Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stephen Vincent Benét's Anti-Fascism

"The Blood of the Martyrs" was the second story in Stephen Vincent Benét's 1937 collection, Thirteen O'Clock: Stories of Several Worlds, and - warning, plot spoilers! - it tells the story of an apolitical biochemist named Malzius in an unnamed country, possibly an Eastern European one, who has been arrested and tortured to determine if he is truly apolitical, and being found to be so, he is offered by the dictator his laboratory and position back if he agrees to also become a spokesperson for the state and use his weight as a famous scientist toward the support of the regime and its political ideology, but he then thinks of all the young men who come from around the world to study under him and who do so because of his reputation as a rigorously honest scientist:
He paused again, seeing their faces before him. There were many. There was Williams, the Englishman, who had died in the war, and little Gregopolous with the fox-terrier eyes. There were all who had passed through his classrooms, from the stupidest to the best. They had shot little Gregopolous for treason, but that did not alter the case. From all over the world they had come - he remembered the Indian student and the Chinese. They wore cheap overcoats, they were hungry for knowledge, they ate the bad, starchy food of the poor restaurants, they had miserable little love affairs and played childish games of politics, instead of doing their work. Nevertheless, a few were promising - all must be given the truth. It did not matter if they died, but they must be given the truth. Otherwise there could be no continuity and no science.

He looked at the Dictator before him - yes, it was a hysteric face. He would know how to deal with it in his classroom - but such faces should not rule countries or young men. One was willing to go through a great many meaningless ceremonies in order to do one's work - wear a uniform or salute or be president of the Academy. That did not matter; it was part of the due to Caesar. But not to tell lies to young men on one's own subject. After all, they had called him The Bear . . . . They had given him their terrible confidence - not for love or kindness, but because they had found him honest. It was too late to change.
Though surrounded by military men, he nevertheless resists:
Professor Malzius stood, his fingers gripping the big, old-fashioned inkwell. It was full of ink - the servants of the Dictator were very efficient. They could shoot small people with the eyes of fox terriers for treason, but their trains arrived on time and their inkwells did not run dry.

"The state," he said, breathing. "Yes. But science does not know about states. And you are a little man - a little, unimportant man."

Then, before the General could stop him, he had picked up the inkwell and thrown it in the Dictator's face. The next moment the General's fist caught him on the side of the head and he fell behind the desk to the floor. But lying there, through his cracked glasses, he could still see the grotesque splashes of ink on the Dictator's face and uniform, and the small cut above his eye where the blood was gathering. They had not fired; he had thought he would be too close to the Dictator for them to fire in time.

"Take that man out and shoot him. At once," said the Dictator in a dry voice. He did not move to wipe the stains from his uniform—and for that Professor Malzius admired him. They rushed then, each anxious to be first. But Professor Malzius made no resistance.
Rather, he made no further resistance. No more was needed.

This story by Benét demonstrates his anti-fascist views as early as 1937, such views being perhaps an outgrowth of his Americanism, but also shaped no doubt by his study abroad in Europe.

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