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The Death of a Professor

Death to Israel’s apologists!

Professor Kruger blamed himself for the graffiti sprawled in white spray paint on the bricks of the south wall of Altman Hall. The slogan had its origins, plural, in much more than just his own ill-advised article in The Tribune a month before, but he had undoubtedly been the immediate catalyst of this particular go-round.

It was evening, now, well after the last of the day’s classes had ended, so there were not many people about as Kruger made his way across the University campus to the parking lot. This was the time of day he loved the most, on the type of day he loved the most: a lightly clouded winter evening, the trees bare but alive in their bareness, the air just cold enough—in the absence of a breeze—the expand the lungs and make the fading light feel like a kind of brightness.

Even so, there were enough students making their own ways through the dimness that a few of them recognized him. Or so it felt, anyway.

A trio of girls huddled on the grassy knoll beside Altman Hall included two he recognized from the previous quarter, from his Intro to International Relations course. Both of them were facing away from him as he approached, but as he drew closer, one of them turned her head just far enough to catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye.

Kruger made a point of turning his own head away, but out the corner of his own eye he saw the girl who had noticed him lean quickly toward her friend, the other one he had recognized, and she too was turning hurriedly to catch a glimpse of the pilloried professional, as though to get one last good look at a condemned prisoner on his way to the electric chair.

He was already past them, they were blessedly out of his sight, when a gust of laughter rose from their vicinity and followed him down the steps beside Altman down to the northern campus faculty parking lot. It may have had nothing to do with him, and was hardly the worst of what he had had to take even if it did, but the sound thudded into his temples, nonetheless.

Of course, he had seen this coming before he even wrote the opinion piece that had gotten him in so much trouble. He knew the risks, on a left-wing college campus (in other words, on a college campus), of defending anything to do with Israel, never mind the actions of a Republican president in relation to Israel. Still, the graffiti somehow managed to come as a surprise.

Kruger had been prepared for the personal attacks on himself in the university forums, in the chat rooms and other shared spaces, online and physical, where ideas—for wont of a better word—were traded around here. He had certainly expected plenty of criticisms in the comment boxes on the sites where the article was published and shared, and for counterpoints and criticisms to be raised by other academics. That was the way of the world, and, in the latter case, rightly so.

He had not, however, been quite prepared for the graffiti, most of it in easily-erased chalk but some of it, like that on the last building, in paint you could hardly imagine a college student nowadays walking into a hardware store to buy, sprawled all over the place, appearing faster than it could be cleaned off. The example he had just seen was not even the worst offender. He had no problem with the slogans proclaiming Free Palestine (usually preceded by a hashtag and consequently often amalgamated into one word, all lower-case), having been an advocate of a two-state solution for many years. He could even, with some effort to empathize, understand the implicit death wish against himself and the President—who had not wanted to kill that right-wing nut and everyone who defended her at one point or another? But where did even the most fanatically socially-conscious young activist get off on proclaiming death to the world’s only Jewish state itself?

His Honda Civic was almost the only car left in the parking lot by the time he got there. Another group of students, this time four of five young men, were walking parallel to the lot as he drew closer to his vehicle, one or two of them looking at him with an expression he thought he recognized, but this time Kruger was too distracted to pay them any mind.

On the driver’s door of his car, directly below the handle where he couldn’t miss it, someone had applied what appeared to be a special-made bumper sticker, emblazoned with the slogan: Occupancy = 100,000 Palestinian children; Destination = Auschwitz.

Kruger grinned in spite of himself. Those kids, God love ‘em…

The controversy had cost him any chance of tenure, naturally. He had been in the middle of the consideration process and the race, while competitive, had been looking good. Even in the first few days after the article came out, it had not looked as though it would have any bearing on the deliberations. Then the message boards caught fire, and…

What had possessed him to publicly defend President Hannah Ellison’s controversial decision to back up Israel’s renewed attack on Lebanon anyway? The attack itself was not a policy of which he approved—as he had made clear in the article, not that anyone had noticed—and the president was certainly not a president of whom he approved. Was he really so contrarian? Political correctness had never sat well with him, but Kruger was not characteristically a troublemaker.

Admittedly, Israel had always been a bit of an exception. He had published his master’s thesis and later his dissertation on the history of Israel and its foreign policy. Utilizing three separate schools of international relations theory—realism, liberalism, and constructivism—to explain how the country had emerged from the unique phenomenon of Judaism, how geopolitics had shaped its wars and aggressions, how regular politics had influenced its relations with the other states of the world, he had crafted what was widely recognized as an original and compelling portrait of the beleaguered Jewish homeland. And he was not even Jewish.

Perhaps that was why his earlier defenses of Israel had stirred comparatively little controversy. He was sure as hell not a Christian Zionist either. He had started out much like the students with their spray cans, albeit never so radical, but generally subscribing, unthinkingly, to the propaganda of his young liberal peers. Then he had started studying the history of Israel from the inside out, and his feelings had evolved, and his interest had grown strong enough that he had made it the subject of his earliest published works in Global Studies.

Since then, Kruger had mostly moved on to other things, publishing mainly on the expansion of China in the western Pacific, Russia’s Vietnam-like quagmire in Ukraine, and the dilemma posed by the anarchy in Somalia for all established schools of international relations theory. Now, he was forty-eight years old, had published three books to minimal acclaim and milder sales, as well as a respectable number of essays and peer-reviewed papers for a professor his medium caliber at a medium university in the middle of nowhere, and so everything could be said to be going fine for him, career-wise. So, what the hell had gotten into him?

Kruger sighed aloud as he compressed the brake in response to a red light at the intersection of Fourth Street and Harper Avenue. Was that just it—that he was a forty-eight year old man with no other achievements to his name than those he had just been considering? Here he was on his way back to a dingy apartment in this dreary town in the shadow of the Cascades, too many miles from the ocean he had always loved, and this controversy was the most exciting thing since…

Had he been subconsciously hoping for such excitement? As the light turned green, he realized he was chuckling to himself. He was chuckling so hard he did not think to take his foot off the brake for a moment, a long enough moment that it inspired some asshole behind him to lay on the horn. The noisy protest inspired him to move the sole of his shoe to the accelerator, but it also made him laugh even harder.

Of course he had been subconsciously hoping for some excitement! Christ, maybe not even subconsciously. He could not hope, at this remove, to disentangle the distortions of hindsight from his memory, but it seemed likely to have occurred to him more than once before he made the fateful decision to publish “To Damn With Faint Praise: President Ellison’s Necessary Realism in the Middle East,” by David William Kruger, Associate Professor of International Relations, Rainier University.

If nothing else, he must have known it would be taken as provocative that he dared to quote, approvingly, from the writings of Alan Dershowitz. To say nothing of his, frankly, not entirely professional condemnation of Chomsky’s latest rantings on the subject. But the most fun he’d had, the real stinger, had been his assertion that Republican presidents, for all their comparative failings, had often demonstrated in recent history a keener understanding of international realities than their Democratic counterparts. How could that not raise a firestorm?

After pulling into his parking space at the apartment complex, after getting out and locking the car door—still emblazoned with the defamatory sticker it had not yet even occurred to him to remove—Kruger found himself staring up at the balcony of his third-floor apartment. It was not the first time he had gazed at that black patch in the wall with a mixture of melancholy, frustration, comfort, and impotence.

There was a new feeling there now, however…but what was it? Kruger had always hated when he could not give his emotions a name. A phenomenon which had been recurring more often lately, he thought, though maybe it only felt that way.

Clomping up the outside-inside stairs, he kept trying to place it. What was this fluttering, this urge to start chuckling again—a sense of freedom? He thought he knew what that felt like, and it was not this, not quite. Admittedly, it had been a long time since he had felt free, so maybe he had forgotten what it felt like. Inspiration? Nihilism? Fatalism? Desperation?

An unexpected thought occurred to him as he switched on the light to his kitchen with one hand while locking his front door behind him with the other—that he could afford a better place.

Kruger had never gotten married, never even come close, much less sired a child, much less more than one. Had it not been for the existence of the world’s oldest profession, he might never have lost his virginity. His official support for that profession could have been a source of controversy to rival this one, but somehow it had only ever gotten him in trouble on Twitter. But then, the social justice warriors had been coming around on prostitution since he was young.

He hardly ever indulged even that expense anymore. As an associate professor, he did not make that much money, and his rent was ridiculously overpriced, as was everything now, but Kruger was as thrifty by nature as anyone he had ever met (with the exception of a couple of his relatives, but he had mostly, not without considerable effort, forgotten them by now). And he was a keen investor. Most of his savings went into dividend stocks, which had gradually, by this point in his life, inflated his yearly income to a respectable, and usually growing, sum.

Still, Kruger would not have been Kruger if that had inspired him to take any real chances with his money. He hated to admit it, but for a long time now he had been waiting for his mother to die. His mother had inherited two houses, one when her own mother died, the other when Kruger’s father died, and his father had inherited a lot of assets when his mother died. There were a lot of assets, liquid and illiquid, waiting to be handed down to Siobhan Kruger’s only son and heir when she passed into the great beyond. She had been older than most mothers when she gave birth to David, though her entire family were notable for their longevity.

Kruger sighed again, opening the fridge and fishing around in it for a diet soda—he had papers to grade and was trying to ease himself off his evening wines. He did not want his mother to die. Like a dutiful son, he called her every week, and still enjoyed the conversations. In many ways, his mother was still his best friend, and sometimes he was not sure if he would even be able to survive her death. The only thing that might get him through it, in fact, was the fun he might at long last be able to have when her resources passed into his hands.

He closed the refrigerator door with a Diet Coke in hand, feeling even more sickened with himself than usual when his thoughts took this route. Of all the things in life to be waiting for, a thing he could not even look forward to, utterly selfish and callous too…

What did he really want? Kruger had asked the question countless times and already knew the answer, and yet it never quite satisfied him. He wanted to be free to go to the places he had spent his life studying, to see firsthand the political tensions and tempers and outbursts that sizzled across and within borders, into expressions in art and cinema and world literature and music and headlines, to see the whole goddamn world, dammit—he had a PhD in Global Studies and somehow managed to get it without even leaving the United States once, a rare accomplishment.

There was more to it than wanting to see the world, of course. That struck him as a worthy aspiration but one that would not remotely satisfy him. Kruger might once have been willing to have gotten married if the opportunity had presented itself, but he had long since concluded that he was not really suitable for pair-bonding of any kind. Yet he did maintain the dream of living more sensually, more assertively, in his private life as well as in his public life, of giving tangible expression to his stygian id. He wanted to be elsewhere, to be everywhere at once, a true citizen of the world, not just an observer of it, a commentator on it. There were enough comments already.

Kruger took a seat on his couch, firing up his laptop on the cushion to his right and turning on the television to the news. Sure enough, Channel 4 was right in the middle of a story on the situation in Lebanon. A pillar of smoke was rising from the remnants of an apartment block, the result of a missile fired by Israelis but provided to them directly by the good offices of President Ellison, along with plenty of other weaponry and a couple more billion dollars than usual to boot.

The perfect background to the first email that greeted him on the university server, from a young man in his European Politics seminar:

Dear Dr. Kruger, I’ve been thinking for a few weeks now how to phrase this, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I still haven’t got my thoughts quite in order, but I feel I need to express my feelings on this matter. You see, ever since you wrote that article about Israel, I’ve been thinking about what you said in class once about the inevitability of the strong seeking to maintain their strength at the expense of the weak and, while it didn’t bother me at the time, in hindsight I would have to say that it makes me deeply uncomfortable…

Kruger sighed once more, put down the Diet Coke, and went to pour himself a glass of wine.

“Hey, er, David…could I have a word, for just a moment?”

“Oh, um, sure Jasper, it’s just that I have to get to class in about ten minutes…”

“I understand. Really, I’ll be very quick.”

It was 8:40 in the morning and Kruger had almost dozed off in his office chair right there in his disproportionately puny office in Lijphart Hall (having spent so much of the previous evening answering emails, as well as grading papers, and subsequently dreading the coming day too much to sleep) when Jasper Klein, dean of Rainier’s Department of Political Science, made his appearance, preceded by an almost self-effacing knock.

Now, paradoxically, Kruger felt almost invigorated as he swiveled his chair around to face the newcomer, who remaining standing uncomfortably in the doorway, trying to look casual by leaving against the frame. Paradoxically, that is, because Klein had probably been the person most offended by Kruger’s writings about Israel, and not just his most recent piece.

If Klein had been a figure of similar stature at a more prestigious university, he might well have found himself in Dershowitz’s sights as a stereotypically self-hating Jew. He had the beard and fashion sense of a rabbi, and the Israel-bashing sentiments of a Palestinian suicide bomber. Needless to say, he and Kruger had always got on famously, but the occasional snide aside had a way of finding its way into Klein’s conversations with and about Kruger, almost always in proximity to some comment on the Jewish state.

Now, Klein seemed uncharacteristically unsure of himself, seeming to choose his words with care and some difficulty.

“Listen, David…I wanted to apologize.”

“Whatever for?”

“Well, you see…first of all, I know things have been difficult for you lately, and I’m sorry if I haven’t been more supportive than I should have been. You know how things are.”

“Yes, I surely do,” Kruger said while wondering quite what things Klein was referring to.

“It’s just that one doesn’t want to be seen to…Anyway, I know there’s been some fallout regarding your article on Israel, the president, and all that, and I must say, it has made me sick to see the way so many of our own students have behaved, creating all this trouble at your expense. We have our differences on the issue, of course, but you know I would never endorse such conduct in any context.”

“I know that, Jasper. I know.”

“Good, good. Now, as I’m sure you’re aware, we’ve—the Department has been receiving a lot of emails, and so has the president of the university, human resources, the usual gamut, you know, regarding the, er, perceived endorsement of your views by the university due to it, and we, you know…”

“Continuing to employ me, not having formally rebuked me, not burnt and castrated and disemboweled me…”

“Exactly. I just want you to know, although I’m sure you already know, that nobody has any intention of doing anything to punish you in any way for what you wrote, or for what has been going on since. You are one of the best we have, you know, David, a very valued colleague, I’m sure I don’t say that enough, but it’s true, and what has been going on lately, well, you know, these things happen.”

“They certainly do. To better people than me.”

“Quite right, David, to the best of us. You remember a few years ago when Kaylie Crowne, that Camille Paglia wannabe, you know, when she published that rape article, a lot of people wanted her to be fired, even a lot of the other faculty, and the university kept her on. So, I mean, comparatively, you have nothing to worry about, this won’t inhibit your career or anything…”

“You know, Jasper, sometimes you have an annoying habit of seeming like you might be protesting just a bit too much.”

Klein let out a bark of laughter. “I’m sorry, David, I really am, you know I’m very outside my comfort zone with this sort of thing. But seriously, David, I am trying to be helpful. This should all blow over soon. I’ve seen enough campus controversies in my time to know this isn’t going to be one of the big ones, because it would have blown up a lot bigger by now if it were. I thought it might help you to hear that, since you don’t have as much experience with these things as I have. And it’s even harder when you’re the one on the receiving end of it.”

Kruger was touched, he had to admit it. “I…well, thank you, Jasper. I appreciate that.”

“You’re welcome. The only other thing is, well…I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but I overheard you speaking to Gladys the other day after the meeting, and…”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

Gladys Miroff, a specialist in comparative politics, a few years older than Kruger and in some ways his mentor at Rainier, had also been in consideration for tenure. He vaguely recalled chatting with her after the last staff meeting, but nothing that either of them had said.

“Er, it seemed like you were saying—I mean, I may have misheard, but it sounded like you felt the article may have had to do with why you didn’t get tenure last month.”

Now he remembered…yes, Gladys had made some comment about their colleague who had gotten the position, how they, unlike Gladys, had not distributed too many passing grades for the university’s comfort, and Kruger had chimed in, against his better judgement, how they had also not published any milquetoast defenses of a Republican president’s Israel policy.

“Oh, that…well, I was just griping, you know…”

“I assumed so, but I just wanted to get it out in the air. In all honesty, I can’t quite say for certain that it had no effect at all on some of the members of the tenure committee, given that sensitive issues, you know, can spill over into public perception in times like these, but even so, I don’t think it was a determining factor. It certainly didn’t influence my vote, David, I want to make sure there are no doubts or hard feelings on that score. I mean, you know me better than that, don’t you? You know I have the utmost respect for you, even when we don’t see eye to eye on things.”

“Absolutely, Jasper. I would never have suspected otherwise of you.”

“You know, when I hired you, it was in part because I sensed you were someone with whom I could have intelligent, respectful disagreements. And for a lot of other reasons, naturally. I have always seen great potential in you, David, and you have always lived up to it. I really think you will receive a tenured position here someday, probably the next time around.”

“In less turbulent times.”

Klein laughed again, but could not seem to think of anything more to say.

When the dean had made his exit, Kruger sat in silence for a while, despite noticing that he had less than a minute before his scheduled moment to leave for class.

As had happened the night before, the thoughts that immediately came to mind were not what he might have expected. He found himself thinking about Israel, first, how he had always wanted to see Jerusalem and the famous white rocks of the desert, and breathe the air of a nation that somehow embodied the spirit of independence even more than that to which he had been born.

But there was another thought hovering on the edge of his mental image of Israel, one that, when he turned to examine it, took the shape of Italy, his own long-lost familial homeland. He was only one-quarter Italian, his mother being half-Italian, but that was the quarter of his family to which he was closest. Closest because they had been the most intimate of his relatives, but more because that was the only corner of his patrimony that had passed down a lot of good stories from their family history. His maternal grandfather had always been full of stories of the Old Country, as Italian-Americans always referred to Italy, full of old jokes about the land from which his parents had come (“Why do Italian cops wear a red stripe on their pants? So they can find their pocket!”). From his Italian ancestry had come the Catholic faith in which he had been raised, had come his sense of himself as a cultural being. Despite being only a quarter Italian, Kruger had always considered himself primarily an Italian-American.

There was a trajectory taking root in his mind. There was an arc forming between these things, a cluster of rainbows in the ether. He was getting excited, somehow, more so even than when he was ascending the stairs to his apartment the night before.

But then he realized he was going to be late for class even if he ran, in a minute, and so Kruger hurriedly gathered up his jacket and went on his way.

Kruger’s Intro to American Foreign Policy class had been scheduled, for Winter Quarter, in the newfangled lecture hall on the first floor of Zoller Hall, a whitewashed block of a structure unique on the Rainier campus for its resemblance to an office building. Without bothering to rush, he had somehow made it to class on time. The lecture hall was mostly full when he got there. He had long since noticed that, oddly, the customary gradual erosion of class attendance by his students had vanished since the controversy began.

“Good morning, everybody. I’d like to get started by recapping what we went over last time, just to make sure we understand how different schools of thought in international relations are reflected in the actual policy decisions of the White House, the State Department, and so on.”

He had set his slideshow to the frame with the map of the world depicting a series of bright red arrows looping from the United States to each of the continents (except Antarctica) was settling into his familiar spiel on the measurable manifestations of liberalism versus realism.

“So, when a powerful ally, as opposed to a less powerful ally or a neutral actor, behaves the way the European states did during the Great Recession, you know, not-so-subtly going along with America’s wishes only when it suited them, how might we expect a realist administration to behave differently from a liberal president or secretary of state?”

The class was silent. Had he not explained the subject well enough, or was it just too much for them so far? Kruger was on the verge of trying to refine his question when a hand went up.

“What I mean is—oh, yes, Amy, did you…?”

Amy Chiang, a short, bespectacled Asian-American girl with waist-length hair dyed a deep blue who seemed to have decided it was her mission in life to make all her professors’ lives hell on earth, said: “Professor Kruger, would that be at all like what Ellison is doing in Israel and Lebanon right now?”

Keeping his voice under control, Kruger asked: “In what regard, exactly? How are the two situations similar?”

“Well, because, like, there you have a strong American ally that’s doing something that doesn’t help America, but the president is backing them up anyway, so isn’t that, like, realism? Isn’t that what you wrote?” With some horror, Kruger realized Amy had a copy of The Tribune spread out on her front-row desk to his right.

“That’s a bit different. We’re talking about a situation where America’s purported friends were behaving in a way that is potentially deeply damaging to American interests, yet in which any other course of action might have been equally—”

“I’m sorry, Professor, but isn’t it the same thing?” Her voice was getting insistent now. A few of the students above her were sporting smirks, at whom he was not yet sure.

“The same thing as what?” A touch of impatience was entering his voice now.

“Right here, in your article, you wrote that ‘It is not in the interests of the United States for Israel to get bogged down in Lebanon like Russia in Ukraine, and may even be detrimental to the interests of the United States and Israel both. However, given the stated policies of Lebanon’s friends, it might be even more disastrous not to stand up for Israel at this crucial juncture, a decision which would likely be taken as a vote of no confidence…’ Which, I mean, like, sounds pretty similar to what you were saying.”

“I see your point, Amy, I do. However, that is one small state whose actions cannot really threaten American interests directly, one way or the other. The European states, particularly taken as a whole, represent a great power, on which our economy is much more dependent—”

“Then why is everybody so worried about Israel? What’s the point of defending a state that bombs civilians left and right by quoting a convicted pedophile—you said, ‘To quote The Case for Israel (2003), by Alan Dershowitz, “In light of the close association between the Palestinian leadership and Nazism throughout the 1930s and 1940s, it is ironic that many pro-Palestinian groups have chosen the swastika as the symbol with which to attack Israel.” It is doubly ironic, then, that at least one contemporary Lebanese militia has adopted the swastika in the name of combating Israel’s purported neo-Nazism…’” She stopped, looking triumphantly at Kruger.

Was that guy in the back aiming his phone at Kruger, as though taking a video?

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything, Amy, and we’re getting off topic…”

“Why would you quote from a pedophile’s book, Professor?” She was practically shouting.

“Let me make this very clear: we are not going to—”

“Was it that important to make a point about the swastika? If the guy who got OJ off has the right to be a pedophile, why don’t Lebanese people have the right to—”

“Amy, may I see that, please?” Without waiting for an answer, Kruger snatched the copy of The Tribune off her desk and held it up. The guy up near the back wall with the phone was grinning as he held it up over his head to get a better view. Let him. Kruger could see the video captions now, “College Professor Meltdown Goes Viral.” Who cares, there probably is no such thing as bad publicity.

“I want to remind everybody here of something I said at the beginning of the quarter. It’s a regular aphorism of mine: States are a lot like people. People are the building blocks of states, and states are the building blocks of international politics. States are amalgamations of individuals, just like this classroom, for instance. Each has its own particular history, its own culture, its own sets of norms and circumstances and values.

“Therefore, it stands to reason, doesn’t it, that some will develop better reputations than others, at different times and in different circumstances. Now, Israel, as we all should know but in a depressing number of cases don’t, was founded primarily by Holocaust survivors in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust. We’re talking about millions of people who had just survived the worst, most traumatizing experiences imaginable, who were mostly forced to emigrate to Palestine because nobody else wanted them, and who were immediately set upon, following their declaration of independence, by an alliance of neighboring states who had them outnumbered at least ten-to-one, a state of affairs which has not changed significantly in all the decades since the Jewish state was founded.

“So, we should all be asking ourselves some questions at this point. Would you normally say a person with severe PTSD was being irrational or unforgivable if they sometimes went too far while they were at war with a bunch of people literally threatening to exterminate them? A lot of people cheered for a woman who got acquitted in an American court of law after she cut her husband’s dick off, all because he was mean to her. Yet these are the same people who routinely call Israel an apartheid state because it hasn’t rushed to reintegrate millions of people who openly cheer for Israel’s destruction, and who wouldn’t need to be reintegrated if the Arab states who claim to champion the Palestinians had ever bothered to integrate them themselves, which they entirely have the resources at their disposal to do.

“Maybe, then, we shouldn’t be going out of our way to pick on Israel. Maybe we would have a moral obligation to stand up for Israel even if it weren’t our only democratic ally in a vitally important strategic region. And maybe, even if that region is only strategically valuable because of fossil fuels, which we should be trying to cut down on, we still shouldn’t be too self-righteous, because maybe self-righteousness just isn’t a good trait anyway. Maybe we shouldn’t be decrying our spineless leadership for being colonialist and racist while we sip on our lattes and change our clothes every five minutes and drive gas-guzzling vehicles and buy a new phone, a new laptop, a new device, a new upgrade every time one comes out, at least once a year, when the old one is still perfectly good and will be for at least a few more years, all of which does infinitely more to empower the corporations that take advantage of the developing world, keeping it in poverty, and controlling our government than can ever be undone by voting a socialist president into the White House, even if that were possible, which we damn well know it isn’t, in no small part because we’re always giving all our money to the people we’re so upset are always oppressing us, and the racial minorities, and the Third World, and everybody else except their fellow parasites. Seems like a real smart thing to do, doesn’t it?”

Somewhere in the middle of all that, the guy at the back of the room had put down his phone. The thirty or forty other faces throughout the lecture hall were an amalgamation of dull surprise, disbelief, anger, admiration, sympathy, boredom, amusement, the whole gamut. Taking deep breaths as quietly as he could, Kruger set the copy of The Tribune down on the desk behind him to buy some more time and then turned back to the class.

“So, to answer your question, Amy,” addressing the girl who was still regarding him with an expression of smug superiority, though her head was tilted quizzically to one side, “I did write that American policy toward Israel is, currently, a manifestation of realism, mostly. That is not, however, what we are here to discuss right now. To return to the example of Europe…”

Forty minutes later, he dismissed the class, still somewhat early, though not before asking Amy to wait outside so he could have a word with her in the hall. Once the lecture hall was empty, he gathered his things together, including The Tribune (to which he surely had a claim, of sorts), running over in his head what he would say to her.

Eventually, he realized he could not think of anything. He could think of nothing that seemed appropriate, but he could hardly even think of anything that sounded inappropriate. The lecture hall was located on the outside of the building, and the door in the east wall led directly outside. After one last brief pause, he took the latter way out of the lecture hall.

It was drizzling lightly, but Kruger did not bother to put up his hood. He had reached a decision, he realized now, without having realized it at the time. The trajectory of his earlier thoughts was coming back into a view, an escape velocity arcing from where we was now, to Europe, through Italy, particularly Lombardy, and the Vatican, of course, all the way to Israel.

They were all part of his heritage, part of himself, little though he understood of them now, disenchanted though he had become with much of them. But he would see the vast Milan Cathedral with its white walls and its copper doors with his own eyes, he had decided, and the golden hills outside Genoa, to which his family had moved from Venezia to escape the depredations of Napoleon’s troops (or so his grandfather had always claimed), and would stand in Saint Peter’s Square to watch the Pope give his Sunday address, simply so he could rub it in the faces of all those fanatics who had ruined his childhood in the name the institution whose heartland they would never see, and then…then he would go on to where even that had its ultimate origin, in that sun-blasted land at the farthest end of the Mediterranean shores, where so much of the ideological madness of the last five thousand years had been born, where it continued to be born, and where it all might very well die someday.

He would finish the quarter first, he knew. He might even return to teach again if they would have him after what had just transpired. Of course they would, he knew he was being silly, he was still just a bit riled. All the same, it was a kind of death to which he was consigning himself, a state of uncertainty that was disturbingly and thrillingly unfamiliar to him.

There were words echoing in his head, he realized, lots of them, but as he drew nearer to his office, one particular set of words stood out to him, the words of the resignation speech of one of those Republican presidents whose foreign policy Kruger admired almost as much as he despised their domestic policy: We think that when someone dear to us dies, we think that when we lose an election, we think when we suffer a defeat that all is ended… Not true. It is only a beginning, always.

Kruger grinned to himself as he started up the steps to his office. Who knew where it might lead, this trajectory that had started with an article in whose message he still only half-believed. Who could say what would be the end of this only-a-beginning. Looking within himself, he was delighted to realize that he could not have cared less.

Whatever might come, he would at least, for the first time in his life, be able to say he tried.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Contemporary Fiction, Culture and Current Events, Drama, Fiction

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