Home > Uncategorized > Gerhart Hauptmann: American politics and warships

Gerhart Hauptmann: American politics and warships

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

Gerhart Hauptmann
From Atlantis (1912)
Translated by Adele and Thomas Seltzer

german-dramatist-gerhart-hauptmann

“I was kept in a military school until I was ten years old. The desire came upon me to commit suicide, and I was punished for insubordination. There was no fascination for me in being prepared for a great carnage.”

***

America was then suffering from a business depression, a crisis, as the political economists dub it. The causes of the depression came up for discussion. Most of the Americans present happened to be Democrats, and they threw the blame on the Republicans. The Tammany Tiger was the subject of especial execration. It not only controlled New York City, the mayor of which was a creature of Tammany, but had also put its men into the most influential positions throughout the land. And every Tammany man knew how to shear his sheep. As a result, the American people were thoroughly bled. The corruption in the highest offices was said to be on a tremendous scale. Millions of dollars were appropriated to the navy, but if a man-of-war actually happened to be built, the thing was a great achievement, since the money, long before it was applied to its proper purposes, sifted down into the pockets of peaceful Americans, whose interest in the navy was of the slightest.

***

“Americans are parrots, incessantly chattering two words, dollar and business, dollar and business. Those two words have been death to culture in America. An American doesn’t even know what it is to have the Englishman’s spleen. Think of the fearfulness of living in a country called the land of dollars. We have human beings living in Europe. The Americans regard everything, even their fellow-men, from the point of view of the number of dollars they represent. If a thing can’t be reckoned in dollars, they have no eyes for it. And then Carnegie and Company come and want to astonish us with their disgusting shopkeeper’s philosophy. Do you think they’re helping the world on by slicing off some of the world’s dollars and then returning some of the sliced off dollars with a great flourish of trumpets? Do you think that if they do us the favour to give us some of their money, we’ll throw overboard our Mozart and Beethoven, our Kant and Schopenhauer, our Schiller and Goethe, our Rembrandts, Leonardos, Michael Angelos, in short, all our wealth of art and intellect? What is a miserable cur of an American millionaire, a dollar maniac, as compared with all those great men? Let him come and ask us for alms.”

***

Existus,” said Frederick, after a prolonged investigation of the man’s heart. Even a few moments after the stethoscope had been removed, one could see the ring it made on his bluish, waxen skin. His chin dropped. Thy put it back in place, and Frederick bound his jaws with his white handkerchief. “He had a bad fall,” Frederick remarked. It may actually have been the unfortunate fall to which the helot owed his death. There was a deep bleeding gash in his temple from the edge of a large nut. “Probably a heart stroke,” Frederick added, “the result of the heat and overexertion.” He looked at the dead man, then at his mates, naked, blackened, illuminated by the jaws of the glowing furnaces, and thought of the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” If we were to take the commandment literally, how far should we get?

The physicians mounted on deck, and several of the men picked up the victim of civilisation, the modern galley-slave, still covered with the sweat of his fearful occupation. With the handkerchief about his head, he looked as if he were suffering from toothache. They carried him out of the glowing pit to the cabin set aside for dead bodies.

Doctor Wilhelm had to notify the captain. Nobody on deck, where the band was playing the last measures, was to suspect that a stoker had died.

***

“I very much fear, very much indeed,” said Frederick, “That our world-wide means of communication, which mankind is supposed to own, really own mankind. At least so far, I see no signs that the tremendous working capacity of machines has lessened human labour. Nobody will deny that our modern machine slavery, on so tremendous a scale, is the most imposing slavery that has ever existed. And there is no denying that it is slavery. Has this age of machinery subtracted from the sum of human misery? No, most emphatically, no! Has it enhanced happiness and increased the chances for happiness? No, again.”

***

“…But the worst thing is the frightful, endless shedding of blood which human meat-eaters deem necessary for their preservation. Think of all the butchers in the world, think of those immense slaughter-houses in Chicago and other places where the machine-like, wholesale murder of innocent animals is constantly going on. People can live without meat. It isn’t indispensable to their welfare.”

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