SPEAKEASIES OF WAR: AN INTRODUCTION
Richard A. Lupoff
Prince Pax by George Sylvester Viereck and Paul Eldridge is one of the most peculiar novels ever published. Not that its prose or style is particularly unconventional. On the contrary, it opens like a mitteleuropan romance. The casual reader might well peruse a few paragraphs or pages and decide that Prince Pax belongs on the same shelf as Anthony Hope Hawkins’ Prisoner of Zenda, George Barr McCutcheon’s Beverly of Graustark, or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Mad King.
Don’t be fooled!
A hundred pages or so into Prince Pax the authors drop their romancers’ masks and reveal themselves as political satirists of considerable power and commitment. Their target: War. Their tools: robots, death rays, atomic weapons, drone aircraft, invisibility. In short, Prince Pax belongs in the same class as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s 1984, novels that utilize the tropes and devices of science fiction to deliver an explosive message.
George Sylvester Viereck (1884-1962) is the better known of the two authors of Prince Pax. His father, Louis Viereck, was allegedly the natural son of German’s Kaiser Wilhelm I. Despite his claim to royal blood, Louis Viereck was a Socialist by conviction. His wife, Laura, was an American.
The Viereck family lived in Germany until 1897, when they emigrated to the United States. Louis and Laura later returned to Germany, their son remaining in the United States. George Sylvester Viereck was thus throughout his life a man of divided loyalties. As he described his feelings in later years, he said that, “Germany is my mother, America is my bride.” This divided loyalty would cause him considerable trouble in later years.
He was a writer of real talent and great versatility. His first published book, Gedichte (1904), a volume of poetry, was well received and Viereck appeared to be on his way as a leading literary figure. His first novel, The House of he Vampire (1907) is believed to be the first “psychic vampire” book ever written.
In addition to creating fiction and poetry of merit, Viereck pursued a long career as interviewer, editor and publisher. By 1915, while working as propagandist for the German cause in the First World War, Viereck was arrested by United States government agents.
The event made huge headlines in New York newspapers. The charge is sometimes erroneously cited as treason. This would have been impossible, as the United States was officially neutral at this time. In fact, Viereck was charged with failing to register as an agent of a foreign government. The charge was shortly dropped and Viereck was released.
One of Viereck’s many interview subjects, in the years following the war, was Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, living in exile in the Netherlands. Viereck claimed that when he approached the former monarch, Wilhelm greeted him as “fetter”—cousin—thus substantiating Viereck’s claim to royal blood.
Another interview subject was a rising German politician named Adolf Hitler. The interview took place in 1923. The exact date is apparently unknown, but internal evidence indicates that it took place prior to the Nazis’ infamous “Beer Hall Putsch,” a failed attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic and establish a Nazi state. This event took place on the night of November 8, 1923.
Sixteen Nazis were killed in the abortive uprising. Several others, including Herman Goering, were wounded. Hitler was brought to trial, convicted, and sentenced to a surprisingly brief prison term. His cell-mate was Rudolf Hess. It was during this period of imprisonment that Hitler wrote his notorious manifesto Mein Kampf, Hess acting as his amanuensis.
An edited transcript of the Viereck-Hitler interview is included as an appendix in this volume.
In 1941, Viereck was again arrested for failing to register as a foreign agent. He spent several years in a federal prison, while his case dragged on and on. He was one of a large group of defendants, several of whom died in the course of the trial. In fact the judge died and was replaced, causing endless legal complications. Finally, in 1947, the entire case was dropped.
Nonetheless, Viereck wrote a prison memoir, Men into Beasts, which is at least a minor classic of its type. It was published by Ramble House as SLAMMER DAYS, coupled with a prison memoir by Jack Woodford.
Paul Eldridge (1888-1982) was a less controversial figure than Viereck. The circumstances of their meeting are apparently unknown.
Born in Philadelphia to Jewish parents, Eldridge could have been the model of the secular, urban, Jewish intellectual of his generation. He attended Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Paris, emerging with as a Ph. D. in 1913. He taught at the Sorbonne, the University of Florence, and St. John’s College (Philadelphia), in addition to pursuing a long career as a high school language teacher.
In addition to his teaching career Eldridge was a prolific author, publishing more than sixty books between 1911 and 1971. His works ranged from poetry to novels and short stories, biographies of Anatole France, Michel De Montaigne, François Rabelais, and Desiderius Erasmus, as well as books on geography and history.
A free-thinker and religious skeptic, Eldridge rejected traditional religion but strongly maintained his Jewish identity and was bitterly critical of Nazi Anti-Semitism and its attendant atrocities.
In the years prior to the death of Emanuel Haldeman-Julius in 1951, Eldridge was closely associated with this prolific publisher who shared Eldridge’s blend of religious skepticism, socialism, and Jewish identity. In this regard Haldeman-Julius was a one-man nexus for radical and progressive political thought that at various times included science fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback and author and publisher Jack Woodford. To complete the circle of relationships, Woodford published Viereck’s final novel, The Nude in the Mirror (1953).
Between 1928 and 1932 Paul Eldridge and George Sylvester Viereck collaborated on a huge, three-volume fantasy epic: My First Two Thousand Years: the Autobiography of the Wandering Jew (1928), Salome: the Autobiography of the Wandering Jewess (1930), and The Invincible Adam: the Autobiography of the Son of the Great Ape (1932).
Viereck and Eldridge collaborated on one further book, Prince Pax, which was apparently the only venture by either author into the realm of science fiction. Set in the imaginary European principality of Dietrichsheim, the book centers upon that state’s ruler, His Serene Highness Prince Rupprecht Waldemar Eugene Alfonso Eric XLII, and Alice Rodney, only daughter of the American magnate Josiah Rodney, the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world.
The book involves an astonishing series of predictions—a chemical weapon that anticipates the dreaded neutron bomb, wiping out entire populations without destroying valuable real estate and infrastructure; a united Europe, a signal scrambler or “distorter” to permit secure electronic communication, the creation of androids indistinguishable from natural human beings, the use of robot-piloted military aircraft in warfare, and an attack on the United States by the Empire of Japan. Cultural references abound, including cameo appearances by many world figures of the era, among them Elbert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and at least an offstage reference to Eugen Steinach, the “monkey-gland doctor” who claimed he could reverse the aging process by transplanting simian testes into humans.
There is also a scene which clearly implies use of cannabis as a relaxant in high quarters.
How George Sylvester Viereck whose good friend and collaborator, Paul Eldridge, was a Jew with whom he produced this passionate and powerful plea for peace, could ally himself with Adolf Hitler remains a tragic puzzle which will in all likelihood never be solved.
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This Surinam Turtle Press edition of Prince Pax is based upon the 1933 Duckworth edition (UK).
Richard A. Lupoff