Karl Kraus: The evolution of humanitarian bombing
From Last Days of Mankind (1918)
Translated by Max Knight and Joseph Fabry
Schalek: …You are a combatant, and I’d like to find out how its feels. Most of all: how do you feel afterward?
Lieutenant: Well, it is strange. I feel like a king who has suddenly become a beggar. You know, it almost feels like being a king, so high above the enemy city. There they are below – helpless. No one can run away, no one can save himself or hide. You have power over them all. It’s majestic – all else becomes insignificant.
Schalek: I can identify with that feeling. Did you ever bomb Venice?…What, you have scruples? Well, I’ll tell you something. Venice is a problem worth thinking about. We entered the war filled with romantic ideas…
Lieutenant: Who did?
Schalek: We did. We intended to wage it with chivalry. Slowly and after painful lessons we had to change our attitudes. As recently as a year ago, who among us wouldn’t have cringed at the thought of dropping bombs on Venice! And now? Everything has changed. If Venice shoots at our soldiers, we have to shoot at Venice – calmly, openly, and without sentimentality.
Lieutenant: Don’t worry. I’ve bombed Venice.
Schalek: Good for you.
Lieutenant: In peacetime I used to spend my vacations in Venice. I loved it. But when I bombed it from the air – no, I didn’t feel a spark of false romanticism. We all flew home, happily. It was our day of honor – our day!
Schalek: That’s what I wanted to hear! Now your buddies from the U-boats expect me. I trust they are as gallant as you.
Schalek: …May I touch on a delicate problem? Tell me, what did you feel when you drilled that colossus of a ship into its wet and silent grave with so many human beings aboard?
Officer: My first feeling was one of unmitigated joy.
Schalek: That’s what I wanted to hear! I have now gained a conviction: The Adriatic Sea will remain ours!