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Authors: Michael Moorcock

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The Laughter of Carthage

BOOK: The Laughter of Carthage
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The Laughter of Carthage


[Between the Wars 02]


By Michael Moorcock


Scanned & Proofed By MadMaxAU


* * * *





IN THE FOUR and a half years since I finished editing the first volume of Colonel Pyat’s memoirs (
Byzantium Endures
) my own circumstances changed considerably. I became obsessed with discovering verification for some of Pyat’s claims after I received several letters from people who had known him before the War and whose memories of him were radically different. As a result my travels took me in his tracks and at one time it seemed I had condemned myself to continue his wanderings where he had left off in 1940. A retired Turkish
one of Kemal’s revolutionary nationalists in 1920, assured me Pyat was an American renegade, a Zionist working for the British. Two vigorous octogenarians in Rome insisted he was a Polish Communist who planned to infiltrate the early fascist movement. In Paris it was generally agreed he was Russian, possibly a Jew, associated more with the criminal world than with the political underground. Not everyone knew him as Pyat (Piat or Pyate are variations). To several Berliners I met he was either Peterson or Pallenberg, but they readily confirmed that he was a scientist, an engineer. One German lady, presently living in Oxford, a Buchenwald survivor, was amused by my asking if she thought Pyat as successful as he claimed. She knew of at least one brilliantly successful invention, she said. Then she laughed and refused to continue. She had periods of mental instability.


In Kiev there are virtually no written records (since 1941 when the Nazis came) and even Babi Yar has no memorial (save the works of Yevtushenko and Antonov). It is part of a new autoroute. With its usual tact, the Ukrainian Soviet preferred not to recall an event which did not reflect well on Ukrainians in general (the Nazis were nowhere else offered the services of so many enthusiastic volunteers). America provided far more documentation, but this turned out to be as confusing as it was helpful. Some of the newspaper reports conflicted with Pyat’s stories, yet there is every reason to believe he was in a position to experience directly what the papers could only surmise. (Mrs Mawgan, for instance, is scarcely mentioned in the New York
anti-Klan campaign of 1921-23, but Mrs Tyler, whom Pyat dismisses in a line or two, is presented by the paper as one of the chief villains.) Similarly, the greasy, creased news-cuttings in Pyat’s own notebooks don’t necessarily confirm his statements written on nearby pages and unfortunately the dates and origins are frequently obscured or missing. One headline (possibly from the
New Orleans Times-Picayune,
late 1921) reads
burns to investigate klan
(about the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Investigation - pre-FBI - intending to take a thorough look at Klan affairs); the report verifies all Pyat says, except that the investigation began earlier than he claims. His accusations of bias and corruption are also frequently off-key. A case in point is that of
The Memphis Commercial Appeal
, which Pyat characterises as being ‘in the pocket’ of local politicians. In fact the
Commercial Appeal
won a Pulitzer Prize for its courageously relentless anti-Klan reporting and represents the considerable integrity of large numbers of Southerners who were outraged by and actively resisted Klan campaigns in, for instance, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, even Georgia. (The Klan was far more successful in many Western States, including Texas and California, than ever it was in the Deep South).


Carthage Democrat Gazette
certainly mentions Major Sinclair’s airship in a piece headed
local citizens aid flyers
(Feb. 27, 1922) whereas I could find no record in
The Kansas City Star
of Pyat’s, by his own account, enormous reception there in 1923. Cuttings from
The Toledo Blade, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Springfield Republican
The St Louis Globe Democrat
all mention him as Peterson.
The Indianapolis Times, The Dallas News
The New Orleans Times-Picayune
are at best dismissive but frequently attack his ‘vile distortions’ of fact, his racial and religious bigotry. Sometimes Pyat seems to have failed to understand he was being condemned and proudly pasted the cutting into a position of prominence. The de Grion scandal of 1921 is mentioned in a
Le Temps
feature of the time and here M. Pyatnitski is described as a naturalised French subject. A piece headlined
love blossoms as red terror rages
turns out to be a theatre review from a Northern Californian newspaper in the Grass Valley region:
Among the players in this moving musical drama were Mr Matthew Pallenberg, Miss Honoria Cornelius, Miss Ethel de Courcy and Miss Gloria Douglas.


My travels were not entirely wasted. They were of use when at last I settled down in a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales to try to make sense of the collection of manuscript I described in the first volume. I used my tapes of Pyat’s talks, a little of the other interview material from people I had met, but in the main again had to rely on the written work, discursive and repetitious as ever. While much of the earlier volume was written in Russian, a large proportion of this one was (except for sexual references, as always, in French) done in a peculiar semi-private language, predominantly English, Yiddish and German, with some Polish and Czech and a smattering of Turkish (as well as his ‘own’ largely untranslatable words) which characterises much of the material he himself identified as having been written between 1941 and 1947. There is nothing in Yiddish script. Again, without the help of M. G. Lobkowitz I could not have continued: Pyat, my friend believes, probably spoke all languages a little inexpertly, including Russian. Certainly his Yiddish, frequently mixed unconsciously with German and English, is a case in point. He claimed to have learned it when working for Jews in the Podol ghetto of Kiev.


Again I have retained a flavour of the original - spellings, grammar, polyglot ramblings and odd forms - together with a fraction (some might think too much) of his deranged outbursts. Where his opinions and interpretations changed radically, sometimes from page to page, as one bizarre rationalisation was replaced by another, I have let them stand, since they are the essential reflection of his personality. I have done my best not to make a specific choice or interpretation in the belief that another reader might easily understand something which I have failed to see.


It has not been easy to bring order to the work. Because of my own distaste for the majority of Pyat’s opinions, and the time involved, friends have frequently suggested I turn my ‘bequest’ over to an academic institution which could remain perhaps more objective. However Quixotic it seems, I insist that I made a promise to Maxim Arturovitch Pyatnitski to see his reminiscences into print. I feel I must keep that promise, in spite of the difficulties.


Special thanks to all those who gave their help in the preparation of this volume: to Linda Steele, John Blackwell, Giles Gordon, Rob Cowley, Robert Lanier, Helen Mullens, Javus Selim, ‘Petros’, Jean-Luc Fromental, Lily Stains, Dave Dixon, Paul Gamble, Mike Butterworth, Geoffrey Dymond, Mr and Mrs Chaykin, Mr and Mrs Jacobs, ‘Ma’ Ellison, Christian von Baudissin, François Landon, Freda Kron, Natalie Zimmermann, Lorris Murrail, Larry Snider (of California State University, Long Beach, Library), Sister Maria Santucci, Martin Stone, John Clute, Isla Venables, Professor S. M. Rose, and those others who have expressed their desire to remain anonymous.


Michael Moorcock

London S.W.

October 1983


* * * *





HAVING PROVIDED POPULAR amusement for Turks, I was now a source of cheap comedy to the Greeks. The soldiers were dressed in British khaki tunics and tin helmets but had on white trousers and green puttees. When they saw me, they grinned, lowering their rifles. I stopped singing and, still struggling, glared back at them. They made no effort to help. I was close to weeping, trying weakly to get to my feet. In English and French, I implored their assistance. They refused to understand, rubbing unshaven chins, making jokes about me as if I were no more than a hamstrung calf. When I began to cry out my few words of Greek they found this still more hilarious, only subsiding when their officer emerged onto the roof. He was about thirty-five, with large black eyes and a dark Imperial. Unlike his men, he wore a complete Greek olive-coloured uniform. He carried a long, curved sword, a holstered pistol at his belt. Wrist on hip, he stared down at me, his legs spread, brows furrowed. When he spoke it was in Greek to silence his men, then in Turkish, to me. I shook my head, anxious to rid him of that impression immediately. ‘M’sieu, if you will allow me -’


Half-smiling, he said in French: ‘Aha! It is not a bandit at all, but a pigeon. A pigeon too fat to fly!’


Summoning all possible dignity, I craned my neck to look directly into his face. ‘M’sieu, I am an officer of the Russian Volunteer Army. Would you be good enough to release me from this harness?’


‘A Bolshevik pigeon, is it? Even better. Trying to carry a message back to General Trotski?’


‘You misunderstand me, m’sieu. I am a loyal supporter of the monarchy. My wife is English. I live in Constantinople. I have been a captive of those Turkish brigands for some time and was attempting to escape when, thank God, you attacked. I am also a scientist. I have credentials. The highest. From St Petersburg.’


‘I’d heard the Nationalists had Russian officers with them,’ said the captain, ignoring most of what I had said. ‘Are you sure you’re not lying, m’sieu?’


‘On my oath as a Christian and a gentleman, I’m telling you the truth!’


‘But how did you join these Nationalists?’ Though I doubted they could understand him, his men continued grinning broadly. He did nothing to admonish them. He signed for two of them to help me to my feet. I was sweating horribly; my back was in agony. ‘I did not join them,’ I said patiently. ‘I was lured here by means of a trick. I have plans they want.’


Slowly, with studied curiosity, the captain strutted round me. He tested the wing on my right arm. He looked at the tailplane sticking out from behind. Squatting down he pulled at one of the wires leading from my ankles to the rudder. ‘Then why on earth didn’t you fly away?’


‘I had no petrol,’ I said.


The officer could not resist translating this to his men, whereupon they became almost helpless with laughter. He chose to think I had simply forgotten to put petrol in the tank. ‘M’sieu,’ I said to him desperately, ‘I am in some considerable pain. Would you oblige me by unstrapping these wings so I may relieve myself of the engine?’


He gestured at me, giving an order. With surprising gentleness his men began unfastening the little straps. Future planes, I decided, must be made lighter. I had learned from this experience. Certain features must be redesigned. I must invent a quick-release mechanism, to avoid similar dilemmas. Soon the Greeks had stripped off the various pieces, piling them carefully in the middle of the roof. I rubbed my bruised and chafed body, accepting a sip of brandy from the captain’s flask. I saluted. ‘My name is Major Maxim Arturovitch Pyatnitski (it was impolitic to claim my rank of Colonel) of the White Russian Army. I have served as a flyer and with Intelligence. I was recently evacuated from Odessa on the British vessel
Rio Cruz.
All these things can be verified, m’sieu.’


The captain seemed abstracted, nodding vaguely in reply as he looked over the plane. ‘Does this fly?’


I felt somewhat impatient with the question. ‘I was about to find out, m’sieu!’


He wheeled suddenly to face me. He shook my hand warmly. Apparently I had passed some kind of test. ‘Good afternoon to you, sir. I am Captain Paparighopoulos. You are a brave man. Let’s have a drink together.’


Hobbling beside him as we descended into the street, I became aware of sounds similar to those I had heard only three days earlier. Here almost an identical scene was being re-enacted, only now it was Turks kneeling in the square by the fountain while other Turks carried treasures from their mosques. Elsewhere, Greek soldiers shot at every bobbing fez they caught sight of, or dragged threshing women from their houses. I could not find it in my heart to criticise this savagery. Greeks had been persecuted for hundreds of years by the Turks and were taking vengeance at last. Since the fall of Byzantium they had longed for this. More buildings began to roar. The heat was terrible. The thick smoke made my eyes water. As we crossed the square, two soldiers appeared. They had found my miserable Hassan. He cowered between them, looking pleadingly at me. ‘He says he’s your assistant. A mechanic.’ Captain Paparighopoulos told me after questioning the boy in rapid Turkish, ‘Is that true? We need mechanics.’


‘He’s a bandit,’ I said.


Hassan became passive as they led him away. On the tower of the mosque they were raising a Greek flag. It was a deeply moving sight, the white cross on its blue background waving in the Turkish breeze. Captain Paparighopoulos had set up his headquarters in a carpet shop looking onto the square. Here we drank strong, clear liquid which he said was local vodka. It made my head swim. He offered me a little bread and sausage. ‘The Turks took most of the food with them.’ I realised I had eaten virtually nothing in two days, so obsessed had I been with building my machine. Hassan, I knew, had sold the meat left us by Çerkes Ethem. ‘The rebels passed us to the North,’ said the captain. ‘Looking for our position, I think.


We in turn were hiding in the hills, trying to find their base.’ He gave a shrug of sardonic disappointment. ‘I was certain this was it.’


They had been pushing up from Smyrna all spring. By the end of the year he predicted the whole of Anatolia would be under Greek control. ‘Kemal’s a good soldier, but he has poor human material. The bandits are out for themselves. They serve with us when it suits them. These people don’t care who rules them. They probably think Greeks are a reasonable change from Turks.’ He regarded without expression the scene in the square. His men were executing Moslems. Three soldiers, evidently drunk, herded a group of naked girls from one wrecked emporium into another. ‘They’re used to cruelty here.’ He spoke as if I had criticised him, then he yawned and began to roll himself a cigarette. ‘We’ll get you back to civilisation, M. Pyatnitski, don’t worry.’


The French and the Italians betrayed them. Greece had only recently rediscovered her pride. She brought the banner of Christ into the heart of Islam. She carried the sword of vengeance. Byzantium was in Christian hands! The Turkish nation had all but ceased to exist. It would have vanished, absorbed by a nobler Greek Empire, a wonder of the world. But the French and Italians, fearing that shining alliance of Greek and Briton, put their heads together to find a way of blocking this marriage of Old and New Hellenism. They used the easiest means. They gave guns to Kemal; they encouraged Zaharoff and his Jews to sell the Turks cannon and tanks, even as Zaharoff himself shook hands in Athens with Venizelos, swearing eternal brotherhood. In Marseilles brokers who had never heard of Ankara sent arms there and made enormous profits while New York stockmarket men spoke softly into telephones and killed a thousand Greek warriors. Merchants in Rome and Berlin, serving neither Cross nor Crescent, grew rich because in Anatolia the two were locked in a death struggle. And Lloyd George, and Lord Curzon, Winston Churchill, Venizelos, Woodrow Wilson, all the politicians, full of fine intentions, full of ideals and willing to cheer every Greek victory, themselves became confounded, were turned from their purpose.


They were too long over the maps, debating new boundaries, worrying about Pakistanis and Arabs whose feelings might be wounded if Islam were routed in Thrace. Concerned for their own Egyptian and Palestinian possessions, they wavered in their enthusiasm. The children of Athens and Sparta marched into Asia Minor’s barren vastness naked and defenceless behind the flag of Christ. Innocently they had believed the sentimental assurances of old, empty men. They had no weapons. Lloyd George sent them no cannon and Winston Churchill gave them no ships. Lord Curzon next feared that by ‘giving’ Turkey to the Greeks he might ‘lose’ India. And so the greatest opportunity of the World War was lost: the one real advantage that would have provided us with universal peace was let slip while Crusader conquerors, as they had done so frequently before, quarrelled and connived.


Those noble Greeks lay dying in Anatolian deserts and Armenian swamps. Their blood ripened Islamic corn to feed Islamic soldiers. Meanwhile the King of England cried ‘Kneel Zaharoff’ and ‘Rise Sir Basil’, touching the great sword, which for centuries defended Christ’s honour, to the shoulders of that Satanic Jew. In the Houses of Parliament, wearing ermine robes and golden crowns, new-minted barons laze on benches, lifting jewelled cups in mock homage to the Union Jack, the three crosses which are One. Swaggering lords of the East have insinuated themselves and their families into the very heart of England, as once they inhabited the Court of Byzantium. They control the destinies of Christian millions. They even pretend to worship in Christian churches. They have made this island retreat a base for international crime. They are worse than common pirates, for they take no personal risks and steal the lifeblood of nations. Does their booty contribute to the glory of England? No! It sits in Switzerland where every day little pink women come to the vaults with buckets of soap and disinfectant to scrub the gold bars until they gleam like mirrors. Where were the gentlemen of Blighty? What happened to an Empire which sent Lords Byron and Shelley to drown fighting in the Hellespont, leading their brave little armies against the might of Osman?


What insanity corrupted the British after the Great War? It was commercial greed and debilitating socialism, united by the mortar of false pride. I have seen Empires collapse across the world, and it is always at the hand of the Red and the Jew. ‘Look,’ cries Harold Wilson, ‘you are rich. You can swing. You can join the Common Market. You can give up your homes to Pakistanis.’ I have heard him on the television. ‘You must compete,’ he says, ‘like the Americans. You must borrow more money. You must be better than your neighbour.’ And when the worker refuses to work, because his job is threatened by a black, this great Socialist, Champion of the Mob, turns on the worker. He is unpatriotic if he asks for more money. He is reminded of the Spirit of Dunkirk, of his national honour and pride. But Harold Wilson has said that honour and pride are old-hat. Money is of paramount importance. And they come into my shop with their posters to tell me the Labour Party looks after my interests! It looks after nobody save financiers and party members. It is no different to Moscow. Stalin destroyed a nation, then called on the ghosts of great nationalists, on those he had himself murdered, to rally the people against Hitler. Honour means nothing to them. It is only a bell to which people salivate; but when it rings, nobody answers. The people yearn desperately for the restoration of their pride and their religion. It returned briefly to Greece, then the Reds, the Jews, the Mapmakers arrived to steal it away again, purchasing it for forged currency, grinning at it, mocking it as if at Christ Himself. It was Socialists, not Tories, who celebrated Pragmatism over Honour. National pride was sold as a job lot during the Swinging Sixties. It was sold in Carnaby Street and Brussels, on Union Jack underpants and Lord Kitchener carrier-bags. It left the country on umbrellas, baskets, ashtrays and plaster guardsmen carried back to America and Japan. When they came to call upon it, in their need, there was nothing left. National Pride was a melted ice cream on the steps of the Tate Gallery, a broken trinket on the floor of an Air Singapore jumbo, a comic bowler hat sported by a Saudi schoolboy. The Silver Jubilee will be a miserable remnant sale. Scraps of honour will be hawked by Asian ragamuffins, like false holy relics, to drunken foreign mobs along Pall Mall. For if Britain betrayed her past when she betrayed the Greeks, she also betrayed her future, the greatest folly of all. They sent Greeks naked into battle. The British watched Russians run from Ukraine and Georgia and did nothing. They watched Polish cavalry flood into Galicia and Moldavia, grabbing lands coveted for centuries. They watched Socialists march through the streets of Munich and Hamburg. Helplessly they threw up their hands as Gandhi hurled his dissident armies against the Crown, as Irish Republican gangsters blew up police barracks and bombed post offices. And fastidious America drew away from the chaos she had helped create. She said she was disgusted with Europe and elected a President who turned his back on his own heritage, driving his nation towards the dream which almost destroyed it.


They gave women the vote, listened to Nellie Melba on their radios and thought they saw the road to Utopia. Here and there pockets of farsighted men tried to stem the tide. Admiral Horthy fought against Communism. Hungarians knew what it was to fear the Turk. Still the Great Powers laughed in putrid complacency while signing papers sentencing whole countries of Christians to tyranny and death. But the single, most powerful symbol of this betrayal remained their refusal to support Greek against Turk. Christ was stripped naked. He was flogged. He was recrucified. Not by the Pharisees, however. It was the Romans, the very people He sought to save, who betrayed Him. Jehovah was a Jew, but Christ was a Greek. Let the Jews have their drooling Jehovah, their Judah Ben Hur, their Jonah, Jeremia, Joshua and their Judas. We shall keep Jesus. We shall defend Him. Kyrios, the Lord! The Cross is Greek. Byzantium is our capital.
Wann werden wir Zurück sein?
We shall take up our spears to drive forth the red-eyed wolf, the hot-tempered jackal and the gibbering ape! Our honour shall shine golden as the sun. We shall be radiant with our zeal and our courage; we shall be like Angels come to Earth, reclaiming the pride of Christendom, erecting the Cross at the centre of the world. Let no man try to injure me, for my shield is strong. It deflects all lies. I cannot be confused by their calumnies. They would turn me from my true path; they whisper about my blood. Mine is the blood of the Christian Cossack! No metal can pollute it. No metal shall pour its rust into my veins! I am mercury. I am silver. My stomach is strong. They tried to weaken me, praying over me when I was too small to resist. That quasi-Abraham! What did he mean by it? My father took his knife and cut me. In the name of Progress he branded me with the mark of Judas. But I have laughed at all my enemies. On clashing, silver wings I fly over their heads and resist the bodies of their whores. I escape their arrows as easily as their threats! My honour is whole. They shall not condemn me as they condemned the Greek.

BOOK: The Laughter of Carthage
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