KWM: Was Constantine a Serb / Sokollu, Sokollee, Sokollahahahahahaaaa / A Bone for Numerologists / Smaller Coffins

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Was Constantine a Serb

In Ljubljana, Todd Fullmer did his editor a favor and stayed at the least expensive hotel he could find near the center, the Park Hotel. His first task, as we know, was to get an interview with Milan Kučan, the Slovene politico who presided over that part of the earthquake in the nineties that left Slovenia bereft of Beograd administration, or, as some prefer to phrase it, Slovene independence. Kučan was the first Czar of Slovenia as a result, and therefore had the most to lose from a Kramberger election landslide, or victory. Why not simply ask him, Todd thought. Hey Milan, did you do it? Was it you? How’d you find the dupe. Of course that’s not how it would go, but really it wouldn’t be so far different. But Todd had a problem: how to contact and arrange for an interview with the by now retired Milan Kučan?

According to Todd Fullmer’s editor:
So he writes me he’s Ljubljana trying to get an interview with some Hoochie Koochie, and sends this time-killer of an article to get me off his back. You’ll notice it is not the failure to assassinate Castro article, but if you’re interested I can send you the missing piece of the puzzle, so to speak. Anyway, first see if you like this one. Much as I didn’t want to, cause I wanted the son of a bitch in Minsk, I actually did, and I published it to the vast indifference of our readership:

Was Constantine a Serb?

It seems to me that historical questions are generally treated as abstruse, yet while any event–an assassination, say–has its preponderance of contributing factors, such a thing as motive is often quite simple—to, say, remove a leader, to gain power, to prevent or perpetuate injustice, for good, for evil. So when I considered why the average informed historical mind is presented with the apparent contradiction that Rome ‘fell’ in 476.A.D., while the capitol of the Roman Empire was moved to Constantinople in 330 A.D., and Constantinople didn’t ‘fall’ until 1453, nearly a thousand years later, I became most curious, beginning with the question of why Constantine moved the capitol. Answering the question to my own satisfaction required a little more knowledge about Constantine himself. As soon as I learned that he was born in what is now Niš, where the best Drina cigarettes are produced, I knew I had my answer. Sometimes an historical quiestion of great might is solved by mere empathy.

Once Diocletian established the precedent of ruling, in part, from outside Rome, a move of the seat of empire became conceivable. That’s a factor. Byzantium was much closer to the Christian holy lands—that, too, is a factor, as Constantine’s mother is known to have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Byzantium had a naturally superior defensive position, another factor. But the motive? Constatine was from Niš, geographically, and at that time in many way, culturally, much closer to Byzantium than Rome. Why not accept that Constantine’s motives were very much like our own—in this case, attachment to one’s roots. Certainly we must factor in the grandiosity of a man who re-fashions a city and names it after himself; but Constantine did not choose Amalfi, did he? Nor Dubrovnik, Piraeus, Izmir, Salonika, Milano, Taranto, Messina, or Leghorn. He chose the combination of the best available city closest to home.

Now I have been taunted by those to whom I have revealed my thoughts, who ask me whether, then, Constantine was a Serb. One need only open an historical atlas to answer that question in the negative, which is the condemnatory point my nemeses intend to make. Yet one need only use a little common sense to answer Yes, of course he was a Serb—he was from Niš. Peoples do not rise as one and leave a region that others may replace them; they are displaced gradually, they intermarry, the combine love juices and genes. Those calling themselves Serbs today are Dacians, Illyrians, Vlachs, Croats, Bosnians, Turks, Avars, Bulgars—even Jews. Genetically speaking, those Serbs bombing the cultural stew of Sarajevo were bombing their own kind. So, yes, Constantine was a Serb, and I may go so far as to say that modern Serbs may do well to drop their squalid visions of a Greater Serbia (if any still have them), look back to their Constantine, and call themselves noble Romans.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Sokollu, Sokollee, Sokollahahahahahaaaa

As to there actually being a case of a “lone nut”, I think the guy that tried to kill Andrew Jackson was one but I can’t think of any others though I’m sure there are some. But most assassinations of political figures are conspiracies.
–Skip Obscure

Letter from M__________ arrived. Enclosed please find, etc. His own comments were of as much interest as what we were pleased to find, an unpublished article on an obscure assassination in Ottoman times that is actually a brief treatment of the lone gunman theme, and perhaps accidentally an insightful, even groundbreaking historical fragment. At least his editor thought so. His own missive was fairly dripping with guilt. Yet we agree that the topic was too esoteric for his readership. Why the guilt? It’s as if publishing it would somehow have saved Fullmer’s life, which is hardly the case. Anyway, the article itself was actually still in the form of a letter, and by the time Fullmer himself could have written his final draft he was dead.

Dear M__________,

Never mind Castro for now [the Castro piece, already published? What the hell–ed]. Searching for Mr. Kučan has led me to a greater examination of the history of this place [the precise cause and effect here eludes me, I wish you better luck—ed], not Slovenia, per se, but the Balkans. As you know, much of our readership is a sort of voyeuristic opposition, generally believers in such oddities as the lone gunman theory. The kinder correspondents write that they would find me more believable if just on occasion I would subscribe to such a theory—solitary madman kills RFK, rather than a Manchurian brainwashee; and certainly I would like to please them, I have no stake in any particular non-conspiratorial assassination, what the hell do I care?, but the context, the facts, the stray pieces, the extra-bullets, the conflicting witness reports, the disappearing witnesses, the sealed files, the missing minutes, the odd recantations, always prevent my throwing them a bone—and of course, Andrew Jackson wasn’t killed.

Even my more obscure readings here about centuries old assassinations credited to lone swordsmen and such are suspect. A case I find particularly illuminating is that of the great vizier, Sokollu. As you are probably aware [I was not—ed], the position of vizier was often so precarious that a ten year period would see up to 15 different ones employed. Maybe even more. Yet Sokollu, vizier to Suleiman the Great or Magnificent and his successors lasted thirteen years in the position. 13 years. I believe that’s the record. Yet while in his late seventies and still vizier he was killed, assassinated by a pensioner whose pension had been cut off—that is, a disgruntled ex-employee a lone gunman, so to speak.

So the history books tell us.

But to comprehend the circumstances, one must know a little of the internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire, particularly about the janissaries and the devširme system, which was the peculiarly Ottoman form of drafting/pressganging chosen Balkan stock, raising them as Turkish infantrymen. Ottoman history is bursting with the obstreperous hijinks of these soldiers who so often ran rampant, deposed both sultans and viziers, though occasionally a draftee of the devširme program rose to a position of great importance to the empire. There was Piale Pasha, who was instrumental in taking Famagusta in 1570. He was a Croat. And not to make too long a list, Sokollu was another, a Bosnian. I’ve written of Constantine’s birthplace, Niš, and the likelihood of its importance. I’ve, incidentally, heard recently at a Serbian bar here in Ljubljana one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, I inquired and found it was called ‘The Lost Ring of the Tzar Konstantin’—the use of tzar should not throw you off, for Istanbul is called Carigrad (the C pronounced ts) in Slovene. They didn’t think Constantine was Russian. Anyway, what I want to lead up to is the question whether it is really likely that the janissary corpse could so easily and entirely be assimilated even though they were essentially kept apart from other ranks of turks? I mean, they were like a club—their symbol was a big black kettle. In other words, could not their virtually perpetual unruliness be viewed as a sort of rebellion? Have any histories taken this approach? My research combined with my hunch says no. Is it simply that their mayhem could not be noted as subversion simply because it was not cohesive? Two factors: 1) Cohesion requires leaders, yet the best potential leaders were assimilated; 2) In such an empire overt cohesion would meet with absolute repression, implying that perhaps there were leaders, yet they remained underground. If even half of what I’m saying is near the truth, then such a one as Sokollu, in this light, would seem to be little more than a highly talented quisling, the worst kind of enemy to the Bosnian people and the janissary corpse. Now do you really believe a pensioner with a grievance got to him, and got to him without the aid of conspirators? And consider this: could it be that the increasingly rebellious janissaries were finally crushed early in the 19th century—an event often referred to in history books as a necessary revamping of the army in order to compete with the increasingly powerful western armies (if that’s the case, what a grand failure) just as the century of great Balkan revolt began? [all I could say was Gee, I don’t know—I mean he deserved to be read and this deserved to be thought over, and it is, I think you’ll admit mighty convincing, maybe even brilliant, but the truth is I don’t know a  fucking thing about this shit. But it served the purpose of keeping me off his back for a while, and served the magazine well, because his next temporization was a piece on 9/11, which he had hitherto refused to write about though his fans fairly clamored for his opinion. I include that article, in case you find it of interest—ed]

Chapter Twenty-Nine

A Bone for Numerologists

Okay conspiracy theorists, tighten your seat belts and I’ll take you for a ride. Many of you fans—and some of you uncouth redneck sharpshooters—have wondered over my silence over what you all call 9/11, and some of you have even accused me and PS of being part of the mainstream media’s conspiracy of silence regarding the attack on New York and the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Like you I have read thousands of pages that raise interesting questions and most certainly at the very least condemn the official version to the scrap heap vaults where such as the Warren Commission report is kept in efficacious perpetuity. But you should have realized that as an assassination correspondent I have to approach the issue with an assassination angle. And now that my Castro article has opened the floodgates of non-assassination assassination angles, I may do so. The question, of course, is why was Osama bin Laden not assassinated. We know that the Sudanese would have welcomed it when he was troubling their big burg, and we know also that they offered to turn him over and the U.S. declined, and we further know that when he was in Khartoum the U.S. could easily have gotten to him. And, of course, in the early days of the Afghan war U.S. forces could have hemmed in with ease.

So why didn’t they?

Recently Osama released a tape, supposedly, that told us all that brother Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, was innocent in that he was not chosen to participate in the operation because he sucked in the cockpit. Now what does this tell us, this tape? First, that Osama again, though in the early stages more believably denying involvement in the attacks, admits—tacitly, which is as effective as it gets—that he co-ordinated them. Second, that the feds are on the right track.

So this latest audio release, which the U.S. immediately announced it had ‘no reason is not authentic’ even though every other communication from bin Laden took weeks to verify, would seem to condemn conspiracy theorists to the maniac fringe. In other words, the tape is a phony—and, as we more than half-suspected all along, Osama is Mossad/CIA/NSA bought and run all along.

From the beginning of the New York crime, I have said privately that when a crime is committed one first looks around to see who stands to gain from it. The obvious answer here is the revived Reagan cabal. For instance, look at that war criminal Negroponte: never jailed for running arms to Contras, he has now held several high offices for which he is only qualified by having remained a good Reaganite soldier, who did his most difficult and best work while Nancy was running her Alzheimer husband’s White House.

More generally, and more nefariously, and far more destructively, this cabal has taken the opportunity to wage war on Afghanistan and Iraq (and secretly in Yemen and Iran and who knows where—except we do know where not: Saudi Arabia—where most of the hijackers are said to be from).

And of course Israel has gained by proxy. They fear no nation so much as Iran—nobody with any sense was afeared of Hussein, Saddam—and now Iran has been placed at the center of a controversy that strangely occludes North Korea, by all reasoning a far more dangerous entity.

So what happened on September 11, 2001? What story explains all the contradictory and complex elements? It must begin with the non-apprehension and non-assassination of Osama bin Laden and the assumption that he is a Mossad/CIA/NSA operative (a very few in the FBI knew about it). The hijackers had to be dupes: that is, brown non-Christians/non-Jews. The mentioned organizations will kill their own countrymen, but not their own people. No Mossad agent died that day, you can be sure of that.

Osama organized it, the ops in Israel and the U.S. in on it every step of the way. They helped where necessary (e.g., with bin Laden’s health, with the quashing of the intelligence reports from their own fringes, agents in the field not to be trusted as cynical long view types, specifically agents in Arizona and Minnesota), especially on the day of, when they opened the gates of the fortress to let the invaders in—Air Force stand down orders and well-timed diversionary exercises. (You have all heard that amazing tape in which a rather unauthoritative voice of authority in reference to scrambling planes says ‘We’re going to have to make a decision within ten minutes’, and the other guy says, ‘uh, everybody left the room’. Everybody left the room? So in essence, the plot succeeded because those in charge of defense communications were on coffee break?)

The rest is Bush regime history. My launch pad being that if Osama were the demon he is said to be, long said to have known to be, and not a creation in charge of creating a second cold war atmosphere essentially for corporate gain overseen by American Empire and domestic upper hand, he would have been shot dead long ago.           

My anti-climax is that I myself was once in Khartoum when Osama was living there, and I can tell you quite assuredly that even I could have gotten to him—I saw him several times. But I report assassinations, I don’t commit them.

Chapter Thirty

Smaller Coffins

This is probably the right time to

            I’ve worked on better projects. More accurately, I’ve had better thoughts. Blood! Mother: blood! My mama, too! My mama, too! I used to write in the fetal position. Now I can do so again.

            In peace.

            Requiat in pace.

            Scrive in pace.

            I always wondered why they don’t bury the dead in the fetal position. Especially the ones who died that way. Maybe in some cultures they do.

            Smaller coffins.

            More room for the dead.

            Especially now that people are getting bigger.

            They found a Neanderthal in ice up in Switzerland. He would have been four and a half feet tall. But he was in the fetal position.

            Nobody knows what he was doing up there.

            Get it?

            He could have been a writer.

            He got cold and fell to sleep in the fetal position.

            Never woke up.

            Thawed out.

            They say the womb is like an oven.

            But he did not wake up.

            Fakirs wake up. Then they take another breath and get into the fetal position. When they are uncovered after fifty days they straighten out again, just before the lid opens.

Editor’s note: I started The Collidescope so that I could give a home to work that is true to itself rather than diluted by the artless concerns of marketing and audience pandering. The aesthetic of the journal reflects my own tastes, of course: writing that tinkers with the mechanics of language, that itemizes etymology, orchestrates melody, writing that is logistically illogical and acts as the ouija board of voiceless dreams. Rick Harsch’s writing embodies all this and more. I never thought that I’d be serializing an amazing novel from an amazing author. I’m both honored and excited. So dear readers, be sure to bookmark The Collidescope and check back every Sunday for new installments of Kramberger with Monkey: A Comedy of Assassination by Rick Harsch.

Let’s start by rewriting the goddamn author bio: Rick Harsch is 60 years old. He was run down and mauled by the literary scene in the late 1990s, his Driftless Trilogy coming out like three gusts from a pistol preceding a flag that says BANG. The pistol is plastic. The flag is tissue. He moved to Slovenia in 2001, 9 days after the attacks on NY and D.C., an innocent man about to find out that condition stretched all the way to naïve. He wrote a lot, but only last year was his fiction welcomed in the US again, with Voices After Evelyn and Skulls of Istria. Everybody says they are great. Not many people have bought them. This year he is getting two books published by River Boat Books, his magnum (finally a magnum) opus, if it is, called The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, and a travel/sports book called Walk Like a Duck: a Season of Little League Baseball in Italy.

The book being serialized here by the young overmuscled writer George Salis is called Kramberger with Monkey. If you see fit, you can read these short chapters and see how a writer handles extreme adversity, as my fictional mouthpieces keep getting knocked off as the book goes along. It’s especially inconvenient when a death forces me into the second person. I’m used to being fourth. If you have time, please write and tell us whether or not you think the book should be bloodier.

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