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The Leader

by Ken Sanes

The meeting room is mostly empty.
But the few people standing inside
or sitting on the folding wooden chairs
are mesmerized by what is being said.
At the front, a speaker on a small podium
is telling them about the nation --
about its recent past and its destiny.
“We are a great people,” he shouts,
as he pounds his fist against the lectern.
“But our leaders -- our contemptible leaders 
dragged us down to our current state.
And for that they will pay a price!”
Then there is a change in tone
as he paints a vision of the future
when the nation’s greatness is restored
and its new empire stretches over
mountains, rivers, and verdant forests,
and encompasses distant ports and cities.
“We are the start of all this,” he says,
as the small crowd listens with rapt attention.
“Right here, in this little room --
with the green paint peeling off the walls
and a broken faucet sitting in the corner.”
As he says it, he points to the peeling walls
and to a faucet and cracked sink
tilted on its side on the bare floor.
Then he looks out at the audience,
which is now beginning to fill the room
as people wander in from outside
to find out who is making all the noise.
“Let me repeat what I just said,"
he tells the growing crowd of onlookers.
“What we are starting right now
will shake the centers of power,
not only here but around the world.
You are the ones who will do it,
and when your time finally comes,
your dust will be mixed with the dust
of the other great heroes of history.”
To this, people in the audience begin cheering
and shaking their fists in the air.
But a few of them stand without expression
as he meets their eyes with a cold stare
and makes a mental note of their faces.
Then, as his voice continues to fill the room,
he gazes out at the growing crowd
and sees people who are open to him,
open and surprisingly easy to move,
while he reaches inside and stirs
a combustible mixture of hope and rage.
Soon, he thinks to himself, he will
stir his audience from a larger stage.

Now men and women are packed together
in a large auditorium, as he stands on stage
and fills the space with his booming voice.
He tells them they are an historic people,
superior in breeding, will, and reason,
and their destiny is to govern lesser peoples.
Together, he says, they will become an iron fist
that crushes whoever stands in their way.
Then they will restore their rightful place
at the head of the most powerful nations
and begin to expand their living space
beyond these artificially imposed borders.
“And when your time finally comes,” he says,
as more people pack into the hall to hear him,
“your dust will be mixed with the dust
of history’s greatest generals and heroes
-- Alexander, Augustus, Napoleon --
and you will look down benevolently
on the great nation you helped create.”
As he speaks, he looks down at his audience --
at the old-timers in faded work clothes
and the men without jobs, pawing their pistols --
and he sees uniformed divisions marching,
with every movement in place like a machine.
He is looking down on them from a balcony,
reviewing an endless sea of his soldiers
as they raise their rifles, pistols by their side,
and march passed him in perfect time.
As he reviews them inside his mind,
he feels admiration and a sense of pride
at this clockwork construction of his own design.
And he knows that he will give birth to them
and that they will live and die for the state,
just as he knows that they will love him
as he tells them where to direct their hate.
Then he begins to see something else….
But now he realizes he has stopped speaking
as the audience inside the auditorium
begins clapping and loudly chanting his name.
The response confirms what he already knows:
this audience is now an army of followers.
For them, his leadership is the fulfillment
of a deeply felt and now-urgent desire:
he is the man who will lift their nation
to the commanding heights of empire.
His rage speaks directly to their rage;
his yearning for greatness speaks to their own.
And only he can make this vision real.
Only he can harness their righteous anger.
But as he looks out at his loyal supporters,
one of his aides approaches from the side
and tells him they are surrounded by danger.
It seems the opposition has gathered in force,
and it is standing outside the auditorium,
holding rifles, clubs, pistols and knives….

Faced with opponents who are heavily armed
and ready to fight, whatever the cost,
he is calm as he gives the order to fire.
Even some in his high command feel a chill
as they witness the fulfillment of his desire,
and his opponents return the attack in kind.
Innocent people who never signed up
for his crusade now die with his supporters.
And the nation’s territory is shrouded
as the remnants of its cities continue to burn.
Now the dust is settling on ruins
as the dust is mixed, and to dust they return.


The Marchers
offers another take on this subject.

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