Rothschild

"I'd tell you to report to Corporal Luz, but he bought it a few days ago," Rothschild tells Marchand, not looking up as he rifles through his pouch. He appears to be acting as courier for the day. He's carrying a small bag of what looks like mail. "Then I'd tell you to report to Corporal Mancuso, but he bought it last night." He lays this out with a stark sarcasm, as if he can't quite believe it. "I think there are a couple others knocking around town right now. You can probably track a corporal or a sergeant down. Just be quick about it. He'll probably have bought it by dinner time." - A young Private Ben Rothschild during the Battle of Belleau Wood, 1918

Part 1: The Not-So-Great War

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Benjamin Meyer Rothschild was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, the son of German Jewish immigrants. His folks spent the first thirteen years of his life scratching out a living in the less-than-royal community of Prince Street, where his father was a shoemaker, but they were eventually able to save up enough money to move them and their children to the more decent neighborhood of Clinton Hill. That was the first time Ben had ever lived in a more mixed environment, and the first time he felt any prejudice for being a Jew, not to mention the son of parents who still stumbled over the English language. Ben was determined to prove he was just as good as any WASP boy. He had a gift for writing, and a love for adventure stories like Jules Verne and Thomas Mallory, and through good marks and a lot of part-time jobs he was able to get himself into college. When he graduated he took a job as a newspaper man in Trenton, covering crimes and court cases and minor political scandals. He took up with a pretty Jewish girl, a dentist's daughter named Rachel Rosen, and the two of them planned to get married. It wasn't a bad gig but deep down Ben still had an itch for adventure, and an itch to prove he was a real American man.

Then came World War I. He watched the action in Europe from afar on newsreels and over the wire and, like many other young men who had read too many glory stories, he began to long to be a part of the cause. He felt if he was really going to write about the world, and war, he should experience it. And, when the United States threw its hat in the ring, he got his chance. He didn't just try for some cushy clerking job, either. He signed himself up for the Marines and left for basic training at Paris Island, then off to France itself.

When Ben got to Europe he found himself in the middle of Belleau Wood, and one of the bloodiest and most hard-fought battles in American history. It was, to put it mildly, a rough ride. He watched his leaders and friends cut down by gunfire, and he did some killing of his own, putting bullets in German kids who he came to see as not much different than himself. He survived the war but, like a lot of veterans, he would never be quite the same again after coming off the Western Front.

Part 2: Holiday in Spain

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Ben didn't go back to New Jersey. He didn't feel normal enough to resume his "normal" life again. Plus, his darling Rachel had decided to take up with an Episcopalian accountant while he was off fighting the good fight and written him off in a Dear John letter, so he didn't have love and marriage to return to. After he'd gotten his discharge from the army he returned to Europe. Hell, all the cool Americans were doing the expatriate thing at the time. He figured he might as well join them. He found himself bumming around Paris, writing short stories and depressing poetry and trying to find himself work as a journalist again.

Enter Elizabeth Quinn. Ben had briefly met the combat photographer during his time in Belleau Wood but it wasn't until they ran into each other again, in Paris, that he really got to know the woman. She even helped him find a job (her credentials were a little better than his 'random American bumming around Europe' ones at the time) and he managed to get on as a wire service correspondent with the North American Newspaper Alliance. The two of them worked together in France, her taking pictures, him writing the copy. The job eventually took them to other parts of Europe, as well as England and north Africa, and their business partnership developed into one of a more personal nature. He was convinced the polished Australian Protestant would never actually settle with a guy like him but, to his surprise, she loved him as much as he loved her. The two of them managed to get married and even had a daughter, who them named Quinn.

The years passed. Ben's life was restless and chaotic, and still haunted by memories of the war, but he'd managed to find some kind of happiness for himself. He'd written a novel, based partially on his experiences in Belleau Wood, that sold well (World War I angst was en vogue at the time) along with a collection of short stories and poetry that dealt as much with New Jersey life as the war. Then, war broke out again. Not a world-wide conflict but fighting on a smaller scale. Spain was gripped by civil war and the wire service needed reporters to cover it.

Maybe it was the thirst for adventure that still hadn't quite been beaten out of him yet. Maybe it was his memories of World War I and a wish to bring the truth of another conflict to the world. Or maybe it was the rumors, the increasingly dark stories he kept hearing from Germany, where Adolf Hitler was getting a tighter grip on power every day, and now the Fuhrer was throwing his support behind the fascists in Spain. Whatever it was, something drove Ben to volunteer to take the job in Spain. Lizzie was up for it, of course. She was up for a lot of things he found dangerous and insane. So the two of them left their daughter with her grandparents in Australia and set off to cover the Spanish Civil War.

Even in the beginning, when the International Brigades were singing songs of freedom and the Spaniards were welcoming them with open arms, Ben felt something wasn't quite right. The communist forces watched all news reports going out like a hawk. He tried to do the best work he could. He spent time with the Brigade volunteers, including many old World War I vets. He even met up with Frank Marchand, one of the Marines he'd fought with in Belleau Wood.

Ben's sympathies were more with the communists than the fascists, but even his liberal Jewish American sensibilities soon became alarmed by the tactics of groups like the shadowy SIM, and the infighting between Stalinists and the POUM. His friend Marchand, a dedicated communist but not of quite the right sort, ran afoul with the Stalinists too many times for Ben's comfort. But he ended up dying in battle before his own could take him down. Intellectuals like George Orwell, who'd come to Spain to support the Republican cause, found themselves disillusioned and running for their lives. Eventually the Rothschilds themselves were on the wrong side of the communist authorities, and Lizzie was captured and tortured by the SIM. That was when Ben knew they had to leave Spain.

They escaped, barely, using all the money, contacts and forgery skills Ben could muster. So Ben lived through another war, to go back to his family, back to a somewhat normal life in some quiet corner of the world. God only knows how long it'll last.

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