THE LAST DAYS OF MANKIND ACT II SCENE 30 & 31
Somewhere on the Adriatic coast, in the hangar of a sea plane division.
ALICE SCHALEK (enters and looks around): The problem of individual courage is what interests me most about this war. Before I’d spent a lot of time pondering heroism, I’d met men who played with life like a ball – American cowboys, explorers of jungles and rain forests, missionaries in deserts. But they had the looks one associates with heroes, every muscle toned, as if forged in iron. How different are the heroes of this world war. People who make innocent jokes, who have a quiet passion for hot chocolate with whipped cream, yet who tell stories that belong among the most extraordinary incidents in world history. The War Press Bureau is now ensconced on a disused steam boat, moored in an Adriatic bay. At night there is a big dinner, fun and frolic and music, the high life – with your eyes closed you might almost imagine yourself back home in Vienna on a merry night at the casino. Now, I am curious about this lieutenant – ah, there he is!
(A lieutenant has entered the hangar.) I haven’t got a lot of time, so keep it short. You drop bombs. What do you feel when you’re dropping bombs?
LIEUTENANT: Normally we circle over the enemy coast for about half an hour, drop a few bombs on some military targets, watch them explode, take a few photos of the show and then - home again.
ALICE SCHALEK: Has your life ever been in danger?
LIEUTENANT: Well, yes.
ALICE SCHALEK: And what did you feel at that moment?
LIEUTENANT: What did I feel at that moment?
ALICE SCHALEK (aside): He looks suspicious, gauging if he can trust me to understand. (To him) We non-combatants have such pre-conceived notions of courage and cowardice that officers fighting worry we don’t possess the immense range of emotional nuances they experience. Is that it? You are a combatant. I want to know what you feel, especially afterwards!
LIEUTENANT: It is strange – like a king who suddenly becomes a beggar. Like a king floating unattainably high above an enemy city, while they’re all lying below, defenceless – unprotected. No one can run, no one can save himself. There is total power. And there’s something majestic about that, everything else recedes into the background; it’s how Nero must have felt.
ALICE SCHALEK: I empathise with you. Have you bombed Venice? Did you have doubts? At the start of the war we were full of sentimentality -
LIEUTENANT: Who was?
ALICE SCHALEK: Well, all of us. We intended to wage it with chivalry. But slowly, through painful experience, we learnt to do without that. Who would not have been horrified, only a year ago, at the thought of dropping bombs on Venice? And now? If the Venetians can shoot our soldiers, why shouldn't we be allowed to shoot Venice, calmly, without sentimentality?
LIEUTENANT: In peacetime I used to go to Venice, I loved it. But since I’ve dropped bombs on it – no trace of false sentimentality. In fact bombing Venice was a special treat for us. We loved it. We went home very chuffed!
In a submarine that has just surfaced.
MATE: Shit! They’re here already!
OFFICER: Quick, let's get down again! - No, too late.
(The members of the War Press Bureau enter, led on by Alice Schalek.)
WAR CORRESPONDENTS: So what is it like down there - ?
OFFICER: Horrible, basically. But up here -
WAR CORRESPONDENTS: Tell us how horrible.
OFFICER: He’ll tell you -
WAR CORRESPONDENTS (crowding round): Are these the torpedo tubes?
MATE: They’re potassium cartridges.
WAR CORRESPONDENTS: Are these the engines?
MATE: No, they’re the water tanks.
ALICE SCHALEK (to officer): I want to know what you felt, when you drove this colossus, its belly full of men, into the silent grave of the deep.
OFFICER: At first I felt an enormous joy – once – but since then -
ALICE SCHALEK: No! Joy is sufficient. Joy is a revelation to me!
 Referred to simply as journalists, but should include the war correspondents we know.