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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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No Casualties Reported

Paul Haber, '36

The Magpie, June 1936, v. 20, n. 2., p. 76.

If one could single out from the mass of stifling tobacco smoke in a London lounge a particular swirl and trace it to its origin, he would find a young man idly poring over a scrap book of newspaper clippings concerning the recent Manchurian invasion. Suddenly the Englishman removed his pipe from a mouth twisted in a sardonic smile. His eyes scanned a fast fading clipping.

"In a concentrated push the soldiers of the 23rd Division of the Imperial Japanese Army occupied the town of Wenghai in Southern Manchuria. No casualties, resistance, or disorder of any kind can be reported."

The man chuckled bitterly. Odd that this story he had written should turn up now, three years after it had been forgotten by the rest of the world.

He thought, "Vaguely I remember . . .

All day and all night the dingy, ill-paved streets of the little town of Wenghai, China, echoed and reechoed to the harsh grating sound of Japanese boot scraping against Chinese cobblestone.

I stood in the village square with Li-Tsing, the former commissioner beside me, both of us looking at the squat, determined invaders of this land. How incapable of emotion they seemed! But if these were stolid, the little wretched groups of resigned Chinese were absolutely stone-dead. I recollected the previous morn when the long-awaited news of the Japanese attack had finally art rived. I had fortified myself with two ancient Colt pistols and raced for a vantage point. In spite of my feverish preparation, I was doomed to an unforeseen and entirely unexpected disappoint. meet. The troops appeared on the horizon, marched into town, and took possession as though it were part of an everyday routine without so much as a cheer. The Chinese retaliated by being, if possible, even more unconcerned and permitted the conquerors to occupy the city without so much as a jeer.

Now I felt I could restrain myself no longer. "Li-Tsing! Why in heaven's name do these dolts stand like statues and permit the Japanese to do as they please? Have they no love of country, no courage, no souls?"

My aged friend turned and permitted a dignified yet feeble smile to creep across his dignified yet feeble features. "You are but an interested observer, a newspaper war correspondent, and cannot hope to understand these, my fellow-country men."

"My God, one might think the Japanese were right when they maintained that the Manchurians revolted from China to set up their own government. But, Li-Tsing, why do you remain here? They have deprived you of your office; they may take your life." He made no answer. I lapsed into silence to listen to the ingratiating tramp of boots and to watch those putty-like faces. "Oh God. Put courage into these craven Chinese . . . "

I crept out of bed, softly cursing the heat that lingered far into the night loath to depart. Before the window I stopped and gasped. Not twenty-five yards from me there wriggled on his stomach a youth. Straight across the courtyard leading a handful of men crawling like him, he went to the newly created arsenal. The boy paused, pulled up a rope he had been dragging, threw it over the arsenal wall, and climbed up. The others disappeared after him. I waited breathless for time to pull his disciples from the number five to six pointed out by the big hand on my watch. Silently, just as they had come, the Chinese returned over the wall laden with guns and ammunition. Suddenly I realized, "These Chinese I had seen during the day were secretly stealing arms to defend their land. The putty-like faces of the day turned at night to active pride-filled visages. Why had not I known this before? Oh what a fool! The youth and his men fled into the welcome shadows. I knew it would be useless to trail them now."

As noon of the following day arrived, I ran to the village square there to relate to Li-Tsing my tale. An unexpected crowd blocked the view in the square. With typical correspondent inquisitiveness, I pushed to the fore. Lashed to the post in the center was the lad of the night before. Around him were several stocky Japanese officers, their little hats pushed far back on close-cut perspiring heads, one of them dangling a knotted rope in his hand. The rope rose and fell on the boy's bare and bleeding chest. Perceiving Li-Tsing on the far side of the square, I hastened to him and managed to elicit the facts that for two hours they had alternately whipped him and offered him water to make him tell where several colleagues of his had hidden guns they had stolen from the arsenal.

I looked about me. Many of the men who had been in the raid must be in this crowd; yet none offered to help him. He did not ask their aid. That was bravery! He did not wish to betray his cause. I watched, appalled, as the officers unstrapped the tortured young body. A squad of soldiers brusquely marched up. They raised rifles. A needless procedure; the rope had fallen and risen too many times. The pitiful corpse sagged to the earth, to the very land he had sought to free.

Incredulous, I looked at Li-Tsing. "How can they do this? I shall tell the world of this sacrilege. A mere boy. I shall write it across my nation's headlines."

Li-Tsing clasped my hand. "If you love these men, do not betray them by making public the secret they die to preserve. Remember too, the Japanese are in control of the telegraph and they would never permit the story to go abroad. Now perhaps you understand these men of the sleeping dragon," and then meaningfully, "these craven Chinese."

I was about to protest, but the truth of his words numbed me. Bewildered, yet with the crushing power of reason forcing itself Upon me, I stumbled to the telegraph office. A slovenly guard read my scribbled message and without even a grunt passed it to the operator. Curtly my message flew through that key."

The man closed his book. He wondered if these war clippings added up to a smooth, oily surface which hid a troubled sea.




The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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