The War to End War
by C H A R L E S L . M E E
I. The Treaty of Versailles
(The lights go out suddenly with a terrific explosion and a flash of light.
Sirens. Explosions. Whistles. Explosive flashes of light. Machine guns.
Bottle rockets. Flares. Tons of shattering glass. Dense fog. An operatic
aria is heard, or several long, lamenting high notes held by a singer.
This all goes on for a very long time. A sickening green light gradually
pervades the theatre.
As the fog clears, imperceptibly at first, we hear Satie playing a
A dozen ornate nineteenth century chairs are scattered helter skelter
around the stage, and ice buckets with champagne in them, and, at
center, a table covered with green baize, not much larger than a card
table, with crystal, and a deck of cards.
Gradually, as the fog lifts during this next scene, we see that the entire
rear wall is a vast shattered mirror in several large, elaborate, gold-gilt
frames-as though a mosaic of broken shards of glass. It is an old
mirror, dulled and smoky and incompletely silvered.
To one side is a headless tailor's dummy. Elsewhere, a urinal.
Nicolson enters, dressed in morning coat, carrying an umbrella. He sits
in one of the chairs, crosses his legs, listens to the Satie Nocturne. This
time of listening amounts to a musical interlude. Near the end of the
Satie piece, he speaks.)
We generally meet at ten, there are secretaries behind. . .
Mais non, mais non, vous allez trop vite. Recommencez.
(after a moment, slowly, exactly.)
The dominant note is: black and white. Heavy black suits, white cuffs
and paper. Crucial to get something right I suppose. (He takes a glass of
champagne from the nearby table.)
Precisez, mon cher, precisez. . .
Relieved by blue and khaki.
Vous prenez la voiture de la Delegation. Vous descendez au Quai
d'Orsay. Vous montez l'escalier. Vous entrez dans la Salle. Et alors?
(sighs, hesitates, resumes)
The only other colors would be the scarlet damask of the Quai d'Orsay
curtains, green baize. . .
Precisez, mon cher, precisez. . .
pink blotting pads, innumerable gilt of little chairs.
For smells you would have petrol, typewriting ribbons, French polish,
central heating, a touch of violet hair wash.
The tactile motifs would be tracing paper, silk, the leather handle of a
weighted pouch of papers, the foot-feel of very thick carpets alternating
with parquet floors. . .
What would be the point? What quite had been the point? Of course,
there were matters of substance: the structure of the Old World; old
empires crumbling; new ones reaching for the spoils; former colonies
squirming to stay free; the old order of the Congress of Vienna coming
apart, well, and for that matter, Newtonian physics as well, traditional
painting, the notion of God, none of it in such good repair really,
whether as cause or effect, and then the endless disputes. Matters of
honor. Or of interest. Altercations. The assigning of blame. The study
of causes. Although, who could say? In time one became more inclined
to see systemic features-the eternal business of those who had the
power and those who wanted it. One had entered a logic trap. One
needed an epiphany to escape. One became a sleepwalker, like all the
(A cello solo.)
Precisez, mon cher, precisez. . .
Yes, well: we met. The stretch of muscle caught by leaning constantly
over very large maps, the brittle feel of a cane chair seat which had
been occupied for hours. These things seemed to matter a great deal.
That sort of thing. A sense of hopelessness. Of dread. Of knowing one
had no intention of doing anything real.
(Projected through the partly silvered mirror, from the rear, a
pencil-thin red line is slowly drawn. It takes several minutes for the line
to be completed, and, at the end, it is labelled with its date 78 B.C.
During the next twenty minutes, line after red line is slowly drawn, and
each one labelled with its date-the ever-changing borders of Germany
for the past 2000 years.)
N'allez pas trop vite.
A group of little men at the end of a vast table: maps, interpreters,
secretaries, and row upon row of empty gilt chairs. The great red
curtains are drawn, scarlet and enclosing against the twilight sinking
gently upon the Seine. . .
(almost entirely inaudible now)
Precisez . . .
Tea, brioches, macaroons, the tea-urn guttering in the draught.
Reassuring rituals. Messieurs, nous avons donc examine la frontiere
entre Csepany et Saros Patag.... II resulte que la jonction du chemin de
fer Miskovec-Kaschau avec la ligne St. Peter-Losoncz doit etre
attribuee. . . Ah, these interminable struggles. . . the infinite langour of
the minister slowly uncrossing his knees, the crackle of Rolls Royces on
the gravel of the courtyard. . . Wir wissen das die Gewalt der
deutschen. Waffen begrochen ist. Wir kennen die Macht des Hasses, die
uns hier. . .
(As he speaks, Clemenceau enters, helped in by an African in a
burnoose and an Asian in a chef's hat. Clemenceau wears grey gloves,
holds one hand to his heart, where he has been shot, and is bleeding. He
sits, finally, after a long entrance, with the elaborate assistance of the
African and the Asian, exhausted, and coughs, his lungs filled with
At the end one walked over the fields. At Verdun the shallow graves
were being washed out by the rain. Feet stuck up out of the ground, and
helmets with skulls in them rose up out of the mud. At Belleau Wood
one saw great crater holes, splintered trees, shards of farmhouses
through the white mist, shrapnel embedded in the woods, and nothing
else, no grass, nothing, only a fine powder covering all, and there,
amidst the wilderness of shell holes, one was in danger of getting lost;
there was no sign of direction. What few ruins there were reminded one
of antiquity. Indeed from Rheims all the way to Soissons one had the
impression of having passed out of the modern world back into a
(Wilson enters. He wears pince-nez, high starched collar, is sick and
weak, has difficulty breathing, is helped in by the dead soldier, who
wears white gloves, has a white bandage around his head, perhaps
carries a bouquet of flowers, and is white-faced. A long entrance, till
Wilson is helped to lie down on a chaise.)
Here there was utter desolation, dead trenches, white chalky parapets,
barbed wire, and silence. No living thing, no bird, no animal broke the
silence. Death white this landscape was, death white. And when I
returned to my hotel and gave my clothes to the chambermaid to have
them cleaned, I remarked to her that the white mud would be hard to
get out, that it was the dust of Verdun. And she took the clothes
reverently and with a tone I shall never forget she said, "Yes, that is
very precious dust, sir."
(Enormously sad music fills the theatre. A dreamy stillness on stage.
Clemenceau coughs. Nicolson sits silently, in thought. All turn to see
that Brockdorff-Rantzau has just entered . He is escorted by
Wittgenstein, dressed in prison stripes. He holds hat in hand, has rimless
eyeglasses, duelling scar on cheek. Wittgenstein helps Brockdorff-
Rantzau to a chair, steps back. Brockdorff-Rantzau sits silently
throughout, hat and briefcase in his lap. Shriveled. Gradually, during
the course of the scene, everyone except Brockdorff--Rantzau will end
up holding a champagne glass and drinking from it. Gradually, too,
during the course of the scene, several trapdoors will open in the stage,
and bodies will rise up out of their graves and ascend to heaven--very
slowly; the ascensions will take the whole of this first section to
complete. Shortly after the bodies have begun to ascend, and equally
slowly, four lucite boxes will begin to descend. Eventually, they will
descend onto, and cover, Clemenceau, Wilson, Nicolson, and
Brockdorff-Rantzau like the box in which Eichmann sat for his trial.)
(He speaks deliberately, pausing often to allow time for his words to be
Well. I'm the sort of person, I must admit, who likes the same sweater,
for instance, the same automobile ride, the same woman. In fact,
nothing pleases me more than taking an automobile ride along a familiar
route wearing the sweater I wore in my Princeton days. Think of it.
You know. Poetry. The same passages from the same books. Old college
songs. The good things, the simple pleasures I suppose. We might all
agree. Nothing extravagant. When I take a vacation I go to the same
place every time, the lake country in England, and ride my bicycle over
the hills. I'm fond of England, Europe generally. Europe as a whole.
Exceptions here and there, of course, who wouldn't have? But on the
whole, you know. And even so, one must admit, sometimes, of the
possibility of the new.
Here. You're a man interested in language.
Yes . . .
Of course you are. Now, where do you suppose the word bugger comes
Well. . .
You wouldn't know. Of course you wouldn't know, but take a guess.
You couldn't guess. All right, then, I'll tell you. Bulgaria! It comes
from Bulgaria, where all they did, so I've been told, was bugger each
other for three or four centuries. It was their religion, they said. They
thought the world such a horrible place that they refused to bring more
children into it. Did you know that? And so they buggered each other
for centuries! What do you think, was this an admirable thing to do?
These German hordes bugger you up the backside and fuck you in the
mouth at the same time, bash your skull in when they've finished, and
tell you it's their religion. That's how I understand the story. Nice
Some people are like this. Take it as a given, that's all. Next thing you
know they're at your front and your back. That's how it is with these
people. Part of the splendid variety of human nature. I make no moral
judgment. But I've never seen a good German, you can be sure of
that-outside a concert hall.
Bad enough when you get two of them together. Everything is more
than doubled. It's always geometric with these bastards. Think of
When the politicians think even the rats have to vomit.
I spoke to Billy Hughes last night. I said to him, all right Billy, if we
give you fellows the mandate for New Guinea, will you give your word
the natives will have access to the missionaries? Oh, yes, I would indeed,
sir, he said, for there are many days when these poor devils do not get
half enough missionaries to eat!
(Laughs and coughs)
Not half enough missionaries to eat! There's a rich story if you let it fill
Every man a bloody axe in his hand, eh?
Every act is a pistol shot!
It's the worst bastards that rise to the top in this world.
Well, let's hope not!
A woman came to me the other day, English woman, nice woman,
wanted to do something, she said, wanted to work in the hospitals. OK I
said. Good enough. Gave her a job taking care of the Montenegrins, and
what do you suppose she found? Next to this one fellow's bed, a leather
bag, big leather bag. She opened it up, and there inside this fine English
woman found sixty human noses. Not fake noses. Real human noses.
Nice fellows these Montenegrins. Of course one wishes there weren't
any Montenegrins in the world!
And even so. . .
I've had a gut full of niceties, I can tell you that.
Yet, nonetheless. . .
Now you see it: the English sent their missionaries on ahead; the
Americans send their liberals.
Man knows no more about life than the stink mushroom does, when you
come down to it.
I wouldn't know. I don't read the papers.
(addressing Brokdorff-Rantzau, shouting)
When I was a boy, what do you think my father did? In Nantes. Took
me one day to the reading room, where people came to read and gossip,
old people, people who had seen the Revolution and Napoleon. Over
there, he said, do you see that fellow over there? An old friend of
Marat. Marat! That's how close we are to those days. Well, sure, I
wasn't very clear who this Marat was or what he had done, but Marat
was a tremendous name. All that blood, you know, the Revolution,
Charlotte Corday, the bathtub full of blood. I had great respect for that
old cocker who had known Marat. You can't escape history. It holds
you in its fist. Here's this fellow who goes back to 1789! Then there was
the year of the Paris Commune: 1870. When the Germans came onto
French soil. I was there. That's how far back I myself go. 1870!
Extraordinary when you think of it. The past reaches over the years to
keep its grip on you. These Americans! Think they can simply step to
another planet! Who wouldn't want to? Does a man like to be held
eternally by the scruff of the neck?
And then some of these fellows want something, don't they? You
wouldn't know, of course, but what do you think? No, really, you don't
know. To be sure, you don't think! And so you see nothing! You
express your anguish, you speak of ideals, you lament the loss, but in
truth, given the chance, you wouldn't do a thing about it. You'd express
your compassion, hand out a few bits of charity, even bribes, but you
wouldn't change a thing when it came down to it, you'd pick up your
gun to keep hold of what you've got. Because there's something you
want as well! You've got it in your fist. Or got some poor bastard to
hold it for you so you can rail against him while he keeps a safe hold on
it for you. I've had a gut full of hypocrites as well, I can tell you. And
then we have to sit here and listen to your misgivings! I believe in
saints. I am not a man entirely without belief. I should have been a saint
myself, I have a talent for it, a taste for it, a longing for it but instead
I've spent my life among men like you.
(He ends in a paroxysm of coughing, which continues for a few minutes
through the following dialogue.)
We motored out to Fontaine-aux-Charmes yesterday, with Riddell and
Balfour. Extraordinary place. The ravines. Old helmets. Rusted
firearms. Old boots.
Is this relevant?
Back where the lines had been drawn over the maps and charts nothing
could resist the forward progress of the generals' pencils: no bogs, no
gas. No stink of blood and latrine to spoil the odor of optimism.
Is this going to be relevant?
No punctured stomachs of dead men to release that distinctive odor. No
sounds of snoring and groans from men whose helmets had been blown
off their heads, helmets splashed with brain.
I think we know all this.
Legs blown up against their backs.
I think we could move along to another topic now.
No men going mad from lack of air.
No point in stirring up old hatreds.
Let him go on! These are Frenchmen he speaks of!
At Grurie Wood, I hear, a Captain Juge, standing upright on his
parapet, revolver in his hand, cheering on his men, fell, wounded, rose
to his feet again, calling to his men, stand your ground, stand your
ground, stand your ground and be brave, and then, wounded once again,
fell again and got up once more, firing point blank at the enemy, who
shot him again. Two companies came to his aid, and they came under
attack, too, this time from the rear, and when they ran out of
ammunition, they retreated through the trenches a yard at a time,
fighting hand to hand, building barricades behind them as they went,
until at last, they fought off the Germans with their bayonets and the
butt ends of their rifles, and the captain called out "forward!" and
nobody replied, and he rose to his feet one more time and called out:
you bloody cowards! are you leaving me to go on alone then? And his
platoon sergeant, lying in the trench with a broken shoulder, answered
back to him: Not cowards, Sir! Willing enough. But all fucking dead!
God bless them! God bless these boys!
Clearly these are Englishmen he speaks of, not French.
Yes, well, nonetheless...
This is nothing new.
My father used to say: emotion is not a political passion.
One doesn't want to have one's reason swayed by such things.
And then one hears of the riots for shoes.
People in the streets.
The need for more police.
There is a certain natural terror, of course, of things coming up from
As in feces, I suppose.
Australians, for that matter.
The dark side.
One hears about it in mythology.
One need not go into it.
It is a natural reaction, really. Until these people are ready. As in bad
news, or passions, certain hatreds, rages, the demons of old, evil forces,
psychological sorts of things, you know, all these things, not bad to keep
down, until the conscious mind is quite ready to cope with it, you know.
Given time, one supposes.
There's the trick.
Or else, very well, then, certainly you can turn it loose. Winnie, you
know, thinks we ought simply to turn the armies around and sick them
on the Bolshies. Keep the Germans in place, there's his idea, keep them
armed, turn them around, join them together with the British and the
Americans, and keep right on marching to Moscow! How would you
like that, then?
Not a wholly bad idea.
But really, what right have you?
In former times, statesmen never spoke of rights.
In former times they spoke of nothing else.
In former times, statesmen went around looking quite solemn, but that's
a thing of the past I think. These days even soldiers and sailors are seen
This is the age of the smile, I think.
Of course, one would like to make it good.
One doesn't like to feel as though one is simply thrown into the middle
of a riot in a parrot house.
One doesn't like to improvise with the world.
One doesn't like to think one chooses a king for Albania simply because
he dresses in kilts like the Scots.
Although, personally, I should rather be the Duke of Atholl than King
Or that one will simply be feeding missionaries to the cannibals.
Or that we sent these boys to die in vain.
Or that one can't even number the pages.
I don't quite take your point.
It seems one could get on with it. Surely reasonable men could agree.
I think of my old friend Baber, of India. Had a pile of heads brought to
him every morning. And when the pile was smaller than usual, he
would say: "It' s pretty small, this pile. My men are getting slack."
Of course, one doesn't want to leave one's children. One tries as best
one can to sort it out, but the mind is a finite thing. We are wise enough
to know that our anti-dogmatism is as exclusivist as a bureaucrat that we
are not free yet shout freedom, if you see what I mean. A harsh
necessity without discipline or morality and we spit on humanity. We
are circus directors whistling amid the winds of carnivals convents
bawdy houses theatres realities sentiments restaurants, if nothing is lost
in the translation. Imagine! That one might learn nothing from such an
Well, we know the earth is not a fresh air resort. Nature does not run
along the little thread on which reason would like to see it run. We can
of course insure our house against fire our cash register against
burglary or our daughter against devirgination but heaven looks
nevertheless down into the bottomless pots of our home countries and
extracts the sweat of fear from our foreheads. From out of every plank
seat a black claw grabs us by the backside. Like water off the duck's
back so love runs off the human bacon. In loneliness man rides down
the Styx on his chamber pot. Water fire earth air have been gnawed at
by man. No hallelujah can help him. There is no further mention that
man the measure of all things gets away with a black eye. Einstein gives
man a good drubbing and sends him home. Gives him a good drubbing
and sends him home!
With staring eyes and mug hanging wide open this landscape roars
through the void, only a handful of snuff remains of the sphinx the
olympus and Louis XV, the golden rule and other valuable rules have
vanished without leaving a trace, a chairleg clings sea-sick with madness
to a torture stake. People have not yet succeeded in unveiling the world
through reason! A great deal in the new doctrine does not fit together
like a meander in patent leather shoes who goes walking on the arm of a
somnambulist box of sardines through the sooty hortus deliciarum, if
you see what I mean. Einstein does not want to cover up the asphodel
meadows. Einstein's poems have nothing to do with modern alarm
clocks. Before them reason takes its tail between its legs and goes
philandering somewhere else. Yes yes yes the earth is not a valley of
tears in the breast pocket!
Are they at an impasse then?
And yet life goes on.
You see what's come of it.
Indeed, the cows sit on top of telegraph poles.
(The dialogue moves with dizzying speed.)
Tornadoes whirl around in my mouth.
If such a thing is possible.
If such a thing is possible.
Bring color to my lips.
The marvellous is always beautiful.
Anything marvellous is beautiful.
In fact, only the marvellous is beautiful.
Well said, I thought, even though one is of course bored by speeches.
And then one speculates: did he speak well? Did he speak well enough?
Will it be a remembered speech? Could it have been improved? Did he
believe it himself?
Doesn't his wife look like hell in orchids?
The power of words.
The logic of death.
Rather than the cold. The lack of food.
Of animal fats, primarily.
The sallow complexions.
Well, make no mistake: civilization requires a little repression. But is
the present arrangement such a dreadful thing? Let us imagine, for
example, that everyone were suddenly able to afford the same shoes and
restaurants, then how would they distinguish themselves from one
another? By degrees of intelligence perhaps. Is this any more fair?
Indeed, it may be far more desperate. For one can never change the
brains one is born with, but one can always change the amount of
money in one's bank account. I don't say it always happens, no. But
when you consider how really pernicious it could become. Or consider
a theocracy, where those who are the purest of heart are at the top. And
everyone's heart is presumably subject to investigation to see just how
pure it is. Only in heaven is there no repression. Or in hell. Here on
earth, we repress one another all the time, and I for one favor it! If one
were to say, let A equal a bit of repression, then let B equal death, then,
if not A then B you see what I mean.
Or, on the otherhand, if A then B.
It's a different syllogism.
It may be.
Not my syllogism.
But, do you like it?
I like it.
One tries to be reasonable.
There is a train of thought. A sort of logic.
That has its own elegance.
And momentum, often times.
It will reach its conclusion.
And where does it lead?
On the other hand, one might say: if the conclusion is absurd, then the
process of reasoning is faulty.
That would be something else.
Another way of saying it.
Or another way of saying something else.
Well, one goes to logical conclusions.
If one can.
So one fears.
And yet, if you want to get down to earth, do you have gold faucets?
In your bathroom. Here.
I suppose I do, yes.
Aren't you afraid for them?
Aren't you afraid the servants might get them?
I should think the faucets are bolted in.
Well, I'm not a plumber, but I should think one bolts them in,
My commode has disappeared.
The commode is disappearing all over Europe, I think.
There are too many committees.
I didn't know.
And the dinners.
The opera with Paderewski.
I had a vision of myself this morning: I saw myself under a white sheet;
with just my feet sticking out at the bottom, as though I were a body.
Yes. I thought: what have I done?
What did you mean to do?
One hopes to do something! And then one finds that time has passed!
Sometimes one has the feeling one has simply outlived one's time. All
sorts of things have been set loose, after all. And why not? These
Burmese chaps, for instance. Arabians. It won't be easy to get them
back in the bottle, will it?
In what context?
You don't think so?
Oh, quite possibly. Sexuality of all kinds, really, I suppose.
What do you like in a woman?
I hadn't thought about it, really.
I like a woman who cries out and sings.
I like a slippery woman.
Oh, to be sure.
I like a woman like a tuba.
I like a woman with a small boy.
I like a woman big with child.
I like a woman who's not afraid to jump from a hot air balloon.
I like a woman's buttocks in a mirror.
(All look at him.)
And all these throat germs, you know. There are throat germs
everywhere. And assassinations as well.
Perhaps it's not all bad then, when you come to think of it.
At dinner at the countess's the other night, there were a hundred guests,
and a tenor sang in the courtyard below: dirges and laments, all
unspeakably moving. Everyone cried. I did myself. And then the
countess announced that some people would have to die. Well, the effect
was quite extraordinary. Some of the guests ran from the dining room.
Balfour took one of the servant's bicycles and rode away. And then a
Montenegrin chap took a butcher's knife and held it to the countess's
throat and announced to everyone that she was dead. But the countess
got very angry at that and refused to be dead. And then everyone was
quite put out with her: after all, hadn't she set the rules?
Although one can become too overwrought about these things, I find.
Think about it, you know: for all we know there have been other quite
advanced civilizations on earth before, possibly more advanced even
than our own. If they flourished before the ice age, for instance, there is
no reason to think they would have left a trace behind. By now even
their pottery would be dust. If we vanish, for instance, in fifteen or
twenty thousand years there will be no physical evidence left at all of
our ever having been here: we have nothing that lasts nearly as long as
Is there at least some entertainment?
(A dancer runs in at full speed, stops as though caught suddenly in the
headlights of a car, frozen, frightened. The "music" that accompanies
her is composed of occasional abrupt sounds of breaking glass, rifle
fire, machine guns, collapsing buildings, and so forth. She wears long,
flowing Greek robes. She moves through various postures, freezing in
each one, then whirling to the next. The politicians watch, as though at a
concert performance. Occasional bursts of applause come over the
loudspeakers. At the end the dancer turns and runs out at full speed.
The "music" continues.
Clemenceau, Wilson, and Nicolson descend through trapdoors, and their
boxes rise quickly into the flies. Brockdorff-Rantzau remains on stage,
and his box rises quickly into the flies. He sits silently.)
(An explosion of popular 1920's German music.
A rusted steel wall is slowly lowered to cover the shattered mirror.
It can be said that THE PLAY begins here-a large choreographed
piece, played against the dialogue, with the dialogue serving as music or
setting for the choreography of actors running, throwing one another
into the steel wall, and so forth. What has come up to now can be
considered the prologue; what follows this section can be considered the
A man runs in circles, round and round, occasionally tripping, looking
around to see what has tripped him, continuing to run, finally tripping
and falling repeatedly.)
Ah yes Sonya, they all take the celluloid doll for a changeling and shout:
God Save the King!
The whole Monist club is gathered on the steamship Meyerbeer. But
only the pilot has any conception of high C
I pull the anatomical atlas out of my toe a serious study begins. Have
you seen the fish that have been standing in front of the opera in
cutaways for the last two days and nights?
(Canned laughter. Catcalls, whistles, sirens.)
Ah ah ye great devils-ah ah ye keepers of the bees and commandants.
With a bow wow wow with a boe woe woe who today does not know
what our Father Homer wrote I hold my peace and war in my toga but
today I'll take a cherry flip
(Canned laughter. Sounds of airplane engines starting. Wittgenstein
comes out very slowly and solemnly, slowly and ceremoniously strips
naked, then turns his backside to the audience, moons them for a while,
and then finally makes his buttocks jump up and down as though in time
Today nobody knows whether he was tomorrow. They beat time with a
coffin lid. And fuck the politicians
I say fuck the politicians.
I say fuck the politicians.
If you get my meaning.
(Uproarious canned laughter)
If only somebody had the nerve to rip the tail feathers out of the trolley
car it's a great age.
I say, if this is political philosophy, give me a chocolate egg cream.
(Hilarious canned laughter. More airplane engines. Other engines. The
sounds of heavy equipment. Garage doors opening. Clanking. While this
Voiceover continues with the dialogue below, another is added to it, that
of Kurt Schwitters, so that we hear two voices over the loudspeakers at
once. Schwitters is calm, but insistent.
Continuing throughout: the sounds of cowbells, farting, pot covers
banging, rattles, whistles, crashing glasses, a wailing woman, a moaning
woman crying for help or sympathy, hiccups, a yodelling woman,
Take gigantic surfaces, conceived as infinite, cloak them in color, shift
them menacingly. Let points burst like stars among them. Let a line
rush by. Take a dentist's drill, a meat grinder, a cartrack scraper, take
buses and pleasure cars, bicycles, tandems and their tires. Make
locomotives crash into one another. Explode steam boilers. Take
petticoats and other kindred articles, shoes and false hair, also ice skates
and throw them into place where they belong. Take man-traps,
automatic pistols, infernal machines, the tinfish and the funnel. Inner
tubes are highly recommended. Even people can be used. People can
even be tied to backdrops. Now marry the oilcloth to the home owner's
loan association, bring the lamp cleaner together with the marriage
between Anna Blume and A-natural, concert pitch. Give the globe to the
surface to gobble up and you cause a cracked angle to be destroyed by
the beam of a 22-thousand candle power arc lamp. Make a human walk
on his hands and wear a hat on her feet. Organs backstage sing and say:
"Futt, futt." The sewing machine rattles along in the lead. A man in the
wings says, "Bah!" Drums and flutes flash death and a streetcar
conductor's whistle gleams bright. A melody of violins shimmers pure
and virgin-tender. A soft rustling. Even the sewing machine is dark.
(The African runs through at top speed, grabs Wittgenstein and propels
him off the stage. A few moments later, Wittgenstein runs through with
the African in his grip and propels him off the other side. They repeat
this back and forth.)
The professors of zoology gather in the meadows. With the palms of
their hands they turn back the rainbow.
(Mona Lisa enters, naked, with a mustache, puts her arms out to her
sides and turns around and around.)
Then typhoons if such a thing is possible. Hurricanes if such a thing is
(The beginning of a long slow siren that builds steadily. Flashing red
light as though on top of a police car.)
cry my voice. Cry my name.
Human flesh pulsates at my call. Parrots falling from the branches. The
rivers beneath the bridge of sighs. High hats of tin. Tents pitched from
morning to night. A great slaughter fills you out.
(The clanking of steel, as though large steel pieces are being put into
place to build a tower. Also echoing corridors, heels against steel.)
(His voice miked, speaking quietly. )
eure Adern sind blau rot grun und orangefarben wie die Gesichte der
Ahnen die im Sonntagsanzuge am Bord der Altare hocken Zylinderhute
riesige o aus Zinn und Messing machen ein himmlisches Konzert
(The sounds of destruction, but very distant.)
die Gestalten der Engel schweben um eueren Ausgang als der
Widerschein giftiger Bluten so formet ihr euere Glieder u ber den
Horizont hinaus in den Kaskaden von seinem Schlafsofa stieg das
indianische Meer die Ohren voll Watte gesteckt.
(A message, as though broadcast into air-raid shelters in an alert, but
spoken by a bored voice.)
Rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu
rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu
rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu rouge bleu
(A dog barks, over and over.)
Boum boum boum
il deshabilla sa chair quand les grenouilles
humides commancerent a bruler j'ai mis
le cheval dans l'ame du serpent aBucarest
ondependra mes amis
dorenavant et c'est tres interessant.
(Entering, glass held in hand as thoughfor a toast, speaks simultaneously
with the others.)
My friends, after the many excellent speeches here tonight I feel the
urge to thank the great, courageous, high-spirited people of Berlin and
especially the officers who are here with us this evening. I shall recite
my poem, "The raid on Adrianople."
Adrianople est cerne de toutes parts
SSSSSrrrrr zitzitzitzit PAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAghrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Ouah ouah ouah, depart des trains suicides,
ouah, ouah, ouah
Tchip tchip tchip--Feeeeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeeee eeeelez!
(He whirls and smashes a wine glass against the back wall.)
Tchip tchip tchip--des messages telegraphiques, couturieres Americaines
Piiiiiiiiiiiiing, sssssssssssrrrrrrrrrrr, zitzitzitzit, toum toum Patrouille
(He throws himself on top of the table.)
Vaniteeeeee, viande congeleeeeeee--veilleuse de La Madone.
(He ends on a whispering note, and then slowly slides to the floor,
pulling the green baize cloth with him, along with whatever plates and
glasses and silverware are on the table. He lies, as though dead, the
green baize pulled over him.)
(twirling around and around, his arms out to his sides, and then turning
and running full tilt into the steel wall, which is miked to resound when
he hits it, falling, getting up again, repeating the same.)
r rrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
rrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Where the honey suckle wine twines itself around the door a sweetheart
mine is waiting patiently for me can hear the weopur will
arrrrrrrrrrround arrrrrrrround the hill
les griffes des morsures
Dimanche deux elephants Journal de Geneve
au restaurant Le telegraphiste assassine
my great room is mine admirabily
comfortabily Grandmother said
O OO OOOOOOO
rrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrrrrrr rrrrrr
rouge bleu rouge bleu
rouge bleu rouge bleu
I love the ladies I love the ladies I love to be among the girls And when
it's five o'clock and tea is set I like to have my tea with some brunette
Everybody's doing it, doing it, doing it, everybody's doing it, doing it,
(The singing continues while Brockdorff-Rantzau speaks.)
Aus den gefleckten Tuben stromen die Flusse in die Schatten der
Papageien und Assgeier fallen von den Zweigen immer auf den Grund
Bastmatten sind die Wande des Himmels und aus den Wolken kommen
die grossen Fallschirme der Magier Larven von Wolkenhaut haben sich
die Turme vor die blendenden Augen gebunden
O ihr Flusse Unter derponte dei sospiri fanget ihr auf Lungen und
Lebern und abgeschnittene Halse
In der Hudsonbay aber flog die Sirene oder ein Vogel Greif oder ein
Menschenweibchen von neuestem Typus mir eurer Hand greift ihr in
die Taschen der Regierungsrate die voll sind von Pensionen allerhand
gutem Willen und schonen Leberwursten was haben wir alles getan vor
euch wie haben wir alle gebetet vom Skorpionstich schwillet der Hintern
Sangern und Ben Abka der Hohepriester walzt sich im Mist
See that ragtime couple over there, see her throw her shoulders in the
air. She said to him as she raised her heart oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes
yes yes yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes yes yes yes yes oh
(Full volume thundering music frantic, with a strong beat. Deafening.
Perhaps something by Einsturzende Neubauten or Cabaret Voltaire.
A Rube Goldberg contraption, of enormous complexity and stupidity,
slowly descends, deus ex machina fashion, from above. Swelling
heavenly music under the music of Einsturzende Neubauten. The actors
stand amazed. One kneels. One prostrates himself entirely. The
contraption blinks its lights. At last it lands on the stage. The music
continues, crashing, filled with the sounds of trucks starting, clanking,
voices of airplane pilots, static.
Wittgenstein steps up to it, takes out a cigar. The contraption whirls,
cranks, flails, rocks, and finally produces a light for Wittgenstein's
cigar. The actors all pause a moment silently, then all turn and run out
at top speed, and the contraption explodes with a huge ball of fire and
enormous smoke and ascends again into the flies. The music ends with
clanking, echoing banging against steel walls, hoarse crying out and
wailing in the night.)
III. Los Alamos
(A silver screen descends to cover the shattered mirror. The nineteenth
century chairs are replaced by silver chairs. A vision of the
There are zinging sounds, as of an occasional laser, or an electron in an
acceleration chamber. Space sounds. The stage is bathed in beautiful
shades of red, including pink and coral. Projections of bubble chamber
tracks. Throughout the scene we see dreamy, silent projections--as
though on a large green television screen--of the precise course, like
trails of little white bubbles, of laser-guided rockets and bombs, striking
extremely small, precisely targeted, sites. Oppenheimer enters,
uncertainly. He wears cowboy boots, wide-brimmed hat, blue jeans.
Enters, stops, looks, goes to card table, stops, looks, sits, shuffles.)
Dear Professor Bridgman, you may remember that when I was at
Harvard two years ago I was very much interested in your theory of
metallic conduction. Recently in the course of some work in quantum
mechanics that I have been pursuing at Gottingen, an idea has turned up
which seems to offer a certain support to your theory. I think it will be
some time before a complete quantum theory of conduction is possible,
but perhaps I may tell you briefly of this one point.
(While he shuffles and his voiceover is heard, the other players enter,
some moments apart, and take their places around the table: All wear
sunglasses; Teller wears heavy gloves, welder's goggles; Fermi wears
white laboratory overalls. Von Neumann dresses like a banker, in three
piece suit, pocket handkerchief. Eventually, Oppenheimer deals. While
all this goes on, the voiceover continues.
ANOTHER VOICEOVER CONTINUED
I hope you will pardon my presumption, but I have taken the liberty of
drawing up a revised Ten Commandments, since the old Ten haven't
worked so well.
First. Recognize the connections of things and the laws of the conduct of
men, so that you may know what you are doing. This is an important
one.Try not to forget it. You may begin, for instance, with a thought of
what you are doing and find, soon enough, that someone else has taken
over the direction of your work and what you thought was fine and
pure, extraordinary even, has become mundane or dreadful. Or not
even that someone else has taken it over, but that some other aspect in
your own character. As, for instance, fear. Or vanity. Lust for power.
Second. Let your acts be directed toward a worthy goal, but do not ask
if they will reach it.They are to be models and examples, that's all. This
is an important one, too--though harder to get at first. I could elaborate,
but I think I ought simply to leave this one to you to consider.
Third. Speak to all men as you do to yourself, with no concern for the
effect you make, so that you don't shut them out from your world; lest
in isolation the meaning of life slips out of sight and you lose the belief
in the perfection of creation. You see what I mean.
Fourth. Do not destroy what you cannot create. Do not destroy what
you cannot create.
Fifth. Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to leave whenever
you are called. That one is for the poets. Others are welcome to it, of
course, as they wish.
Sixth. Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude
or among strangers, so that the recollection of your friends does not
hide you from being what you have become. This is a personal one.
Crucial, I think.
Seventh. Do not covet what you cannot have. Also personal. And not
personal at the same time.
Eighth. This is an important one again: do not add to the madness. If
you can't stop it, at least do not help to push it over the edge. That's
obvious enough, hardly worth stating. I wouldn't state it if we weren't
all so forgetful.
(They bet before they look at their hands.)
Five and raise you fifty.
Are you going to cheat?
Why do you say that?
I know something about odds.
I have a fantastic hand.
Do you think I'd bet in a game like this?
I only ask.
One hundred dollars.
I don't know.
Well, you have to estimate. What's the fun in life if you don't estimate.
For instance. Take a problem. Let us say: how many barbers are there
in the United States? How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?
What is the number of sheep in Nevada? These things can be quantified.
Try and make an estimate within a factor of ten. Take another problem.
How many locomotives are there in America?
This is quite boring.
Within an order of magnitude. First, how many miles do you have to
drive before crossing a railroad track, on the average? From this
number you obtain the number of miles of railroad track in America.
I don't need to listen to this.
Third, estimate the number of miles of track per locomotive. And there
you have it.
Who cares about this?
You remember Archimedes' famous experiment where he measured the
amount of gold in a crown by putting it in a tub of water to see how
much water it displaced. One may measure anything in this way: a
crown, an automobile, a human being. The water doesn't know the
difference. I did the same thing with my Nobel Prize, for instance, and I
must say I was pleased to find that it had a gold content. These Nobel
Prizes are not entirely worthless after all. I was able, in fact, to do the
same thing with my wedding presents. The first step is to identify what
it is to be measured. That's the essential point. If you go wrong there,
you've gone wrong, and that's all there is to it. You may say that the
beauty of life is its complexity. And I would say, yes! And also the
beauty of life is its simplicity.
Locomotives. Crowns. Wedding presents. Does one care about these
things any more?
It makes one giddy to think about these things. I think. If anyone says he
can think about quantum theory without getting giddy, he hasn't
understood the first thing about it. One musn't discount the miraculous
aspect. One doesn 't want to reduce the mysteries to a mere game.
Dealer is in.
What do you think are my chances of becoming Pope? For instance,
how would you calculate that?
I think it would be a miracle.
Precisely. And what is a miracle? Offhand, I would define a miracle as
an event which has a probability of less than ten per cent. Rabi said to
me: look, these things ought to be kept secret. Because you know what it
might lead to.
Nuts! I said to him. Nuts! Well, he said, what do you estimate are the
probabilities? Remote, I said. Remote, he said, what do you mean by
this word remote? Well, I said: remote, that would be ten per cent. Ten
percent, he said. That is not remote, I think, if it has consequences!
Fortunately, for me, no emotion lasts more than two minutes.
Lord, these affairs are hard on the heart.
Of course this ten percent factor is reversible, too. I wouldn't say it's
(Through the remainder of the scene we hear the sounds of radar, a
NASA launch preparation, remarks of casino dealers, crap tables, pilots
talking to each other, control tower talk.)
Of course, you may speculate all you want about these things, but it all
comes down finally to a world where animals eat one another, doesn't
it? If you choose to think of it in a certain way: we are waging a war
against all the non-human animals, aren't we?
That's a bit extreme, isn't it?
Do you think so?
Well, we aren't food faddists, are we?
I should hope not.
Well, there you have it.
Indeed. One cares about what works, there's my point. Physics is
interested in an estimation of forces.
When one says that now we physicists have known sin, I don't think we
have, in some particular sense, committed an act that is wrong or bad.
Rather, I think what is meant is that we have entered a realm that was
always forbidden to us as human beings, a realm that was reserved to
the gods, or, if you prefer, to the universe itself, and that our entrance
into that forbidden realm was sacrilege. Now we see the punishment for
it. We've transformed our home into the most perilous place in the
universe. Not even a dog would do that. So that now, our fondest dream
as a species is to leave the earth. We think of nothing else.
Nonsense. I think of other things all the time. I think of what works.
We 've had the lifespan of butterflies really.
Dealer takes one. Bets?
One thousand dollars.
Of course, if you're going to cheat, there would be no point in going
That would be up to you.
I find anything other than an honest game uninteresting.
Each to his own taste, to be sure.
Tennis without a net is pointless, surely.
In what sense?
Where is the mathematics then? What is the point?
What is the point of mathematics?
It is its own end.
That is a matter of taste, surely. The point, really, is beating you.
I have a parlor game I sometimes play with friends called MURDER.
The rules are very simple. First, you turn out the lights. Second is
poking. Third is kissing. Fourth lights on again. And then you
determine who is the murderer.
How do you do that?
Well, we already know: you are.
This is an ugly thing to say.
We all know you have no sense of fun, no sense of play.
Is this meant to be a charge against me? Will you condemn a grown man
because he doesn't like finger painting?
Must a man be so homicidally serious to be a man?
I'm a logical person. I'm simply a logical person. What sort of madman
would consider this a charge?
Consider your logic. Is it sufficiently inclusive. For example, it is clear
that neither a pencil-stroke nor a steamship is simple. Is there really a
logical equivalence between these two?
Are there bets?
What is the point? I'm out.
I'll see you and raise you a thousand.
See and raise a thousand.
What are the probabilities of both having winning hands?
Where yls-yls(p) is the expected payoff for player one of his strategy p
against player two's actual hand s and actual choice ig equals i, then
K(p/o) equals 1/Sylyls.
Are you still in this game?
In a certain narrow sense. Shall I explain the rules to you?
Please. Be so kind.
In game theory it is assumed that both players have examined all the
strategies before the game begins and have also decided which strategy
to take. The play itself is consequently completely mechanical and
predetermined. The value of the game lies in attaining both the smallest
maximum and the largest minimum--one and negative one. This theory
applies only to games where the players have full information of the
state of the game at any time during the game--tic tac toe, checkers, and
chess. For games such as paper, scissors, stone, or poker, one must add
the word average to the value of the game. I can recommend for games
of incomplete information only a sound policy for many rounds. The
best strategy, then, is random and mixed such that the largest minimum
of average payoff to A obtains and coincides with the smallest maximum
of the average payoff to B, and this value is the unique average value of
the game. There is no best strategy for one round. One can play or not
play, but the game goes on in any case, with new players replacing the
old; and it has its own logic on which the players are carried along with
ever increasing stakes. There are no exact parallels since the play is
ever-intensifying. The players cannot affect the game, although the
game can affect the players.
Will you deal?
(Oppenheimer again shuffles.
The light is such that the silver screen glistens like a metal of the distant
Green fog pervades the stage.
The physicists all descend through trap doors.
The dead soldier rises through a trap door, holding an empty red
pottery vase, stands silently.
Space music. Very strange, violent, and beautiful.
Projections of stars, bubble chambers-very beautiful. Projections of
microscopic underwater life forms of all kinds-very beautiful. Sounds
and images that call up an unreasoning love of the earth, other space
sounds-but these very beautiful.
Charles Mee's work has been made possible by the support of Richard B. Fisher and Jeanne Donovan Fisher.