THE CAMP OF THE SAINTS (Le Camp des Saints) By Jean Raspail CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT

Thirty-eight

“My friends and fellow countrymen …”

The voice was calm and self-assured, solemn but forceful. One could sense that these were no offhand remarks, that the President had labored long and hard, searching his soul, that he himself had weighed every word before writing it down. Many of the older people listening thought back to the grim, distant past, to the years between ‘939 and 1945, when heads of state, speaking to their people, really had something to say, and the people, something to ponder. The younger ones had never heard anything like it, and many were suddenly struck by their hollow existence, that void they had taken for meaningful life, decked out in the trappings of historical dialectic. To their great regret, but too late to matter! (But maybe it won’t have been in vain, if God, the resurrector, the dispenser of eternal life, restores the whites to their proper place when they rise from the dead at the crack of doom …)

“… Five hours from now, as day dawns on this Easter Monday morning, we shall either have lost or preserved our integrity as a nation, so jealously guarded for a thousand years and more. At this juncture in time, a fearful and fearsome honor is ours: that of serving as a test, an example, a symbol. For other Western nations, too, are faced at this moment with a similar threat. And they too, like ourselves, are unwilling to confront it. Five hours from now, a million refugees will peacefully begin to set foot on our soil. Refugees whose race, religion, language, and culture are different from our own. For the most part they will be women and children, jobless and needy peasants, all fleeing from famine, and misery, and despair. Dramatic examples of that ever-growing store of surplus humanity, victims of the soaring birthrate that has long been the curse of our century’s waning years. Their fate, indeed, is tragic. But our own, in turn, is no less so. If human nature were not as it is, if it truly could have been changed by the active, new ideas to which we’ve paid lip service in recent years, then perhaps, in fact, we might have been able to welcome the Third World here, to our shores; to open our arms and hearts to these first of their number, and proceed together to build ourselves a new society better fitted to face tomorrow’s teeming world. As it is, we can’t help but admit that our national reaction, at the crucial moment, has been one of repugnance: that kind of terror that the past has always seen produced by the confrontation between the races. Except for a few social dissidents and idealists—fanatics or misfits, for the most part—our people have fled from the south in droves. One of our nation’s most prosperous regions has turned into a wasteland, simply because those who lived there preferred to leave it all behind, rather than share their lives in an effort at coexistence. The reaction is hardly new. History offers us many examples, though our conscience—perhaps to its credit—has chosen not to remember them all. But therein lies the difference: I have no choice. As your President, elected by the nation, I cannot fail to act. I know, of course, that most of our people consider it inhuman and unthinkable to throw armed might against a weary, starving, and defenseless opponent. Yes, I know how they feel. And yet, my friends, the fact is this: cowardice toward the weak is cowardice at its most subtle, and, indeed, its most deadly. And so, they all hoped that the army, with no such scruples, would come to the rescue. Though clearly they had little faith, I’m afraid, since they all turned and ran. At the first signs of flight, my duty demanded that I order the army to take up positions along the coast. The result is that now, should we only choose to do so, we are perfectly able to repulse the invasion and destroy the invader. Assuming, that is, that we are willing to murder—with or without regret—a million helpless wretches. Past wars have abounded in just such crimes, but conscience back then hadn’t yet learned to waver. Survival was all, and it condoned the carnage. Besides, those were wars of rich against rich. Today it’s the poor who are on the attack, with their ultimate weapon. And if we respond with the same kind of crime, not a soul will condone our action. Our integrity as a nation will have been preserved, but we surely will bear the mark of our deed forever. Certain forces abroad in the world today know this only too well: those dark forces bent on destroying our Western society, ready to plunge forward in the wake of the invader, behind the convenient shield that our guilty conscience provides them. My friends and fellow countrymen, I have, therefore, ordered the army to open fire, if need be, to prevent the refugees from effecting a landing. But if I have decided, after sober consideration, to deny the armada its one last chance, I do so only to save you yours. And so, I am asking every soldier …”

The voice stopped short. For at least thirty seconds the sentence hung suspended on the airwaves, and nothing was heard through that eternity of silence but the President’s labored breathing. When he finally continued, it seemed he could hardly speak. His voice was so much weaker and slower, so unsure of itself, so choked with emotion. It was clear that he had put his prepared speech aside. (Some time later, in fact, historians found the typewritten text in the studio archives. Comparing it with his actual remarks, they all agreed that, just at the final moment, his will had apparently cracked, like a cliff long eaten away from beneath, and then suddenly crumbling.) Shocked by what he had written, tormented by the thought of the awesome results his words might engender, the President had changed his mind after thirty seconds of final reflection, and had let his heart and his conscience speak out. And for thirty seconds the world, too, heard only its own anxious breathing. Then each word, heavy with meaning, like handfuls of earth thrown into the grave and onto the coffin, words of farewell:

“… And so, I am asking every soldier and officer, every member of our police—asking them from the depths of my conscience and my soul—to weigh this monstrous mission for themselves, and to feel free either to accept or reject it. To kill is hard. Even harder to know why. Myself, I think I know. But I don’t have my finger on the trigger, and my gun isn’t aimed point blank at some poor soul’s flesh. My friends, whatever happens, may God help us … or forgive us.”



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