart from the half-starved monstrosity on the India Star. They pounced on their maps of the world, the lot of them, zealously planting their little paper flags, as if to mark out the route of their own revenge. Curious reflex, and one that would have plunged Boris Vilsberg’s whole team of sociologists into hopeless confusion. These people who spent their vacations at the Vichy spas, whose sole contact now with their homelands was the peanuts they nibbled with their drinks, who refused to visit their poor old mothers, off in their villages, because they persisted in squatting on their haunches, yet who, with all their heart and soul, cried out for the destruction of a world where they had finally made their way! How unbending, the deep-hidden burden of envy and hate! The dogs of the whites were changing sides, that’s all. They barked a lot, enough to help deafen opinion. But come the moment of truth, and we’ll see them cowering in their kennels, trying to hide the feelings of hatred finally turning against themselves …

The Last Chance Armada sailed out of the Straits of Ceylon, and the world lost track of it once again.


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