Giuseppe Berto: A fable: The war was going well, the war was going badly
From The Sky Is Red (1946)
Translated by Angus Davidson
The war did not change many things. If there were fewer things to sell, there was more money, and tradesmen charged higher prices for their goods. There was merely a little more wretchedness added to those who were already wretched.
The inhabitants of the town thought, of course, that war was a bad thing. But this was a war that was going well and that was being fought a long way away, and so they said it was a holy and a just and a necessary war. Beyond that, they did nothing. They just had a vague hope that it would soon be over.
Of course also many young men belonging to the town went away to fight, and of some of them news came that they were dead. But this happened in distant places, in Greece and in Africa, and later even farther off, in Russia. People were incapable of even imagining places so remote and so different, and they did not think about the sufferings of the soldiers and the civil populations. Each person worried only on his own account, trying to live just as he had lived before.
All this happened at the beginning, when the war was going well and was a long way off.
Then the war began to go badly, and to come nearer, and dangers and hardship increased. Then people became openly discontented. They said that war was a terrible, bestial thing, and they longed for peace, any kind of peace. The government fell, national order was destroyed, the population was divided. The war would end some day or other, perhaps quite soon.
The people of the town thought themselves safe from danger. It was a small town, and it had no industries. Even the station was not very large. It had only one main line, with which a few secondary lines were connected. No one would come and bomb a town of so little military importance, a town in which people lived mainly in expectation of peace.
At ten o’clock every day they sounded the siren on the tower of the Town Hall in order to test it, and perhaps also to remind the inhabitants of the town that there was a war. Often the siren sounded at other times too, now that the war was near. People did not take much notice. A few went down into the shelters and cellars as a precaution, but the majority went on with their own occupations or went on doing nothing. Yet a vague fear came into the hearts of everyone, a fear which lasted until the alert was over. And when it was over, they all thought that, thank God, this time it had been for someone else.
Some of the more important places in the vicinity had been bombed and devastated, and numbers of refugees had fled to the quiet little town. They brought with them grief and misery, for they had lost everything they possessed. The inhabitants did not regard them with sympathy. They were a source of discomfort which everyone would have preferred to thrust aside, or at any rate to ignore. Everyone now was in a state of sullen bewilderment, and men were divided, and without pity for each other.
And so they continued to live as best they could, since someone or other gave them enough food to keep them from dying. And they waited for the war to finish. This was the essential thing, to reach that point alive…