Act I Scenes 2-4


South Tyrol.[1] At a bridge. A car stopped. The chauffeur shows his ID.

HOME GUARD[2]:    Good afternoon, gentlemen!  Please go on –

BEGRUDGER:    A friendly face at last. They’re all so aggressive. The only thing they want to do is point a gun –

HOME GUARD:    That’s because there’s a Russian car about, and it’s full of gold, that’s the reason –

BEGRUDGER:    But a car can’t stop a split second, it’s going to keep going a few meters, isn’t it – and with disastrous consequences –

HOME GUARD (in a rage):    So? If a car doesn’t come to an immediate halt – we let rip – we’ll blast everything – the whole shebang – (The car drives on.)



Over the bridge. Soldiers round the car. The driver shows his pass.

SOLDIER (with rifle aimed):    Halt!

BEGRUDGER:    The car has already stopped. What’s he so worked up about?

CAPTAIN (furious):    Doing his duty, that’s what. And if he’s half as aggressive when he comes face to face with the enemy, that’s fine by me!

BEGRUDGER:    But we’re nowhere near – –

CAPTAIN:    War is war! Full stop! (The car drives on.)



The Optimist and the Begrudger in conversation.

OPTIMIST:    You can consider yourself lucky. In Styria[3] a Red Cross nurse whose car barely moved a couple of meters was shot and killed.

BEGRUDGER:    The servant is given control and it doesn’t suit his nature.

OPTIMIST:    Unfortunately, during a war, infractions among the subordinate ranks can’t be avoided. However in times like these all other considerations must be subordinated to a single thought: winning.

BEGRUDGER:    The power presented to the servant might not be enough to finish off the enemy, but it could well finish off the state.

OPTIMIST:    Militarism is the forcible augmentation of state control to –

BEGRUDGER:    – to bring about the state’s eventual dissolution by those very means. In a war everyone is in charge of his neighbour. The military controls the state and there is no way to stop this unnatural coercion other than by corruption. If the statesman allows the military to govern him he has fallen under the spell of a comic-book cliché, which has outlived its own time and cannot be translated into ours, except at the cost of a life and death struggle. Military government is the equivalent of putting the fox inside the henhouse and then transforming the farmer into a chicken.

OPTIMIST:   Begrudgery! I don’t know what qualifies you to make these gloomy predictions. Clearly you infer the whole from a few inevitable side effects, it’s just what you did in peacetime; you take a hotchpotch of random infringements as a starting point, then make them symptomatic of the whole shooting-match. In these great times we can’t bother with trivialities.

BEGRUDGER:    But the trivialities will grow much greater with the times!

OPTIMIST:    The realisation that we are living in an epoch of such stupendous events will exalt even the lowliest among us.

BEGRUDGER:    So the little thieves who haven’t been hanged yet will become the big thieves, and then we’ll let just them off scot-free.

OPTIMIST:    What even the lowliest will gain from the war is –

BEGRUDGER:    – payola. Whoever holds out his hand will point at the scars he hasn’t got.

OPTIMIST:    The state, taking up this unavoidable struggle, in defence of its own prestige, will gain honour, as will everyone else, and what passes into the world beyond, through the blood now about to be shed, will be –

BEGRUDGER:    – shit.

OPTIMIST:    Oh yes, you’ve always seen filth in everything, and now you feel your time has come! Stick to bellyaching in your corner, as ever. The rest of us are walking towards an era in which our souls will surge ever upwards. Can’t you see that a new age, a great age has dawned?

BEGRUDGER:    I knew it when it was this small, and it will be again.

OPTIMIST:    Can you still deny it? Can’t you hear the jubilation? Can’t you see the passion? Can a feeling heart truly shut that out? Yours must be the only one. Do you really believe this emotional outpouring from the masses won’t bear fruit, or that this wonderful overture will be left with no climax? Those who rejoice today –

BEGRUDGER:   – will lament tomorrow.

OPTIMIST:    Individual suffering counts for nothing! Any more than the individual life does. The vision of mankind is finally directed upwards once more. People aren’t only living for material gain, but also –

BEGRUDGER:    – for medals.

OPTIMIST:   Man does not live by bread alone.

BEGRUDGER:    But must wage war so that there’s no bread left.

OPTIMIST:    There will always be bread! And we will always live in the hope of the final victory, which cannot be doubted, and for which –

BEGRUDGER:    We will starve to death.

OPTIMIST:   Where’s your backbone! One day you’ll hang your head in shame. Don’t cut yourself off from your countrymen in the midst of their jubilation. The gates of the soul have been opened. The memory of these days, when the home front played its part in a life and death struggle at the battle front, if only via news bulletins… deep in our souls that memory –

BEGRUDGER:    – won’t even leave a scar.

OPTIMIST:    The peoples of the earth will learn from this war –

BEGRUDGER:    – not to hold back from war in the future.

OPTIMIST:    The bullet has left the barrel and now for mankind –

BEGRUDGER:    – it will be in one ear and out the other.


[1] Part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire bordering Italy, annexed by Italy in 1918.

[2] The man is a Landsturmann, a soldier from a kind of Territorial Army Reserve.

[3] Styria (Štajerska, Slovene); now a state or Bundesland in south-eastern Austria, bordering Slovenia. It covered a much larger area before 1919; under the Treaty of Saint Germain Upper Styria remained within Austria, while Lower Styria became part of Yugoslavia; this part of Styria is now in Slovenia.