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The Education of Henry Adams

Vis Nova (1903-1904)
PARIS after midsummer is a place where only the industrious poor remain, unless they
can get away; but Adams knew no spot where history would be better off, and the calm of
the Champs Elysees was so deep that when Mr. de Witte was promoted to a powerless
dignity, no one whispered that the promotion was disgrace, while one might have
supposed, from the silence, that the Viceroy Alexeieff had reoccupied Manchuria as a
fulfilment of treaty-obligation. For once, the conspiracy of silence became crime. Never
had so modern and so vital a riddle been put before Western society, but society shut its
eyes. Manchuria knew every step into war; Japan had completed every preparation;
Alexeieff had collected his army and fleet at Port Arthur, mounting his siege guns and
laying in enormous stores, ready for the expected attack; from Yokohama to Irkutsk, the
whole East was under war conditions; but Europe knew nothing. The banks would allow
no disturbance; the press said not a word, and even the embassies were silent. Every
anarchist in Europe buzzed excitement and began to collect in groups, but the Hotel Ritz
was calm, and the Grand Dukes who swarmed there professed to know directly from the
Winter Palace that there would be no war.
As usual, Adams felt as ignorant as the best-informed statesman, and though the sense
was familiar, for once he could see that the ignorance was assumed. After nearly fifty
years of experience, he could not understand how the comedy could be so well acted.
Even as late as November, diplomats were gravely asking every passer-by for his
opinion, and avowed none of their own except what was directly authorized at St.
Petersburg. He could make nothing of it. He found himself in face of his new problem --
the workings of Russian inertia -- and he could conceive no way of forming an opinion
how much was real and how much was comedy had he been in the Winter Palace
himself. At times he doubted whether the Grand Dukes or the Czar knew, but old
diplomatic training forbade him to admit such innocence.
This was the situation at Christmas when he left Paris. On January 6, 1904, he reached
Washington, where the contrast of atmosphere astonished him, for he had never before
seen his country think as a world-power. No doubt, Japanese diplomacy had much to do
with this alertness, but the immense superiority of Japanese diplomacy should have been
more evident in Europe than in America, and in any case, could not account for the total
disappearance of Russian diplomacy. A government by inertia greatly disconcerted study.
One was led to suspect that Cassini never heard from his Government, and that Lamsdorf
knew nothing of his own department; yet no such suspicion could be admitted. Cassini
resorted to transparent blague: "Japan seemed infatuated even to the point of war! But
what can the Japanese do? As usual, sit on their heels and pray to Buddha!" One of the
oldest and most accomplished diplomatists in the service could never show his hand so
empty as this if he held a card to play; but he never betrayed stronger resource behind. "If
any Japanese succeed in entering Manchuria, they will never get out of it alive." The
inertia of Cassini, who was naturally the most energetic of diplomatists, deeply interested
a student of race-inertia, whose mind had lost itself in the attempt to invent scales of
force.
 
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