TWENTIETH CENTURY LIMITED


EXCERPTS FROM TWENTIETH CENTURY LIMITED

MEMORIAL FOR A FALLEN SOLDIER

Paul Bernard recalls the memorial he witnessed as a small boy, for a young man of the neighborhood fallen in World War Two.

A number of soldiers with musical instruments stood in the street, one with a huge drum hanging from a strap around his neck. Then everybody sat down and they started to play. I was so close, my throat and chest pounded like it was me being played, not the drum. A number of soldiers with musical instruments stood in the street, one with a huge drum hanging from a strap around his neck. Then everybody sat down and they started to play. When the music stopped a soldier with shiny metal on his collar got up. He said something in Italian then the name of Angelo’s brother Cosmo. The soldier was tall and serious and said how brave Cosmo was. Then he went over to Mrs. D’Andrea and placed the flag in her lap. I had never seen a flag folded. I didn’t know they let you do that. She crossed herself, pulled her veil down and placed her hands on the flag. I could tell she’d been crying.

Then some man in a suit came to the microphone. Councilman Napolitano, my mother told me that’s who it was, he went on and on and finally he stepped across to the telephone pole. I hadn’t noticed the cloth on it before. The man stepped across to the telephone pole and yanked a cord.  As he did, the cloth fell away and you could see a piece of dark wood with gold letters and two little crossed flags, also flowers.


COLLEGE YEARS

In his first year at a Jesuit college Paul Bernard takes part in a religious retreat and considers the state of his immortal soul.

ON A CHILL OCTOBER EVENING three hundred sixty young men filed past the massive wooden doors of the college chapel. Inside, candles flickered, the air heavy with spent incense. From the spacious interior came an overwhelming impression of stability, the arches and columns less about soaring praise than accountability, responsibility. Fittingly the church was named for that most solid of saints – St. Joseph, bedrock of the Holy Family. …

As Father Barry stepped down another priest appeared – tall and lean in his cassock, a purple stole about his neck, shadows from the dim light marking his long face. I looked at my seatmate and we shook our heads. Never seen him before. He settled into the pulpit. “‘I will go unto the altar of God,’” he began, “‘to God, the joy of my youth. Words from the Book of Psalms, Chapter 42, Verse 4. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” “Amen,” we responded, making the sign of the cross.

Pulling on steel-rimmed glasses, he went on. “Our Lord said it best. ‘What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his immortal soul?’ My dear young men, your most important task in life, the only job that really matters, is to prepare yourselves for eternity.” Deep and sonorous, the priest’s voice reverberated through the half-empty church. He spoke deliberately, pausing often. “These few days we will meditate on The Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven.” The priest stared down at us, two bright discs obscuring his eyes. “At that all-important moment, when you are called on to account for your life, what will the condition of your soul be?”


VIETNAM

While attempting to take a mountain objective, Pvt. Paul Bernard and his unit come under heavy fire. Bernard hears a scream and believes his best friend has been hit.

The next morning we wake to a beautiful sunrise. Gibbs orders us to regroup. Grousing and complaining, we form up with an ARVN platoon, but at least Gibbs doesn’t give away a lot of the altitude we worked so hard to gain. We maneuver around to a gentler slope on the southwest face where the brass who are directing all this from observation choppers and their base camp below think we might make better gains. We start out okay but by late morning have stalled out, coming under heavy fire from another NVA dugout uphill. That’s the nature of the mission – they are up, we are down trying to get up.

Problem is, this crowd has a grenade launch operator who is damned good, almost as good as me. He soon has us zeroed in, and the ground around us erupts in earth fountains – mud and metal flying every direction. Two, maybe three machine gunners up there, too. I am not feeling good about this. Nathan and I have been working side by side but at one point we get separated. Darting out from behind a big rock, Murph and I and a couple others return fire when I see a blast maybe twenty meters away and hear a scream. Nathan! Was that Nathan? Jesus – don’t let it be Nathan!


NEWSPAPER CITY ROOM

Paul Bernard as a reporter on the prestigious New York Gazette.

My new assignment meant more time in the field, which was what I wanted, but the newsroom never ceased to amaze and fascinate. I’ve waited until now to paint it for you – it took time to sort it all out. The Gazette’s newsroom occupied a good two-thirds of the fourth floor, with pillars here and there but almost devoid of partitions, a room so vast that several times a day a certain editor would climb on a chair with his binoculars to see who he could grab for an assignment. Fluorescent ballasts hung from the tiled ceiling, casting a flat, shadowless light which hurt your eyes after a few minutes of close work. The noise is what got to you. Typewriters everywhere, teletype machines, phones ringing, radios, pagers, talking, shouting, moving around, the infernal PA, the exercise bike screeching next to the rowing machine, for some unaccountable reason the two of them named Harold and Maude.


COVERING THE GULF WAR

Kuwait’s liberation complete, Paul Bernard and his cameraman prepare to leave Kuwait City.

I located a hotel rooftop and made a satellite call to New York, giving an account of the scene and recapping our days on the drive. I passed along reports that the Iraqi Army was withdrawing on all fronts and setting fire to Kuwait’s oil fields. Em’s footage captured spectacular pillars of fire ringing the horizon, dense, oily smoke blackening the nighttime sky. “A glimpse into hell,” I called it. The wind pushed the foul air our way, making breathing difficult. “I wish I’d kept my gas mask handy,” I said, showing the oily drops on my skin and clothes, the streaks on my forehead and hands. Holding up my smeared night vision goggles, I pronounced them useless.

Later in the hotel lounge I caught a replay of George Bush’s call for the world to pray for the Coalition forces and for “God’s blessing on the United States of America.” His comments were paired with Saddam’s message to his troops to “fight them, brave Iraqis … fight them with your faith in God.” Made me think God probably doesn’t spend much time on political petitions, but I wondered how He would sort through the prayers of the simple people on both sides for their loved ones in harm’s way, for their land.


THE LTN LOCAL NEWS WITH PAUL BERNARD

Paul Bernard prepares to take the air for his debut as a television news anchorman.

I looked at the big clock on the wall, squirming around in my chair, thinking maybe it was a bit too low but decided it was okay… too late anyway. Another glance at the clock on the wall… hands moving toward the top of the hour.

“One minute!”

I cleared my throat, took another sip of water. Looking around I saw Bell behind the glass that separated me from the control room. McKay was standing behind him. Bell gave me a thumbs up. I thumbed him back. Now the sweep second hand was at fifteen… ten… five… I cleared my throat and took a deep breath. Running through my mind a weird thought – this is the first night of the rest of my life. The ON-AIR sign on the side wall lit up. I looked straight into the camera. Red light’s on, and flashing on the screen – THE LTN LOCAL NEWS WITH PAUL BERNARD


 

FUNDAMENTALISM

In a prime-time report, Paul Bernard presents his views on fundamentalism and evangelical movements.

We next turned to the link between fundamentalism and evangelism, noting the vitality of early Christianity, the spread of Islam, the current wave of proselytizing by fundamentalist Protestants and Mormons, and contrasting this energy against the weariness and self-satisfaction that these days all too often characterize established religion. “The true believer is afire, driven by an expansive, thrilling vision. He shares a dream and a quest. ‘Born again’ is not merely a slogan – it is once more to be young and filled with enthusiasm, passionate for sharing the life-transforming gift, whatever it may be.

“These days political Islam is much in the news. From our outpost in America, accustomed to separation of church and state, it is difficult to grasp such an intimate union of religion and political life. The specter of the Islamic Republic confounds us – witness Khomeini’s stunning turnabout in Iran, or our complex Saudi ally. Disconcerting indeed, though if we recall our European history it won’t be so unfamiliar. The fact is, some in our country understand the Islamic approach all too well. They disagree with the content – wrong God, wrong religion – but the idea of a religious nation excites them. A Christian America! By God, that’s the way to do it! Be sure to tune in tomorrow,” I said, pointing to the screen – THE UNITED STATES AND ITS RELIGIOUS RIGHT.


 

9-11 – THE TWIN TOWERS ATTACKED

Paul Bernard reporting from lower Manhattan, September 11, 2001.

In my earpiece information was straggling in. There was talk of hijackings, a terrorist attack. I thought again of bin Laden, of our missed opportunities. A few minutes later, a plane reported crashed into the Pentagon, fires raging. What other scenes of devastation, I wondered. No mention, but buildings all over are being evacuated. The White House, U.N. headquarters, Sears Tower. U.S. airspace is shut down. Has anyone claimed responsibility? What’s happening with our air defense? Where is George Bush and what is he doing?

At 9:59 the screams begin. “The building’s coming down!” “THE BUILDING’S COMING DOWN!!”

Slowly, from the top, the South Tower starts to settle on itself, falling… falling… a grinding, screeching cry, the great building in its death throes. I glance at Charlie. His eyes fill with tears but still he mans his camera. An enormous cloud of dust and debris rushes forward, obscuring the lower stories of the doomed building, then settles, flooding across the plaza, into the street, up, down, across Church Street… ten, fifteen stories high! A maniacal blizzard, thousands of papers borne aloft, tens of thousands. “As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,” I murmur, beside myself with horror.


BUSH-CHENEY-RUMSFELD

The gloves come off. Paul Bernard rips the Bush administration as the drumbeat for war grows.

It was June of 02. “How about another war?” I asked. “What better way to rally the country behind its faltering leader? Trade tough Afghanistan for a place we’ve been before, where, as Donald Rumsfeld puts it, there are a lot more targets, against a guy we’ve hated ever since we stopped being his friend. If the spate of reports and hints coming out of the White House are true, Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz have already decided Saddam must go. The case for Iraq will be harder to make. It’ll take real creativity, but Bush’s team is up to it. In fact they’ve already started.

“In November of 01,” I went on, “Bush said Afghanistan is still just the beginning and Iraq – can you believe it, Iraq? – may be the next target in his War on Terror. In December, for the first time Dick Cheney suggested an Iraq – al-Qaeda link, charging Iraq with harboring terrorists. Newspapers headlined White House warnings about Saddam’s revitalized WMD program, then in an impressive display of bootstrapping, the administration cited these very stories as proof that Saddam has WMDs. But with all this, by the end of last month polls showed a declining number of Americans, only four in ten, believe we are winning the War On Terror. Clearly, it’s time to step up the pressure.”


CREDITS

Readers and website visitors might like to know about some of the people who contributed their talents to TWENTIETH CENTURY LIMITED.

Principal editor MARY SULLIVAN’s YA book Dear Blue Sky has just been published by Penguin and is now available.  She’s also the author of Ship Sooner and Stay.  Mary has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant for Literature, and a St. Botolph’s Award.  www.marysullivan.net

PAULA BLAIS GORGAS, long a source of encouragement and advice, is also a noted author.  Her Earth Magic won the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Award for Best Juvenile Book, and Other Worlds was named its Best Book of Fiction. Paula’s YA novel Court of Honor was winner of the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award. www.pbgorgas.com

PAT NIESHOFF was responsible for book, cover and page design. Nieshoff Design, Lexington MA.  www.nieshoffdesign.com

A listing of WORKS CONSULTED for TWENTIETH CENTURY LIMITED will be posted on this website when it is published in September.

css.php