The Mayor looked steadily at her for a moment and his voice was sharp. “Madame, I think with your permission we will not have wine. The people are confused now. They have lived at peace so long that they do not quite believe in war. They will learn and then they will not be confused any more. They elected me not to be confused. Six town boys were murdered this morning. I think we will have no hunt breakfast. The people do not fight wars for sport.”
And Orden said, “Yes, that’s clear enough. But suppose the people do not want to work the mine?”
The colonel said, “I hope they will want to, because they must. We must have the coal.”
“But if they don’t?”
“They must. They are an orderly people. They don’t want trouble.” He waited for the Mayor’s reply and none came. “Is that not so, sir?”
Mayor Orden twisted his chain. “I don’t know, sir. They are orderly under their own government. I don’t know how they would be under yours. It is untouched ground, you see. We have built our government over four hundred years.”
Lieutenants Prackle and Tonder were snot-noses, undergraduates, lieutenants, trained in the politics of the day, believing the great new system invented by a genius so great that they never bothered to verify its results. They were sentimental young men, given to tears and furies.
Lanser had been in Belgium and France twenty years before and he tried not to think what he knew—that war is treachery and hatred, the muddling of incompetent generals, the torture and killing and sickness and tiredness, until at last it is over and nothing has changed except for new weariness and new hatreds. Lanser told himself he was a soldier, given orders to carry out. He was not expected to question or to think, but only to carry out orders; and he tried to put aside the sick memories of the other war and the certainty that this would be the same. This one will be different, he said to himself fifty times a day; this one will be very different.
In marching, in mobs, in football games, and in war, outlines become vague; real things become unreal and a fog creeps over the mind. Tension and excitement, weariness, movement—all merge in one great gray dream, so that when it is over, it is hard to remember how it was when you killed men or ordered them to be killed. Then other people who were not there tell you what it was like and you say vaguely, “Yes, I guess that’s how it was.”
Then Corell said insinuatingly, “Are you afraid, Colonel? Should the commander of this occupation be afraid?”
Lanser sat down heavily and said, “Maybe that’s it.” And he said disgustedly, “I’m tired of people who have not been at war who know all about it.” He held his chin in his hand and said, “I remember a little old woman in Brussels—sweet face, white hair; she was only four feet eleven; delicate old hands. You could see the veins almost black against her skin. And her black shawl and her blue-white hair. She used to sing our national songs to us in a quivering, sweet voice. She always knew where to find a cigarette or a virgin.” He dropped his hand from his chin, and he caught himself as though he had been asleep. “We didn’t know her son had been executed,” he said. “When we finally shot her, she had killed twelve men with a long, black hatpin. I have it yet at home. It was an enamel button with a bird over it, red and blue.”
Corell said, “But you shot her?”
“Of course we shot her.”
“And the murders stopped?” asked Corell.
“No, the murders did not stop.”
Winter said, “I would guess it is for the show. There’s an idea about it: if you go through the form of a thing, you have it, and sometimes people are satisfied with the form of a thing. We had an army—soldiers with guns—but it wasn’t an army, you see. The invaders will have a trial and hope to convince the people that there is justice involved. Alex did the captain, you know.”
At last Orden answered, “Why didn’t you shoot him then? That was the time to do it.”
Lanser shook his head. “If I agreed with you, it would make no difference. You know as well as I that punishment is largely for the purpose of deterring the potential criminal. Thus, since punishment is for others than the punished, it must be publicized. It must even be dramatized.” He thrust a finger in back of his belt and flipped his little dagger.
Lanser said, “No; it is true whether you believe it or not: personally, I have respect for you and your office, and”—he put his forehead in his hand for a moment—“you see, what I think, sir, I, a man of a certain age and certain memories, is of no importance. I might agree with you, but that would change nothing. The military, the political pattern I work in has certain tendencies and practices which are invariable.”
Orden said, “And these tendencies and practices have been proven wrong in every single case since the beginning of the world.”
Lanser laughed bitterly, “I, an individual man with certain memoires, might agree with you, might even add that one of the tendencies of the military mind and pattern is an inability to learn, an inability to see beyond the killing which is its job. But I am not a man subject to memories. The coal miner must be shot publicly, because the theory is that others will then restrain themselves from killing our men.”
Tonder got out his handkerchief and blew his nose, and he spoke a little like a man out of his head. He laughed embarrassedly. He said, “I had a funny dream. I guess it was a dream. Maybe it was a thought. Maybe a thought or a dream.”
Prackle said, “Make him stop, Captain!”
Tonder said, “Captain, is this place conquered?”
“Of course,” said Loft.
A little note of hysteria crept into Tonder’s laughter. He said, “Conquered and we’re afraid; conquered and we’re surrounded.” His laughter grew shrill. “I had a dream—or a thought—out in the snow with the black shadows and the faces in the doorways, the cold faces behind curtains. I had a thought or a dream.”
Prackle said, “Make him stop!”
Tonder said, “I dreamed the Leader was crazy.” […]
And Tonder went on laughing. “Conquest after conquest, deeper and deeper into molasses.” His laughter choked him and he coughed into his handkerchief. “Maybe the Leader is crazy. Flies conquer the flypaper. Flies capture two hundred miles of new flypaper!” His laughter was growing more hysterical now.
He sat down. “I’m sorry.” After a moment he said, “I wish I could do something. I’ll have the snow pushed off the roof.”
“No,” said Molly, “no.”
“Because the people would think I had joined with you. They would expel me. I don’t want to be expelled.”
Tonder said, “Yes, I see how that would be. You all hate us. But I’ll take care of you if you’ll let me.”
Now Molly knew she was in control, and her eyes narrowed a little cruelly and she said, “Why do you ask? You are the conqueror. Your men don’t have to ask. They take what they want.”
“That’s not what I want,” Tonder said. “That’s not the way I want it.”
And Molly laughed, still a little cruelly. “You want me to like you, don’t you, Lieutenant?”
“Good. Now I’ll tell you, and I hope you’ll understand it. You’re not a man any more. You are a soldier. Your comfort is of no importance and, Lieutenant, your life isn’t of much importance. If you live, you will have memories. That’s about all you will have. Meanwhile you must take orders and carry them out. Most of the orders will be unpleasant, but that’s not your business. I will not lie to you, Lieutenant. They should have trained you for this, and not for flower-strewn streets. They should have built your soul with truth, not led along with lies.”
Winter walked to one of the gilt chairs, and as he was about to sit down he noticed that its tapestry was torn, and he petted the seat with his fingers as though that would mend it. And he sat down gently because it was torn.
You know, Doctor, I am a little man and this is a little town, but there must be a spark in little men that can burst into flame. I am afraid, I am terribly afraid, and I thought of all the things I might do to save my own life, and then that went away, and sometimes now I feel a kind of exultation, as though I were bigger and better than I am, and do you know what I have been thinking, Doctor? […] Do you remember in school, in the Apology? Do you remember Socrates says, “Someone will say, ‘And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end?’ To him I may fairly answer, ‘There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether he is doing right or wrong.’”
Orden fingered his gold medallion. He said quietly, “You see, sir, nothing can change it. You will be destroyed and driven out.” His voice was very soft. “The people don’t like to be conquered, sir, and so they will not be. Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars. You will find that it is so, sir.”
[…] Madame broke in plaintively, “I wish you would tell me what all this nonsense is.”
“It is nonsense, dear.”
“But they can’t arrest the Mayor,” she explained to him.
Orden smiled at her. “No,” he said, “they can’t arrest the Mayor. The Mayor is an idea conceived by free men. It will escape arrest.”