1. The Rivals
AFTER the eclipse of Europe, the allegiance of men gradually crystallized into two great national or racial sentiments, the American and the Chinese. Little by little all other patriotisms became mere local variants of one or other of these two major loyalties. At first, indeed, there were many internecine conflicts. A detailed history of this period would describe how North America, repeating the welding process of the ancient “American Civil War,” incorporated within itself the already Americanized Latins of South America; and how Japan, once the bully of young China, was so crippled by social revolutions that she fell a prey to American Imperialism; and how this bondage turned her violently Chinese in sentiment, so that finally she freed herself by an heroic war of independence, and joined the Asiatic Confederacy, under Chinese leadership.
A full history would also tell of the vicissitudes of the League of Nations. Although never a cosmopolitan government, but an association of national governments, each concerned mainly for its own sovereignty, this great organization had gradually gained a very real prestige and authority over all its members. And in spite of its many short-comings, most of which were involved in its fundamental constitution, it was invaluable as the great concrete focusing point of the growing loyalty toward humanity. At first its existence had been precarious; and indeed it had only preserved itself by an extreme caution, amounting almost to servility toward the “great powers.” Little by little, however, it had gained moral authority to such an extent that no single power, even the mightiest, dared openly and in cold blood either to disobey the will of the League or reject the findings of the High Court. But, since human loyalty was still in the main national rather than cosmopolitan, situations were all too frequent in which a nation would lose its head, run amok, throw its pledges to the winds, and plunge into fear-inspired aggression. Such a situation had produced the Anglo–French War. At other times the nations would burst apart into two great camps, and the League would be temporarily forgotten in their disunion. This happened in the Russo–German War, which was possible only because America favoured Russia, and China favoured Germany. After the destruction of Europe, the world had for a while consisted of the League on one side and America on the other. But the League was dominated by China, and no longer stood for cosmopolitanism. This being so, those whose loyalty was genuinely human worked hard to bring America once more into the fold, and at last succeeded.
In spite of the League’s failure to prevent the “great” wars, it worked admirably in preventing all the minor conflicts which had once been a chronic disease of the race. Latterly, indeed, the world’s peace was absolutely secure, save when the League itself was almost equally divided. Unfortunately, with the rise of America and China, this kind of situation became more and more common. During the war of North and South America an attempt was made to re-create the League as a Cosmopolitan Sovereignty, controlling the pooled armaments of all nations. But, though the cosmopolitan will was strong, tribalism was stronger. The upshot was that, over the Japanese question, the League definitely split into two Leagues, each claiming to inherit universal sovereignty from the old League, but each in reality dominated by a kind of supernational sentiment, the one American, the other Chinese.
This occurred within a century after the eclipse of Europe. The second century completed the process of crystallization into two systems, political and mental. On the one hand was the wealthy and close-knit American Continental Federation, with its poor relations, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the bedridden remains of Western Europe, and part of the soulless body that was Russia. On the other hand were Asia and Africa. In fact the ancient distinction between East and West had now become the basis of political sentiment and organization.
Within each system there were of course real differences of culture, of which the chief was the difference between the Chinese and Indian mentalities. The Chinese were interested in appearances, in the sensory, the urbane, the practical; while the Indians inclined to seek behind appearances for some ultimate reality, of which this life, they said, was but a passing aspect. Thus the average Indian never took to heart the practical social problem in all its seriousness. The ideal of perfecting this world was never an all-absorbing interest to him; since he had been taught to believe that this world was mere shadow. There was, indeed, a time when China had mentally less in common with India than with the West, but fear of America had drawn the two great Eastern peoples together. They agreed at least in earnest hate of that strange blend of the commercial traveller, the missionary, and the barbarian conqueror, which was the American abroad.
China, owing to her relative weakness and irritation caused by the tentacles of American industry within her, was at this time more nationalistic than her rival, America. Indeed, professed to have outgrown nationalism, and to stand for political and cultural world unity. But she conceived this unity as a Unity under American organization; and by culture she meant Americanism. This kind of cosmopolitanism was regarded by Asia and Africa without sympathy. In China a concerted effort had been made to purge the foreign element from her culture. Its success, however, was only superficial. Pigtails and chopsticks had once more come into vogue among the leisured, and the study of Chinese classics was once more compulsory in all schools. Yet the manner of life of the average man remained American. Not only did he use American cutlery, shoes, gramophones, domestic labour-saving devices, but also his alphabet was European, his vocabulary was permeated by American slang, his newspapers and radio were American in manner, though anti-American in politics. He saw daily in his domestic television screen every phase of American private life and every American public event. Instead of opium and joss sticks, he affected cigarettes and chewing gum.
His thought also was largely a Mongolian variant of American thought. For instance, since his was a non-metaphysical mind, but since also some kind of metaphysics is unavoidable, he accepted the naïvely materialistic metaphysics which had been popularized by the earliest Behaviourists. In this view the only reality was physical energy, and the mind was but the system of the body’s movements in response to stimulus. Behaviourism had formerly played a great part in purging the best Western minds of superstition; and indeed at one time it was the chief growing point of thought.
This early, pregnant, though extravagant, doctrine it was that had been absorbed by China. But in its native land Behaviorism had gradually been infected by the popular demand for comfortable ideas, and had finally changed into a curious kind of spiritism, according to which, though the ultimate reality was indeed physical energy, this energy was identified with the divine spirit. The most dramatic feature of American thought in this period was the merging of Behaviorism and Fundamentalism, a belated and degenerate mode of Christianity. Behaviourism itself, indeed, had been originally a kind of inverted Puritan faith, according to which intellectual salvation involved acceptance of a crude materialistic dogma, chiefly because it was repugnant to the self-righteous, and unintelligible to intellectuals of the earlier schools. The older Puritans trampled down all fleshy impulses; these newer Puritans trampled no less self-righteously upon the spiritual cravings. But in the increasingly spiritistic inclination of physics itself, Behaviorism and Fundamentalism had found a meeting place. Since the ultimate stuff of the physical universe was now said to be multitudinous and arbitrary “quanta” of the activity of “spirits,” how easy was it for the materialistic and the spiritistic to agree! At heart, indeed, they were never far apart in mood, though opposed in doctrine. The real cleavage was between the truly spiritual view on the one hand, and the spiritistic and materialistic on the other. Thus the most materialistic of Christian sects and the most doctrinaire of scientific sects were not long in finding a formula to express their unity, their denial of all those finer capacities which had emerged to be the spirit of man.
These two faiths were at one in their respect for crude physical movement. And here lay the deepest difference between the American and the Chinese minds. For the former, activity, any sort of activity, was an end in itself; for the latter, activity was but a progress toward the true end, which was rest, and peace of mind. Action was to be undertaken only when equilibrium was disturbed. And in this respect China was at one with India. Both preferred contemplation to action.
Thus in China and India the passion for wealth was less potent than in America. Wealth was the power to set things and people in motion; and in America, therefore, wealth came to be frankly regarded as the breath of God, the divine spirit immanent in man. God was the supreme Boss, the universal Employer. His wisdom was conceived as a stupendous efficiency, his love as munificence towards his employees. The parable of the talents was made the corner-stone of education; and to be wealthy, therefore, was to be respected as one of God’s chief agents. The typical American man of big business was one who, in the midst of a show of luxury, was at heart ascetic. He valued his splendour only because it advertised to all men that he was of the elect. The typical Chinese wealthy man was one who savoured his luxury with a delicate and lingering palate, and was seldom tempted to sacrifice it to the barren lust of power.
On the other hand, since American culture was wholly concerned with the values of the individual life, it was more sensitive than the Chinese with regard to the well-being of humble individuals. Therefore industrial conditions were far better under American than under Chinese capitalism. And in China both kinds of capitalism existed side by side. There were American factories in which the Chinese operatives thrived on the American system, and there were Chinese factories in which the operatives were by comparison abject wage-slaves. The fact that many Chinese industrial workers could not afford to keep a motor-car, let alone an aeroplane, was a source of much self-righteous indignation amongst American employers. And the fact that this fact did not cause a revolution in China, and that Chinese employers were able to procure plenty of labour in spite of the better conditions in American factories, was a source of perplexity. But in truth what the average Chinese worker wanted was not symbolical self-assertion through the control of privately owned machines, but security of life, and irresponsible leisure. In the earlier phase of “modern” China there had indeed been serious explosions of class hatred. Almost every one of the great Chinese industrial centres had, at some point in its career, massacred its employers, and declared itself an independent communist city-state. But communism was alien to China, and none of these experiments was permanently successful. Latterly, when the rule of the Nationalist Party had become secure, and the worst industrial evils had been abolished, class feeling had given place to a patriotic loathing of American interference and American hustle, and those who worked under American employers were often called traitors.
The Nationalist Party was not, indeed, the soul of China; but it was, so to speak, the central nervous system, within which the soul presided as a controlling principle. The Party was an intensely practical yet idealistic organization, half civil service, half religious order, though violently opposed to every kind of religion. Modelled originally on the Bolshevic Party of Russia, it had also drawn inspiration from the native and literary civil service of old China, and even from the tradition of administrative integrity which had been the best, the sole, contribution of British Imperialism to the East. Thus, by a route of its own, the Party had approached the ideal of the Platonic governors. In order to be admitted to the Party, it was necessary to do two things, to pass a very strict written examination on Western and Chinese social theory, and to come through a five years’ apprenticeship in actual administrative work. Outside the Party, China was still extremely corrupt; for peculation and nepotism were not censured, so long as they were kept decently hidden. But the Party set a brilliant example of self-oblivious devotion; and this unheard-of honesty was one source of its power. It was universally recognized that the Party man was genuinely interested in social rather than private matters; and consequently he was trusted. The supreme object of his loyalty was not the Party, but China, not indeed the mass of Chinese individuals, whom he regarded with almost the same nonchalance as he regarded himself, but the corporate unity and culture of the race.
The whole executive power in China was now in the hands of members of the Party, and the final legislative authority was the Assembly of Party Delegates. Between these two institutions stood the President. Sometimes no more than chairman of the Executive Committee, this individual was now and then almost a dictator, combining in himself the attributes of Prime Minister, Emperor, and Pope. For the head of the Party was the head of the state; and like the ancient emperors, he became the symbolical object of ancestor worship.
The Party’s policy was dominated by the Chinese respect for culture. Just as Western states had been all too often organized under the will for military prestige, so the new China was organized under the will for prestige of culture. For this end the American state was reviled as the supreme example of barbarian vulgarity; and so patriotism was drawn in to strengthen the cultural policy of the Party. It was boasted that, while indeed in America every man and woman might hope to fight a way to material wealth, in China every intelligent person could actually enjoy the cultural wealth of the race. The economic policy of the Party was based on the principle of affording to all workers security of livelihood and full educational opportunity. (In American eyes, however, the livelihood thus secured was scarcely fit for beasts, and the education provided was out of date and irreligious.) The Party took good care to gather into itself all the best of every social class, and also to encourage in the unintelligent masses a respect for learning, and the illusion that they themselves shared to some extent in the national culture.
But in truth this culture, which the common people so venerated in their superiors and mimicked in their own lives, was scarcely less superficial than the cult of power against which it was pitted. For it was almost wholly a cult of social rectitude and textual learning; not so much of the merely literary learning which had obsessed ancient China, as of the vast corpus of contemporary scientific dogma, and above all of pure mathematics. In old days the candidate for office had to show minute but uncritical knowledge of classical writers; now he had to give proof of a no less barren agility in describing the established formula of physics, biology, psychology, and more particularly of economics and social theory. And though never encouraged to puzzle over the philosophical basis of mathematics, he was expected to be familiar with the intricacy of at least one branch of that vast game of skill. So great was the mass of information forced upon the student, that he had no time to think of the mutual implications of the various branches of his knowledge.
Yet there was a soul in China. And in this elusive soul of China the one hope of the First Men now lay. Scattered throughout the Party was a minority of original minds, who were its source of inspiration and the growing point of the human spirit in this period. Well aware of man’s littleness, these thinkers regarded him none the less as the crown of the universe. On the basis of a positivistic and rather perfunctory metaphysic, they built a social ideal and a theory of art. Indeed, in the practice and appreciation of art they saw man’s highest achievement. Pessimistic about the remote future of the race, and contemptuous of American evangelism, they accepted as the end of living the creation of an intricately unified pattern of human lives set in a fair environment. Society, the supreme work of art (so they put it), is a delicate and perishable texture of human intercourse. They even entertained the possibility that in the last resort, not only the individual’s life, but the whole career of the race, might be tragic, and to be valued according to the standards of tragic art. Contrasting their own spirit with that of the Americans, one of them had said, “America, a backward youth in a playroom equipped with luxury and electric power, pretends that his mechanical toy moves the world. China, a gentleman walking in his garden in the evening, admires the fragrance and the order all the more because in the air is the first nip of winter, and in his ear rumour of the irresistible barbarian.”
In this attitude there was something admirable, and sorely needed at the time; but also there was a fatal deficiency. In its best exponents it rose to a detached yet fervent salutation of existence, but all too easily degenerated into a supine complacency, and a cult of social etiquette. In fact it was ever in danger of corruption through the inveterate Chinese habit of caring only for appearances. In some respects the spirit of America and the spirit of China were complementary, since the one was restless and the other bland, the one zealous and the other dispassionate, the one religious, the other artistic, the one superficially mystical or at least romantic, the other classical and rationalistic, though too easy-going for prolonged rigorous thought. Had they co-operated, these two mentalities might have achieved much. On the other hand, in both there was an identical and all-important lack. Neither of them was disturbed and enlightened by that insatiable lust for the truth, that passion for the free exercise of critical intelligence, the gruelling hunt for reality, which had been the glory of Europe and even of the earlier America, but now was no longer anywhere among the First Men. And, consequent on this lack, another disability crippled them. Both were by now without that irreverent wit which individuals of an earlier generation had loved to exercise upon one another and on themselves, and even on their most sacred values.
In spite of this weakness, with good luck they might have triumphed. But, as I shall tell, the spirit of America undermined the integrity of China, and thereby destroyed its one chance of salvation. There befell, in fact, one of those disasters, half inevitable and half accidental, which periodically descended on the First Men, as though by the express will of some divinity who cared more for the excellence of his dramatic creation than for the sentient puppets which he had conceived for its enacting.
2. The Conflict
After the Euro–American War there occurred first a century of minor national conflicts, and then a century of strained peace, during which America and China became more and more irksome to each other. At the close of this period the great mass of men were in theory far more cosmopolitan than nationalist, yet the inveterate tribal spirit lurked within each mind, and was ever ready to take possession. The planet was now a delicately organized economic unit, and big business in all lands was emphatically contemptuous of patriotism. Indeed the whole adult generation of the period was consciously and without reserve internationalist and pacifist. Yet this logically unassailable conviction was undermined by a biological craving for adventurous living. Prolonged peace and improved social conditions had greatly reduced the danger and hardship of life, and there was no socially harmless substitute to take the place of war in exercising the primitive courage and anger of animals fashioned for the wild. Consciously men desired peace, unconsciously they still needed some such gallantry as war afforded. And this repressed combative disposition ever and again expressed itself in explosions of irrational tribalism.
Inevitably a serious conflict at last occurred. As usual the cause was both economic and sentimental. The economic cause was the demand for fuel. A century earlier a very serious oil famine had so sobered the race that the League of Nations had been able to impose a system of cosmopolitan control upon the existing oil fields, and even the coal fields. It had also imposed strict regulations as to the use of these invaluable materials. Oil in particular was only to be used for enterprises in which no other source of power would serve. The cosmopolitan control of fuel was perhaps the supreme achievement of the League, and it remained a fixed policy of the race long after the League had been superseded. Yet, by a choice irony of fate, this quite unusually sane policy contributed largely to the downfall of civilization. By means of it, as will later transpire, the end of coal was postponed into the period when the intelligence of the race was so deteriorated that it could no longer cope with such a crisis. Instead of adjusting itself to the novel situation, it simply collapsed.
But at the time with which we are at present dealing, means had recently been found of profitably working the huge deposits of fuel in Antarctica. This vast supply unfortunately lay technically beyond the jurisdiction of the World Fuel Control Board. America was first in the field, and saw in Antarctic fuel a means for her advancement, and for her selfimposed duty of Americanizing the planet. China, fearful of Americanization, demanded that the new sources should be brought under the jurisdiction of the Board. For some years feeling had become increasingly violent on this point, and both peoples had by now relapsed into the crude old nationalistic mood. War began to seem almost inevitable.
The actual occasion of conflict, however, was, as usual, an accident. A scandal was brought to light about child labour in certain Indian factories. Boys and girls under twelve were being badly sweated, and in their abject state their only adventure was precocious sex. The American Government protested, and in terms which assumed that America was the guardian of the world’s morals. India immediately held up the reform which she had begun to impose, and replied to America as to a busy-body. America threatened an expedition to set things right, “backed by the approval of all the morally sensitive races of the earth.” China now intervened to keep the peace between her rival and her partner, and undertook to see that the evil should be abolished, if America would withdraw her extravagant slanders against the Eastern conscience. But it was too late. An American bank in China was raided, and its manager’s severed head was kicked along the street. The tribes of men had once more smelled blood. War was declared by the West upon the East.
Of the combatants, Asia, with North Africa, formed geographically the more compact system, but America and her dependents were economically more organized. At the outbreak of war neither side had any appreciable armament, for war had long ago been “outlawed.” This fact, however, made little difference; since the warfare of the period could be carried on with great effect simply by the vast swarms of civil air-craft, loaded with poison, high explosives, disease microbes, and the still more lethal “hypobiological” organisms, which contemporary science sometimes regarded as the simplest living matter, sometimes as the most complex molecules.
The struggle began with violence, slackened, and dragged on for a quarter of a century. At the close of this period, Africa was mostly in the hands of America. But Egypt was an uninhabitable no-man’s land, for the South Africans had very successfully poisoned the sources of the Nile. Europe was under Chinese military rule. This was enforced by armies of sturdy Central–Asiatics, who were already beginning to wonder why they did not make themselves masters of China also. The Chinese language, with European alphabet, was taught in all schools. In England, however, there were no schools, and no population; for early in the war, an American air-base had been established in Ireland, and England had been repeatedly devastated. Airmen passing over what had been London, could still make out the lines of Oxford Street and the Strand among the green and grey tangle of ruins. Wild nature, once so jealously preserved in national “beauty spots” against the incursion of urban civilization, now rioted over the whole island. At the other side of the world, the Japanese islands had been similarly devastated in the vain American effort to establish there an air-base from which to reach the heart of the enemy. So far, however, neither China nor America had been very seriously damaged; but recently the American biologists had devised a new malignant germ, more infectious and irresistible than anything hitherto known. Its work was to disintegrate the highest levels of the nervous system, and therefore to render all who were even slightly affected incapable of intelligent action; while a severe attack caused paralysis and finally death. With this weapon the American military had already turned one Chinese city into a bedlam; and wandering bacilli had got into the brains of several high officials throughout the province, rendering their behaviour incoherent. It was becoming the fashion to attribute all one’s blunders to a touch of the new microbe. Hitherto no effective means of resisting the spread of this plague had been discovered. And as in the early stages of the disease the patient became restlessly active, undertaking interminable and objectless journeys on the flimsiest pretexts, it seemed probable that the “American madness” would spread throughout China.
On the whole, then, the military advantage lay definitely with the Americans; but economically they were perhaps the more damaged, for their higher standard of prosperity depended largely on foreign investment and foreign trade. Throughout the American continent there was now real poverty and serious symptoms of class war, not indeed between private workers and employers, but between workers and the autocratic military governing caste which inevitably war had created. Big business had at first succumbed to the patriotic fever, but had soon remembered that war is folly and ruinous to trade. Indeed upon both sides the fervour of nationalism had lasted only a couple of years, after which the lust of adventure had given place to mere dread of the enemy. For on each side the populace had been nursed into the belief that its foe was diabolic. When a quarter of a century had passed since there had been free intercourse between the two peoples, the real mental difference which had always existed between them appeared to many almost as a difference of biological species. Thus in America the Church preached that no Chinaman had a soul. Satan, it was said, had tampered with the evolution of the Chinese race when first it had emerged from the prehuman animal. He had contrived that it should be cunning, but wholly without tenderness. He had induced in it an insatiable sensuality, and wilful blindness toward the divine, toward that superbly masterful energy-for-energy’s-sake which was the glory of America. Just as in a prehistoric era the young race of mammals had swept away the sluggish, brutish and demoded reptiles, so now, it was said, young soulful America was destined to rid the planet of the reptilian Mongol. In China, on the other hand, the official view was that the Americans were a typical case of biological retrogression. Like all parasitic organisms, they had thriven by specializing in one low-grade mode of behaviour at the expense of their higher nature; and now, “tape-worms of the planet,” they were starving out the higher capacities of the human race by their frantic acquisitiveness.
Such were the official doctrines. But the strain of war had latterly produced on each side a grave distrust of its own government, and an emphatic will for peace at any price. The governments hated the peace party even more than each other, since their existence now depended on war. They even went so far as to inform one another of the clandestine operations of the pacifists, discovered by their own secret service in enemy territory.
Thus when at last big business and the workers on each side of the Pacific had determined to stop the war by concerted action, it was very difficult for their representatives to meet.
3. On an Island in the Pacific
Save for the governments, the whole human race now earnestly desired peace; but opinion in America was balanced between the will merely to effect an economic and political unification of the world, and a fanatical craving to impose American culture on the East. In China also there was a balance of the purely commercial readiness to sacrifice ideals for the sake of peace and prosperity, and the will to preserve Chinese culture. The two individuals who were to meet in secret for the negotiation of peace were typical of their respective races; in both of them the commercial and cultural motives were present, though the commercial was by now most often dominant.
It was in the twenty-sixth year of the war that two seaplanes converged by night from the East and West upon an island in the Pacific, and settled on a secluded inlet. The moon, destined in another age to smother this whole equatorial region with her shattered body, now merely besparkled the waves. From each plane a traveller emerged, and rowed himself ashore in a rubber coracle. The two men met upon the beach, and shook hands, the one with ceremony, the other with a slightly forced brotherliness. Already the sun peered over the wall of the sea, shouting his brilliance and his heat. The Chinese, taking off his air-helmet, uncoiled his pigtail with a certain emphasis, stripped off his heavy coverings, and revealed a sky-blue silk pyjama suit, embroidered with golden dragons. The other, glancing with scarcely veiled dislike at this finery, flung off his wraps and displayed the decent grey coat and breeches with which the American business men of this period unconsciously symbolized their reversion to Puritanism. Smoking the Chinese envoy’s cigarettes, the two sat down to re-arrange the planet.
The conversation was amicable, and proceeded without hitch; for there was agreement about the practical measures to be adopted. The government in each country was to be overthrown at once. Both representatives were confident that this could be done if it could be attempted simultaneously on each side of the Pacific; for in both countries finance and the people could be trusted. In place of the national governments, a World Finance Directorate was to be created. This was to be composed of the leading commercial and industrial magnates of the world, along with representatives of the workers’ organizations. The American representative should be the first president of the Directorate, and the Chinese the first vice-president. The Directorate was to manage the whole economic re — organization of the world. In particular, industrial conditions in the East were to be brought into line with those of America, while on the other hand the American monopoly of Antarctica was to be abolished. That rich and almost virgin land was to be subjected to the control of the Directorate.
Occasionally during the conversation reference was made to the great cultural difference between the East and West; but both the negotiants seemed anxious to believe that this was only a minor matter which need not be allowed to trouble a business discussion.
At this point occurred one of those incidents which, minute in themselves, have disproportionately great effects. The unstable nature of the First Men made them peculiarly liable to suffer from such accidents, and especially so in their decline.
The talk was interrupted by the appearance of a human figure swimming round a promontory into the little bay. In the shallows she arose, and walked out of the water towards the creators of the World State. A bronze young smiling woman, completely nude, with breasts heaving after her long swim, she stood before them, hesitating. The relation between the two men was instantly changed, though neither was at first aware of it.
“Delicious daughter of Ocean,” said the Chinese, in that somewhat archaic and deliberately unAmerican English which the Asiatics now affected in communication with foreigners, “what is there that these two despicable land animals can do for you? For my friend, I cannot answer, but I at least am henceforth your slave.” His eyes roamed carelessly, yet as it were with perfect politeness, all over her body. And she, with that added grace which haloes women when they feel the kiss of an admiring gaze, pressed the sea from her hair and stood at the point of speech.
But the American protested, “Whoever you are, please do not interrupt us. We are really very busy discussing a matter of great importance, and we have no time to spare. Please go. Your nudity is offensive to one accustomed to civilized manners. In a modern country you would not be allowed to bathe without a costume. We are growing very sensitive on this point.”
A distressful but enhancing blush spread under the wet bronze, and the intruder made as if to go. But the Chinese cried, “Stay! We have almost finished our business talk. Refresh us with your presence. Bring the realities back into our discussion by permitting us to contemplate for a while the perfect vase line of your waist and thigh. Who are you? Of what race are you? My anthropological studies fail to place you. Your skin is fairer than is native here, though rich with sun. Your breasts are Grecian. Your lips are chiselled with a memory of Egypt. Your hair, night though it was, is drying with a most bewildering hint of gold. And your eyes, let me observe them. Long, subtle, as my countrywomen’s, unfathomable as the mind of India, they yet reveal themselves to your new slave as not wholly black, but violet as the zenith before dawn. Indeed this exquisite unity of incompatibles conquers both my heart and my understanding.”
During this harangue her composure was restored, though she glanced now and then at the American, who kept ever removing his gaze from her.
She answered in much the same diction as the other; but, surprisingly, with an old-time English accent, “I am certainly a mongrel. You might call me, not daughter of Ocean, but daughter of Man; for wanderers of every race have scattered their seed on this island. My body, I know, betrays its diverse ancestry in a rather queer blend of characters. My mind is perhaps unusual too, for I have never left this island. And though it is actually less than a quarter of a century since I was born, a past century has perhaps had more meaning for me than the obscure events of today. A hermit taught me. Two hundred years ago he lived actively in Europe; but towards the end of his long life he retreated to this island. As an old man he loved me. And day by day he gave me insight into the great spirit of the past; but of this age he gave me nothing. Now that he is dead, I struggle to familiarize myself with the present, but I continue to see everything from the angle of another age. And so” (turning to the American), “if I have offended against modern customs, it is because my insular mind has never been taught to regard nakedness as indecent. I am very ignorant, truly a savage. If only I could gain experience of your great world! If ever this war ends, I must travel.”
“Delectable,” said the Chinese, “exquisitely proportioned, exquisitely civilized savage! Come with me for a holiday in modern China. There you can bathe without a costume, so long as you are beautiful.”
She ignored this invitation, and seemed to have fallen into a reverie. Then absently she continued, “Perhaps I should not suffer from this restlessness, this craving to experience the world, if only I were to experience motherhood instead. Many of the islanders from time to time have enriched me with their embraces. But with none of them could I permit myself to conceive. They are dear; but not one of them is at heart more than a child.”
The American became restless. But again the Mongol intervened, with lowered and deepened voice. “I,” he said, “I, the Vice–President of the World Finance Directorate, shall be honoured to afford you the opportunity of motherhood.”
She regarded him gravely, then smiled as on a child who asks more than it is reasonable to give. But the Amercan rose hastily. Addressing the silken Mongol, he said, “You probably know that the American Government is in the act of sending a second poison fleet to turn your whole population insane, more insane than you are already. You cannot defend yourselves against this new weapon; and if I am to save you, I must not trifle any longer. Nor must you, for we must act simultaneously. We have settled all that matters for the moment. But before I leave, I must say that your behaviour toward this woman has very forcibly reminded me that there is something wrong with the Chinese way of thought and life. In my anxiety for peace, I overlooked my duty in this respect. I now give you notice that when the Directorate is established, we Americans must induce you to reform these abuses, for the world’s sake and your own.”
The Chinese rose and answered, “This matter must be settled locally. We do not expect you to accept our standards, so do not you expect us to accept yours.” He moved toward the woman, smiling. And the smile outraged the American.
We need not follow the wrangle which now ensued between the two representatives, each of whom, though in a manner cosmopolitan in sentiment, was heartily contemptuous of the other’s values. Suffice it that the American became increasingly earnest and dictatorial, the other increasingly careless and ironical. Finally the American raised his voice and presented an ultimatum. “Our treaty of world-union,” he said, “will remain unsigned unless you add a clause promising drastic reforms, which, as a matter of fact, my colleagues had already proposed as a condition of co-operation. I had decided to withhold them, in case they should wreck our treaty; but now I see they are essential. You must educate your people out of their lascivious and idle ways, and give them modern scientific religion. Teachers in your schools and universities must pledge themselves to the modern fundamentalized physics and behaviourism, and must enforce worship of the Divine Mover. The change will be difficult, but we will help you. You will need a strong order of Inquisitors, responsible to the Directorate. They will see also to the reform of your people’s sexual frivolity in which you squander so much of the Divine Energy. Unless you agree to this, I cannot stop the war. The law of God must be kept, and those who know it must enforce it.”
The woman interrupted him. “Tell me, what is this ‘God’ of yours? The Europeans worshipped love, not energy. What do you mean by energy? Is it merely to make engines go fast, and to agitate the ether?”
He answered flatly, as if repeating a lesson, “God is the all-pervading spirit of movement which seeks to actualize itself wherever it is latent. God has appointed the great American people to mechanize the universe.” He paused, contemplating the clean lines of his sea-plane. Then he continued with emphasis, “But come! Time is precious. Either you work for God, or we trample you out of God’s way.”
The woman approached him, saying, “There is certainly something great in this enthusiasm. But somehow, though my heart says you are right, my head is doubting still. There must be a mistake somewhere.”
“Mistake!” he laughed, overhanging her with his mask of power. “When a man’s soul is action, how can he be mistaken that action is divine? I have served the great God, Energy, all my life, from garage boy to World President. Has not the whole American people proved its faith by its success?”
With rapture, but still in perplexity, she gazed at him. “There’s something terribly wrong-headed about you Americans,” she said, “but certainly you are great.” She looked him in the eyes. Then suddenly she laid a hand on him, and said with conviction, “Being what you are, you are probably right. Anyhow you are a man, a real man. Take me. Be the father of my boy. Take me to the dangerous cities of America to work with you.”
The President was surprised with sudden hunger for her body, and she saw it; but he turned to the Vice–President and said, “She has seen where the truth lies. And you? War, or co-operation in God’s work?”
“The death of our bodies, or the death of our minds,” said the Chinese, but with a bitterness that lacked conviction; for he was no fanatic. “Well, since the soul is only the harmoniousness of the body’s behaviour, and since, in spite of this little dispute, we are agreed that the co-ordination of activity is the chief need of the planet today, and since in respect of our differences of temperament this lady has judged in favour of America, and moreover since, if there is any virtue in our Asiatic way of life, it will not succumb to a little propaganda, but rather will be strengthened by opposition — since all these matters are so, I accept your terms. But it would be undignified in China to let this great change be imposed upon her externally. You must give me time to form in Asia a native and spontaneous party of Energists, who will themselves propagate your gospel, and perhaps give it an elegance which, if I may say so, it has not yet. Even this we will do to secure the cosmopolitan control of Antarctica.”
Thereupon the treaty was signed; but a new and secret codicil was drawn up and signed also, and both were witnessed by the Daughter of Man, in a clear, round, oldfashioned script.
Then, taking a hand of each, she said, “And so at last the world is united. For how long, I wonder. I seem to hear my old master’s voice scolding, as though I had been rather stupid. But he failed me, and I have chosen a new master, Master of the World.”
She released the hand of the Asiatic, and made as if to draw the American away with her. And he, though he was a strict monogamist with a better half waiting for him in New York, longed to crush her sun-clad body to his Puritan cloth. She drew him away among the palm trees.
The Vice–President of the World sat down once more, lit a cigarette, and meditated, smiling.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00