I recently picked up a collection of Brecht's poems, Die Gedichte von Bertolt Brecht in einem Band (see Reading List) and it made me reflect on the current presidential election campaign in the US. What does Brecht have to do with the battle between Kerry and Bush? Nothing and everything. Brecht's poetry is all-encompassing: love, war, dialectic, power, sex, class struggle - Brecht wrote poems about all these things and more. Brecht certainly achieved the goal he expressed in the following poem:
AUF EINEN CHINESISCHEN THEEWURZELLÖWEN
Die Schlechten fürchten deine Klaue.
Die Guten freuen sich deiner Grazie.
Hörte ich gern
Von meinem Vers.
TO A CHINESE TEA-ROOT-LION
Bad men are terrified of your claws.
Good men marvel at your grace.
Is what I'd like to hear people
Say about my verse.
Many years ago I was a college student in Boston, afraid of the military draft and full of rage at a war that had already killed too many young men of my generation. At an anti-war demonstration a young Vietnam vet running for office stood up and spoke to the crowd about his war experience and the need for change. At the end of his speech he recited the following poem (English version):
GENERAL, DEIN TANK IST EIN STARKER WAGEN
Er bricht Wälder nieder. Er zermalmt hundert Menschen.
Aber er hat einen Fehler. Er braucht einen Fahrer.
General, dein Bombenflugzeug ist stark.
Es fliegt schneller als der Sturm
und trägt mehr als ein Elefant.
Aber es hat einen Fehler. Es braucht einen Monteur.
General, der Mensch ist sehr brauchbar,
er kann fliegen, er kann töten.
Aber er hat einen Fehler. Er kann denken.
GENERAL, YOUR TANK IS A POWERFUL VEHICLE
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.
General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.
General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.
The young veteran was John Kerry.
I don't know whether Vice President Cheney has ever heard of Bertolt Brecht, much less read any of this poems. Most likely, he would strongly disapprove of Brecht, and regret that the FBI was not more diligent in interrogating him about his views of Marx and Lenin back in 1946 when he was in Hollywood. But ,strangely, a poem of Brecht came to mind while I watched Dick Cheney deliver a televised speech recently at the Republican National Convention:
Die Maske des Bösen
An meiner Wand
hängt ein japanisches Holzwerk,
Maske eines bösen Dämons,
bemalt mit Goldlack.
die geschwollenen Stirnadern,
wie anstrengend es ist,
böse zu sein.
The Mask Of Evil
On my wall hangs a Japanese carving,
The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer.
Sympathetically I observe
The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating
What a strain it is to be evil.