Picture
From: The Wall Street Journal

By Richard J. Evans Nov. 25, 2015 4:55 p.m. ET

The epic play “The Last Days of Mankind,” now available in a comprehensive new translation by Fred Bridgham and Edward Timms, is widely regarded as the masterpiece of Karl Kraus (1874-1936), a writer who is still relatively little known outside his native Austria. Kraus was a loner, allergic to any kind of community, and his collaborative projects seldom lasted very long. His journalistic attacks on a variety of targets elicited numerous lawsuits and led on one occasion to his being physically assaulted in the street. Thanks to family wealth, he was able in 1899 to found his own magazine, Die Fackel (The Torch), for which he recruited contributors such as Oskar Kokoschka, Heinrich Mann, Arnold Schoenberg, August Strindberg and Frank Wedekind. Even this level of collaboration was too much for him, however, and from 1911 Die Fackel with rare exceptions published only his own work.

Kraus’s specialty was satire and polemic. Fearless and feared, owing allegiance to no political party or tendency, he was above all else a moralist. He directed his invective against pretentious newspapers, lazy journalists, corrupt politicians and intolerant nationalists. His targets included Zionism, the creation of Theodor Herzl (Kraus publicly renounced his Judaism at the turn of the century); psychoanalysis, newly invented by Sigmund Freud; and sexual hypocrisy and repressiveness, demonstrated in the crusade of his erstwhile mentor, the German magazine editor Maximilian Harden, against the homosexual entourage of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Kraus became famous not only through Die Fackel, which he continued to publish into the 1920s and early 1930s and which had a circulation of 40,000 at the height of its fame, but also through hundreds of public readings and dramatic one-man shows, which attracted audiences of thousands. He faced his greatest challenge when Austria declared war on Serbia following the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Bosnian Serb, leading to the outbreak of World War I in August 1914.

While fellow writers such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal hurried to place their talents in the services of the Austro-Hungarian cause, Kraus fell into silence for a number of months before starting to publish critical articles on the representation of the war in the press, provoking intervention by the official censors on numerous occasions. What angered him in particular was the heroic language used by reporters, columnists and propagandists, a language that concealed the brutal realities of the war on the eastern and Italian fronts and, increasingly, as the Allied blockade of the Central Powers took effect, on the home front as well.

While Die Fackel was getting into repeated difficulties, Kraus began to draft “The Last Days of Mankind,” writing most of it before the war finished. As he wrote, his growing disillusion with the war pushed him to a more left-wing political stance, so that the anti-Semitic tone of the earlier parts gradually vanished and his antiwar, anti-Habsburg rhetoric grew shriller. Unable to publish the play during the war itself, he brought it out in four special issues of Die Fackel in 1918-19, then published an expanded version in 1922. By this time it had grown to monstrous *proportions, extending, in Messrs. Bridgham and Timms’s translation, to over 600 pages and losing any structure or coherence it might originally have possessed.

Kraus’s prime target in the play was the Austrian press. The war, indeed, was for him a kind of media event, in which irresponsible and hypocritical journalists whipped up mindless patriotism and xenophobia in the unthinking crowd and drove the war on in a red haze of unrealism. Early on in the play, a mob storms and trashes a hairdressing salon because the owner’s name is Serbian. The crowd is egged on by the historian Heinrich Friedjung, a real figure who in a famous court case a few years before had been shown to have used forged documents in accusing prominent Austrian politicians of being in the pay of the Serbian government. “Unless I’m very much mistaken,” Kraus has him telling the crowd, “documents relating to the Slovensky Jug plot for a Greater Serbia will be found in this hairdresser’s—the plot I started to uncover back in 1908.” The whole passage relentlessly pillories the unscrupulous use of conspiracy theories by rabid Austrian nationalists to further their own ends.


Kraus was equally biting in his contempt for the impersonal language in which death, destruction and human misery were coldly described in official documents—“human raw material,” “holding on to the bitter end,” “doing one’s bit” and so on. He ridiculed the sermons with which priests justified the war and pilloried the moral irresponsibility of officers who talked of war as if it was a kind of hunting party. “Universal conscription has turned mankind into a passive noun,” one of the play’s characters notes. Austrians had been reduced to “cogs in the machine.”

As the war went on, Austria-Hungary came more and more under the thumb of its German ally. Kraus’s play portrayed the Germans as rabid militarists and annexationists: “The moment has now arrived,” he has a German liberal politician saying, “when the result of the war can only be a peace based on the expansion of our borders to the east, to the west, and overseas, with Germany as a world power setting the agenda.” While the aged Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph (“that formidable nonentity”) talks, sings and signs documents in his sleep (“Can’t stand the Prussians—they tricked me into it!” he mutters somnambulistically), Kaiser Wilhelm II rants and raves in a militaristic frenzy, declaring that the collapse of the Russian armies in 1917 is due to divine intervention. In a withering parody of the flattery that constantly surrounded the Kaiser, Kraus has his generals declare: “When we make our breakthrough, with the help of God and poison gas, we owe it exclusively to Your Majesty’s brilliant strategic planning.”

In recurrent dialogues between two anonymous characters, the “Optimist” and the “Grumbler” (a partial version of Kraus himself), the pretensions of the craven press and the falsehoods of the government are mercilessly punctured. The war, says the Grumbler, is “a daily lie out of which printers ink flowed like blood, the one feeding the other, pouring out like a delta into the great ocean of insanity.” Horrifically injured soldiers lurk in the background while journalists prattle on about deadlines and column inches. Much of the effect of “The Last Days of Mankind” comes from juxtapositions of propaganda with realities such as these.

Kraus’s play was perhaps the first docudrama, in which genuine documents were combined with a fictional representation of real events. Could it ever work onstage? The play has nothing resembling a plot or even a progression of events; perhaps it is best regarded as a verbal and dramatic mine from which chunks can be quarried and rearranged to deliver something more coherent, more intelligible and more polished.

Kraus himself thought the play “would take some ten evenings” to perform but recognized that it did not really lend itself to the theater, remarking that it was “intended for a theater on Mars.” The modern reader has to agree. Kraus himself thought “The Last Days of Mankind” unperformable because “theatregoers on planet earth would find it unendurable.” But in fact the main reasons were, and remain, practical. Quite apart from its inordinate length, the play has a vast number of scene changes that would be impossible to manage. In Act III, just to take one example, we move from Scene 24 to Scene 31 in fewer than three pages: beginning with a conversation between two followers of a conservative newspaper to “In front of the War Ministry” (a mere six lines) to a crowd of 50 draft dodgers on Vienna’s Ringstrasse (one line), back to “In front of the War Ministry” (six lines again), to inside the Ministry, then to “Innsbruck: a restaurant” (four lines), “Market square in Grodno, Belarus” (another crowd), and finally “a German front unit.” This would be impossible to manage in a live theatrical performance.

In contrast to these very brief scenes, the collage technique used by Kraus leads to the inclusion of some very long documents that would lull an audience to sleep if they were read out in the theater in full. Act V, Scene 54, for example, has the Grumbler reading a document that goes on for more than six pages. The speech by an Austrian general at a ceremonial banquet that constitutes the next scene is four pages long. And even if these scenes could be adapted, as they might be in the 21st century, for film or television, the 50-odd “apparitions” that conclude the play are completely impossible to stage in any medium, moving as they do from a mountain path with “thousands of carts” and “an enormous mass of humanity” to the dining car of the Balkan Express, a winter scene in the Carpathians, “a turnip field in Bohemia,” a bomb falling on a school, and a procession of gas masks. Another scene has the instruction: “Twelve hundred horses emerge from the sea, come ashore, and set off at a trot,” all speaking in unison.

As these elaborate directions indicate, “The Last Days of Mankind” demands a cast of thousands. Most of the characters are unidentified in the dialogue, so that a theater audience would with rare exceptions find it impossible to guess who they were unless the management supplied surtitles as opera houses do, distracting the audience from the action. The characters in any case are not real characters at all. They are merely the mouthpieces for documents reprinted by Kraus: “The document takes human shape; reports come alive as characters and characters expire as editorials,” he wrote in his preface to the play: “the newspaper column has acquired a mouth that spouts monologues; platitudes stand on two legs, unlike men left with only one.”

Kraus himself cut the play by three-quarters to make a performance version, put on the stage in 1928. He rearranged some scenes to give it more chronological coherence and deleted many others, including all the discussions between the Optimist and the Grumbler. An English version of this edition appeared in 1974. In 1982 there was a production by the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre, repeated the next year at the Edinburgh Festival, of scenes specially translated by Robert MacDonald, later broadcast by the BBC. It had a huge effect on the historian Niall Ferguson, who saw it as a college student and rated it “certainly the most powerful theatrical experience I have ever had. . . . As I left the theater that night,” he later wrote, “I resolved that I must teach myself German, read Kraus’s play in the original and try to write something about him and about the war.” A college friend of mine who attended the same production told me: “Really long, chaotic, loud, hugely energetic. Didn’t really have much of a clue what was going on but just carried away by the momentum of it all. . . . Immense sense of relief when it was over.”

Kraus’s original German presents many challenges to the translator, especially perhaps its incorporation of Viennese slang and its rendering in prose of a variety of accents. Fred Bridgham and Edward Timms opt to put these colloquialisms into present-day American, as if the action was set not in Vienna but in the Bronx. “Look,” says one character in the prologue, “d’ya recognize those broads there?” In a rival translation currently in progress, by Michael Russell, available online, this is simply rendered as “Look! Do you recognize those two over there?” In Act II Scene I an untranslatable derogatory term for Italians, “Katzelmacher,” is translated by Mr. Russell as “Greaseballs” and by Messrs. Bridgham and Timms as “dagoes,” which is just as serviceable, except that the latter translation has “them dagoes” and omits the final phrase, “Also natürlich!,” which appears in Mr. Russell’s version as “That’s their nature, isn’t it?” One can’t help feeling that the attempt to use modern English colloquialisms to express the Austrian everyday language of a century ago is misguided, and the plainer version is likely to last longer. And if the intention is to produce a text for performing, surely it’s better to leave matters such as pronunciation to the actors rather than prescribing the accents they should use.

These problems of translation stem from the play’s deep anchoring in the street life of Vienna and the multinational cacophony of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the historian Eric Hobsbawm, who was born in 1917 and grew up in Vienna in the 1920s, wrote in one of his last essays: “For Viennese of my age, ‘The Last Days,’ despite all allusions to forgotten figures and forgotten events of the day, is comprehensible, even taken for granted. But this is hardly the case for others, particularly for non-Austrian readers.” This is certainly true. Even Hobsbawm’s phenomenal memory must have struggled at times to identify figures from a time when he was under 2 years of age. Messrs. Bridgham and Timms provide a combined glossary and index, but uninitiated readers will find themselves constantly turning to the back of the book to try and figure out who’s who, and the notes could often have done with some amplification. A full, page-by-page list of Kraus’s sources would have been even more helpful.

Among students and practitioners of modern Austrian and German history and literature, “The Last Days of Mankind” has for many years enjoyed cult status, helped immeasurably by Edward Timms’s lifelong advocacy and in particular by his magnificent two-volume study “Karl Kraus: Apocalyptic Satirist.” Kraus and his work have influenced a wide variety of writers, from Walter Benjamin and Elias Canetti to Thomas Szasz and Jonathan Franzen. On hearing of his death in 1936, Bertolt Brecht’s verdict was: “As the epoch raised its hand to end its own life, he was the hand.” One of Kraus’s own last works was a bitter satire on Nazism, whose opening words, famously, were: “Nothing occurs to me about Hitler.”

But satire is perhaps the least durable of all art forms. It can only transcend its own time and reach a wider audience if it frees itself from the shackles of contemporaneity and addresses universal topics in universal terms, like Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” or, in a more savage mode, his “Modest Proposal.” Even George Orwell’s two masterpieces, “Animal Farm” and “1984,” still assigned reading in English schools, now require elaborate explanations of the history of the Russian Revolution and the nature of Stalinist and Nazi rule before children can understand them.

Judged in the court of literary immortality, “The Last Days of Mankind” ultimately fails these tests of universality and durability. As an indictment of the misery and futility of war and the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of its advocates, there is more power in the 28 lines of Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et decorum est” than in the hundreds of pages of Kraus’s magnum opus. For all its sophistication and its flashes of bitter humor, “The Last Days of Mankind” remains in the end a provincial work, unlikely ever to enter the central canon of world literature.

—Mr. Evans, a former Regius professor of history at Cambridge, is the author of “The Third Reich in History and Memory.”



 
 
Picture
A Giant Chokes in a Dwarf's All-Strangling Clench

The words are Karl Kraus's in 'The Last Days of Mankind'...



I shan’t be holding a candle-lit vigil for Paris. I won’t be putting the French flag on my Facebook page or my Twitter masthead. I think I shall keep my own emotions and my own prayers for the dead to myself this time round. I shan’t, this time, be contributing my own platitudes to ‪#‎JeSuisParis‬. Because however real the emotional responses, the words of explaining it all away are already out there. It’s kind of our fault. The best we can really hope for is that if we shut up, keep our heads down, and apologise for the fact that western civilisation is just about the worst thing that has ever happened to humanity, we might be able to keep massacres of this kind to a minimum. No one, repeat no one, in a position of political power in Europe believes that they can be prevented. They are with us now for the rest of our lives, and our children’s lives… God knows what then. We should not ‘go gently into that goodnight’, should we? But we are! When all the tears are shed, there will be no ‘rage against the dying of the light’, but a sense that in some way we are, ourselves, guilty of what’s happening to us, that our culture is a permanent affront to people who actually don’t share the vision we at least aspire to, of freedom, democracy, free-thinking, free-speaking, free-writing, true tolerance, open-mindedness, scientific and artistic adventure, and (yes, let’s say it) scepticism; scepticism about everything that isn’t true or isn’t real or isn’t generous or humane; the right to find some ideas ridiculous and say so! I don’t know whether John Kerry will dispatch James Taylor to Paris to sing, as he sang earlier this year, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’. Personally I hope he doesn’t, but either way I won’t be linking arms with anyone to march through the streets to express my shock and grief, and to tell the phalanxes of journalists that I have no idea, no idea whatsoever, why any of this is happening (other than that the internet is, somehow, without human agency, radicalising people into doing it – not that this radicalising actually involves any ideas or ideology; that’s important to say). I won’t be applauding the presence of some among those linking arms who have already announced that this was all done by Israeli Intelligence, so that I can claim that because those who couldn’t give a flying f**k about the Paris dead were there, it proves that ‘all humanity’ is united in grief. I won’t be singing ‘Give Peace a Chance’ with people who feel that we are best pretending these murders are acts indistinguishable from a couple of people caught up, by accident, in the cross-shooting of a drug turf war (‘They’re not terrorists simply criminals’). I won’t be pretending we can solve the ‘problem’ by offering ‘courses’ on tolerance either, that are defined by a gleeful rush to abandon the most cherished beliefs of the Enlightenment - on the basis that our freedoms are getting in the way of other people’s freedom to be murderously unfree, and if we f**k reason, f**k history, f**k art, f**k science, f**k thought, f**k truth, they might just leave us alone. I won’t be nodding and frowning wisely with the media sages who are already telling me that if we improve housing conditions in Paris and refrain from asking if there might be a problem of some kind with what the people responsible for these massacres passionately and sincerely believe is right, then it’ll all be fine. Well, it’s a misunderstanding on their part really. I shall instead of all that (candles and holding hands and ‘You’ve Got a Friend’) be reflecting on the shame of what we have all made our contribution to; the shame of the climate of thought that has made the dead bodies in Paris inevitable, and will make more dead bodies in western cities everywhere inevitable in the years to come. I won’t think too much about any dead bodies in the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv (if they’re Jewish anyway), because Jews have asked for it (sorry, I meant Israelis, but it’s an easy mistake, people make it all the time). After all, we might want to remember that in the last Paris massacre, when a Jewish supermarket was attacked by a killer announcing he was there specifically to kill Jews, President Obama described this as someone ‘randomly shooting a bunch of folks in a deli’. There is a wonderful ‘homeliness’ about that expression ‘bunch of folks’; it almost makes you wish you’d been there. And of course there was the dear old BBC, not institutionally anti-Semitic by any stretch of the imagination, sending a man called Tim Willcox hot-foot to Paris (Mr Willcox likes to ask questions on BBC radio about ‘Jewish conspiracies’ and ‘Jewish money’ controlling politics). While the bodies of dead French Jews were being carried out of the supermarket, Mr Willcox did some incisive vox-pops with French Jews (happily they hadn’t been shopping the previous day) and asked them if, in the light of the ‘situation in Palestine’, they could see the ‘point of view’ of someone who wanted to shoot Jews. In response to complaints the BBC later judged this a ‘perfectly reasonable’ question. To be fair to Mr Willcox, at least he accepted that Jews were being killed for being Jews rather than that they were ‘a random bunch of folks in a deli’; but then he isn’t a renowned orator. I will also reflect on the shame I feel for the articles I read in the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Irish Times, and a dozen other newspapers and magazines, which said and continue to say, in the nicest and most liberally ‘concerned’ way possible, that the cartoonists and journalists at ‘Charlie Hebdo’ had asked for what they got (a bit like Jews really). If you go around saying things people don’t like, what do you expect? There can have been few demonstrations of the depths of shame we have been plumbing in our death-embrace of those who are dedicated to the dying of light, than the refusal of a group of writers (they don’t deserve naming) to attend a ceremony at which the dead at ‘Charlie Hebdo’ were given an award for free speech from PEN, an organisation established in the wake of Nazism in Europe to defend and support writers in the face of the brutal and barbaric suppression of free speech; to fight against writers being imprisoned, tortured and murdered for saying things ‘people don’t like’. And if you thought this wasn’t already happening again, it is. It has already been announced by various Arab press outlets that Israeli Intelligence was responsible for the massacre in Paris; apparently we feel that’s so reasonable, from such sources, that it goes unremarked, and so unchallenged that our own media will absorb it by osmosis and end up peddling it, above and below the 'Comment' line. (The idea that the Israelis were responsible for the Charlie Hebdo and Jewish supermarket killings has now appeared in the pages of what are still considered respectable newspapers in America and Europe, so don't expect 'Israel to blame for Paris' to simply stay in the gutters; as the meme enters the mainstream we'll soon all be wallowing in the gutters with it, but definitely not looking at the stars!) Several pundits have remarked that 'we' (they mean the 'bunch of folks' that is 'us', and don't really include themselves) now know what everyone else on the planet is on the receiving end of every day, so there is a positive side to it all. An Irish politician (undeserving of a name here) told us within hours of the massacres that it was ‘terrible’ for the victims but that since France is responsible for ‘militarising the planet’... tough luck, mes amis! We have been told since the first moments the news started to come through that the violence is aimless and pointless; it is of course nothing of the kind. The fact that the killers knew exactly what they were doing and why is, we are expected to hold as an article of 'faith', their mistake; our politicians, pundits and journalists know better than that. We are meant to find it reassuring, our leaders believe, that the reasons these people have for massacring ‘bunches of folks’ in what they called the ‘Capital of Adultery and Vice’ (and we once called the ‘Mother of the Enlightenment’ – see which one sticks) are simply a lack of understanding – of ignorance. A simple explanation of where they are going wrong on the 'intolerance front' (from Obama, Merkel, Cameron, and chums, sadly Hollande too) could clear the matter up. We await that explanation, but are thankful that our leaders know so much more than we do. We are, three days on, still being told in places that the ‘motives’ are unclear; there are still journalists scratching their heads. Poor housing in parts of Paris was, of course, out there as a major cause within minutes of the first deaths, before the Bataclan slaughter. Wouldn’t you think the French government could build a few blocks of flats and stop this tomorrow? And of course you won’t see too much on Sky or the BBC, or anywhere else, about the fact that the Bataclan Theatre was Jewish-owned until only a month ago. It's random, you see, aimless, meaningless.

Random, don't you get it?

Keep ‘random’ in mind. It is all totally and completely random! Hold on to that when you hold your children tighter tonight. It is random. There is no reason or explanation. No ideas are involved that we can question. Random! (That’s when it’s not at least a partially understandable response to the evil that is our civilisation and the unemployment rate.) And after all, as an American politician said yesterday, ‘ISIS isn’t necessarily evil, it’s made up of people doing what they think is best for their community’. Whacky? Not really. Actually, that is exactly what they think. But meanwhile, we who are all now Obama's ‘bunches of folks’ had better get used to it .

There will be a lot more to come.

And unfortunately it’s all our own fault, ‘folks’!

It is no accident that some of what happened took place in the Boulevard Voltaire. The Enlightenment is under attack not only from outside, but from too many who claim to be its children...



 
 
Picture
SAY ANYTHING YOU LIKE...

The death of Brian Friel last week is something that will be marked in Ireland and throughout the world. He is one of the great playwrights of the last half of the twentieth century. He is also a representative of that 'school' of Irish writing in English that carries the peculiarly intense intimacy of Ireland, a kind of Irish writing that is often at its most universal, by some strange magic, when it is at its most 'parochial'. Brian's plays mark out my own life, both in its different times and its different phases, and as part of the whole, as do so many great books, great plays, great poems, great films, great pieces of music of all kinds, that have played a part in enriching and shaping me, and making me who I am (for better or worse!). These things are part of the furniture of our minds; they live with us; they are the breath of life because they are the breath of imagination. The plays I most remember are: 'Philadelphia, Here I Come!', 'Translations', 'Faith Healer', 'Dancing at Lughnasa', 'Molly Sweeney'. In 'Philadelphia, Here I Come!', a long time ago, I not only first encountered Brian's writing, but also a personal intimacy that never quite went away; my grandmother had left Ireland in the 1920's, and in some ways stepping into the world of that play, albeit two generations later, was to step back into her world; that same personal 'striking to the heart' was there, too, at the end of 'Dancing at Lughnasa'. And the last play I saw, only a month ago, was Brian's adaptation of Turgenev's 'A Month in the Country', at the Gate in Dublin.

Of course Ireland, because it is so small, and because of the 'peculiar intimacy' it still carries about itself, will always pile the personal on the personal. If there are, supposedly, 'six degrees of separation' only between us and everyone else on earth, in Ireland there is only one! Brian Friel died at Greencastle, on the Inishowen Peninsular, in County Donegal, only a few miles along the shore of Lough Foyle from Moville, where my grandmother was born in 1898; it is a place I have a strong memory of.

One of the things that Brian Friel recognised very firmly, and one of the things that made his writing so powerful, so unique, often in the midst of elegant and measured understatement, was his awareness that 'words' made writing work. It sounds a daft thing to say; obvious, so trite as to be almost meaningless? But it is a reality that is not widely acknowledged or understood critically at the moment. The process of writing is about putting one word after another, and that process is what transforms plot, substance, content, character, etc., into the good, bad and indifferent products of literature, and, as in Brian Friel's case, the extraordinary and wonderful. It is a magical process, and for most of us, the best we can do is, hopefully, to produce some well-rehearsed and modestly entertaining conjuring tricks. The real magicians, however, can produce real magic. There is a sense (though generally we only whisper it - an analysis of character and plot is a much easier conversation) that great writing is entirely about how one word is put after another; the rest is simply the 'vehicle' for that. This is what Brian Friel himself says (in 'Translations'); for me, it is his epitaph. It is an epitaph that only reminds us, thankfully, that he will always be with us.

'Say anything at all - I love the sound of your speech.'


 
 
Sometimes the past catches up with present... or is it the other way round?

Above are three images that, according to the people responsible for putting them in print and on screen arrived 'by accident' or 'ignorance', respectively in a BBC Promenade Concert programme, on a British Imperial War Museum Poster, and in a newscast at Chicago's WGN TV station. They are all images that carry a message about Jews, and they are all images that have been apologised for with some version of those weasel words we hear so often on the tongues of politicians; that's to say they are apologies 'for any offence caused' or 'if any offence was caused'. All three images appeared in the last week.

The first is a 'picture' of the violinist Leopold Auer that the BBC chose as an illustration in a Promenade Concert programme. Tschaikovsky dedicated his violin concerto to Auer, and the concerto was being played at one of the last Proms this year. It is to any seeing eyes not just a caricature, but a caricature that deliberately accentuates and exaggerates features that, in such caricatures were (and are - these things are still being drawn in 'cartoons') regarded as 'Jewish'. Such things are categorised as anti-Semitic with little argument (as long as they're not in a cartoon now, then it's politcal comment); anti-Semitic is what they are, and in the late nineteenth century through to the end of the Nazi regime in Germany, those responsible for them felt no shame at all in saying that's exactly what they were, and what they were meant to be. I have put a picture of Auer next to the image. It seems that the BBC got this particular 'caricature' from the Lebrecht Photo Library, where it was properly and responsibly described (i.e. captioned) as an anti-Semitic caricature.

When the image appears in the Proms programme though, it does so without any reference to its anti-Semitic provenance; it is simply Auer.

If you want to check that the library photo does refer to the caricature's anti-Semitic nature, you now can't. By Monday of this week the photo had been removed from the library's online archive; apparently at the BBC's request. Why the BBC's use of this image should make an entirely independent organisation, which has responsibly indicated what this image represents, agree to a BBC requerst to take the thing down, who knows? Why would the BBC need to do it?

The BBC's apology runs thus:

'We're sorry to anyone who was offended by the image choice - this was never our intention.'

This is an apology, as usual in politics and the media, in which the buck stops with 'anyone' who might have been offended, not those responsible for the offence. It does not actually admit that any ‘offence’ exists, except in the minds of those who have complained. A proper apology, of course, is an apology for doing something that the perpetrator understands is offensive. This one asks us to accept that people with a considerable knowledge of European history, art and culture, have not got the faintest idea what the image they chose represents; that one of the most politically correct media institutions on the planet can’t see an anti-Semitic caricature staring it in the face.

Pull the other one!

Elsewhere the BBC said the picture had been used 'by accident'.

The second image is a photograph from the 1940's of soldiers from a battalion of the British Army, in British Army uniform, taken during the Second World War. It is used on a poster published by Britain's Imperial War Museum, the nation's custodian of military history. And it refers to the soldiers as 'terrorists'. You might wonder why that is. If you know the troops in the photo belonged to the British Army's Jewish Brigade, well, you might just get a clue! You'd certainly look hard for any other British Army units described as terrorists. Anyone seen a War Museum poster about the Black and Tans, who certainly were terrorists, and terrorists in the direct pay of the British government?

Here's the caption:

'Terrorist activities: Men of the First Battalion Jewish Brigade during a march past.'

There's no mix up here. The IWM describes the men as British soldiers at the same time it describes them as 'terrorists'. In fighting, mainly against the Germans in Italy, 83 members of the Jewish Brigade were killed in action, 200 wounded; 78 men were mentioned in dispatches; 20 of them won major military awards for bravery. When Rome was liberated members of the Jewish Brigade were represented at the British Army's audience with the Pope. They were also, of course, direct witnesses to the Holocaust when they later moved on through Austria and into Germany itself. So are we meant, in this case, to believe that some of Britain's foremost military historians (who were presumably, at some point, responsible for the content of this Imperial War Museum poster) didn't know who the people in the photograph of the Jewish Brigade soldiers were, or that they had no knowledge at all that these were men who fought and died in the British uniforms we can patently see them wearing?

The museum's apology said:

'This was the historic label we received alongside the photograph, accidentally uploaded in order to give the public access to our comprehensive archives.'

Gobbledegook for 'we did it by accident'.

It's worth analysing the description of the 'accident', as the 'unfortunate event' seems to be not the word 'terrorism', but letting people see the word used in the context the War Museum had already put it in anyway. The archives of the Imperial War Museum, so the IWM spokesperson unequivocally says, contain photographs that ascribe a 'historic label' of 'terrorism' to the British Army's Jewish Brigade in WWII. Is the 'accident' only that it was made public?

The third image is of a 'greeting' delivered onscreen to the Jews of Chicago by the city's TV station WGN, which was put out yesterday. Yesterday was the holiest day in the Jewish religious calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I doubt I need to explain to anyone, including infants at my children's primary school, that the image is of a concentration camp uniform with the Nazi yellow Star of David on it and the word 'Jude', Jew. This is surely one of the best know images of murderous evil on earth, as far as the last hundred years of history goes. Are there really people in America who are television producers and directors, current affairs researchers and graphic designers, camera operators, technicians, IT operators, and broadcasters, who are utterly unaware of what this represents, and think it is some kind of appropriate 'greetings card' to put up on a TV screen to send out 'good wishes' to Jews? Do you believe that? The apology from the TV station does contain the words 'ignorance is no excuse', but can we really be persuaded that in a television studio and current affairs office full of highly educated, politcally aware people, they were all that 'ignorant'?

But apparently they were, every one. They said they 'honestly':

'Failed to recognize the image was an offensive Nazi symbol.'

Wow! I don't know where they all went to school, or what movies they saw, or what television they watched, or what books and newspapers and magazines they read, or what planet they were beamed down from... but at least they didn't do it 'by accident'! Someone researched it, thought it 'nice and friendly' as a way to say 'Hi!', and so off it went. Happy holidays!

I am not suggesting there is some kind of anti-Semitic 'conspiracy' going on, but I do think there is a new tolerance of hostility to Jews everywhere that is an accepting, in Europe and America's academic and media establishment, of anti-Jewish imagery, tropes and ideas that would be entirely unacceptable used of any other people, anywhere, by that same establishment. I think those promoting such ideas are being tolerated and sympathised with in ways that were unthinkable even ten years ago, and along with that tolerance there is a new intolerance that should frighten us, not because of its extremes but because of its growing 'ordinariness' - a Proms programme, a museum poster, a clumsy 'mistake' in a TV 'greeting' (still pretty hard to swallow that one). With this tolerance of the inaccurate, unreasonable, unpleasant, unacceptable, goes a resentment of anyone who points out that there is something wrong with the way these 'accidents' and 'mistakes' keep appearing. 'Isn't that just another one of the problems with Jews - they're always crying anti-Semitism about nothing?'

This isn't nothing. One of the things that Lord Scarman said, a long time ago, after investigating Britain's Brixton riots and the police, is that what he first defined as 'institutonalised racism' had, as one of its main characteristics, that it was so woven into the fabric of an organisation's thinking that no one noticed it, no one could see it; its depth was not in excess but in its unchallenged presence in the smallest areas of activiity. So expect more of these 'accidents', a lot more, where Jews and Jewishness are concerned... It's our future. Now!

Don't imagine you'll be anything other than ridiculed, attacked and probably abused for pointing these 'accidents' out to anyone, especially the media and academia.. the best you'll get is an apology, 'for unintentional offence caused'.

Don't expect to be asked to any parties either!

 
 
Picture

In the first, Korso, scene of Act II Kraus refers to a poem by Franz Karl Ginzkey (1871-1963); Ginzkey was also a cartographer in the Institute of Military Geography in Vienna until 1914, then in the War Archives. He was a founder of the Salzburg Festival and also a prominent writer of children's books; his most popular title, 'Hatschi Bratschi's Balloon' (1904) is still in print. There was a Ginzkey family which was a well-known manufacturer of carpets, with family members holding high office in commercial institutions and organisations. Kraus's Racketeer naturally assumes Ginskey is 'in carpets'. As the First World War began, battles in East Prussia (now part of Poland and Russian Kaliningrad), including the battle of the Masurian Lakes, and the devastating battle of Tannenburg, decimated the Russian army, putting an end to its invasion of Germany, and in many ways setting the scene for the collapse of the Russian monarchy and the revolution that followed. General Hindenburg is a heroic figure Kraus will often mock, in particular the 'cult' of Hindenburg, as the play continues. I have found, and translated Ginskey's long-forgotten original poem, unpleasant enough in itself, but it is worth remembering that it really was performed in music halls, with the sound of the gurgling Russian dying eliciting hoots and roars of laughter from Viennese audiences. A level of 'self-satire' (unintended of course) in which the viciousness of cosy, complacent Viennese reality outstrips in self-parody anything Kraus can do himself. Kraus's references, often oblique and in passing (he quotes no words from the actual poem), assume a quite detailed referential knowledge on the part of his audience; for that reason it is well worth adding this detail to give depth to reading the play now.

In the 'sympatheic' cartoon above (sympathetic to the poem's delight in all this, that is), the legend reads as follows: General Hindenburg's Masurian Lakes Cold Water Spa and Sanatorium Occupancy Rate 1914 150,000 Guests'.

Ballade von den Masurischen Seen, Ballad of the Masurian Lakes

General Hindenburg feels the east wind blow
O’er the Masurian Lakes where he rides ‘gainst the foe.
All his life he has roamed on foot and on horse
Round these lakes and swamps and followed their course.
He knows every reed in this bog, every sound,
He bends his head low, puts his ear to the ground,
He hears ghostly gurgles deep in the swamp:
The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump,
It will swallow the Russians up, torso and stump.

There’s no toad, no frog, no amphibious newt
Whose knowledge of these bogs is so acute.
He knows every brake, where each crossing falls,
He knows every lake like he knows his own balls;
As he roams to the east, as he roams to the west,
He knows it all like a sweetheart he has caressed.
And still there is gurgling deep in the swamp:
The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump,
It will swallow the Russians up, torso and stump.

From Berlin comes the news, oh, how he is pained;
The Reichstag’s resolved: the swamps will be drained,
His lakes must be drained, his Masurian Lakes,
To be ploughed up for profit, don’t they know the stakes? 
Can wheat be a bulwark in this vital spot?
General Hindenburg heads for Berlin like a shot.
They must hear the war drum that sounds from the swamp:
The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump,
It will swallow the Russians up, torso and stump.

The Kaiser greets Hindenburg; Hindenburg’s bold:
As defences these lakes are worth more than gold;
Draining the swamps really wouldn’t be wise:
We’ve got enough land, we daren’t risk this prize.
It’s not wheat fields but death-dealing marshes we lack
To swallow the Russians up when they attack.
Your Majesty, save this great guardian swamp!
The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump,
It will swallow the Russians up, torso and trump.

The Kaiser laughs loudly and raises his cup:
I’ll give you these swamps to swallow them up!
Whereupon Hindenburg, filled with delight,
Hies himself home to prepare for the fight.
He retreads old pathways and studies the land,
Reconnoitring and charting all that he’s planned.
He rubs his hands gleefully: Our salvation’s the swamp!
The swamp is our trump, the swamp is our trump,
It will swallow the Russians up, torso and stump.

Now see how in him all is gloriously fulfilled,
All that the swamp’s ghostly gurgles revealed;
At the Kaiser’s command, by his own iron will,
He slaughtered the foe with Hannibal’s skill,
Smote, choked and broke them with all his might.
General Hindenburg’s victory scaled every height:
One hundred thousand died in that swamp.
The swamp was our trump, the swamp was our trump,
The Russians were swallowed up, torso and stump.

 
 
Picture
Added to the site now, for first time is Scene 1 of the Prologue (none of the Prologue has been on the site before), together with Version 2 of Act I, Scene 1. More Version 2 material will appear in due course. And to move forward this new stage of this 'work in progress', here is one of the greatest poems of the play, from Act III, Scene 36... I have put this on the blog now, although it first appeared on the Home page, under news, where it will, of course, disappear 'down the line' eventually. This mud-encrusted watch stopped at 8pm on December 1915, the exact moment Harold Llewellyn Twite was killed in action in northern France.

SCENE 36

 A lecture hall in Vienna.

BEGRUDGER:

‘With Watch in Hand’[1]

‘On the 17th of September, one of our U-boats sank a fully-laden troop ship in the Mediterranean. The ship sank in less than 43 seconds.’

Technology and death meet face to face.
Does bravery play no further part in might?
Time runs out as day turns into night.
O God of War, deliver us from this place!

And you who stole in stealth from that machine,
You made no sacrifice; it was the machine’s alone!
It stands triumphant, dispassionate as stone,
A proud creation whose soul you now demean.

A mortar fires its shell. Flak bursts and cracks.
The man who made it cowers in a trench.
The giant chokes in the dwarf’s all-strangling clench;
You can see the stopwatch stop time in its tracks.

But sleep, sleep on. You need rest. You shouldn’t neglect that.
And when the malingerer limps to the stock exchange floor
And hits the button so futures will spiral and soar,
And London’s wiped out? The business of war. You’d expect that.

What was the time then? When did it happen? Why?
Our eyes don’t see clearly corroded by poisonous gas.
But ears still hear. The clock strikes thirteen, and as
Clouds loom we look up; doomsday falls from the sky.

Chaos and farce are the entropic end of our story –
God forbid God should hear the words of our hymns!
Progress drives on, counting profit and prosthetic limbs,
A stopwatch in hand, its heart set on ever more glory.

                                                                                              

[1] ‘With Watch in Hand’, ‘Mit der Uhr in der Hand’, the title of the poem. In 1882 Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’, translated as ‘The Gay Science’ in Walter Kaufmann’s 1960’s version: ‘We now think with watch in hand, as we eat lunch, as we turn our eyes to the stock-exchange report’. The book’s title is derived from an old Provençal phrase for the technical demands of the art of poetry, ‘gai saber’; ‘The Joyous Wisdom’, the title of the 19th century translation, offers a more helpful equivalent now. The words and images of Kraus’s poem contain more found material, as ever, than we can readily identify; the same words and imagery also look forward to important material in the Epilogue.

 
 
Picture
ZUM EWIGEN FRIEDEN - FOR ETERNAL PEACE

This item, relating to the 1934 film of Kraus reading is currently on the site's home page, but it will, inevitably, disappear from sight, so it seems worth repeating and archiving here.


Here is a remarkable piece of film from the early 1930's, in which Karl Kraus reads four pieces of his work. I have linked to this YouTube video before, but only in the shortened version, which has Kraus reading 'Die Raben', 'The Ravens'. This is the full film. Here Kraus reads 'Zum ewigen Frieden', 'For Eternal Peace', a meditation on words of Immanuel Kant that celebrate the selfless desire to work for peace in the face of all the evils mankind inflicts upon itself, in the full knowledge that the fruits of that work, if they ever come to pass, will do so long after the grave has taken those who have laboured in that seeminly ill-omened and fruitless vinyard. This is followed by 'Die Raben', a translation of which can be found further below. The third piece is 'Reklamenfahrten zur Hölle', which me might translate as 'Advertising Holidays in Hell'. Kraus reads advertising material for battlefield tours to the 'great scenes' of the Great War. It is 1921 and the wastelands of trenches and mud are still visible on a massive scale across Europe; farmers attempting to reclaim their devastated fields are, inevitably, ploughing up human remains on an almost daily basis. The dead in their millions are hardly cold in the ground. What Kraus reads invokes the great sacrifices made in passing, barely, cynically, tritely, before the details of itineraries, highllights, hotels, travel arrangements, the great advantages and pleasures of first class seats and tickets, etc., are expounded with an extraordinary gusto. This is some holiday! It is as grotesque and shameful as Kraus's reading makes it. I have not translated this yet, but will do so. You know what it's about; for now Kraus's voice is more than enough! The poem that starts the film, 'Zum ewigen Frieden', and the one that ends it, 'Weg Damit', 'Get Shot of It!', are translated below. 'Weg Damit' is about the way in which a new 'establishment' (still in part the old one of 'media', in modern terms, politics and money, now further corrupted by those who rose to power by 'virtue' of the war itself) has already corrupted the values of freedom, honesty and equity that the demise of the empire was meant to usher in. What has been created - is a republic of cardsharks.

This link will take you to the YouTube film. Or click on the picture of Kraus above.

FOR ETERNAL PEACE

‘In sombre contemplation, not so much of the evils that afflict mankind by force of nature, but much more of the ills human beings inflict upon each other, there is solace in the prospect that things really could be better in the future; and with selfless benevolence it might indeed be so, though we be long in the grave by then and can never reap the fruits we may, in part, have sown ourselves...’ Immanuel Kant

Don’t abandon these words, overcome by grief,
Hold fast to Immanuel Kant’s belief.

God knows, no heavenly balm has scope
To transcend this epitaph’s sacred hope;

The grave proclaims a proud goodnight:
‘Oh, where I am dark, let there be light’

For all creation, that suffers Mankind,
The Immortal dies, by faith defined. 

Day’s dark valediction lights the door,
That the sun may shine for you once more.

At the gates of hell, now and forever,
‘For Eternal Peace’ is his one endeavour.

He speaks the words, and the world is made whole,
By a truth that opens out God’s soul.

It is written: trust what faith has willed
And salvation’s promise shall be fulfilled.

From disaster deliver us, O Spirit humane;
Show us the way back to ourselves again!

Here is humanity! A shepherd indeed!
Woe to him who meets hope but will not accede!

Woe to a world German-madness-seduced
That denies the last German wonder produced!

When a dwarf reached up to the stars in the skies,
His realm tiny Königsberg, revelation his prize.

A subject of the Universe only, his stride
Dwarfs every king’s ramparts, delusions, pride.

His words mock the sword, mock power, might;
They ransom us all from never-ending night.

The dawn of his heart’s holy morning still can
Purge our blood-shame; that man kills man.

GET SHOT OF IT

The good that was achieved you have defiled,
Near-conquered evil again has you beguiled,
You have made the joy of freedom all-reviled.
When hunger hit bellies disposed to gorge and scoff,
He rose with a greed that could not be shut off,
He made way for no others at the trough.
A prebendary of progress, he abandoned the heart;
Now a worldwind fills limp sails, things fall apart;
Civil strife's poison intoxicates the upstart
Whose ally is mere profit, life’s eternal enemy;
The foe of a freedom that once was truly free,
That once possessed untarnished purity.
The path I tread is no skulking zigzag way,
What pricks me is no tricktrack game I play:
But he is the political cardshark, it is his day!

 
 
Picture
Just as Thomas Hardy's poem 'The Oxen' is never far from my mind at Christmas, with its wonderful, simple evocation - a group of children in a Dorset farmhouse listening to a Christmas story - of the lost belief and gnawing doubt that has eaten away at western civilisation through the twentieth century, and does so at an ever-increasing pace in the twenty-first, his poem 'The Darkling Thrush' always comes into my mind at New Year. It is no accident that 'The Oxen' was published in 'The Times' on Christmas Eve 1915; it is not generally recognised as a 'war poem' in the usual sense, but it is one. It recognises, quietly, elegiacally, the forces of destruction manifested by the Great War in a way oddly parallel - a kind of 'polar' parallel - to Karl Kraus's very different writing in 'The Last Days of Mankind'; the real problem is in our hearts and minds - our souls (whatever they are!) if you like. Kraus rages;  while Hardy has only quiet, poignant words. 'The Darkling Thrush' was published earlier than 'The Oxen', on the eve of a new century, in December 1900, but the sentiments are not dissimilar to those of 'The Oxen'; the loss of faith, certainty, even hope, and an open question as to what replaces it - nothing? The question isn't answered, but 'nothing' hangs there over it all.  At one level that idea of 'loss' simply relates to a particular kind of religious belief, but it surely goes much deeper, to a far more extensive loss of faith in and rejection of the whole enterprise of western civilisation, from the Classical world on, through the Enlightment, to an empty and decrepit present. It is hard not to feel that that dying of faith, the 'dying of the light' in its broadest sense, has, in the twenty-first century's short span so far, increased at an extraordinary pace. Whatever objections Hardy had to what he saw was dying, and they were many, passionate, and bitter, he had a grim sense that its loss, rather than the natural growth and change it ought to be capable of, would not lead to the discovery of some new light going forward, but only to a profound darkness... like Kraus...

THE DARKLING THRUSH

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

 
 
Serendipity is the satisfyingly rich experience of stumbling on links between things that you had not experienced, where one thing illuminates and expands on another and leads to more links and more connections and more bonds, in a way that seems to defy the laws of physics: more comes out in the way of energy, knowledge, inspiration than goes in! Of course it's not always a joyful undertaking. At the moment my preoccupations, in writing the third of the Stefan Gillespie novels, and preparing the first part of my translation of Karl Kraus's First World War play 'The Last Days of  Mankind' for publication, are frequently with what is darkest in us.

At the moment it's the beginning of WWII and the brutal aftermath of the brutal Spanish Civil War. As an example of serendipity, I was recently in the Russell Library at the University of Maynooth, an extraordinarily beautiful 19th century Pugin building that is part of the original Pontifical University. I was looking through the records of the Irish College in Salamanca, a seminary for priests, at the time of the Civil War, looking for links in a story that connected Stefan Gillespie and an Irish murder investigation to wider events in Ireland and Europe. Extraordinarily, as I was looking for a fictional world of spies, I discovered that the (obviously Franco-supporting) German government's propaganda offfice (staffed almost exclusively by Goebbels' spies naturally enough) was based in the college until 1939, and that through the college's rector there were connections to all sorts of things: semi-secret conversations between the irish ambassador, German and Spanish Intelligence, and the ex-IRA International Brigader, Frank Ryan, still imprisoned by Franco after almost every other International Brigade prisoner had been released; a holiday villa belonging to the Irish College on the coast, close to the route of the pilgrims' way to Santiago; all things I wanted to use in the story and had struggled to connect. But how all that relates to the disappearance of a postman in the small Wicklow Mountain town of Glendalough on Christmas Day 1939, you will, naturally enough, have to wait to find out! There will of course be those who know that a real postman went missing in another Irish town a few years earlier; whose body was never found. That's one of those items from the Irish Times that has so often been a starting point for Stefan Gillespie's investigations as the real becomes fiction and then, somewhere along the way, fiction re-connects to reality.

But all this focus on war makes me all the more aware how much endless, contemporary war screams out at us, every day. At times it creates a feeling of, 'Why write about the past?', and at others, for me more often, a sense of the familiar trope being as true as ever, that our failure to understand history means the perpetual repetition of its cruel and futile mistakes. But it also makes me feel that for any of us, for all of us, doing anything that celebrates the human imagination, even in the smallest way - and detective fiction is a fairly small way! - is worth something, always, simply because, somehow, it is the 'opposite' of everything that is destructive in us.

It is true even in Karl Kraus's unrelenting dissection of human folly and barbarism in 'The Last Days of Mankind'. While I don't have to take what I do too seriously, none of us should apologise for 'making things' - a story, a song, a garden, a birthday cake, a percolation system for a septic tank!, or a happy family - rather than destroying; when it comes to Kraus I guess I can be more pompous about that. Though Kraus is writing about destruction, he can't help but create by doing so. Even staring into the darkness the creative power of the human imagination won’t be denied. The play is Kraus’s way of saying, like Martin Luther, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’; with a wry smile rather than a hammer and nails. Yet it is an irony maybe unconscious even for Kraus that in his portrayal of mankind’s abandonment of humanity is an extraordinary outpouring of imaginative energy that profoundly asserts that humanity. When we create anything, in whatever small way we are doing the same thing.

This is where I am in 'The Last Days at the Moment'. It is a song Karl Kraus puts into the mouth of a German industrialist, Wahnschaffe, singing about the benefits of war for the German economy, and the idea that some kind of 'perpetual' warfare is mankind's natural state. These days we are uncomfortable with the idea that there are any 'judgements' to be made about the First World War - who started it, who stood to gain most from it, who allowed it to continue in its millions-murdering fashion - except to blame 'power' in whatever shape or form suits our own particular agenda. Karl Kraus is far more inclusive! The answer to those questions is, for him, that at some level everyone is to blame, simply by virtue of the fact that they are human! That doesn't mean he doesn't focus his attacks most on the powerful, the aristocracy, politicians of every stripe, businessmen, military leaders, industrialists, financiers, the press, science - but no one escapes blame entirely. Here his focus is on aspects of German culture - and bear in mind this is, essentially, a culture he is a part of - that he despises for their self-righteous brutality, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't see the same things on the 'other side', retweaked and as self-righteously murderous. For Kraus it's not charity but rage that begins at home...

The German town of Bad Gross Salze. Foreground, a playground. An alley. Right a sign: ‘Free the Soldiers to Fight!’; left another: ‘No Entry for Wounded’. Stage left, Villa Wahnschaffe, with pinnacles and turrets, black-red-gold and black-white-red flags fly from the roof. Below in a niche a bust of Wilhelm II. Above the entrance: ‘With heart and hand for God, Emperor and Fatherland!’ A front garden with statues of deer and gnomes, an old suit of armour in the middle; mortar shells on each side of the front door, one inscribed ‘Hit them hard!’, the other ‘Keep it up!’  Windows in Gothic style. Commercial Counsellor Ottomar Wilhelm Wahnschaff steps out of the villa singing; in each verse the last line is accompanied by an invisible choir: the laughter of other nations.

WAHNSCHAFFE:

Whether far beneath waves, or high in the sky,
It’s only the arseholes who won’t fight and die.
Now, I’m used to graft, I can graft like hell,
But why bust my arse at the front as well?
I can duck and dive with grace and dash
On the home front here where graft is cash.
And so I graft from dawn till late,
That’s what all the begrudgers hate.
Hit hard Germany! It’s our hullabaloo?

I was war’s servant before there was a war;
Now peace is over it’s my time to score.
I’ll work and slave (in degree to the nth)
Because war alone is my source of strength.
Before any conflict I was keen to enlist,
Now the battlefront’s paying me hand over fist.
You’re on the pig’s back when you get your guerdon
As heavy industry’s beast of burden.
Krupp Inc is our cry! War is what we do!

All the toil and trouble feels just like play;
There’s hardly enough time in my day.
I’ve worked every hour God sent along,
With the Watch on the Rhine to keep me strong.
I saw world war coming so I never rested,
And now it’s arrived I cannot be bested.
We will fight the good fight so vehemently,
Watching the competition flee.
In fear of their lives! We’ll break them in two!

I have given my honest Nibelung troth:
Germany will see export growth.
We’ll carve our place out in the sun
Though we cower in trenches to get it done.
To make sure future profits abound
We’ll live our present underground.
Not that I’ve sought for goods and gold,
Just Germany in heroic mould.
Fatherland hail! We are forged anew!

War serves us well with our vast arms’ haul;
We’ve turned the tables, who dares wins all.
And while foodstuff security’s holy writ
We subsist here mostly eating shit.
Now business and prayer go hand in hand;
God is a sales’ pitch to ramp up demand;
With the salesman as priest art must kowtow;
Valhalla’s a bonded warehouse now.
Oh, we live for ideals as we kneel in the pew!

Surviving on vegetables, mushrooms and rice
Is worthy, of course, but it comes at a price.
Where the table is empty there may be no strife,
But as life goes it’s not much of a life.
Living from hand to mouth, as we know,
Is unhealthy at best with no quid pro quo.
So why not mouth to hand? Won’t ideals do?
In the absence of food can’t they see us through?
A meal of ideals! Yes, that’s our kind of stew!

There’s a principle here, worth the price that we pay;
It explains why earth’s swimming in blood today.
For exports and moolah (our profit’s true creed)
The whole of humanity just has to bleed.
So give gold for iron and venom for bread;
Let these prayers to the fatherland’s God be said!
You can even sell blood for marks – trust me,
No exchange rate commission – I guarantee.
It’s all pure, pure profit! Just watch it accrue?

And if things aren’t going too well for us
Our Press Bureau doesn’t make any great fuss.
Where others’ truths simply aren’t true enough
We feed ourselves up on good home-made stuff.
If foreign words have to be replaced
We’ve got German ones ready to cut and paste.
We have ersatz food, so why not diffuse
Unpalatable truths with ersatz news?
Defeat is victory! Do not misconstrue!

And were this world all devils o’er,
Where the foes are many, the honour is more.
So: German boldness has contemned
The whole damned pack of them in the end.
We’ve an aura of dash, bravura, vim
That the wide world envies; hear our hymn:
May God scourge England in this war;
He alone knows we’ve got virtues galore.
He’s a German God! With our point of view!

But we praise the Lord in our own way,
At the pre-war prices we still pay.
For the glory of God, who is ever just,
We will happily fight in the dark if we must.
If there was sunshine all the time
Would life be nearly half as sublime?
Guns and bullets are what we adore,
So gaudeamus igitur!
We’re merry and bright! A cheerful crew!

One thing in which we’re heaven-blessed,
We’ve so much more culture than the rest.
More than all other gifts, it is our art
That truly sets us and them apart.
Though we are mad about our lords of war
It’s with our thinkers we really score.
Take Schiller and Goethe – the world just cowers
When we say: Hey there, those guys are ours!
Hail home and culture! Whom don’t we outdo?

German minds and hearts walk hand in hand:
God save Krupp Inc and the fatherland!
Hindenberg keeps our borders tight;
In my mind and heart I fight the same fight.
We’re almost blessed with too much luck;
We retreat covertly, despite our pluck.
And when we do celebrate a victory
We take our Siegfried stance up modestly.
With proud hurrahs! And much ado!

More foes, more honour! Words we are fed,
Though there’s still no butter on our bread.
Yet that won’t prevent our brave firestorms
From carpeting the whole wide world with bombs.
And with German science on our side,
And a God who scourges British pride,
We’ll make mankind so bold, so strong,
And thresh the weak out from the strong.
Made in God’s image! Now that’s some coup!

We can churn out clichés like the foe;
We’re united in trading that sort of blow.
But finally truth will conquer death;
The fight goes on till the final breath.
We have to ensure we get our hands
On the iron ore lying beneath French lands.
Peace doesn’t interest us, let it rot!
We’ll annex the earth, we’ll take the whole lot.
At least there’ll be order! Isn’t that our cue!

We fight for our honour, more precious than gold.
But Belgium stays ours; we have what we hold.
We know honour and glory alone will endure,
And we will keep our cloak of rectitude pure.
In the end final victory will prove us right;
We’ll surround the whole world and tie it up tight!
We must win, we will win, and by God’s grace
Our bullshit will conquer the market place.
When it’s all German-made, that’ll be some brew!

But we do need our place in the sun, therefore
We’ve plunged the world into darkness, war.
With disease, gas, poison, who can say
That we won’t battle on till Judgement Day?
Till we finally hear God’s thundering voice
Ersatz will remain our truth of choice;
Through all the earth, till the last trump sounds,
Listen, our thunderous roar resounds!
We’re a practical lot! We’ve got some world view!

Now the world’s ablaze, as the press demands,
As the Fenris-Wolff Press Agency commands.
Other nations proudly strut their stuff,
Are we, though unloved, not good enough?
Wherever weapons are not admired
Our accomplishments have somehow misfired.
But though the world wants no strife at all,
We will bluster and roar like a thunderball.
It’s the sound of Germany breaking through!

And when this war’s done we’ll start again,
With more war, more suffering, more pain.
Isn’t that something to look forward to?
Love never ends, love is always new.
Oh, if only peace could replace war
So that I could grow tired of it once more.
Technological progress, of course, is a must –
Like the U-boats, now, in which we trust.
Progress, all-hail! That’s for us, not you!

Let’s spread conscription far and wide,
Let’s teach our children to bomb with pride,
And lest the old feel they’ve been missed
We’ll keep them all on the call-up list.
What we have learned we won’t ever forget;
We’ll build more barracks till our needs are met;
We’ll free this world from peace at last:
The Watch on the Rhine is strong and fast!
Doesn’t history tell us that’s what we do?

And were this world all devils o’er,
And no foe left to fight us any more,
And the task completed, the job well done,
And Germany’s future out in the sun,
And Prussia the only place there is –
Will we fall for that one? It’s still the bizz!
Fast stands the Watch on the Rhine tonight
Germany still fights the eternal fight!
Fight on! Fight on! We will win through!