Henry de Montherlant: A constant state of crime against humanity
Henry de Montherlant
From Chaos and Night (1963)
Translated by Terence Kilmartin
It was Europe, it was all those countries whose chancelleries, a week after the pronunciamento, knew that they were not going to support the Republicans, knew that the Republicans were already doomed, and regarded the war as a heaven-sent opportunity to judge, thanks to the corpses of six hundred thousand insignificant caballeros, the quality of the Italian and German forces who would be their enemies of tomorrow..
Now less than ever had he the strength of mind to see that his country’s civil war was but a chapter in the worldwide civil war that had long been in progress.
For twenty years he had been in exile, and it seemed to him that they were disposed to welcome him with a “What! Already!” as soldiers on leave during the First World War were greeted when they reappeared after five or six months of hell (at least according to a joke of the time – not such a joke as all that).
Celestino had noticed in Paris that any innovation whatsoever, sooner or later, without fail – literally without fail – turned out to have been copied from the Americans. As a result he had come to the conclusion that the French had lost the art of invention and creation. But it was the same in Madrid. This servility went even further in that it was no longer a question of copying the Americans but of not offending them. In Spain, as in France, and no doubt elsewhere, things that were good in themselves, and long-established in the country, were abolished with the stroke of a pen, because they displeased American tourists – and heaven knows what tourists, heaven knows what specimens of superior humanity!
More and more wary and more and more duped, more and more vicious and more and more mocked, more and more both impotent and dangerous, ineluctably doomed to die and yet still capable of killing: such was the bull at the end of its life, and such is man.
Suddenly a noise that was by way of being musical erupted outside: somebody’s radio was belching forth a North-American popular song, based on a hysterical rhythm, a hideous twitching and shaking of male and female monkeys. Nothing that Celestino, even in his worst nightmares, had imagined happening at such a time was comparable to this. He had been ready to face death in a spirit of conciliation. And now this noise was forcing him to die in a mood of just revolt and just hatred. The nation that had corrupted the world – that had corrupted Spain and Russia even, the only two countries worthy of his interest and his love – had risen up to corrupt his dying breath. It had arrived just in time to destroy the solemnity of his final hour, to snatch his soul from him or make a mockery of it, at the moment when it was his most sacred right to be in possession of his soul, his own soul as he wanted it to be.
…The ear-splitting squawks and hiccoughs went on, depriving him of all consciousness of being a human being, for the dehumanization they implied was such in his eyes that anyone who listened to them became dehumanized. And yet, almost throughout the entire planet, millions of people were listening to it with enjoyment! Yankee baseness, with demoniacal cunning, had probed men’s baser instincts, exacerbating and sometimes bringing them to the surface. He remembered the final sentence of his “famous” article on the United States, the one he intended to read to Ruiz the day they had quarrelled, and which in the end he had not even tried to place: “A single nation that has succeeded in lowering the intelligence, the morality, the quality of the human race almost throughout the globe is a phenomenon never before experienced since the beginning of the world. I accuse the United States of being in a constant state of crime against humanity.”