Home > Uncategorized > C. Virgil Gheorghiu: In order to achieve victory the earth has been strewn with the bodies of innocent men, women, and children

C. Virgil Gheorghiu: In order to achieve victory the earth has been strewn with the bodies of innocent men, women, and children

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C. Virgil Gheorghiu
From The Twenty-Fifth Hour (1949)
Translated by Rita Eldon

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Father Koruga was silent. He was pale. Beads of perspiration fell from his eyebrows. He found it painful to sit on a chair. Ever since his legs had been amputated he could only lie down. On top of that he was running a high temperature. He wished that the interview might come to an end at the earliest possible moment so that he might be allowed to get down off that chair.

“You would have been very glad if Hitler had won the war, wouldn’t you?” the officer went on. “Hitler would have made you Metropolitan of Romania if he had won the war. You would have been very pleased with a Nazi victory.”

“No, I should not have been pleased,” said the priest.

“Then you were pleased when the Allies won?”

“That did not make me happy, either,” said the priest.

The lieutenant’s face clouded over. The priest smiled and said:

“No victory won by force of arms will ever make me happy.”

Even as he answered, the priest was looking at the photographs of concentration camps on the office walls. He remembered the corpses of George Damian, the attorney, of Vasile Apostol, and the other peasants in Fantana who had been shot by Marcu Goldenberg at the same time as he, and who had been thrown in the manure pit behind the stables. He thought of the children’s corpses in Dresden, Frankfurt, and Berlin, the bodies of Dunkirk and Stalingrad. And he was unable to rejoice at a victory achieved at their expense.

“In order to achieve victory the earth has been strewn with the bodies of innocent men, women, and children:

“‘Even in victory, there is not beauty,
And who calls it beautiful
Is one who delights in slaughter.
He who delights in slaughter
Will not succeed in his ambition to rule the world.
The slaying of multitudes should be mourned with sorrow.
A victory should be celebrated with funeral rites.'” (Lao-tse)

“This is a very fine poem,” said the officer. “Did you write it?”

“It was written by a Chinese who lived two thousand years ago.”

“Write it down for me,” said the officer. “I’d like to send it to my people back in the States.”

The officer smiled, thinking of his family. Suddenly his smile turned into a frown. He looked suspiciously at the priest.

“Are you sure the lines you recited just now were written by a Chinese?”

“Quite sure,” said the priest. “But if you like them, it’s immaterial who wrote them. They are beautiful. The rest doesn’t matter.”

“On the contrary, it matters a great deal,” said the officer. “I’m glad the author is Chinese. China is an ally of the United States. My family will be very pleased. If the lines had been written by an enemy poet I could not have sent them. Copy it out for me by tomorrow morning. I’ll give you a pencil and paper. Did you ever study anything apart from theology?”

“I learned all that my leisure permitted and that it pleased me to learn.”

“You don’t happen to know Chinese, do you?”

“No.”

“What a pity,” said the officer. “I should have got you to write out the poem in Chinese characters. That would have been a surprise for my family, who certainly don’t expect letters in Chinese from me. But never mind, if you don’t know Chinese, write it in English. The Chinese who wrote that poem has a sense of humor. And, moreover, he is an ally of the United Nations.”

Back in his tent, the priest felt broken with exhaustion. Johann helped him to lie down on the bed and put cold compresses on his forehead.

“Did he say anything about setting you free, Father?”

“Nothing,” answered the old man.

“What did he ask you?”

“He asked me to copy out a poem by Lao-tse. He would have liked to have had the original and was quite upset that I could not write Chinese characters.”

“Was that all the interview was about?”

“That was all,” said the priest.

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