Home > Uncategorized > Bertolt Brecht: Picture-book generals more dangerous, less brave, than serial killers

Bertolt Brecht: Picture-book generals more dangerous, less brave, than serial killers

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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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Not everyone knows that wars, as well as giving a spiritual uplift to the nation, also produce a not inconsiderable briskening of trade. They bring much evil in their wake, but business people generally have nothing to complain of….Directly after his return from Southampton, he had spoken with Eastman and informed him of the price of the new ships. He gave him to understand that the purchase must be completed without fail and as quickly as possible. To this purpose he expressed himself forcibly about Coax and called him an unprincipled cut-throat. The latter would certainly spread the news about the Company trying to sell the old rotten ships to the Government. From the very beginning he had been engineering the whole business so as to involve them in some criminal proceeding and then blackmail them. The usual certain profit on war supplies was 300 per cent. The Company was aiming at making 450 per cent and that would raise a horrible stink… 

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In the consciousness of the average Londoner, no very great role was played by such figures as “Jack the Ripper” or that unknown murderer popularly known as the “Knife.” Even though they bobbed up now and again, they could not hope, in those uncertain times, to compete for notoriety with the generals conducting the war in the Transvaal; besides, these latter were a menace to incomparable more people that the most active knife hero. But in Limehouse and Whitechapel the fame of the “Knife” far exceeded that of the generals who were fighting the Boers. The people in the great stone tenements of Whitechapel were excellent judges of the difference between the accomplishments of a fancy general and those of their own heroes. To them it was plain that the “Knife” carried out his crimes at a far greater personal risk than the official picture-book heroes did theirs.

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