Flight to Arras. Iii

(Translated by Lewis Galantière)

[IN this true story of the French Air Force in May 1940, Captain Saint-Exupéry describes the experiences of his own decimated escadrille (six planes out of twenty-three survive), and more particularly what is happening to his plane, Dutertre his observer, his gunner, and himself on a dangerous sortie over Arras. Here in prose of epic quality is the story of man’s courage in the face of defeat. The chapters describing the take-off and the chaos within the French lines appeared in the Atlantic for January and February. — THE EDITOR]

XIX

‘172°'

‘Right! 172°.’

Call it one seventy-two. Epitaph: ‘Maintained his course accurately on 172°.’ How long will this crazy challenge go on? I am flying now at two thousand three hundred feet beneath a ceiling of heavy clouds. If I were to rise a mere hundred feet Dutertre would be blind. Thus we are forced to remain visible to the anti-aircraft batteries and play the part of an archer’s target for the Germans. Two thousand feet is a forbidden altitude. Your machine serves as a mark for the whole plain. You drain the cannonade of a whole army. You are within range of every calibre. You dwell an eternity in the field of fire of each successive weapon. You are not shot at with cannon but beaten with a stick. It is as if a thousand sticks were used to bring down a single walnut.

I had given a bit of thought to this problem. There is no question of a parachute. When the stricken plane dives to the ground the opening of the escape hatch takes more seconds than the dive of the plane allows. Opening the hatch involves seven turns of a crank that sticks. Besides, at full speed the hatch warps and refuses to slide.

That’s that. The medicine had to be swallowed some day. I always knew it. Meanwhile, the formula is not complicated: stick to 172°.

‘One seventy-four.’

‘Right! One seventy-four.’

Call it one seventy-four. Must change that epitaph.

‘Captain, they are beginning to fire.’

I glanced at the altimeter: two thousand one hundred and fifty feet. Clouds at two thousand three hundred. Well. Nothing to be done about it. What astonishes me is that beneath my cloud bank the world is not black, as I had thought it would be. It is blue. Marvelously blue. Twilight has come, and all the plain is blue.

‘One sixty-eight.’

‘Right! One sixty-eight.’

Call it one sixty-eight. Interesting, that the road to eternity should be zigzag. And so peaceful! The earth here looks like an orchard. A moment ago it seemed to me skeletal, inhumanly desiccated. But I am flying low in a sort of intimacy with it. There are trees, some standing isolated, others in clusters. You meet them. And green fields. And houses with red tile roofs.

‘One seventy-five.’

My epitaph has lost a good deal of its laconic dignity: ‘Maintained his course on 172°, 174°, 168°, 175°. . .’ I shall seem a very versatile fellow. What’s that? Engine coughing? Growing cold. I shut the ventilators of the hood. Good. Time to change over to the reserve tanks. I pull the lever. Have I forgotten anything? I glance at the oil gauge. Everything shipshape.

‘Beginning to get a bit nasty, Captain.’

Beginning to get nasty. And yet I cannot help being astonished by the blue of the evening. It is so extraordinary. The color is so deep. And those fruit trees, plum trees, perhaps, flowing by. I am part of the countryside now. I am a marauder who has jumped over the wall. I am running through the wet alfalfa, stealing plums. This is an odd war. A war nostalgic and beautifully blue. I got lost somehow, and strayed into this strange country in my old age. . . .

‘Zigzag, Captain!’

Here is a new game. You kick the rudder bar with your right foot and then your left, and the anti-aircraft battery can’t touch you. When, as a child, I fell down I used to bruise myself and raise swellings. I am sure my nurse used to cure me with compresses of arnica. I am going to need arnica awfully, I think.

Forward of my plane I saw suddenly three lance-strokes aimed at my machine. Three long brilliant vertical twigs. The paths of tracer bullets fired from a small-calibre gun. They were golden. Suddenly in the blue of the evening I had seen the spurting glow of a threebranched candlestick.

‘Captain! Firing very fast to port. Hard down!’

I kicked my rudder.

‘Getting worse!’

Worse?

Yes, it is getting worse; but I feel none of those things I thought I should feel when facing the claws of these shooting stars.

I am in a country that moves my heart. Day is dying. On the left I see great slabs of light among the showers. They are like panes in a cathedral window. Almost within reach, I can all but handle the good things of the earth. There are those plum trees with their plums. There is that earth-smelling earth. It must be wonderful to tramp over damp earth.

‘Arras!’

Yes. Very far ahead. But Arras is not a town. Arras thus far is no more than a red plume against a blue background of night. Against a background of storm. For unmistakably, forward on the left, an awful squall is collecting. Twilight alone would not explain this half-light. It wants blocks of clouds to filter a glow so sombre. The flame of Arras is bigger now. You wouldn’t call it the flame of a conflagration. A conflagration spreads like a chancre surrounded by no more than a narrow edge of living flesh. That red plume permanently alight is the gleam of a lamp that might be smoking a bit. It is a flame without flicker, sure to last, well fed with oil. I can feel it moulded and kneaded out of a compact substance, something almost solid that the wind stirs from time to time and bends as it bends a tree. That’s it: a tree. Arras is caught up in the mesh of roots of this tree. And all the pith of Arras, all the substance of Arras, all the treasures of Arras leap, now become sap, to nourish this tree.

I can see that occasionally top-heavy flame lose its equilibrium to right or left, belch forth an even blacker cloud of smoke, and then collect itself again. But I am still unable to make out the town.

The whole war is summed up in that glow. Dutertre says that it is getting worse. Perched up forward, he can see better than I can. Nevertheless, I am astonished by a sort of indulgence shown us: this venomous plain sends forth few stars.

‘Captain! Captain! I’ve never seen anything like it!’

Nor have I.

Where now is my vulnerability? Unknown to myself, I had been hoping. . . .

XX

Despite my lack of altitude, I had been hoping. Despite the tank parks, despite the flame over Arras. Desperately, I had been hoping.

I had been using every trick in my bag. When Dutertre said to me, ‘It’s getting worse,’ I used even that threat as a source of hope. We were at war: necessarily, then, there had to be evidence of war. The evidence was no more than a few streaks of light. ‘ Is this your terrible danger of death over Arras? Don’t make me laugh!’

I myself could not but be deceived — since this whole world was snug and verdant, since the wet slate and tile shone so cordially, since from minute to minute nothing changed or promised to change. Since we three, Dutertre, the gunner, and I, were men walking across fields, sauntering idly home without so much as the need to raise our collars, so little was it raining. Since here at the heart of the German zone nothing stood forth that was really worth telling about; whence it must follow that, farther on, the war need not of necessity be different from this. Since it seemed that the enemy had scattered and melted into the wide and rural plain, standing perhaps at the rate of one soldier to a house, one soldier to a tree, one of whom, remembering now and then the war, would fire. The order had been drummed into the fellow’s ears: ‘Fire on all enemy planes.’ But he had been daydreaming, and the order had been dimmed by the dream. He let fly his three rounds without much expectation of results. Thus at dusk I used to shoot ducks that meant very little to me if the evening invited my soul. I would fire while talking about something else. It hardly disturbed the ducks.

How vulnerable I was! Yet it seemed to me that my very vulnerability was a

trap, a means of cajoling the enemy: ‘Why fire? Your friends are sure to bring me down a little farther on.’ And they would shrug their shoulders: ‘Go break your neck somewhere else.’ They were leaving the chore to the next battery— because they were anxious not to miss their turn at the soup, were finishing their funny story, or were simply enjoying the evening breeze. I was taking advantage of their negligence, and I was saved by the seeming coincidence that all of them at once appeared to be weary of war. And why not? Already I was thinking vaguely that from soldier to soldier, squad to squad, village to village,

I should get through this sortie. After all, what were we but a passing plane in the evening sky? Not enough to make a man raise his eyes.

Of course I hoped to get back. But I could feel at the same time that something was in the air. You are sentenced; a penalty hangs over you; but the gaol in which you are locked up continues silent. You cling to that silence. Every second that drops is like the one that went before. There is no reason why the second about to drop should change the world. Such a task is too heavy for a single second. Each second that follows safeguards your silence. Already this silence seems perpetual.

But the step of him who must come sounds in the corridor.

Something in this countryside suddenly exploded. So a log that seemed burnt out crackles suddenly and shoots forth its sparks. How did it happen that the whole plain started up at the same moment? When spring comes, all the trees at once drop their seed. Why this sudden springtime of arms? Why this luminous flood rising towards us and, of a sudden, universal?

My first feeling was that I had been careless. I had ruined everything. A wink, a single gesture is enough to topple you from the tightrope. A mountain climber coughs, and he releases an avalanche. Once he has released the avalanche, all is over.

We had been swaying heavily through this blue swamp already drowned in night. We had stirred up this silent slime; and now, in tens of thousands, it was sending towards us its golden bubbles. A nation of jugglers had burst into dance. A nation of jugglers was dribbling its projectiles in tens of thousands in our direction. Because they came straight at us, they appeared at first to be motionless. Like colored balls which jugglers seem not so much to fling into the air as to release upwards, they rose in a lingering ascension. I could see those tears of light flowing towards me through a silence as of oil. That silence in which jugglers perform.

Each burst of a machine gun or a rapid-fire cannon shot forth hundreds of these phosphorescent bullets that followed one another like the beads of a rosary. A thousand elastic rosaries strung themselves out towards the plane, drew themselves out to the breaking point, and burst at our height. When, missing us, the string went off at a tangent, its speed was dizzying. The bullets were transformed into lightning. And I flew drowned in a crop of trajectories as golden as stalks of wheat. I flew at the centre of a thicket of lancestrokes. I flew threatened by a vast and dizzying flutter of knitting needles. All the plain was now bound to me, woven and wound round me, a coruscating web of golden wire.

I leaned towards the earth and saw those storied levels of luminous bubbles rising with the tardy movement of veils of fog. I saw as I stared the slow vortex of seed, swirling like the husk of threshed grain. And when I raised my head I saw on the horizon those stacks of lances. Guns firing? Not at all! I am attacked by cold steel. These are swords of light.

I feel . . . certainly not in danger! Dazzled I am by the luxury that envelops me.

What’s that!

I was jolted nearly a foot out of my seat. The plane has been rammed hard, I thought. It has burst, been ground to bits. . . . But it hasn’t; it hasn’t. . . . I can still feel it responsive to the controls. This was but the first blow of a deluge of blows. Yet there was no sign of explosion below. The smoke of the heavy guns had probably blended into the dark ground.

I raised my head and stared. What I saw was without appeal.

XXI

I had been looking on at a carnival of light. The ceiling had risen little by little and I had been unaware of an intervening space between the clouds and me. I had been zigzagging along a line of flight dotted by ground batteries. Their tracer bullets had been spraying the air with wheat-colored shafts of light. I had forgotten that at the top of their flight the shells of those batteries must burst. And now, raising my head, I saw around and before me those rivets of smoke and steel driven into the sky in the pattern of towering pyramids.

I was quite aware that those rivets were no sooner driven than all danger went out of them, that each of those puffs possessed the power of life and death only for a fraction of a second. But so sudden and simultaneous was their appearance that the image flashed into my mind of conspirators intent upon my death. Abruptly their purpose was revealed to me, and I felt on the nape of my neck the weight of an inescapable reprobation.

Muffled as those explosions reached me, their sound covered by the roar of my engines, I had the illusion of an extraordinary silence. Those vast packets of smoke and steel, moving soundlessly upward and behind me with the lingering flow of icebergs, persuaded me that, seen in their perspective, I must be virtually motionless. I was motionless in the dock before an immense assizes. The judges were deliberating my fate, and there was nothing I could plead. Once again the timelessness of suspense seized me. I thought, — I was still able to think, — ‘They are aiming too high,’ and I looked up in time to see straight overhead, swinging away from me as it with reluctance, a swarm of black flakes that glided like eagles. Those eagles had given me up. I was not to be their prey. But even so, what hope was there for me?

The batteries that continued to miss me continued also to readjust their aim. New walls of smoke and steel continued to be built up round me as I flew. The ground-fire was not seeking me out, it was closing me in.

‘Dutertre! How much more of this is there?’

‘Stick it out three minutes, Captain. Looks bad, though.’

‘Think we’ll get through?’

‘Not on your life!’

There never was such muck as this murky smoke, this mess as grimy as a heap of filthy rags. The plain was blue. Immensely blue. Deep-sea blue.

What was a man’s life worth between this blue plain and this foul sky? Ten seconds, perhaps; or twenty. The shock of the exploding shells set all the sky shuddering. When a shell burst very near, the explosion rumbled along the plane like rock dropping through a chute. And when for a moment the roar stopped, the plane rang with a sound that was almost musical. Like a sigh, almost; and the sigh told us that the plane had been missed. Those bursts were like the thunder: the closer they came, the simpler they were. A rumble meant distance, a clean bang! meant that we had been squarely hit by a shell fragment. The tiger does not do a messy job on the ox it brings down. The tiger sets its claws into the ox without skidding. It takes possession of the ox. Each square hit by a fragment of shell sank into the hull of the plane like a claw into living flesh.

‘Anybody hurt?’

‘Not I!’

‘Gunner! You all right?’

‘O.K., sir!’

Somehow those explosions, though I find I must mention them, did not really count. They drummed upon the hull of the plane as upon a drum. They pierced my fuel tanks. They might as easily have drummed upon our bellies, pierced them instead. What is the belly but a kind of drum? But who cares what happens to his body? Extraordinary, how little the body matters.

I used to wonder as I was dressing for a sortie what a man’s last moments were like. And each time, life would give the lie to the ghosts I evoked. Here I was, now, naked and running the gauntlet, unable so much as to guard my head by arm or shoulder from the crazy blows raining down upon me. I had always assumed that the ordeal, when it came, would be an ordeal that concerned my flesh. My flesh alone, I assumed, would be subjected to the ordeal. It was unavoidable that in thinking of these things I should adopt the point of view of my body. Like all men, I had given it a good deal of time. I had dressed it, bathed it, fed it, quenched its thirst. I had identified myself with this domesticated animal. I had taken it to the tailor, the surgeon, the barber. I had been unhappy with it, cried out in pain with it, loved with it. I had said of it, ‘This is me.’ And now of a sudden my illusion vanished. What was my body to me? A kind of flunky in my service. Let but my anger wax hot, my love grow exalted, my hatred collect in me, and that boasted solidarity between me and my body was gone.

Your son is in a burning house. Nobody can hold you back. You may burn up; but do you think of that? You are ready to bequeath the rags of your body to any man who will take them. You discover that what you set so much store by is trash. You would sell your hand, if need be, to give a hand to a friend. It is in your act that you exist, not in your body. Your act is yourself, and there is no other you. Your body belongs to you: it is not you. Are you about to strike an enemy? No threat of bodily harm can hold you back. You? It is the death of your enemy that is you. You? It is the rescue of your child that is you. In that moment you exchange yourself against something else; and you have no feeling that you lost by the exchange. Your members? Tools. A tool snaps in your hand: how important is that tool? You exchange yourself against the death of your enemy, the rescue of your child, the recovery of your patient, the perfection of your theorem. Here is a pilot of my Group wounded and dying. A true citation in general orders would read: ‘Called out to his observer, “They’ve got me! Beat it! And for God’s sake don’t lose those notes!” ‘ What matters is the notes, the child, the patient, the theorem. Your true significance becomes dazzlingly evident. Your true name is duty, hatred, love, child, theorem. There is no other you than this.

The flames of the house, of the diving plane, strip away the flesh; but they strip away the worship of the flesh too. Man ceases to be concerned with himself: he recognizes of a sudden what he forms part of. If he should die, he would not be cutting himself off from his kind, but making himself one with them. He would not be losing himself, but finding himself. This that I affirm is not the wishful thinking of a moralist. It is an everyday fact. It is a commonplace truth. But a fact and a truth hidden under the veneer of our everyday illusion. Dressing and fretting over the fate that might befall my body, it was impossible for me to see that I was fretting over something absurd. But in the instant when you are giving up your body, you learn to your amazement — all men always learn to their amazement — how little store you set by your body. It would be foolish to deny that during all those years of my life when nothing insistent was prompting me, when the meaning of my existence was not at stake, it was impossible for me to conceive that anything might be half so important as my body. But here in this plane I say to my body (in effect), ‘One way and another, I have dragged you through life to this point; and here I discover that you are of no importance.'

Man does not die. Man imagines that it is death he fears; but what he fears is the unforeseen, the explosion. What man fears is himself, not death. There is no death when you meet death. When the body sinks into death, the essence of man is revealed. Man is a knot, a web, a mesh into which relationships are tied. Only those relationships matter. The body is an old crock that nobody will miss. I have never known a man to think of himself when dying. Never.

‘Captain!’

‘What’s up?’

‘Getting hot!’

‘ Gunner! ‘

‘Er . . . yes, sir.’

‘What—’

My question vanished in the shock of another explosion.

‘Dutertre!’

‘Captain?’

‘Hurt?’

‘No.’

‘You, gunner!'

‘Yes, sir.’

‘I wa —’

I seemed to be running the plane into a bronze wall. A voice in my ear said, ‘ Boy! oh, boy! ‘ as I looked up to measure the distance to the overhanging clouds. The sharper the angle at which I stared, the more densely the murky tufts seemed to be piled up. Seen straight overhead, the sky was visible between them, they hung curved and scattered, forming a gigantic coronet in the air.

A man’s thigh muscles are incredibly powerful. I bore down upon the rudder bar with all my strength and sent the plane shuddering and skidding at right angles to our line of flight. The coronet swung overhead and slid down on my right. I had got away from one of the batteries and left it firing wasted packets of shell. But before I could bring my other thigh into play the ground battery had set straight what hung askew — the coronet of smoke was back again. Once more I bore down, and again the plane groaned and swayed in this swampy sky. All the weight of my body was on that bar, and the machine had swung, had skidded squarely to starboard. The coronet curved now above me on the left.

Would we last it out? But how could we! Each time that I brought the ship brutally round, the deluge of lancestrokes followed me before I could jerk back again. Each time the coronet was set back into place and the shell bursts shook up the plane anew. And each time, when I looked down, I saw again that same dizzyingly slow ascension of golden bubbles that seemed to be accurately centred upon my plane. How did it happen that we were still whole? I began to believe in us. ‘ I am invulnerable, after all,’ I said to myself. ‘I am winning. From second to second, I am more and more the winner.’

‘Anybody hurt yet?’

‘Nobody.’

They were unhurt. They were invulnerable. They were victorious. I was the owner of a winning team. And from that moment each explosion seemed to me not to threaten us but to temper us. Each time, for a fraction of a second, it seemed to me that my plane had been blown to bits; but each time it responded anew to the controls and I nursed it along like a coachman pulling hard on the reins. I began to relax, and a wave of jubilation went through me. There was just time enough for me to feel fear as no more than a physical stiffening induced by a loud crash, when instantly after each buffet a wave of relief went through me. I ought to have felt successively the shock, then the fear, then the relief; but there wasn’t time. What I felt was the shock, then instantly the relief. Shock, relief. Fear, the intermediate step, was missing. And during the second that followed the shock I did not live in the expectancy of death in the second to come, but in the conviction of resurrection born of the second just passed. I lived in a sort of slipstream of joy, in the wake of my jubilation. A prodigiously unlooked-for pleasure was flowing through me. It was as if, with each second that passed, life was being granted me anew. As if with each second that passed my life became a thing more vivid to me. I was living. I was alive. I was still alive. I was the source of life itself. I was thrilled through with the intoxication of living. ‘The heat of battle’ is a familiar phrase; the heat of living is a truer one. ‘I wonder,’ I said to myself, ‘if those Germans below who are firing at us know that they are creating life within us?’

All my tanks had been pierced, both gas and oil. Otherwise we seemed to be sound. Dutertre called out that he was through, and once again I looked up and calculated the distance to the clouds. I raised the nose of the ship, and once again I sent the plane zigzagging as I climbed. Once again I cast a glance earthwards. What I saw I shall not forget. The plane was crackling everywhere with short wicks of spurting flame — the rapid-fire cannon. The colored balls were still floating upward through an immense blue aquarium of air. Arras was glowing dark red like iron on the anvil, a flame fed by subterranean stores, by the sweat of men, the inventions of men, the arts of men, the memories and patrimony of men, all these braided in the ruddy ascension of that single plume that changed them into fire and ash, borne away on the wind.

Already I was flying through the first packets of mist. Golden arrows still rose and pierced the belly of the cloud, and just as the cloud closed round me I caught through an opening my last glimpse of that scene. For a single instant the flame over Arras rose up glowing in the night like a lamp in the nave of a cathedral. The lamp that was Arras was burning in the service of a cult, but at a price. By tomorrow it would have consumed Arras and itself have been consumed.

‘Everything all right, Dutertre?’

‘First rate, captain. Two-forty, please. We shan’t be able to come down out of this cloud for about twenty minutes. Then I’ll pick up a landmark along the Seine somewhere.’

‘Everything all right, gunner?’

‘Everything fine, sir.’

‘Not too hot for you, was it?’

‘No, I guess not, sir.’

Hard for him to tell. But he was feeling fine. I thought of Gavoille’s gunner. In the days when this was still a very odd war, we used to do long-distance reconnaissance over Germany. There was a night over the Rhine when eighty searchlights picked up Gavoille’s plane and built a giant basilica round it. The anti-aircraft began to fire, and suddenly Gavoille heard his gunner talking to himself— for the intercom is hardly a private line. The man was muttering a dialogue of one: ‘Think you’ve been around, do you? I’ll tell you something you’ve never seen! ‘ He was feeling fine, that gunner.

I flew on, drawing deep slow breaths. I filled my lungs to the bottom. It was wonderful to breathe again. There were many things I was going to find out about. First I thought of Alias. No, that’s not true. I thought first of my host, my farmer. I still looked forward to asking him how many instruments he thought a pilot had to watch. Sorry, but I am stubborn about some things. One hundred and three. He would never guess. Which reminds me. When your tanks have been pierced, it does no harm to have a look at your gauges. Wonderful tanks! Their rubber coatings had done their job; automatically, they had contracted and plugged the holes made by bullets and shell splinters. I had a look at my stabilizers too. This cloud we flew in was a storm cloud. It shook us up pretty badly.

‘Think we can come down now?’

‘Ten minutes more. Better wait another ten minutes.’

Of course I could wait another ten minutes. . . . Yes, I had thought of Alias. Was he still expecting us, I wondered? The other day we had been half an hour late. A half hour is generally longer than you ought to be: it means trouble. I had landed and run to join the Group, who were at table. I had opened the door and fallen into a chair beside Alias. At that moment he had a cluster of spaghetti on his fork and was preparing to tuck it away. He jumped, took a good look at me, and sat perfectly still, the noodles hanging from his fork.

‘Well, I . . . Glad to see you,’ he said.

And he stuffed the noodles into his mouth.

The major has one serious fault, to my mind. He insists stubbornly on examining his pilots about their sorties. He will examine me. He will sit looking at me with embarrassing patience, waiting for me to spin out my commonplace observations. He will have armed himself with paper and pencil, determined not to lose a single drop of the elixir I shall presumably have brought back.

Intelligence is Dutertre’s business, not mine. He is the observer; I am the pilot. From where he sits he can see straight below. He sees lots of things — lorries, barges, tanks, soldiers, cannon, horses, railway stations, trains, station masters. From where I sit I see the world at an angle. I see clouds, sea, rivers, mountains, sun. I see roughly, and get only a general impression.

‘Major, you know as well as I do that a pilot . . .’

‘Come, come, Saint-Ex! You do see some things, after all.’

I . . . Oh, yes! Flames. Villages burning. Doesn’t the major think that interesting?

‘Nonsense! The whole country is on fire. What else?’

Why must Alias be so cruel?

XXII

What I bring back from this sortie is not matter for a report. When Alias examines me I shall flunk like a schoolboy standing before all the class at a blackboard. I shall seem very unhappy, and yet I shall not be unhappy. Unhappiness is behind me. It fled in that instant when the shell bursts began to drum upon the plane. Had I turned back one second before, I should have missed knowing myself.

I should never have known the flood of affection that at this moment fills my heart. I am going back to my own kind. I am going home. I am like a housewife whose shopping is done and who is on her way home, her mind on the savory dinner with which she is about to delight her family. Her market basket swings on her arm to left and right.

Even in the belly of this cloud I am on my way home from market. The major was right, after all. When he sent us off in a voice that seemed to say, ‘And then you take the first turn to the right, where you will see a tobacco shop,’ his voice was pitched on the right note. My conscience is at rest. I have the major’s matches in my pocket — or more truly, Dutertre has them in his pocket. How Dutertre manages to remember what he saw, I cannot imagine. But that is his business. My mind is on more serious things. We shall land; and if the enemy spare us the nuisance of a sudden rush to still another field, I shall challenge Lacordaire and beat him at chess. He hates to lose. So do I. But I shall win.

Yesterday, be it said without dishonor, Lacordaire got tight. At least, a little tight. He had got tight in order to console himself. Coming in from a sortie, he had forgotten to release his landing gear and had set the plane down on her belly. Unfortunately, Alias had seen him do it; but he had not said a word. And Lacordaire, a pilot of long experience, had stood by, waiting for Alias to turn upon him. He had stood by hoping that Alias would curse him. A violent tongue-lashing would have done him good. It would have allowed him to explode too. It would have allowed him to get off his chest the rage against himself that was swelling in him. But Alias had merely shaken his head sadly. Alias’s mind was on the plane, not on the pilot. To the major, this accident was a kind of anonymous misfortune, a statistical tax levied on the Group. It was the effect of one of those moments of absent-mindedness that attack even the most experienced pilots. It was an injustice, and Lacordaire was its victim. Except this blunder, Lacordaire’s professional record was clean. Alias knew this, and all that bothered him was the plane. Automatically, without thinking, he turned to Lacordaire and asked him how bad he thought the damage was. And I could feel Lacordaire’s pent-up rage rise a degree at the question. You put your hand cordially on the torturer’s shoulder and say to him, ‘How badly do you think your victim is suffering?’ Truly, the human heart is unfathomable. That friendly hand soliciting the torturer’s sympathy exasperates the torturer. He flings a black look at the victim and is sorry he hasn’t finished her off.

I am on my way home. Group 2-33 is my home. And I understand my kind. I cannot be mistaken about Lacordaire. Lacordaire cannot be mistaken about me. Nothing is stronger than the community of feeling between us, the feeling that goes through me when I say, ‘We of Group 2-33.’ The particles, the fragments that we are, collect and possess meaning in the fact of the Group.

Flying in the cloud, I think of Gavoille and Hochedé. I am stirred by the community of feeling that binds me to them. I wonder about Gavoille. What sort of people does he come of? There is a wonderful earthy substance in Gavoille. A memory sweeps suddenly over me and fills me with warmth. At Orconte, Gavoille too was billeted with a peasant. One day he said to me, ‘The farmer’s wife killed a pig the other day. She wants us to try her blood-sausage.’

Three of us sat eating the wonderful black and crackling skin — Gavoille, Israel, and I. There was a crock of white wine to wash it down. Gavoille said as we ate, ‘I bought this for the farmer’s wife, thinking she’d like it. Write something in it for her.’ It was a copy of one of my books. I was not in the least embarrassed. I wrote in it with pleasure, to please them both. Gavoille sat scratching his leg. Israel was stuffing his pipe. The farmer’s wife seemed pleased to have a book inscribed by an author. The kitchen was redolent of the sausage. I was a little tight, for the white wine was heady.

I did not feel in the least strange, despite the fact of inscribing a book — a thing which in other circumstances has always bothered me. I did not feel at all out of place. Despite the book, I did not think of myself either as an author or as an outsider. I was not an outsider. Israel looked on and smiled pleasantly as I wrote my name. Gavoille went on scratching his leg. And I felt grateful for the way they took it. That book might have made them look upon me as an outsider. Yet it didn’t. I was still one of them.

The notion of looking on at life has always been hateful to me. What am I if I am not a participant? In order to be, I must participate. I am fed by the quality that resides in those who participate with me. That quality is something the men of the Group never think of — not out of humility, but because they do not stoop to measure it. Gavoille does not wonder about himself, nor does Israel. Each of these men is a web woven of his job, his trade, his duty. That smoking sausage, eaten in these circumstances, is woven into that web. The presence of these men is dense, full of meaning, and it warms my heart. I am able to sit with them in silence. To drink my white wine with them. To sign my book without thereby cutting myself off from them. Nothing in the world is strong enough to wreck this fellowship.

I have mentioned before that because I was a writer I might have enjoyed certain advantages, certain liberties in this war. I might for example have been free to leave Group 2-33 the day I no longer approved of what I was ordered to do. But that kind of liberty I reject almost with terror. It is no more than the liberty to be a bystander, which is to say the liberty not to exist. There is no growth except in the acceptance of obligations.

We in France all but died of intelligence unsupported by substance. Gavoille exists. He loves, hates, rejoices, complains. He is shaped and heightened by the strands woven together and constituting his being. And exactly as, sitting with him at table, I took pleasure from the crisp sausage we shared, so I take pleasure from the obligations of the craft that fuse us of the Group into a common being. I love Group 2-33. I do not love it with the love of a spectator looking on at a handsome spectacle. I don’t give a button for spectacles. I love Group 2-33 because I am part of it and it is part of me, because it nourishes me and I contribute to nourishing it.

And now, flying home from Arras, I am more than ever interwoven with Group 2-33. I have formed still another tie with it. I have intensified in me that feeling of communion with it that is to be relished and left unspoken. Each of us had risked his life in more or less the same fashion. Israel had disappeared. It seemed pretty certain that in the course of today’s outing I too should disappear. What have I earned by this swing round the sky except a slightly better right to sit down at their table and be silent with them? The right is dearly bought; but it is a dear right. It is the right to be, and thus to escape nonbeing.

Yet the notion that I shall stammer when, some minutes from now, Alias will put his questions, makes me go red. I shall feel ashamed, I know. The major will think me a little idiotic. The shame that I feel already by anticipation is genuine. Yet . . . Once again I had taken off—this time to Arras—in search of the proof of my good faith. I had risked my flesh in this sortie. I had risked it being pretty sure that I should lose it. I had given everything to the rules of the game in order to turn them somehow into something other than the rules of the game. And this being so, I have won the right to appear sheepish when the major examines me. The right, that is, to participate. To be interwoven with the rest. To commune with them. To give and receive. To be more than myself. To possess this plenitude that swells so powerfully within me. To feel the love that I feel for the Group, a love that is not an impulse from without but is something inward and never to be manifested — except at a farewell dinner. At a farewell dinner you are sure to be a little drunk, and the benevolence born of alcohol is sure to make you lean towards your friends as a tree whose boughs bend with gifts. My love of the Group has no need of definition. It is woven of bonds. It is my substance. I am of the Group, and the Group is of me.

And as I think of the Group, it is impossible for me not to think of Hochedé. Hochedé made a total gift of himself to this war. More, probably, than any of us, Hochedé dwells permanently in that state which I have striven so hard to attain to. Hochedé has arrived at the goal towards which the rest of us tend, the goal I seek to reach.

Hochedé is a former sergeant recently promoted second lieutenant. I can imagine that his culture is slight. He is unable to shed any light upon himself. But he is constructed, he is complete. The word ‘duty’ loses all bombast when applied to Hochedé. Any man would be happy to accept his duty as Hochedé does.

When I think of Hochedé, I reproach myself all my petty renunciations, my negligences, my laziness, and my moments of intellectualism, which is to say skepticism. This is not a sign in me of virtue but of intelligent jealousy. I should like to exist as completely as Hochedé does. A tree solidly planted on its roots is a beautiful thing. The permanence of Hochedé is a beautiful thing. Hochedé could never disappoint.

Volunteer? We were all volunteers on all our sorties. For the rest of us, the reason was a vague need to believe in ourselves. By volunteering, we outdid ourselves a little. Hochedé was a volunteer by nature. He was, in essence, this war. The fact was so evident that when a plane was bound to be sacrificed the major thought automatically of Hochedé. ‘Look here, Hochedé. . . .’ Hochedé was steeped in this war as a monk is steeped in religion. For whom did he fight? For himself, since he was interwoven with the war, with the Group, with France. Hochedé was fused together with a certain substance, and that substance, which was his own significance, had to be saved. At Hochedé’s level, life and death are somewhat the same thing. Hochedé was already part of both. Perhaps without realizing it, he hardly feared death. Stick it out; make others stick it out — that was what mattered. For Hochedé, life and death had become reconciled.

I am part of Israel, of Gavoille, of Hochedé, and they are part of me. I am part of Group 2-33, and it of me. I am part of my country, and it of me. My country and I are one. And all the men of Group 2-33 are one with their country.

XXIII

I have changed a good deal. I had been bitter these last days, Major Alias — these last days when the armored invasion was meeting no resistance, when our sacrificial offerings cost the Group seventeen out of twenty-three crews. It had seemed to me that we — that you in particular — were agreeing to play the part of dead men merely because the show called for dead supernumeraries. I had been bitter, Major Alias; and I had been wrong.

You in particular, but the rest of us too, had clung to the letter of a duty whose spirit had ceased to be visible for us. You had driven us intuitively not towards victory, which was impossible, but towards self-fulfillment. You knew as well as we did that the intelligence we brought back would never reach the Staff. But you were salvaging rites whose power none of us could perceive. Each time that you examined us on the lorries, the barges, the railway trains we had spotted, examined us as soberly as if our answers could possibly serve a purpose, you seemed to me revoltingly hypocritical. But you were right, Major Alias.

Until I learned what I learned over Arras, I could feel no responsibility for this stream of refugees over which once more I fly. I can be bound to no men except those to whom I give. I understand no men except those to whom I am bound. I exist only to the degree that I am nourished by the springs at my roots. I am bound to that mob on the highways, and it is bound to me. At three hundred miles an hour and an elevation of six hundred feet, now that I have come down out of the clouds, I have become one with that mob. I, flying in the descending night, am like a shepherd who in a single glance counts and collects and welds his scattered sheep into a flock again. That mob is no longer a mob, it is a people.

We dwell in the rot of defeat, yet I am filled with a solemn and abiding jubilation, as if I had just come from a sacrament. I am steeped in chaos, yet I have won a victory. Is there a single pilot of the Group who ever flew home without this feeling of victory in his breast? This very day, when Pénicot came in from a morning’s low-altitude sortie and was telling me about it, this was how he spoke:—

‘Whenever one of their ground batteries seemed to me to be aiming too well for my comfort, I would zoom down just above the ground and make straight for the battery at full speed, and the spray from my guns would blow out their ruddy fire as if it was a candle. Before they knew it, I was on their gun crew, and you would have thought I was a bursting shell. Bang! The crew would scatter and flop in every direction. I swear, I felt as if I was scattering ninepins.’ And Pénicot, victorious captain, roared with glee, as pleased with himself as Gavoille’s gunner when they flew through the vault of the enemy searchlights like a military wedding-party marching under an arch of swords.

‘Ninety-four, Captain.’

Dutertre had picked up a landmark along the Seine, and we were down now to four hundred feet. Flowing beneath me at three hundred miles an hour, the earth was drawing great rectangles of wheat and alfalfa, great triangles of forest, across my glass windscreen. Divided by the stem of the plane, the flow of the broken landscape to left and right filled me with a curious satisfaction. The Seine shone below, and when I crossed its winding course at an angle it seemed to speed past and pivot upon itself. The swirl of the river was as lovely in my sight as the curve of a sickle in a field. I felt restored to my element. I was captain of my ship. The fuel tanks were holding out. I should certainly win a drink at poker dice from Pénicot and then beat Lacordaire at chess.

It was impossible for me not to contrast in my mind the two worlds of plane and earth. I had led Dutertre and my gunner this day beyond the bourne at which reasonable men would stop. We had seen France in flames. We had seen the sun shining on the sea. We had grown old in the upper altitudes. We had bent our glance upon a distant earth as over the cases of a museum. We had played in the sunlight with the dust of enemy fighter planes. Thereafter we had dropped earthward again and flung ourselves into the holocaust. What we could offer up, we had sacrificed. And in that sacrifice we had learned even more about ourselves than we should have done after ten years in a monastery. We had come forth again after ten years in a monastery.

And in the little time we had taken to wander so far, the caravan of refugees over which we flew had perhaps advanced five hundred yards. In less time than it would take them to lift a motorcar out of a ditch and set it back on the road again, in less time than many a driver would sit drumming impatiently on the wheel as he waited for a stream of traffic to empty itself out of a crossroad, we should be safely back in our haven.

At a single bound we had leaped over the whole defeat. We were above and beyond it, pilgrims stronger than the desert through which they toil because already in their hearts they have reached the holy city that is their destination. This night now falling would park that unhappy people of refugees in its stable of misery. The flock would huddle together for comfort, but to whom, to what would it cry out? Whereas we fly towards comrades and a kind of celebration. A lamplight gleaming from the humblest hut can change the rudest winter night into Christmas Eve. We in this plane are bound for a place where there will be comrades to welcome us. We in this plane are bound for the communion of our daily bread.

Sufficient unto this day is the weariness and the bliss thereof. I shall turn over to the ground crew my ship made noble by her scars. I shall strip off my cumbrous flying clothes; and as it is now too late to win that drink from Pénicot, I shall go directly to table and dine among my comrades. We are late. Those who are late never return. Late, are they? If late, then too late. Then nothing can be done for them. The night has swung them into eternity.

Yet at the dinner hour, when the Group takes a census of its dead, one thing is done for them: they are made handsomer than was their wont. They are sketched forever in their most luminous smile. But we in this plane are surrendering that privilege. We shall surge up out of nowhere, like demons, like poachers in a wood. The major’s hand will stop with his bread half way to his mouth. He will stare at us. Perhaps he will say, ‘Oh! . . . Oh, there you are!’ The rest will say nothing. They will scarcely throw us a glance.

Men do not really grow old. Men are as pure when you come back to them as when you left them. ‘Oh, there you are, you who are of our kind!’ The words thought and not spoken, out of delicacy of feeling. We come home from our sortie ready for our silent reward. Its quality is unique, for it is the quality of love. We do not recognize it as love. Love, when ordinarily we think of it, implies a more tumultuous pathos. But this is the veritable love — a web woven of strands in which we are fulfilled.

XXIV

When I got back to my billet I found my farmer at table with his wife and niece.

‘Tell me,’ I said to him; ‘how many instruments do you think a pilot has to look after?’

‘How should I know? Not my trade,’ he answered. ‘Must be some missing, though, to my way of thinking. The ones you win a war with. Have some supper?’

I said I’d had supper at the mess, but already he wasn’t listening to me.

‘You, our niece, there. Shove along a little. Make room for the captain.’

I was made to sit down between the girl and her aunt. Here was something besides the Group that I formed part of. Through my comrades I was woven into the whole of my country. Love is a seed: it has only to sprout, and its roots spread far and wide.

Silently my farmer broke the bread and handed it round. Unruffled, austere, the cares of his day had clothed him in dignity. Perhaps for the last time at this table, he shared his bread with us as in an act of worship. I sat thinking of the wide fields out of which that substance had come. Tomorrow those fields would be invaded by the enemy. Oh, there would be no tumult of men and clashing arms! The earth is vast. My farmer would see no more of the invasion than a solitary sentinel posted against the wide sky on the edge of the fields. In appearance nothing would have changed; but a single sign is enough to tell man that everything has changed.

The wind running through the field of grain will still resemble a wind running over the sea. But the wind in the grain is a more wonderful sweep, for as it ruffles the tips of the wheat it takes a census of a patrimony. It takes stock of a future. The wind in the grain is the caress to the spouse, it is the hand of peace stroking her hair.

Tomorrow that wheat will have changed. Wheat is something more than carnal fodder. To nourish man is not the same as to fatten cattle. Bread has more than one meaning. We have learned to see in bread a means of communion between men, for men break bread together. We have learned to see in bread the symbol of the dignity of labor, for bread is earned in the sweat of the brow. We have learned to see in bread the essential vessel of compassion, for it is bread that is distributed to the miserable. There is no savor like that of bread shared between men. And I saw of a sudden that the energy contained in this spiritual food, this bread of the spirit generated by that field of wheat, was in peril. Tomorrow, perhaps, when he broke bread again and sent it round the table, my farmer would not be celebrating the same household rite. Tomorrow, perhaps, his bread would not bring the same glow into these faces round the table. For bread is like the oil of the lamp: its merit is in the light it sheds.

I looked at the beautiful niece beside me and said to myself, ‘Bread, in this child, is transmuted into languid grace. It is transmuted into modesty. It is transmuted into gentle silence. And tomorrow, perhaps, this same bread, by virtue of a single gray uniform rising on the edge of that ocean of wheat, though it nourish this same lamp, will perhaps no longer send forth this same glowing light. The power that is in this bread will have gone out of it.’

I had made war this day to preserve the glowing light in that lamp, and not to feed that body. I had made war for the particular radiation into which bread is transmuted in the homes of my countrymen. What moved me so deeply in that pensive little girl was the insubstantial vestment of the spirit. It was the mysterious totality composed by the features of her face. It was the poem on the page, more than the page itself.

The little girl felt that I was looking at her. She raised her eyes to mine. It seemed to me that she smiled at me. Her smile was hardly more than a breath over the face of the waters; but that fugitive gleam was enough. I was moved. I felt, mysteriously present, a soul that belonged in this place and no other. There was a peace here, sensing which I murmured to myself, ‘The peace of the kingdom of silence.’ That smile was the glow of the shining wheat.

The face of the niece was unruffled again, veiling its unfathomable depth. The farmer’s wife sighed, looked round at us, and spoke no word. The farmer, his mind on the day to come, sat wrapped in his earthy wisdom. Behind the silence of these three beings there was an inner abundance that was like the patrimony of a whole village asleep in the night — and like it, threatened. Strange, the intensity with which I felt myself responsible for that invisible patrimony. I went out of the house to walk alone on the highway, and I carried with me a burden that seemed to me tender and in no wise heavy, like a child asleep in my arms.

I walked slowly, not caring where I went. I had promised myself this conversation with my village; but now I found that I had nothing to say. I strolled and lingered, filled with the thought of the ties that bound me to my people. I was one with them, they were one with me. That farmer handing round the bread had made no gift to us at table: he had shared with us and exchanged with us that bread in which all of us had our part. And by that sharing the farmer had not been impoverished but enriched. He had eaten better bread, bread of the community, by that sharing.

I strolled and lingered on the highway, filled with hope among those who seemed to be hopeless; yet even in this I was not cut off from the rest. I was their part in hope. True, we were already beaten. True, all was in suspense. True, all was threatened. Yet despite this, I could not but feel in myself the serenity of victory. Contradiction in terms? I don’t give a fig for terms. I was like Pénicot, Hochedé, Alias, Gavoille. Like them, I had no language by which to justify my feeling of victory. But like them I was filled with the sense of my responsibility. And what man can feel himself at one and the same time responsible and hopeless?

Defeat. . . . Victory. . . . Terms I do not know what to make of. One victory exalts, another corrupts. One defeat kills, another brings life. Tell me what seed is lodged in your victory or your defeat, and I will tell you its future. Life is not definable by situations but by mutations. There is but one victory that I know is sure, and that is the victory that is lodged in the energy of the seed. Sow the seed in the wide black earth and already the seed is victorious, though time must contribute to the triumph of the wheat.

This morning France was a shattered army and a chaotic population. But if in a chaotic population there is a single consciousness animated by a sense of responsibility, the chaos vanishes. A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral. I shall not fret about the loam if somewhere in it a seed lies buried. The seed will drain the loam, and the wheat will blaze.

He who accedes to contemplation transmutes himself into seed. He who makes a discovery pulls me by the sleeve to draw my attention to it. He who invents preaches his invention. How a Hochedé will express himself or act, I do not know, nor does it matter. He will surely spread his tranquil faith. What I do see more clearly now is the prime agent of victory. He who bears in his heart a cathedral to be built is already victorious. He who seeks to become sexton of a finished cathedral is already defeated. Victory is the fruit of love. Only love can say what face shall emerge from the clay. Only love can guide man towards that face. Intelligence is valid only as it serves love.

Concerning the part played by intelligence, we were long in error. We neglected the substance of man. Ww believed that the virtuosity of base natures could aid in the triumph of noble causes, that shrewd selfishness could exalt spirits to sacrifice, that withered hearts could by a wind of phrases found brotherhood or love. We neglected Being.

From the armored divisions that defeated us I learned a lesson which is to be read in their manual of tactics: ‘An armored division should move against the enemy like water. It should bear lightly against the enemy’s wall of defense and advance only at the point where it meets with no resistance.’ Men fill small space in the earth’s immensity. A continuous wall of men in France would have required a hundred million soldiers. There were always gaps between the units, and through those gaps the tanks made their way. The seed haunted by the sun never fails to find its way between the stones in the ground. And the pure logician, if no sun draws him forth, remains entangled in his logic. What direction should the armored column take to invest the rear of the enemy? I do not know. What should the armored column be for this purpose? It should be weight of sea pressing against dike.

What ought we do? This. That. The contrary of this or that. There is no determinism that governs the future. What ought we be? That is the essential question, the question that concerns spirit and not intelligence. For spirit impregnates intelligence with the creation that is to come forth. And later, intelligence is brought to bed of creation. How should man go about building the first ship ever known ? Very complicated, this. The ship will be born of a thousand errors and fumblings. But what should man be to build that first ship? Here I seize the problem of creation at the root. Merchant. Soldier. In love with the prospect of faraway lands. For then of necessity designers and builders will be born of that love. They will drain the energy of workmen and one day launch a ship. What should we do to annihilate a forest? The question is not easy. What be? Obviously, a forest fire.

Tomorrow we of France will enter info the night of defeat. May my country still exist when day dawns again. What ought we do to save my country? I do not know. Contradictory things. Our spiritual heritage must be preserved, else our people will be deprived of their genius. Our people must be preserved, else our heritage will become lost. For want of a way to reconcile heritage and people in their formulæ, logicians will be tempted to sacrifice either the body or the soul. But I want nothing to do with logicians. I want my country to exist both in the flesh and in the spirit when day dawns. Therefore I must bear with all the weight of my love in that direction. There is no passage the sea cannot clear for itself if it bear with all its weight.

We are warmed by the awareness of the ties that bind us to our people — wherefore we feel ourselves already victorious. We know that we are one with the rest. But that the rest may know it, we must learn to express it. That is a matter of consciousness and language. A matter also of avoiding the verbal traps of superficial logic and polemical wrangling in which substance is destroyed. Above all, we must not reject any part of that to which we belong.

And therefore I, leaning back against a wall in the silence of the village night, home from my flight to Arras, enlightened, as it seemed to me, by my flight to Arras, imposed upon myself these rules that I shall never betray.

Since I am one with the people of France, I shall never reject my people, whatever they may do. I shall never preach against them in the hearing of others. Whenever it is possible to take their defense, I shall defend them. If they cover me with shame, I shall lock up that shame in my heart and be silent. Whatever at such a time I shall think of them, I shall never bear witness against them. Does a husband go from house to house crying out to his neighbors that his wife is a strumpet? Is it thus that he can preserve his honor? No, for his wife is one with his home. No, for he cannot establish his dignity against her. Let him go home to her, and there unburden himself of his anger.

Thus, I shall not divorce myself from a defeat which surely will often humiliate me. I am part of France, and France is part of me. France brought forth men called Pascal, Renoir, Pasteur, Guillaumet, Hochedé. She brought forth also men who were inept, were politicasters, were cheats. But it would be too easy for a man to declare himself part of the first France and not of the other.

Defeat divides men. Defeat unbinds that which was bound. In this unbinding there is danger of death. I shall not contribute to these divisions between Frenchmen by casting the responsibility for the disaster upon those of my people who think differently from me. Where there is no judge, nothing is to be gained by hurling accusations. All Frenchmen were defeated together. I was defeated. Hochedé was defeated. Hochedé does not blame others for the defeat. Hochedé says to himself, ‘I, Hochedé, who am one with France, was weak. France that is one with me, Hochedé, was weak. I was weak in her, and she in me.’ Hochedé knows perfectly that once he begins distinguishing between his people and himself, he glorifies only himself. And from that moment there ceases to exist a Hochedé who is part of a home, a family, a Group, a nation: there remains a Hochedé who is part of a desert.

If I take upon myself a share in my family’s humiliation I shall be able to influence my family. It is part of me, as I am of it. But if I reject its humiliation, my family must collapse; and I shall wander alone, filled with vainglory, but a shell as empty as a corpse.

I reject non-being. My purpose is to be. And if I am to be, I must begin by assuming responsibility. Only a few hours ago I was blind. I was bitter. But now I am able to judge more clearly. Just as I refuse to complain of other Frenchmen, since now I feel myself one with France, so I am no longer able to conceive that France has the right to complain of the rest of the world. Each is responsible for all. France was responsible for all the world. Had France been France, she might have stood to the world as the common ideal round which the world would have rallied. She might have served as the keystone in the world’s arch. Had France possessed the flavor of France, the radiation of France, the whole world would have been magnetized into a resistance of which the spearhead would have been France. I reject henceforth my reproaches against the world. Assuming that at a given moment the world lacked a soul, France owed it to herself to serve as the world’s soul.

The spiritual communion of men the world over did not operate in our favor. But had we stood for that communion of men, we should have saved the world and ourselves. In that task we failed. Each is responsible for all. Each is by himself responsible. Each by himself is responsible for all. I understand now for the first time the mystery of the religion whence was born the civilization I claim as my own: ‘To bear the sins of man.’ Each man bears the sins of all men.

This being so, I shall carry out to the end the obligations laid upon me by my civilization. I shall consider that I am responsible not only for my own weakness but for the fanaticism of my enemy. To confess this guilt is to be neither soft nor tame-spirited. It is to abide by a principle of action. Had we considered ourselves responsible for the freezing up of our aerial cannon, our aerial cannon would not have frozen up. But when we proclaimed ourselves innocent of the faults of others, we lost the power to influence those others and to persuade them to produce flawless cannon. If I excuse myself on pretext of fatality, I subject myself to fatality. For my part, I refuse this subjection. Fatality does not exist. I am endowed with the power to influence that whole of which I form part. I am a constituent part of the community of mankind.

XXV

A religion that complained of the existence of infidels would seem to us preposterous. Where are religions recruited except among the heathen? A civilization is like a religion: it is a seed, and its function is to drain and convert. My civilization and the Christian values out of which it was born were placed in jeopardy by my failure. There was a time when those values radiated energy. Why is it that they are unable to make their way in my enemy?

It is distasteful to me to cast all the blame for this upon my enemy. It is distasteful to me to play the part of the lamb in order to denounce the wolf. The wolf is action. The lamb is inertia. To play the lamb may soothe my conscience, but it makes me out a victim. The rôle of victim is distasteful to me.

There was a time when my civilization was action. It transformed mankind, freed slaves, cast down the cruel, reigned over empires. And am I to snivel and whine, call myself a poor bullied lamb? I do not feel that I was born to play this miserable part. If I am feeble, the reason is that somewhere I was false to the rules that once made me strong. I know what happened. I waited until I was in jeopardy before taking thought of my civilization. As soon as danger threatened, I took shelter behind my civilization. ‘What!’ I cried. ‘Are you not ashamed to attack such a beautiful cathedral?’ But I had long ceased to be the builder of that cathedral. I had been living in it as sexton, as beadle. Which is to say, as a man defeated. I had been taking advantage of its tranquillity, its tolerance, its warmth. I had been a parasite. It had meant to me no more than a place where I was snug and secure.

My civilization had given me the right to believe in the community of men. Trapped, I had cried out to that community for help. My enemies, I cried, are betraying our community. But my friends pleaded other business. Thus they too betrayed it. And I had been filled with indignation over their treason. But was I myself not guilty of treason?

When I cried out, I no longer knew what I was crying out about. My civilization had been founded upon the respect for something present in every individual which it called Man. But I had let the notion of Man rot. I myself had confused Man with the individual. When I spoke of the community of men, I no longer knew what I was talking about. It might have been a slave market I was talking about — for I saw my community as a mere numerical sum and not as a Being. I looked upon it as a mere phenomenon of nature. Stones in the rock pile are meaningless; they are endowed with meaning by the cathedral they constitute. Men in the mass are meaningless; they are endowed with dignity by the existence of Man. It was because of this that my civilization had ever and always striven to reveal Man to men, to define that universal being, Man. And Man, exalted as the object to be revered by the individual, in turn exalted the individual. It was Man as a quality inherent in each individual that my civilization taught me to respect.

How were my enemies to understand this when I myself no longer understood it? When I myself had ceased to speak of the rights of Man and was mouthing phrases about the rights of the collectivity, of the mass? Here and there I and my kind had still retained a vague notion of the truth. We still agreed, for example, that a hundred men ought to risk their lives to save the life of a single miner entombed; and that if ten of those men died, their death was nevertheless profitable, since they died paying homage to Man. And we recognized that the miner rescued could be called upon to help rescue another miner entombed — since it was not he, the individual, who had been saved, but Man in his person.

Yet little by little I had forgotten Man.

My civilization had declared that all men were equal. But when I forgot Man I ceased to know the meaning of my words. Men are equal in something. Stones are equal in the cathedral. The soldier and the captain are equal in the nation. Men are equal in Man. It is this specific equality that demands of the physician, however distinguished he may be, that he risk his life in the treatment of a plague-infested nobody. That nobody is not an individual, he is a representative of Man. It is not as a political individual, or an economic individual, but strictly as a human being that he is the object of the physician’s care, and the equal of the physician. My civilization forbade me to enslave men, which is to say, enslave Man. It forbade me to put any obstacle in the way of the upward striving of the individual, which is to say, prevent Man, present in the individual, from ennobling the human race and enriching the human community by his creation. Man makes a choice of this or that individual as the vessel of Man’s expression, and I have no right to bar the passage of that vessel. True equality is equality in respect of the rights possessed by Man present in every individual.

My civilization implied the liberty of Man. Every individual is free in it to enunciate the new verity that has taken shape in his consciousness, to bring forth the new poem, the new theory, the new song born in him. No tyrant may constrain him to silence. For through him it is Man that creates. But my civilization also guaranteed the individual against the tyranny that might be exercised by the sum of other individuals. It is intolerable that a single individual should oppress the mass. But it is also intolerable that the mass crush out the creative impulse of Man at work in a single individual.

But I, forgetting Man, defined my liberty by asserting that it must stop at the point where it does injury to the liberty of my neighbor. This seeming ideal is void of meaning, for in fact no man can act without involving other men. If I, being a soldier, mutilate myself, I am shot. An isolated individual does not exist. He who is sad saddens others.

But above all, forgetting Man I forgot the true significance of sacrifice. If we are to draw our substance from a whole greater than ourselves, receive our significance from it, we must first see that it exists. Man must give before he can receive, and build before he can inhabit. The gift to something greater than oneself is what my civilization called sacrifice. If I insist upon giving only to myself, I shall receive nothing. I shall be building nothing of which I am to form part, and therefore I shall be nothing. And when, afterwards, you come to me and ask me to die for a cause, I shall refuse to die. My own cause commands me to live. Where is that rush of love that will compensate my death? Man dies for a home, not for walls and tables. Man dies for a cathedral, not for stones. Man dies for a people, not for a mob. Man dies for love of Man, if Man is the keystone in the arch of a community. Man dies for that by which alone he cared to live.

There is a mystery here that is like the mystery of the infant’s milk. The mother gives to the child. By her giving, she creates her love. To create love, we must begin by sacrifice. Afterwards, it is love that makes the sacrifices. But it is we who must take the first step.

When I took off for Arras I asked to receive before giving. My demand was in vain. We must give before we can receive, build before we can inhabit. By my gift over Arras I created the love that I feel for my kind as the mother creates the breast by the gift of her milk. At first the heart is a desert. The child smiles, and the heart is filled.

I came back from Arras, having woven my ties with my farmer’s family. By the smile of his niece I saw the wheat of my village. By the aid of my village I saw my country. By the aid of my country, all other countries. I came back to take my place in a civilization which has chosen Man as the keystone in its arch. I came back to take my place in Group 2-33, the Group that had volunteered to fight for Norway. I came back to be one of those who are made richer — not poorer — by the wealth of other countries. The web that is strong has no fear of diversity; it delights in the variety of the strands that compose it. In the ages of faith the cathedrals were able to absorb gargoyles as easily as saints into their canticle. Tulips are grown in Holland, flamencos are sung in Spain, Christmas is snowy in Norway — and by all these I am enriched, for I partake of Man.

I dressed this day for the service of a god to whose being I was blind. Arras unsealed my eyes. Like the others of the Group, I am no longer blind. It may be that tomorrow Alias will order me to fly still another sortie. If, at dawn tomorrow, I fight again, I shall know finally why I fight. Not for victory, since the war is already lost, but for selffulfillment.

My eyes have been unsealed, and I want now to remember what it is that they have seen. I feel the need of a simple Credo so that I may remember.

I believe in the submission of the individual to Man and of the particular to the universal.

I believe that the cult of the universal exalts and heightens our particular riches, and founds the sole veritable order which is the order of life. A tree is a unit despite the diversity of its roots and branches; it is an object of order.

I believe that the cult of the particular is the cult of death, for it founds its order upon likeness. It mistakes identity of parts for unity of Being. This is why every foreign way of life, every foreign people, every foreign thought is to it an affront. Its order comes merely to this, that it destroys the cathedral solely to line up the stones in orderly rows. Therefore I shall fight against all those who strive to impose a particular way of life upon other ways of life, a particular people upon other peoples, a particular race upon other races, a particular system of thought upon other systems of thought.

I believe that the primacy of Man founds the only equality and the only liberty that possess significance. I believe in the equality of the rights of Man inherent in every man. I believe that only liberty makes possible the creations of Man through the instrument of the individual. Equality is not identity. Liberty is not the exaltation of the individual against Man. I shall fight against all those who seek to subject the liberty of Man either to an individual or to the mass of individuals.

I believe that what my civilization calls Charity is the sacrifice granted Man for the purpose of his own fulfillment. Charity is the gift made to Man present in the mediocrity of the individual. It fulfills man. Symbolically, on Maundy Thursday the bishop washes the feet of the poor. There is no worship of the individual in this gesture. The charity and the piety that flow from it speak to us neither of inferiority nor of demagogy. They exalt the individual solely in the fact of recognizing Man present in his person. I shall fight against all those who, maintaining that my charity pays homage to mediocrity, would destroy Man and thus imprison the individual in an irredeemable mediocrity.

I shall fight for Man. Against Man’s enemies — but against myself as well.

XXVI

We collected again at midnight to receive orders. Group 2-33 was sleepy. The flame in the fireplace had turned to embers. The Group seemed to be holding up still, but this was an illusion. Hochedé was staring glumly at his precious watch. Pénicot stood against a wall in a corner, his eyes shut. Gavoille, sitting on a table, his glance vacant and legs hanging, was pouting like a child about to cry. The doctor was nodding over a book. Alias alone was still alert, but frighteningly pale, papers before him under the lamplight, discussing something in a low voice with Geley. Discussion, indeed, gives you a false picture. The major was talking. Geley was nodding his head and saying, ‘Yes, of course.’ Geley was hanging on to that ‘Yes, of course’ by main strength. He was clinging more and more eagerly to the major’s discourse, like a half-drowned man to the neck of a swimmer. Had I been Alias I should have said without a change of voice, ‘Captain Geley, you are to be shot at dawn,’and waited for the answer.

The Group had not slept for three nights. It stood like a house of cards.

The major got up, went across to Lacordaire, and pulled him out of a dream in which perhaps he was beating me at chess.

‘Lacordaire! You take off at dawn. Ground-scraper sortie.'

‘Very good, Major.'

‘Better get some sleep.'

‘Yes, Major.'

Lacordaire sat down again. The major went out, drawing Geley in his wake as if he were a dead fish on the end of a line. It was nearer a week than three days since Geley had been to bed. Like Alias, not only did he fly his sorties, but he carried part of the burden of responsibility for the Group. Human resistance has its limits: Geley seemed to have crossed his. Yet there they were, the swimmer and his burden, going off to the Staff for phantom orders.

Vesain, the skeptical Vesain, asleep on his feet, came teetering over to me like a somnambulist: —

‘You asleep?'

‘I . . .'

I had been lying back in an armchair (for I had found an armchair) and was indeed dropping off. But Vesain’s voice bothered me. What was it he had said? ‘Looks bad, old boy. . . . Categorically blocked. . . . Looks bad. . .'

‘You sleep?5

‘I. . . . No. . . . What did you say looks bad?'

‘The war,’he said.

That was news, now! I started to drop off again and murmured vaguely, ‘What war?'

‘What do you mean, “What war"!'

The major flung open the door and called out, ‘All set! We move out tonight!'

Behind him stood Geley, wide awake, He would put off his ‘Yes, of course’ until tomorrow night. Once again he would somehow find a reserve of strength in himself to help him with the wearying chores of our removal.

The Group got to its feet. The Group said, ‘Move again? Very good, sir.’ What else was there to say.

There was nothing to say. We should see to the removal. Lacordaire would stay behind and take off at dawn. If he got back he would meet us at our new base.

There would be nothing to say tomorrow, either. Tomorrow, in the eyes of the bystanders, we would be the defeated. The defeated have no right to speak. No more right to speak than has the seed.

(The End)