Act I Scene 21

SCENE 21

A battlefield. Nothing can be seen. In the far distance, now and again, smoke curls up. Two war correspondents with breeches, binoculars and cameras.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    You should be ashamed of yourself, you’re no man of action, just look at me, I went through the Balkan War[1] and absolutely nothing happened to me! (Ducks.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    What was that, I’m not shifting, at any price.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    It’s nothing. Some shells exploding. (Ducks.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    For God’s sake, what was that? (Ducks.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    That was a dud, it’s not worth talking about.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Unexploded bombs now, good God! No, I certainly didn’t imagine that.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Take cover.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Take what?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Cover! Give me those binoculars.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    What can you see?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Just naked ladies, you know, meadow saffron. It reminds me of the Balkan War. That lifts my spirits. (Listens.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    What can you hear?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Ravens. Cawing as if they can scent their quarry. Just like the Balkan War really. Danger is so enticing.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:       Let’s go back.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    You coward! Danger is so alluring. (A  shot.) My God! Are those our guys over there?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    The War Press Corps?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    No, our troops.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Looks like it, yes.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    They’re brave lads. They didn’t think about their families, they thought about the enemy. What’s that down there?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Nothing, Italian corpses in front of our lines

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Hang on a minute. (Takes photographs.) There is nothing to suggest we are at war. There is nothing to remind us of wretchedness, the suffering, the hardship and the horror.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Wait! I am starting to feel the spirit of war now. (A shot). Let’s go.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    That’s nothing at all. Just the forward positions having a little pop at each other.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    We should have stayed in Villach[2] – God, it’s only yesterday I was out on the town with Sascha Kolowrat – I did tell you I’m no high-flier. Don’t you think we’ve made our point?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    If you can’t even stomach a little skirmish, then I’m very sorry for you.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:     Am I some hero? Am I some kind of Alexander Roda Roda?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    I’m not exactly a Ludwig Ganghofer myself, but I should warn you you’re about to disgrace yourself in front of Alice Schalek[3]! Here she comes! You could always hide –

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Right. (He hides. A shot.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    I don’t want her to see me either. (He lies down.)

ALICE SCHALEK (appearing in full military kit, she says):    I will go out, out there, where the simple soldier is, the nameless one. (She goes off.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    You see, you should take your lead from her. (They get up.) She goes right out to the frontline. And she takes such an interest in how we clean out the enemy trenches – !

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Well, a woman would, but is that for us?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    All right, so when she describes how she was caught up in a hail of bullets – don’t you feel ashamed then, as a man?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Yes, I know she’s plucky. But my province has always been the theatre in actual fact.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    When she describes the corpses, with the minutest details about the smell of decay.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    It’s just not my thing.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Well, who was fighting tooth and nail to take part in a flanking manoeuvre? You! And now you’re going to run away at the sight of a little patrol! You really are all mouth and no trousers –

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    We got carried away at the start, all of us. But now, after a year of war –

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    You wanted to get a good look at war on the south-western front, that’s what you kept writing anyway. Well, see for yourself, it’s right there. (Ducks.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2 (ducks):    When we were up against Russia it was completely different, none of us ever went any further forward than the hotel there, I’ve just got no experience of this, take me for a coward, I don’t really care, all I’m telling you is that I am not going any further!

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    But the captain’s going to be here any minute now, he guaranteed nothing would happen to us.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    I’m still not going. I’ll send off a feuilleton, a human interest piece, you can fill me in on any bits of technical jargon.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    You haven’t been through the hard school of the Balkan War, that’s obvious, but how can anyone not be seduced by the sense of danger. (Ducks.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Come on old chap, I do know. I’ve written all about its intoxicating effect, the feeling of blesséd oblivion in the face of death, you know how pleased the Boss was, we got sackfuls of letters in, surely you remember? I was even put up for the Order of Merit! (Ducks.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    What I can’t understand is why you don’t discover the gratification of experiencing it for yourself – (A shot.) Good God, what was that?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    You see – if only we were back in the Press Office. At least the enemy can’t see you there.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    I’ve got a strong feeling this is the counter-attack! So what! We’ve just got to stick it out here, where our soldiers stand so dutifully. The captain tried to repair a shattered bridge especially for us – so now we’re here it’s up to us to get a grip on ourselves. C’est la guerre! (Ducks.) I’m all for a bit of mood painting of course, but when it comes to war – just being a mood painter doesn’t cut it! Even in peacetime you never got any more adventurous than a first night, you’re paying for that now. Why did you volunteer as a war correspondent in the first place?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    What does that mean, should I be fighting?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Well, you do owe the New Free Press some fortitude. War is war.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    I’ve never presented myself as a hero.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    From your last little article, entertaining as always, people must have got the distinct impression that’s what you were.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Entertainment is entertainment. Please don’t act as if you don’t know that – God, what was that again?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Nothing, a small calibre mortar, old equipment, it’s the munitions column, IV b Flack.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    You do have such a command of the technicalities! Now is that the one that goes tsee-tsee?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    You haven’t got the faintest clue, have you. That’s the one that always goes teeoo-teeoo!

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:     I’ll have to change that bit in my article –know what, I’ll go back so I can send it off early. It’s still got to be okayed.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Wait, please. I’m not staying on my own.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Is there any point?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Come on, we can’t show ourselves up. The officers already take the piss. They’re friendly enough to our faces because they want a mention when the offensive comes, but I get the feeling they’ve been sneering at us, ever since the withdrawal. Just for once I’d like to show them I can stand my ground. Come on, it’s so dull in the press office –

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Rather dull than dangerous.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Look, is any of this really acceptable in the long term? A year’s gone by already now. We’re being spoon fed. They give us a load of soft soap and all we’re supposed to do is put our names at the bottom. Moriz Benedikt lies and we underwrite it. What sort of life is that?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:     It all seems preposterous anyway. What’s my contribution? Once a month I send in a feuilleton – it makes a change I guess, you can talk about what they’re all going through. But why do I put my name to something that says the enemy’s been repulsed when they haven’t been? Am I Field Marshal Höfer[4]? The world war editor-in-chief?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Höfer, do me a favour – I’ve been at the front more often than Höfer!

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Well none of it fits my bill. I’m going to talk to the divisional commander, see what’s up on the theatrical front.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Theatrical front? What? – Oh, right.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    The idea impressed him and at least I’d be in my own field there. I’ll remind him over dinner this evening. I’m going to tell him straight, military duty simply doesn’t suit me.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Well, a Ganghofer-style bed of roses isn’t for the likes of us. They won’t be stage-managing skirmishes for our sort.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    What, I didn’t know about that.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    You didn’t know? On his last visit to the Tyrolean front! Seventeen of our men dead and wounded by our own shell cases, the greatest tribute the press has been given so far in this world war!

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    But wasn’t that a joke in Simplicissimus, they don’t start the battle till Ganghofer arrives?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    First of all it’s a joke in Simplicissimus[5], then it’s for real. Count Waltherskirchen[6], he was the major, he just stormed off, absolutely furious. He was no friend of the press, so he didn’t even get a mention when he was killed the day before yesterday.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    You see, such honours aren’t for the rest of us. Today I’m going to talk to the commander about the idea of theatre at the front! I know I’m not a literary giant like Ganghofer. What do you want me to do? Look at Haubitzer[7] – standing there, painting. A colossus next to me. The way he sang Prince Eugen in the Kaiser Bar[8], you’d have thought he could deliver victory all on his own! And now? You wouldn’t believe those jitters while he’s painting! He’s more frightened than us!

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Than you, maybe! I’m not afraid! And leave Haubitzer be, all right. He’s got balls enough, he paints battles in the open air, even though he’s freezing. Have you seen his picture? I mean that photo of him in the Interessante, the Painter Haubitzer in the Field.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Whatever – I’m not shifting, not at any price.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Take your lead from Bauer[9] in the Balkan War!

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    And where’s Ludwig Bauer in this war, Switzerland, if only I was in Switzerland!

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Take your lead from Szormory[10], or take your lead from our soldiers. They just grit their teeth, they won’t let themselves be beaten down – (ducks.) Do you really want us to go back?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Yes, to Vienna! That’s the atmosphere I need to capture. That’s what I want to put my monicker to! Next to hers, in the paper, next to Irma von Höfer’s[11], fantastic. But next to him, Field Marshal Höfer – what have I got to do with that? To tell you the truth I feel ashamed.

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:     Well not me! I stand here in the execution of a duty I have committed myself to. (He throws himself to the ground.)

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:   You’ve always had a soft spot for the strategic moment, haven’t you? (A great crash is heard.) For God’s sake!

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    What are you so frightened of?

WAR CORRESPONDENT 2:    Just then – I thought – it’s almost – like the voice – of the Boss, Moritz Benedikt!

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1:    Some hero, you – it was only the big gun, Big Bertha[12]! (They both run off, behind them, likewise at the double, the painter Haubitzer with portfolio, waving a white handkerchief.)

(Change.)


[1] In the First Balkan War (1912) Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria attacked the Ottoman Empire to end what remained of Turkish rule in the Balkans. Dissatisfied with its territorial gains Bulgaria then attacked its former allies (1913) but lost much of what it had gained anyway in the process. The outcome of these wars broke up what Russia had seen as a bulwark against Austro-Hungarian power (the Balkan League) and left Serbia as its only ally in the region; anti-Russian Bulgaria now moved closer to the Central Powers; Austria-Hungary resented the growing influence of Serbia, especially on the Slav minorities within the Empire. Only a year later this dangerous mixture was to explode in Sarajevo.

[2] City in southern Austria, now very close to both the Italian and Slovenian borders.

[3] Alice Schalek (1874-1956), New Free Press journalist, the only woman war correspondent in the Kriegspressequartier; novelist and travel writer; also wrote under the pseudonym Paul Michaely.

[4] War Office based field marshal. (I n.173)

[5] ‘Simplicissimus’ (1896-1944), German satirical magazine; the magazine opposed German foreign policy before the outbreak of war but afterwards generally gave the government its wholehearted support.

[6] Hubert Walterskirchen zu Wolfsthal (1872-1916), count, army officer.

[7] Howitzer; seems to represent any war artist, though Haubitzer does exist as a name in Austria. In the light of the next reference we might note that voll wie eine Haubitze means ‘drunk as a lord’.

[8] Kaiserbar, Viennese nightclub in Krügerstrasse; Friederike Beer-Monti, the owner’s daughter, was an art collector, later gallery owner (after moving to New York in 1931); the only person painted by Gustav Klimt (1914) and Egon Schiele (1916); she said of this time: ‘I was good-looking, young, interested in music and art. What was I doing…? Nothing! Just living – going to the theatre, to art exhibitions, to the opera… I was so wild about the Wiener Werkstätte that every single stitch of clothing I wore was designed by them’.

[9] Ludwig Bauer (1876-1935), journalist and playwright; he was a war correspondent during the Balkan wars and travelled widely in the region; at this time he was Swiss correspondent for several newspapers.

[10] Dezcö Szomory. (Pro n.105)

[11] Irmgard Höfer von Feldstrum (1865-1919), wife of the field marshal; she wrote sentimental, historical novels, often about military life; during the war she wrote gushing feuilletons glorifying the Imperial army.

[12] German mortar-like howitzer built by Krupp Industries; it was named after Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (1886–1957), who was the sole proprietor of the Krupp industrial empire from 1902-1943.