The Charlotte News



Time Shows Conrad Knew Real Germany


Site ed. note: This article appeared just two months after the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1. For more of Cash's view of that invasion, see "A Fanatic Menaces Civilization" - September 1, 1939.


Whenever I hear somebody bemoaning the injustice of the Versailles Treaty in having judged the Germans unfit to own and administer colonies, I always think of Joseph Conrad. I used to get peeved with him sometimes when he moved in on the Germans. Look over his novels, and you'll find that the nastiest characters in them are without exception members of the super-breed beyond the Rhine. There is the hotelkeeper in "Victory"--who turns up also, I believe in "Lord Jim" and "Faulk." And that dreadful fellow who is the protagonist of "Heart of Darkness"--who mouths pious rhetoric and love for humanity while he invents schemes to coin money by hounding the poor enslaved blacks of the Congo to death--what "race" do you think he belongs to?

The same view of them comes out quite explicitly in the things he had to say upon leaving Poland when the last war began, and later on.


As I say, that used to anger me against Conrad. I called it unfair. Conrad, I said, was a Pole, and one who was giving way to mere chauvinism in his judgment of the old oppressors of his people.

But I no longer think so. Conrad was a Pole. But the Poles may be trusted to know the Germans with all their faults and virtues, as no one else save maybe the Czechs could know them. For the people in a conquered country have the most perfect of all opportunities to judge the true character of their masters. I remember being at Mainz in 1927 and observing the fact that the French soldiers sat along the Rhine embankment and played with German children, that they walked through the streets as they might have walked through the streets of a French town, without anything of self-conscious arrogance. And, though I did my best, I could find no hatred for them among the Germans of the town.


But if a Pole hates a German automatically, if he charges over-bearing arrogance and brutality as characteristics, not of every individual but of the German people as a whole, I suspect it is because the Pole has reason. And even more that is the case with Conrad. For Conrad was one of the most cool and unimpassioned intellects of his time--a man who showed no Chauvinistic whatever, who had indeed made England more his country than Poland.

Moreover, Conrad spoke from expert observation. He had spent the greater part of his life in the countries of the East in which England, France, Holland and Germany were established as colonizers. And if he made the Germans out the overwhelming worst of the lot, it was undoubtedly because the evidence ran that way.

The German mind is a rigid, uncompromising mind, and in conflict with the native mind it will not give an inch but demands instead that the native shall conform to German ideas. And when that happens, the native, a curiously fragile creature, simply succumbs, dies out, disappears.

The longer I look at it the more I become convinced that Conrad and the Old Men of Versailles were right--that Germany was and is unfit to hold and administer colonies.

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