Paul Morand: The magic disappearance of ten millions of war dead
From The Living Buddha (1928)
Translated by Madeleine Boyd
He made the acquaintance of the Occident through its hovels and its sinks of vice. Everything seemed unreal. Suddenly he heard an awful din. It issued from the pavement at his feet. Jâli looked down: a legless, armless man was playing a clarinet with his nostrils. His torso was decked in a military uniform and covered with decorations of the colonial wars.
Husbands who turn their wives’ lovers to their own account, countries that throttle each other after having been allied. Generals, who were enemies yesterday dine together to-day, their boots upon their dead; burglars get medals; murderers make everyone laugh. All that is neither madness, tenderness, not perversity, it is indifference.
“…Death catches me, I, the living of the living, when I am down. Is it my turn? Death follows the fashion, it does not wish to grow old, so it runs after young men…She is not content with pale faces, she must have the handsomest young men, as palatable as fruits…War gave her some very bad habits…”
No, in Europe, the dead disappear in a trap and in a few minutes they are forgotten. They leave the Western soil furtively, in darkness, as in palaces, where coffins are taken out by night through the servants’ door. The magic disappearance of ten millions of war dead was like a miracle; anywhere else, it would have taken centuries to heal!
At last, behind the Twin Peaks was a small metal bar of moon; then Jâli’s heart grew warm; he had never before seen the Pacific Ocean. Nothing separated him from Asia; it was against her that the long-range naval guns, hidden behind the forts of Presidio and the Gold Gate, were pointing…
Since the Whites have not been able to understand, let them deal with the new Asia!…Once again the world will see the evidence only after having shed torrents of blood. The conflicts of races will be the great crimes of passion of the Twentieth Century.