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Bertolt Brecht: The upper classes sacrifice for the soldiers


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

Bertolt Brecht: Selections on war


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


Comforts for the Soldiers

MacHeath still had large quantities of linen and wool in his warehouses. Shortly before the decision of the C.P.B. to cut off the flow of goods to the shops, several consignments of linen, the results of a burglary in a textile factory in Lancashire, had been received. He did not know what to do with them.

The papers were again writing a great deal about the war in South Africa.

Not only in London were desperate battles taking place, but also in South Africa. And not only because of the conflict of interests in London were the poorer classes in distress…but also because of the conflict of interests in South Africa.

Something must be done to help in that direction.

Welfare committees were formed. The women of the upper classes sprang into the breach. Old and young competed. In aristocratic houses and exclusive schools well-bred hands tore up linen rags into bandages for the wounded. And shirts, too, were made for the brave soldiers, and stockings knitted. The word sacrifice took on a new meaning.

MacHeath sent Polly to one of these committees. He saw a good market for his linen – and for his wool.

Polly spent her afternoons in improvised serving rooms, where the ladies sewed shirts over a cup of tea. They all had serious faces and the conversations were pregnant with the theme of sacrifice.

“They will be glad to get such beautiful white shirts,” said the ladies.

Smoothing the seams flat with their thumb-nails, they spoke of England’s greatness.

The older the ladies were, the more blood-thirsty their natures.

“We’re much too merciful with those brutes who shoot our brave men down in ambushes,” said an aristocratic old lady sitting beside Polly. “We ought simply to attack them and shoot them all, so that they know what it means to quarrel with England. They aren’t men at all! They’re wild beasts!…Our people are the only ones that fight fairly, but they oughtn’t to when it comes to dealing with such riff-raff. Don’t you think so, my dear?”

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