Home > Uncategorized > Hans Hellmut Kirst: “Just a dirty, rotten business from beginning to end”

Hans Hellmut Kirst: “Just a dirty, rotten business from beginning to end”

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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Hans Hellmut Kirst
From Forward Gunnar Asch! (08/15 im Krieg)
Translated by Rober Kee

“Well,” said Witterer, “we’ll all soon have a chance of proving what we’re really worth, eh?”

“To hell with that,” said the infantry major openly enough. “If I had things my own way I’d spend the rest of the war in bed.”

“And why not?” said Witterer, thinking himself the old soldier. “After all, you’ve already won your Knight’s Cross.”

“What, this piece of tin?” said the major cynically. “Do you know what that cost me? The lives of twenty-two soldiers, a bullet in the groin and a bad conscience for the rest of my life – that’s to say it’d take me more than a lifetime to get my conscience clean again.’

“Yes, war’s a damned hard business,” said Witterer, trying not to show his embarrassment.

“”It’s not only hard; it’s dirty and rotten as well. Just a dirty, rotten business from beginning to end.”

***

“Just write the ladies off until next year. You’ll have to get used to the fact that there are more men killed than conceived in war – however hard you try to adjust the balance.”

***

“According to Vierbein, things are dead quiet on much of the front. Nearly as quiet as here.”

“Well, why not? Or do you imagine they’re all mad to have a go at the Russians?”

“What the ordinary soldier thinks doesn’t come into it.”

“But the war couldn’t be carried on without them, all the same.”

“Did we want the First World War?” asked Freitag.

“Of course not.”

“Then it didn’t take place, I suppose?”

***

“What else is the whole war but trouble?” said the holder of the Knight’s Cross unconcernedly.

“But the people at the top know what they’re doing….”

“Do they hell?” said the major very emphatically, pouring the contents of an entire tumbler down his throat. “Waging war on a map is a very different thing from lying around in the mud yourself. There’s a difference too between blood and the mark you make on a map with a red pencil. Some men are killed – right, rub them out with an eraser! One man vomits his lungs up into the snow. But the other’s only vomiting because he’s drunk too much red wine!”

***

“But I may be needed,” said Vierbein naively.

The commandant looked up slowly from his desk. He stared at Vierbein in utter amazement.

“Needed?” he said slowly. “What for? The war can surely go on without you for a few hours.”

And the commandant thought: Needed! He really believes he might be needed. He doesn’t know that generals think in terms of divisions. He doesn’t realize that some nights several thousand Vierbeins go into the attack without a single commander sleeping any the worse for it. He’s really managed to persuade himself that he’s making history. But it takes a million liters of blood to write a single chapter of world history. What does one Vierbein count?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 24, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    Rick, good stuff. Just got around to seeing more of what it has. Congratulations.
    — Jim

    • May 24, 2022 at 10:07 pm

      Thanks, Jim. You can see I’ve put some time – and a lot of heart – into this site. What about you? I can’t access Blithe Spirit on WordPress. Have you made changes?

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