Friday, December 12, 2014

Professor Schinz, the Accuser of Esperanto

Professor Claims Esperanto a German Plot
To recap: On November 25, 1916, the New York Sun published a letter by Creston Coigne about how Esperanto was progressing despite the war. This occasioned a response on December 2 from Professor Albert Schinz of Smith College, who essentially accused a British Esperantist who was covertly corresponding with a German Esperantist friend of treason, and suggested that the only reason that the Germans were putting war dispatches out in Esperanto was to disrupt the likelihood of French and English being the co-international languages, and advance the cause of German. To this, on December 11, Jozefo Silbernik, Dr. Zamenhof’s brother-in-law, and an active Esperantist in New York City, showed that Professor Schinz’s contention that the Germans did this because they knew they would lose the war was false, since the Germans started the dispatches before getting officially involved in the war.

Not enough for Professor Schinz. On December 12, 1916, he’s back in the pages of the Sun with a further question for the Esperantists. At this point, I had to look ahead; Professor Schinz gets the last word. After initial enthusiasm for Esperanto, French academics had somewhat soured on it, and I suspect Professor Schinz got his view of Esperanto from his French colleagues. His real issue seems to be the prospect of French as one of the world’s languages of international use.

Here’s the final letter, from the Sun, December 12, 1916:
No, Nor for Poland, Says the Accuser of the “International Language.”
To the Editor of The SunSir: Why did the Esperantists in the communication sent to you and which was meant to be an answer to my letter not so much mention the main issue : Is Esperanto used as a tool to ward off the Franco-English “Chapelier project” or is it not?

Suppose Germany were to win this war, would Germany try to impose Esperanto or German as a world language? Who is naive enough to believe that Esperanto would be chosen? Is it necessary to recall Alsace-Lorraine, Poland, Belgium, where Esperanto did not obtain? Under present conditions Esperanto is not a neutral language.

Let us not be dazzled by names. Had De Tocqueville[1] known the present method of imperial Germany, would he have approved of Esperanto as a means to pave the way for the enemies of France? If not, we are justified in appealing to his statements of long ago.

The signers of your recent letter cannot possibly think that a few well meaning Esperantists are going to impose their humanitarianism on men of the type of Bernardi,[2] Hindenburg[3] or Tirpitz,[4] who are the sole directors of affairs in a country where the people have agreed to count for nothing.
Albert Schinz
Northampton, Mass., December 9.

Let’s be clear. Professor Schinz is trolling. In his first letter, he clearly stated that Germany turned to Esperanto after its realized that they were going to lose the war. Mr. Silbernik pointed out that they were using Esperanto before the war even started, and so for Professor Schinz to be correct, the Germans would have had to enter the Great War with the expectation of losing it.

Now he’s taking the French line that Esperanto is quite impossible as a choice for an international language, and those who support it are only trying to harm French and knock it from its deserved exalted perch. I say this as someone whose French is passable and is an ardent francophile: some of the French reactions to Esperanto in the early twentieth century sound a little paranoid. After all, the editor of Le Matin, Stephane Lauzanne, actually claimed in 1922 (about six years after Professor Schinz was writing to the Sun) that Esperanto was dangerous! But this was already part of a tradition, as Remy de Gourmont had mocked Esperanto in the pages of Le Matin in 1908. The souring seems to have started with the creation of the more French-inclined Ido.

We know in hindsight that (despite another effort), German did not become the international language, and the Chapelier Plan (about which I have found little) came to nothing. Now English, usually imperfectly, is the international language, though as a native English speaker, I’d rather speak good Esperanto than have to deal with bad English. The Germans didn’t need Esperanto to ward off the Chapelier plan. There is little evidence that either side took it the slightest bit seriously. In that, the professor’s fears were ungrounded. If anything, the only people who saw Esperanto as a rival to French were the French themselves.

Update: I've slightly modified the first paragraph of this post, as I realized that I had confused Creston Coigne's letter with that the article on George Irion, who was corresponding with soldiers from both sides.

  1. Why would Alexis de Tocqueville know of “the present method of imperial Germany”? He had been dead since 1859.  ↩
  2. No idea. Grateful for any help.  ↩
  3. Paul von Hindenburg. He capitulated to You-Know-Who, when his continued health was the only barrier to a takeover by the Nazis.  ↩
  4. Alfred von Tirptiz. Check out the Wikipedia page. You have to see this guy’s facial hair.  ↩

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