Just before I sat down to write this post, I received from one of
my long-time readers and old friends, notice of a short story
written in 1919 by the great Czech writer Franz Kafka.
Although I have been myself a devoted reader of Kafka’s work,
I had somehow not read this particular story entitled “An Old
This very short story recounts, from the point of view of an
unnamed narrator in some unnamed European capital who tells
us readers about the sudden influx of many foreign soldiers to
his city. A fortified palace in the center of this city is
presumably where the country’s government officials reside,
and the narrator indicates that those in the palace were
responsible for the foreign soldiers having come to the capital
where they encamp themselves outdoors and intimidate the
citizens who live in the city. The narrator makes the point that
the officials in the palace have closed their gates to the soldiers,
leaving the artisans and tradespersons who live around the
palace to deal with the intruders helplessly on their own.
Tragic events in Paris have just occurred again in Paris. ISIS
terrorists have in multiple attacks murdered and harmed about
500 persons in a coordinated attack in various venues in the
center of this famous city. These events follow only a few months
another terrorist attack against Jewish Parisians. There is a claim,
not yet verified, that at least one of the terrorists was one of the
Syrian refugees who have recently been coming into France and
the rest of Europe.
Terrorism is, of course, as old as human history. Modern terrorism
can perhaps be dated from the violent French revolution at the end
of the eighteenth century. Europe was again shaken by violent
revolutions in 1848, and anarchist terrorism emerged in
the latter part of the 19th century, culminating in the assassination
of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Archduke Franz
Ferdinand. An enormous and unspeakable world war resulted, and
after it seemingly concluded, another even more violent and
murderous world war occurred. Terrorism became the language
of revolution and war after 1945, and is today a worldwide epidemic
killing far more than Ebola or any other virus.
The United States finally had its on encounter with terrorism on
September 11, 2001, and remains under threat of further encounters.
I happened to be a student in Madrid in 1966, and in Paris in 1967,
when waves of protests swept those capitals. I had been a student in
the U.S. prior to and after that when anti-war protests were common.
The Baader-Meinhof gang terrorized post-war Germany at that time,
and in 1972, terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Olympics
held that year in Munich. The Soviet Union, in that era, used terror
to control its satellites, the small countries of Eastern Europe.
In light of this history, Kafka’s short story resounds indeed as an
“old manuscript.” Even today, those who live in the “palace” seem
unable to control the violence, even as also today the “artisans”
and “tradespersons” (ordinary citizens) bear the burden of the acts
of violent intruders.
Is it any wonder that the citizens of the European Union are
beginning to resist the decisions of their leaders who are allowing
hordes of unvetted refugees into their individual countries? Is it
any wonder that many Americans are alarmed at the steady
stream of “illegal aliens” into the U.S.?
As my readers know, I oppose deportation of Mexican and other
Hispanic "illegal" immigrants now living in the U.S. as impractical
and unethical, but I also deplore the failure of the government to
effectively secure our borders from further incursions, and to
make ALL immigration to the U.S. legal, orderly and secure.
Some very privileged and very spoiled college students, and
some who are not, are currently sparking petulant unrest in
the American university environment, creating disorder and
destruction of many college educations in the U.S. How long
this disruption will last is not clear, nor is it clear how long
the more violent disruptions in Europe and the Middle East
Soon after the armistice of World War I, foreign soldiers
appeared as military occupiers throughout the defeated
Central Powers nations in Europe. This included the Czech
capital of Prague where the writer Franz Kafka lived. It is a
testament to his literary genius and prescience that his story
“An Old Manuscript” so aptly and chillingly captures a
recurring theme in what we so presumptuously call “modern
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.