Remembering Borchert:

A Voice of Anti-War Sentiment

Tuesday 18 November 2008, by Ceyda Turan

Given that November is a month of
remembrance, we are paying tribute to
one of the most significant figures of
Germany’s post-Second World War
literature and a poignant Anti-War
voice: playwrite, short-story writer and
poet Wolfgang Borchert.

His cry for peace and call for civil
disobedience against war sadly
maintains its urgency today in an all-
too violent world.

Wolfgang Borchert was born in
Hamburg in 1921. His career in the
theatre was cut short at the age of 20
when he was drafted into the military.
He was promptly arrested on charges
of self-mutilation while trying to evade military service and
for his subversive anti-Nazi writings.

After his release from prison, and now suffering from
hepatitis due to his gun-shot wound, he was sent back to
the service only for his medical
condition to worsen.

He was granted medical leave
and returned to Hamburg,
whereupon he staged a parody
of propaganda minister Joseph
Goebbels. He was imprisoned
for 9 months for this dissent
before being sent to the Western
Front.

When his company surrendered
to the French army in 1945, he
escaped the guards and walked
back to Hamburg.

He resumed his work in theatre
and wrote his masterpiece, The Man Outside. Shortly
before he died on November 20 1947, at the age of 26,
he penned his anti-war manifesto Then There’s Only One
Choice.

You. Man at the machine in the factory. When they
tell you tomorrow to stop making pots and pans and
instead make helmets and machine guns, then there’s
only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Woman in the store, woman in the office. When
they tell you tomorrow to fill grenades and mount
telescopic sights on sniper rifles, then there’s only one
choice:

Say NO!

You. Factory owner. When they tell you tomorrow to
make gunpowder instead of baby powder, then there’s
only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Researcher in the laboratory. When they tell you
tomorrow to invent new ways to kill people, then there’s
only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Songwriter in your studio. When they tell you
tomorrow not to sing love songs but hate songs, then
there’s only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Doctor in the clinic. When they tell you tomorrow
to declare soldiers fit for combat, then there’s only one
choice:

Say NO!

You. Minister in the pulpit. When they tell you tomorrow
to bless murder and sanctify war, then there’s only one
choice:

Say NO!

You. Captain of the freighter. When they tell you tomorrow
to ship cannons and tanks instead of wheat, then there’s
only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Pilot of the plane. When they tell you tomorrow to
drop bombs on cities, then there’s only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Tailor in your shop. When they tell you tomorrow to
make uniforms, then there’s only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Judge in robes. When they tell you tomorrow to serve
on a court-martial, then there’s only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Railroad worker. When they tell you tomorrow to give
the signal to send the troop and munitions trains, then
there’s only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Man in the country, man in the city. When they try to
recruit you into the military, then there’s only one choice:

Say NO!

You. Mother in Normandy, mother in the Ukraine, you,
mother in San Francisco and London, you, on the Yellow
River and the Mississippi River, you, mother in Naples and
Hamburg and Cairo and Oslo — mothers of all continents,
mothers of the world, when they tell you tomorrow to raise
children to be nurses for field hospitals and soldiers for
new battles, then there’s only one choice:

Say NO! Mothers, say NO!

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