THE LAST DAYS OF MABKIND ACT II SCENE 8
Vienna’s Prater amusement park. On a stage a scene with a trench in which actors are pretending to shoot, make telephone calls, read newspapers, eat and sleep. The trench is decorated with flags. A big audience stands in front, in closely packed rows, officials, dignitaries and journalists in foreground. The background the Begrudger and the Optimist are standing, looking on.
PROPRIETOR: - I commend this trench, erected to create the illusion of life in a real trench, for the patriotic purpose of raising money for war welfare. I humbly request His Imperial Highness to open it to the public.
JOURNALIST 1: Among the military and civilian dignitaries -
JOURNALIST 2 (writing): Angelo Eisner von Eisenhof, Flora Dub, Privy Counsellor Schwarz-Gelber and his wife -
JOURNALIST 1: I can't see them -
JOURNALIST 2: It doesn’t matter.
JOURNALIST 1: Shh! It’s the opening. Write: At six o'clock sharp -
ARCHDUKE KARL FRANZ JOSEF: It is such a pleasure to come here today to view this magnificent trench. After all, I am a soldier myself.
AUDIENCE: Hooray! Hooray!
FRAU SCHWARZ-GELBER (to her husband): One can see nothing here, you’re always in the wrong place, there, quickly, where we can be seen!
The Optimist and the Begrudger walk on in conversation, into foreground.
OPTIMIST: I can claim without hesitation that I have not met a single young man in Vienna who was still here, or if he was still here, wasn’t impatiently, feverishly, desperately waiting not to be here any more.
BEGRUDGER: I don’t meet many people. But I do share a phone line, a party line. Even in the days of peace it enabled me to follow all the social intercourse in my district, whether it was a game of cards, a business deal, or arrangements for illicit sex. My only connections to the outside world are the wrong ones. Since this world war began patriotism has not improved telephone conversations, but a new subject has been added; every time I listen in on people, I can hear this, ten times a day: ‘Gustl went upstairs and got his call-up deferred.’ ‘And how about Rudi?’ ‘Rudi’s sorted himself out with a medical exemption.’ ‘And Pepi?’ ‘Pepi’s put his back out, but as soon as he can get out of bed, he’ll go and get himself a medical exemption too.’
OPTIMIST: There have to be some genuine exceptions. I mean, take literature. The fatherland doesn’t only need soldiers it needs poets -
BEGRUDGER: - to celebrate the courage the poets lack.
OPTIMIST: Poets have risen to their noblest task. War has steeled them.
BEGRUDGER: Mostly it seems to have mobilised their greed, and in those few who have any character at all, it’s mobilised only imbecility.
OPTIMIST: Richard Dehmel set a fine example by volunteering -
BEGRUDGER: - only to devalue it with his war poetry. Didn’t he compare the sound of machine gun fire to the music of the spheres? Didn’t he include an even more defenceless object of military service than man himself in his concept of the fatherland, claiming that horses, dying for the fatherland’s unholy cause, have thereby become truly German horses.
OPTIMIST: In these great times, poets can get carried away -
BEGRUDGER: - and lend their voices to the rape of creation.
OPTIMIST: Look at Kernstock -
BEGRUDGER: Do I have to?
OPTIMIST: A poet of Christian clemency. A priest in fact.
BEGRUDGER: And remarkably steeled too. There’s a lovely verse where he calls on his Styrian boys to ‘press blood-red wine from the Italian vine’.
OPTIMIST: Or Brother Willram -
BEGRUDGER: A Christian poet who dreams of ‘a springtime of blood’ and of ‘blood’s red, red bloom’. Or are you thinking of the gentle prelate’s other gems: In a battle with dragons and newts, annihilate the stinking brutes? Or: The enemy will never rest till hot lead rips into every breast?
OPTIMIST: Don’t underestimate the power of the poetic imagination. Remember that poem of his, the one begging God to bless the foe in such a way that even the Devil will shudder as we bathe in their blood, wow!
BEGRUDGER: Where the priest feels no shame, the Devil grows stronger.
OPTIMIST: And there’s Dörmann.
BEGRUDGER: Not a priest.
OPTIMIST: But a poet! ‘Adorable daffodils slender and tender -’ He has changed his anaemic style for something more full-blooded. We all have.
BEGRUDGER: Those slender, tender daffodils had blood-red mouths.
OPTIMIST: But the verses he captivates us with today: Russians and Serbian shits, we’ll break them into bits! From decadent lyricist to powerful, resolute bard! The impact of these great times transforms the amorous darling of the Graces! You can’t deny the loss of such literary productions would seriously disadvantage the fatherland. Take Lehár. Isn’t it natural that the creator of the ‘Nechledil March’ is exempted from military service?
BEGRUDGER: Beethoven would have been exempted for being hard of hearing. But he could have had played the piano in the officers' mess when they were having a knees-up. So who else is eligible for such treatment?
OPTIMIST: There’s Schönpflug. He draws so many funny cartoons about army life! Hans Müller’s feuilletons are a real tonic for the soul.. We need our chroniclers of war; they’re exempted from service at the front -
BEGRUDGER: - so they can whet other people's appetite for it.
OPTIMIST: They’re just as important as the army doctor -
BEGRUDGER: - who becomes less fit for service the more people he declares fit to fight, so securing a greater chance of survival for himself.
OPTIMIST: - they secure the survival of the wounded -
BEGRUDGER: - to be sent back to the front, where they won’t survive.
OPTIMIST: We need war correspondents to tell us what war is.
What’s war? What’s it for? Will we learn from the hacks
Who parade their soiled egos like packs on their backs?
Who indulge sham emotions and wallow in gore,
Post sightseeing tours of the theatre of war?
Would the plodding warhorses we torment on all fronts
Even deign to hoof-kick these scribbling runts?
Yet the men on their backs, as they go to the slaughter,
Will open their legs up to any reporter,
Lap up their questions, invite them to dine,
Regale them with tales of our glorious frontline.
What? Hasn’t this event (‘war’ spelled as ‘spin’)
Been cruel enough to crush the ‘enemy within’?
The hack heads for the front, aren’t there papers to sell?
Will he illuminate war for us, will he justify hell?
Will he die? Will he live? He won’t fight that’s for sure!
Meanwhile ordinary soldiers drill with their corps
Till they’re driven like cattle to their final surcease.
So this is a war then? For some it’s still peace.
The worst stay at home and the best go to fight.
Some don’t have to die. They just have to write.
(A platoon of recruits with grey beards are passing.)
OPTIMIST: You see, they’re going off to war.
BEGRUDGER: That sounds as if they’re going of their own free will.
OPTIMIST: Well, naturally they’ve been called up.
BEGRUDGER: Compulsion puts mankind in the passive voice. Once men went to war, now they’re conscripted. But Germany’s gone further.
I saw a poster in Karlsruhe: Set soldiers free! It was up at the army HQ.
OPTIMIST: That smacks of revolution. How could army HQ -
BEGRUDGER: They need clerks in the War Office. They want civilians to volunteer so that the soldiers who work there can be sent to the front. So: Set soldiers free! You could say: Let the soldiers go to war! That might express free will though. The German poster is more to the point. But there are posters everywhere. This one struck me. It was outside a police station.
Hit the scumbags, hit the liars,
Drop them into Etna’s fires,
Stuff them down Vesuvius’ maw!
Hit them till their flesh is raw!
Hit them till their eyes are popping,
Till they puke blood without stopping!
Strike all mercy from your heart,
Tear the hypocrites apart!
Blast their valleys with dynamite,
Bury the crooks and thieves in shite!
Hammer their skulls in one by one
And be proud to be a barbarian!
OPTIMIST: Any of the other countries could have come up with that.
BEGRUDGER: Perhaps. Most nations have grasped that valleys are there to be blasted with dynamite. But that line: Till they puke blood without stopping – that, I think, bears our national colours. The brave poet who penned it will be sitting in an office somewhere, frightened if someone bursts a paper bag. I accuse every metaphor and phrase of blood guilt now.
An air raid falls through, a maritime operation is shipwrecked, an operation goes with a bang, a fire spreads like wildfire, our leaders are bombarded with questions, a newspaper story sets the world ablaze. Why not, didn’t newspapers help to light this conflagration? All we know is that the bells really do toll for us. Because the church bells are being turned into cannons.
OPTIMIST; The churches are happy to make their bells available.
BEGRUDGER: ‘Their last ringing shall tell of war.’ The relation between Mozart’s Requiem and the mortar is finally becoming clearer to me.
OPTIMIST: Every church asks God's blessing for its nation’s weapons -
BEGRUDGER: If churches can’t be expected to bless the enemy's weapons they could at least curse their own. The Pope condemns the war but speaks of ‘justifiable national aspirations’; on the same day, the Archbishop of Vienna blesses a war waged to fend off ‘iniquitous national aspirations’. If they offered more inspiration and less aspiration there would be no war. Still can a sermon for peace win against a leading article in favour of war?
OPTIMIST: I admit that in Bethlehem salvation was very different.
BEGRUDGER: But there’s a Bethlehem in America that corrects this nineteen-centuries-old mistake. Bethlehem is the name of their biggest cannon foundry. Doesn’t every church here contribute its Bethlehem mite?
OPTIMIST: Mere coincidence of words. This other Bethlehem - are you saying that’s the place which provides Germany's enemies with weapons!
BEGRUDGER: With the help of Germans.
OPTIMIST: Nonsense. The steel trusts are led by Carnegie.
BEGRUDGER: Charles M. Schwab was president of Carnegie Steel.
OPTIMIST: German-Americans are supplying the enemy with weapons?
BEGRUDGER: No, German Germans!
OPTIMIST: Who says so?
BEGRUDGER: The Wall Street Journal states twenty percent of steel trust shares are in German hands, not German-American, German. This is from a German paper: While it is known that a number of English-American manufacturers have refused orders from the French and English government, Milwaukee’s socialist newspaper, the Leader, has published the names of German-Americans who publicly and eagerly support the German cause -
(A group of youths with lanterns passes, singing the Watch on the Rhine.)
- while their factories are producing ammunition, guns and other military equipment for France and England. And there are even subsidiaries of German companies in the United States taking part in this business too.’
OPTIMIST: That’s outrageous – but if business is business, as the English say, in politics, success is success. As far as America is concerned the sinking of the Lusitania can’t have failed to make a great impression.
BEGRUDGER: It’s certainly achieved that. Worldwide, in fact wherever people are still able to feel genuine abhorrence. Even in Berlin.
BEGRUDGER (reading aloud): ‘At the moment the ship went down, hundreds of people jumped into the sea. Many clung to pieces of wood torn away by the explosion. In Queenstown there were tragic scenes as women searched for husbands, mothers called for children; elderly women wandered distraught, dripping wet hair hanging down; young women roamed aimlessly, clutching their children to their breasts. 126 dead bodies were already lying in a pile, among them men, women and children of all ages. Two toddlers lay together, embracing each other in death. It was a pitiful, unforgettable picture.’ In a music hall, the day after the catastrophe, they showed a film that restaged it; the flyer read: Sinking of the Lusitania. Very Realistic Scenes. Smoking is allowed during this part of the programme.
OPTIMIST: Certainly that’s tasteless.
BEGRUDGER: I thought it was rather stylish.
OPTIMIST: Well, the Lusitania still isn’t about sentimentality for me.
BEGRUDGER: Nor for me, it’s about criminality.
OPTIMIST: People were warned.
BEGRUDGER: Blackmail is not a warning. The blackmailer can’t claim exoneration because he carries out what he’s threatened. Smoking allowed. And may our dear fatherland not fret thinking of all those dead children!
OPTIMIST: The submarine had its duty -
BEGRUDGER: - to take the place of the iceberg which two years earlier smashed into the Titanic, as the wrath of God into an aberration of overweening technology, to teach mankind fear instead of awe. But now technology acts as its own tribunal; all is well. Before we said God was responsible for the deed. The hero commanding this submarine is classified. The official report gives history no name. The enemy claims the man has received a decoration; the German War Press Bureau calls this a lie. And with an indignation so full of self-indulgent claptrap and holier-than-thou phraseology that it only serves to expose the truth of the accusation. Why not a medal? The deed is glorified. Why keep it a secret, or the name?
OPTIMIST: The deed was not noble, but it was expedient. There were weapons on board, weapons intended for the bodies of German soldiers.
BEGRUDGER: Indeed. And German weapons at that!
 See I.22.
 Viennese socialite who appears regularly in the New Free Press’s local news.
 The Schwartz-Gelbers (‘Black-Yellow’, the Habsburg colours) appear in the Prologue, thrusting into the funeral of Franz Ferdinand. They are ultra-royalists whose obsession is self-advancement and self-promotion; they will do anything to get a title of some kind; see them in this desperate mode at the end of Act II, relentlessly attending every war-support event that royalty will be at, hoping to be ‘noticed’.
 Karl Franz Josef became heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914. He became emperor on Franz Josef’s death, on 21 November 1916. He abdicated in 1919 and went into exile. He died in 1922 in Madeira; in the parish church of Nossa Senhora do Monte, in the mountains above Funchal, there is a chapel still regularly filled with fresh flowers and wreaths in the colours of the dual monarchy. In 1949, his cause for sainthood was introduced by the Catholic Church.
 What follows is a separate scene in the original, II.10.
 Richard Dehmel (1863-1920), German poet; his poetry is marked by a strong sensuality; his exploration of sexuality caused him problems with the censors; popular enough to be called Germany’s ‘greatest living poet’. Although exempted from service, due to an injury from his youth, Dehmel did volunteer in 1914.
 Ottokar Kernstock (1848-1928), Austrian priest and poet of patriotism; he was from Styria. The poem Kraus quotes from here is ‘Steirischer Waffensegen’, ‘A Benediction for Styrian Weapons’ (1916):
Styrian woodsman chop me some wood,
Rifle butt the Serbian brood!
Styrian hunter shoot me some prey,
There’s a shaggy Russian bear to slay!
Styrian vintner press me some wine,
Blood-red from the Italian vine!
 Bruder Willram, real name Anton Müller (1870-1939), Catholic priest and poet, originally from the South Tyrol. Blood features a lot in his verse; Kraus calls him ‘Blutdichter’ , ‘blood poet’, ‘blutbessoffen’, ‘blood-drunk’. The Optimist’s reference to ‘bathing in blood’ is from Willram’s poem, ‘Es regnet Feuer und Blut aufs Land’, ‘Fire and Blood Rain over the Land’; it contains the line ‘wir uns baden im Blute’.
 Felix Dörmann, real name Felix Biedermann (1870-1928), poet, novelist, librettist (operetta ‘Majesty Mim’ with Roda Roda); founded short-lived Vindobona Film in 1911; later a screenwriter and producer.
 From Lehár’s early opera (1902) ‘Wiener Frauen’, ‘Viennese Women’.
 A line in Schiller's ‘Lied von der Glocke’, ‘The Song of the Bell’: ‘Its first ringing will tell of peace’.
 Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), Scottish-American industrialist who created a massive steel manufacturing empire. Charles M. Schwab (1862-1939), president of Carnegie steel; in 1901 he negotiated the deal that bought out Carnegie and created the monolithic US Steel Corporation. He subsequently went on to run the Bethlehem Shipbuilding and Steel Company. Early in WWI he had a virtual monopoly in supplying the allies with certain munitions. He flouted US neutrality laws by shipping through Canada.
 RMS Lusitania, a passenger ship sailing from America, was torpedoed on 6 May 1915 and sank off the Old Head of Kinsale; the German submarine U-20 was commanded by Captain Walter Schweiger. American citizens were among more than a thousand dead. The Lusitania probably carried some munitions and at first the German government claimed it was a legitimate target, though they later apologised to the US. The sinking played a significant part in changing American attitudes to eventual war with Germany.