THE LAST DAYS OF MANKIND ACT II SCENE 29
The Optimist and the Begrudger in conversation.
OPTIMIST: How would you define an heroic death?
BEGRUDGER: As an unfortunate coincidence.
OPTIMIST: If the fatherland saw it that way -
BEGRUDGER: The fatherland does see it that way.
OPTIMIST: It considers a heroic death to be a misfortune, a coincidence?
BEGRUDGER: It calls it a heavy blow of destiny.
OPTIMIST: There is not a single military obituary that doesn’t announce that a soldier has had the honour to die for his fatherland. No death notice is published without an expression of pride that a son has died an heroic death, even from the most modest father and mother. Look in the New Free Press.
BEGRUDGER: I know. But go back a few pages. Chief of the General Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf thanks the mayor for his condolences on the occasion ‘of the cruel blow that destiny had dealt him’, his son dying. The same words in the death notice. Every small merchant who loses a son takes on the role of the hero's father as prescribed by the state. The Chief of the General Staff, however, renounces the mask and returns to more ancient emotions; he complains about the cruelty of destiny. Well, he stands closer to that particular destiny than the soldiers who suffer its blows and the fathers who also regret them – if he is not that destiny's author, then he can be considered its director; at least its stage manager – and he is the man who speaks about the cruel blow of destiny. He speaks the truth, whereas everybody else must lie. In his private sorrow he has left the heroic imperative behind. The others remain trapped in it. They are obliged to lie.
OPTIMIST: No! People are passionate about heroic death; the prospect of dying on the Field of Honour has had an intoxicating effect on the sons of this country. Conrad simply wrote something - conventional. He let slip -
BEGRUDGER: A real emotion.
OPTIMIST: I’ll give you proof of the almost magical unity engendered by our ability to stand by one another amid sorrows shared, at all levels of society – I’ll read it so you don't miss a word: The Imperial and Royal War Office has granted a special holiday to the entire workforce employed in the production of ammunition and supplies on the 14th of August. The War Office would like to state that the entire workforce has shown a remarkable sense of duty and relentless diligence and has assisted our brave soldiers in winning their laurels of victory through fearless courage. Well?
(The Begrudger remains silent.)
OPTIMIST: The social democratic press publishes it under the title: Recognition for Workers' Achievements. It says the workers will be disappointed their reward is just a day off, on the emperor's birthday -
OPTIMIST: - rather than being released from the factory -
OPTIMIST: - to finally try in combat the ammunition and weapons that they otherwise only produce! These valiant workers are utterly inconsolable that they are only allowed to support their comrades and neighbours through the industry of their hands and not by means of their fearless courage. The opportunity to fight at the front, the highest distinction that any mortal -
BEGRUDGER: Mortal is the point, isn’t it? Mortality seems to be the most fundamental of the qualities required in this case. So you mean to say that an assignment to the front is perceived by the assignee as his supreme reward?
OPTIMIST: That’s exactly what I mean.
BEGRUDGER: Let me read you something. So you don’t miss a word.
OPTIMIST: From a newspaper?
BEGRUDGER: No, this could hardly be published. It’s put up in those industrial enterprises which are protected by the state and in which, therefore, any show of discontentment among the workforce is illegal.
OPTIMIST: The workforce is participating with enthusiasm and discontent, if there were any, is simply because they can’t contribute more.
BEGRUDGER: Let the War Office speak. 14th July 1915: The War Office has been informed of the unfavourable behaviour of workers in many of those industrial enterprises which have been designated for war-related production. Agitation, impertinence, insubordination against supervisors and foremen, passive resistance, the vandalising of machinery, unauthorized absence from the work place; all these are offences against which ordinary criminal procedures appears to have been ineffective in many cases -
OPTIMIST: They feel the reward of frontline service is being denied -
BEGRUDGER: Far from denied: Those workers who are identified as ringleaders in industrial agitation will not be re-integrated into the workforce once they have served their sentences; they will be handed over to the military for immediate service. They are to be trained and dispatched with the next battalion. If the newly drafted worker is classified as only fit for guard duty, it must be ensured that he is assigned to guard unit as close as possible to the frontline. For and on behalf of Schleyer, War Office. 
OPTIMIST: I can’t take it in – a punishment!
BEGRUDGER: There are degrees of punishment. First, disciplinary; second, prison sentence; third, hard labour; fourth, the hardest labour - frontline service. The most incorrigible to the Field of Honour! The ringleaders! After several previous convictions, heroic death is imposed. Heroic death is a heavy blow of destiny for the Chief of the General Staff, when it is his son who receives it and the Minister of War calls it criminal retribution. Both are right – the first true words spoken during this war.
OPTIMIST: If everything is a lie? Prostituted? Where is the truth?
BEGRUDGER: Where else? With the prostitutes!
Woe to all those who have no regard
For the fallen woman’s memory,
For the women who have fought so hard
Against woman’s greatest enemy,
Woman against man.
No random casualties of war’s machines,
Not trapped as bombs rain blind on high,
They fought their foe in more intimate scenes,
Face to face, and eye to eye,
Woman against man.
Alone against the canting crowds,
They fought with free will nonetheless,
And disappeared into the clouds
Of a maelstrom of self-righteousness,
Woman against man.
Honour to the women honour annihilated,
Who still die today at honour’s hand,
Heroic offerings, consecrated
To nature, our true motherland,
Where woman is one with man.
 See I.24.
 Leopold von Schleyer Pontemalghera, baron, (1858-1920), general, War Office section chief.