Vanity Fair, July 1915
THE MILITARY INVASION OF AMERICA
A Remarkable Tale of the German-Japanese Invasion in 1916
By P. G. Wodehouse
Editor’s Note.—It may be thought that in this story
Mr. Wodehouse has painted in too lurid colors the horrors of a foreign
invasion of the United States. Realism, it may be argued, can be carried
too far. We prefer to think that our readers will acquit the author of a
desire to rouse America to a sense of peril, and only by setting down
without flinching the results of an invasion can this be done. If
McClure’s and all the other magazines can do it, why shouldn’t Vanity
Fair have a shot at it? Mr. Wodehouse holds an established position as a
military expert, his two recent articles, “What to Do When the
Zeppelin Comes,” and “Is It Contrary to International Law for Germany to
Use Culture as a Weapon of Offense,” having caused widespread comment
and alarm among military students everywhere.
THE invasion of America was complete. The navy, its morale completely sapped by grape-juice, had offered but slight resistance to the German Armada: and the army, too proud to fight, had stood around, while the Japanese established their foothold on the soil of God’s Own Country.
Once begun, it had proceeded apace. New York had been bombarded,—but fortunately, as it was summer, nobody of any importance was in town. Philadelphia, though ably defended by military correspondents of the Saturday Evening Post, had fallen at last. America was beneath the heel of the invader, whose only casualties consisted of a detachment of infantry who had been rash enough to travel on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad—with the usual results.
Far-seeing patriots took a gloomy view of this state of affairs. For some years the receipts of baseball had been falling off, and it was argued that this counter-attraction must hit the national sport hard. The desire to see the invaders as they marched through the country must inevitably draw away thousands who would otherwise have paid their half-dollars to sit in the bleachers.
By the end of August, a powerful army of Germans under Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig had established itself at Kew Gardens, while an equally powerful horde of Japanese under General Owoki was in possession of Yonkers and all points west.
This was a very serious state of things.
IT has been well said that the crisis always produces the man, or necessity is the mother of the man, or something like that: and never has this admirable truth (of which I regret I cannot remember the exact wording) been better exemplified than in this hour of America’s sorest straits.
At a moment when everything seemed blackest, along came Clarence Chugwater.
To-day the name of Clarence Chugwater is familiar to all. Everyone has seen the Chugwater Column in Central Park, the equestrian statue in Chugwater Avenue (formerly Broadway), and the Chugwater picture-postcards in the shop-windows. But at the time of the great invasion Clarence was practically unknown except in the newspaper office where he was employed as an office-boy. And even there he was not known by name. The staff habitually addressed him as Young Bone-Head.
To-day, it is hard to understand how even a City editor (notoriously one of the least intelligent of human beings) could have failed to detect in the lad’s face the promise of future greatness. That bulging forehead, distended with useful information (for Clarence attended night-school); those eyes, gleaming behind their tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles; that massive chin; that tout ensemble; that je ne sais quoi.
WHY, if the City editor had had a grain of sense, he would have flooded New York with electric signs, bearing the legend:
DO YOU KNOW THAT
Instead of which, he called him Bone-head, and often with shocking adjectives prefixed. What a world!
Clarence Chugwater, that many-sided boy, was not only a prop of the Daily Sentinel, he was the Pride of the Boy Scouts. When off duty, he might be seen walking abroad, dressed neatly but not gaudily, in a flat-brimmed hat, a flannel shirt, a bunch of ribbons, a knapsack, knickerbockers, brown shoes, a whistle, and a long stick. He could do everything that the Boy Scout must learn to do. He could low like a bull. He could gurgle like a wood-pigeon. He could imitate the cry of the turnip in order to deceive rabbits. He could spoor, fell trees (unless their owner saw him at it), tell the character by the sole of the shoe, and fling the squaler. He did all these things well, but what he was best at was flinging the squaler.
America’s defenders at this time were practically limited to the Boy Scouts and to a large civilian population, prepared at any moment to turn out for their country’s sake and wave flags. A certain section of these, too, could sing patriotic songs. It would have been well, then, had the Invaders, before making too sure that America lay beneath their heel, stopped to reckon with Clarence Chugwater.
But did they? Not by a jug-full. They had never even heard of Clarence.
What was to be the result of this over-confidence?
IT was inevitable that at a time like August, when there is never anything very much going on, such a topic as the simultaneous invasion of America by Germany and Japan, should be seized upon by the press. Few of the papers failed to give the matter several columns of space, and the public found the fascination of staring at the invading troops a pleasant change from the garish attractions of South Beach and Coney Island. When you consider that a crowd of five hundred New Yorkers will assemble in the space of two minutes, abandoning entirely all its other business, to watch a man putting a new tire on his automobile, it is not surprising that the interest taken in the invaders was somewhat general.
A piquancy was added to the situation by the fact that the Germans and Japanese were not acting in any way as allies. What had happened was a curious outcome of the modern custom of striking a deadly blow before actually declaring war. By a mere chance it had occurred independently to both the Kaiser and the Mikado that it would not be half a bad idea to invade America—and they had done it. The position of the Prince of Saxe-Pfennig and General Owoki was consequently delicate in the extreme.
ALL Prince Otto’s early training and education had implanted in him the fixed idea that, if he ever invaded America, he would do it either alone or with the sympathetic cooperation of allies. He had never faced the problem of what he should do if there were rivals in the field. He could not very well ask the Japanese to withdraw, and, if he withdrew himself, that meant a mauvais quart d’heure with the Kaiser when he got back to Germany.
“It all comes of this ‘Swoop of the Vulture’ business,” he grumbled to General von Poppenheim, his chief of staff, “this silly business of invading a country before you declare war on it. I suppose there’s nothing for it,” said the Prince, “but to have a talk with Owoki. Get him on the ’phone, Pop, and ask him to lunch with us at the Ritz to-morrow, to talk things over.”
The momentous conversation took place, accordingly, on the following day. It was conducted in the language of diplomacy, which, as anyone who has seen this year’s crop of war plays is aware, stands in a class by itself. It is a language specifically designed to deceive the chance listener.
Thus, when the Prince, turning to Owoki, as the latter consumed his portion of buckwheat cakes and maple syrup, said “I hear the crops are coming on nicely down Tokio way,” none of the waiters perceived anything remarkable in the words. But Owoki, nursed from the cradle in an atmosphere of diplomatic subtlety, understood at once that what the Prince meant was “Now, about this business of America. What do you propose to do about it?”
Owoki hesitated for a moment, then replied blandly: “The food here is good, but I am not sure that I do not prefer the Honble Childs.”
The Prince frowned at this typical piece of shifty Oriental diplomacy.
“How are you getting along with your fox trotting?” he inquired guardedly.
The Japanese general smiled a subtle smile.
“Poorly,” he said, “poorly. The last time I tried it, I thought somebody had thrown honble building at me.”
Prince Otto flushed. He was a plain, blunt man, and he hated this beating about the bush.
But what could he do? His Imperial Master would not wish him, save in the direst extremity, to fight the Japanese. Perhaps he had better yield the point. It was with a conciliatory smile, then, that, having ordered a second cup of coffee, he observed:
“Speaking of Mrs. Vernon Castle, I hear that she’s in again.”
And then the two shook hands.
And so it was settled, the Japanese general having, as we have seen, waived his claim to bombard New York in his turn, and the Prince having withdrawn his demand for a season pass to the Polo Grounds. There was now no obstacle in the way of an alliance.
Prince Otto went to bed that night conscious of good work well done. He now saw his way clear before him.
But he had made one miscalculation. He had omitted to reckon with Clarence Breamworthy Chugwater, the Boy Scout.
Night in Gramercy Park! In the center of that vast tract of unreclaimed park there shone feebly, seeming almost to emphasize the darkness and desolation of the scene, a single light.
It was the camp-fire of the Boy Scouts.
The night was raw and windy. A fine rain had been falling for some hours. The date was October the First. In the camp of the Boy Scouts a vast activity prevailed.
Few of Manhattan’s teeming millions realize how tremendous and far-reaching an organization the Boy Scouts are. With the possible exception of the Black Hand and the war-correspondents of the Saturday Evening Post, the Scouts are perhaps the most carefully-organized secret society in the world.
The power of the Scouts is enormous. Let us suppose that you are a business-man, and, arriving at the office one morning in a bad temper, you cure yourself by taking it out of the office-boy. He says nothing; he apparently does nothing. But that evening, as you enter your train for Forest Hills, a burly artisan treads on your gouty toe. Reaching home, you find that the chickens have been at your early peas, the cat has stolen the fish, and the cook has jumped her job. You do not connect these things, but they are all alike the results of your unjust behaviour to Little Scoutmaster Cyril in the morning.
Or, meeting a ragged newsboy, you pat his head, give him a dime, and ask him if he means to be President when he grows up. Next day an anonymous present of champagne arrives at your address.
Terrible in their wrath, the Boy Scouts never forget a kindness.
A whistle sounded softly in the darkness. The sentry, pacing to and fro before the camp fire, halted and peered into the night.
“Who goes there?”
“Advance, friend: give the countersign.”
“Death to Germany and Japan.”
“Pass, friend! All’s well.”
An indistinct figure walked into the firelight. The sentry started, then stood at attention. The newcomer was Clarence Chugwater.
“Your name?” said Clarence, eyeing the sturdy young warrior.
“Private William Buggins.”
“You watch well, Private Buggins. America has need of such as you.”
Clarence pinched the young Scout’s ear tolerantly. The boy flushed with pleasure.
“My orders have been carried out? The patrols are here?”
Standing in an attitude of deep thought, with his feet apart, his hands clasped behind him, and his chin sunk upon his breast, Clarence made a strangely impressive picture. The Scouts hearing of his arrival were charging desperately in all directions, at last they assembled, and were soon standing, alert and attentive. Clarence returned their salute moodily. He raised his hand.
“Men,” he said, in his clear, penetrating alto, “you are all aware by this time that our country has been invaded. It is for us to crush the invader. (Cheers, and a voice ‘You said it!’) I would call on you here and now to seize your sticks and rush upon the alien intruders, but at present their forces are too strong. We must wait. And something tells me that we shall not have to wait long. (Applause.) Soon jealousy must inevitably spring up between the Germans and the Japanese. It will be our task to aggravate that feeling. Sooner or later this smouldering jealousy will burst into flames, and then will come our time. See that it finds you ready. I have finished.”
“Chugwater, Chugwater, Rah! Rah! Rah!” shouted the now thoroughly aroused troops.
It was the voice of Young America—of Young America alert, desperate, and at its post!
The conclusion appeared in the August 1915 issue.