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Karl Kraus: In war, business is business

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Karl Kraus: Selections on war

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Karl Kraus
From The Last Days of Mankind (1922)
Translated by Max Knight and Joseph Fabry

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Grumbler:…A sermon for peace is not as effective as an editorial for war. But since all sermons are preached to support war…

Optimist: I’ll admit, that wasn’t the message of salvation prophesied at Bethlehem.

Grumbler: Oh, but Bethlehem in the United States corrects the mistaken prophesies of nineteen hundred years ago.

Optimist: In the United States?

Grumbler: Bethlehem Steel, the greatest arms manufacturer in the world. Every German church contributes its mite to that new spirit of Bethlehem.

Optimist: A mere coincidence that Germany’s enemies are supplied with arms by a company called Bethlehem.

Grumbler: Headed by Germans.

Optimist: You must be joking. The American steel trust is headed by Carnegie.

Grumbler: No, by Charles M. Schwab.

Optimist: What? German-Americans produce weapons for the enemy?

Grumbler: No, German nationals.

Optimist: Who says so?

Grumbler: The Wall Street Journal. It says that twenty percent of the Bethlehem stock is held by Germans – not German-Americans, but German nationals. And why not? Business is business.

Optimist: In politics, success is success. That’s why I think that the sinking of the Lusitania will not fail to impress the world.

Grumbler: Yes, indeed. At least that part of the world where people are not yet numb to horror. The reaction in Berlin is characterized by an announcement in a cabaret showing a film about the catastrophe. It says: “The Sinking of the Lusitania. See It As It Happened! During This Number Smoking Is Permitted.”

Optimist: A lapse of taste. But to me the Lusitania is not a matter of sentiment.

Grumbler: No, it’s a matter of crime.

Optimist: The people had been warned.

Grumbler: What you call a warning was a threat to commit a crime – the mass murder was preceded by blackmail. A blackmailer cannot plead innocent for having announced his crime in advance. If I threaten to kill you unless you do what I have no right to ask you to do, I’m not a warner but a blackmailer. And afterwards I’m not an executioner, but a murderer. Smoking permitted. My country right or wrong; so what if a few children are drowned.

Optimist: The U-boat had no choice but…

Grumbler: …to play the part of the iceberg that struck the Titanic a few years back. At that time it was the wrath of God about the arrogance of this technical age that tried to teach men through horror what he wouldn’t learn through reverence. But now the God of technology does the teaching – that’s progress. As the smasher of the Titanic, the name of the Lord was still mentioned. This time the heroes of the U-boat remained anonymous. The story that the captain received an award is branded enemy propaganda.

Optimist: Of course, the captain has no such claim to heroism as, say, William Tell.

Grumbler: Why not? His deed is being praised as heroism, instead of being kept secret like his name.

Optimist: The deed might not be heroic but it served a purpose. The Lusitania carried arms that would have killed Germans.

Grumbler: And were manufactured by Germans.

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