Home > Uncategorized > Bertolt Brecht: Maimed soldiers are anti-war demonstrators

Bertolt Brecht: Maimed soldiers are anti-war demonstrators

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

Bertolt Brecht: Selections on war

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Bertolt Brecht
From Threepenny Novel (1934)
Translated by Desmond I. Vesey

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The small man, who nevertheless seemed to be the chief, walked across to Fewkoombey and with a rapid movement lifted up his trousers to see his wooden leg. Then, hands in pockets, he went back to the window, looked out and said softly:

“What can you do?”

“Nothing,” said the soldier, just as softly. “I beg.”

“That’s what everyone would like to do,” said the small man scornfully, never even looking around. “You’ve got a wooden leg. And because you’ve got a wooden leg, you want to beg? But you lost your leg in the service of your country? So much the worse. That can happen to anyone. (Unless he’s in the War Office.) When a person loses his leg he’s thrown upon the mercy of others? Of course he is! But it’s equally certain that people don’t like giving away money. Wars – they’re exceptional cases. If an earthquake happens, no one can help that. As if everyone doesn’t know the profit that is made out of the patriotism of patriots. At first they all enlist voluntarily, and then, when their legs are shot away, they won’t accept the situation. Quite apart from these innumerable cases, such as where the driver of a brewer’s dray loses a leg in the course of his duty and then coins money out of the Battle of Something-or-other. And there’s one thing more, the chief thing: why is it so profitable to go to war for one’s country, why are these brave men so loaded with honour and glory? – simply because there’s a chance of losing a leg? If there wasn’t this small risk – well, this big risk if you like – why should they have the heartfelt gratitude of the nation? Actually you are an anti-war demonstrator. No, there’s no use denying it. When you stand about, making no effort to hide your stump, you’re saying to everyone: Look what a terrible thing war is; it takes off a man’s leg! You should be ashamed of yourself. Wars are as necessary as they are terrible. Do you want everything taken away from us? Do you want to see Great Britain full of foreigners? Would you like to live in the midst of enemies? In short, you ought not to hawk your misery around. You haven’t the talent for that…”

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