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Franz Werfel: Cities disintegrated within seconds in the Last War


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

Franz Werfel: Selections on war


Franz Werfel
From Star of the Unborn (1946)
Translated by Gustave O. Arlt


“The other objects that you see here, Seigneur,” the Bridegroom expatiated eagerly, “are found much more frequently when excavations for new houses are made. They, too, date back to primitive times, but to later eras than the bow and arrow or the powder-gun. The scholars call them ‘trans-shadow-disintegrators.’ If you look more closely you can easily distinguish the clumsy trans-shadow-disintegrators of primitive wars from the more advanced, slender ones of the Last War.”

Although I could not exactly distinguish the pea-shooters from each other, I stepped closer, feigning a polite interest. The Bridegroom indeed seemed to be a great bellologist, a student of the science of war. His slightly bloated face glowed with the agitation of his monomania. Undoubtedly the younger generation was no longer as dispassionate as their elders…

“The longest and the thinnest of the trans-shadow-disintegrators,” Bridegroom Io-Do continued with growing zeal, “were directed against cities that were built high up over the surface of the earth. Did you ever know any cities like that, Seigneur?”

“I never knew any other kind,” I answered truthfully.

“The skyscrapers in these cities were a thousand to two thousand stories high,” Io-Do went on enthusiastically. “Is that right, Seigneur?”

“In my time they only managed to get up about a hundred stories,” I explained modestly. “The Empire State Building was the highest one I knew. Still, the skyline of New York was fairly respectable, especially for people coming from Europe, which had cities like Paris and Vienna that were splendid but never went in for tall buildings. It is not unlikely, however, Monsieur, that later history may have seen buildings that extended up into the stratosphere. I don’t know.”

“Well, that proves it,” the war-mad Bridegroom interrupted, drawing rash conclusions with youthful indiscreetness, “that proves that mankind is indebted to the trans-shadow-disintegrator alone for the boon of no longer living high up over the surface in the terror of the atmosphere, pitilessly exposed to the rays of the sun and the stars, but in the homely lap of the lithosphere. The trans-shadow-disintegrators, you know, cleaned up that skyline of yours in a hurry, in fact, in a matter of seconds. And to think that there are still people who deny the contribution of former wars to the progress of the race…”

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