Thursday, July 23, 2015

An Army of Esperantists!

The Esperanto movement
wasn't really that organized.
It seems unlikely, but so mocks the writer of a column in the New-York Tribune of July 23, 1908. Did the Esperanto movement, at that point in its earliest moments in the United States, resemble a nascent government in any way? The satire in this one seems to be laid on just a tad too thickly. The first Esperanto congress in the United States had raised the banner of the Esperanto movement, but although this was the first time the flag had been raised on US soil, it wasn’t exactly a banner of conquest.

It may even be that that Esperanto movement was more-or-less collateral damage on this part, since many of the terms cited speak to American exceptionalism, which might be the real target here. The topics that Esperanto orators were described as eager to talk about were already the topics of American political figures.

It seems clear that the New York Tribune was not anticipating an attack of the unstoppable hordes of Esperantoland, especially not with the fleet of the Swiss Navy. Read the following with a very large grain of salt.

Unless all signs fail, a new world power will before long gravely complicate international politics and mayhap the workings of diplomacy. We read that the Esperanto flag has been raised on the college green of Chautauqua, where the national congress of Esperantists is now in session. This must be the first throe in the birth of an Esperanto nation. And why not? The enthusiastic champions of a world language are expending energy enough to run a good-sized government. Already their official reports, literature, convention proceedings, etc., have a voluminosity which much excite the envy of many a parliament. Then, too, among the Esperantists there are Liberals, Conservatives, Know-Nothings—in short, a highly developed party system with a thousand orators whose tongues are tugging at their throats in their eagerness to talk about “the Grand Old Flag,” “our manifest destiny,” “the Esperanto man’s burden,” and the like. Plainly, human nature must come into its own. Just as surly as a King of the Sahara and a Mayor of Second Avenue exist, just so surely are a United States of Esperanto, an Esperanto army, an Esperanto navy and an Esperanto foreign policy things which the future has in store. When they will come out of storage, we cannot forecast. But the sooner the merrier.

If, as we here suppose, the Esperantists are undertaking the creation of a world power, they prove themselves shrewder than the Simplified Spellers. It is not merely because that enthusiasm is most tenacious which has a local habitation and a name; the Carnegie language surgeons have downtown offices. The unique virtue of nationalizing Esperanto resides in the linguistic compulsion under which it lays every king, statesman and foreign correspondent. Given the possibility of an attack by Esperanto battleships of the Swiss navy (Admiral Zeppelin commanding), and every consular clerk will study Esperanto with the hope of assisting at the peace negotiations. An Esperanto army, reinforced by Black Hand and “night riders,” would greatly further its cause, even if vanquished on the field; the police would surely have to take a night school course in the patent language. Truly, the shadow of the Esperanto flag falls darkly across the hopes of Simplified Spelling. While the latter is still seeing out circulars to college professors, the Esperanto Empire will have extended its boundaries on the north to Bedlam and on the south to Wonderland.
The Esperanto Empire never came to be, but the writer probably never expected it either. Still, the Esperanto movement did better than the Simplified Spelling movement (and of the two, is the only one still around). As President, Theodore Roosevelt directed that government publications be printed using simplified spelling; this was ignored by the Government Printing Office, and Roosevelt was ridiculed. The Esperanto movement also sought Roosevelt’s support.

But they never sought to take over the Swiss navy. Especially as Switzerland is landlocked and doesn’t have a navy.
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1 comment:

  1. The writer may be nowhere near as funny as he thinks himself (although I daresay the standards of today may be unfairly high), but I'm pleased as punch to see "throe" in the singular! Dankon!


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