by Karl Kraus [translated from the German by Frederick Ungar]
"I didn't ask for sunshine, and I got World War III."
Sex Pistols, "Holidays in the Sun"
If "The Cross of Honor," a homily on some of the idiocies of Austrian prostitution laws c. 1909, was a good example of a rather frisky and witty Karl Kraus, the later "Tourist Trips to Hell" is an excellent example of an altogether different Herr Kraus: angry, indignant, denunciatory...punk? Our hero, you see, wasn't much of a fan of World War I nor of the motley collection of culture-less entities variously gathered under the rubric of mankind. Two out of two ain't bad, eh? "I have in my hands a document that surpasses and seals the shame of this age, and would warrant assigning a place of honor in a cosmic boneyard to this money-hungry mess that calls itself mankind. If ever a newspaper clipping meant a clipping of creation--here we face the utter certainty that a generation to which such solicitations could be directed no longer has any better instincts to be violated" (4). The newspaper clipping in question, a two-page spread from the Basel, Switzerland rag Basler Nachrichten pimping "BATTLEFIELD EXCURSION TRIPS BY CAR!" in oversized type to woo just-post WWI vacationers to visit the battlefield at Verdun in order to understand "the quintessence of the horror of modern warfare" in between guided tours and sumptuous dining "with ample meals at first-rate restaurants" for the all-inclusive price of 117 Swiss francs (6-7), is an outrage that prompts Kraus to mock it in ad-like bullet points by comparing it to a sort of media version of Verdun in which "this most gruesome spectacle of bloody delirium through which the nations let themselves be dragged to no purpose whatsoever" pales in comparison with the "enormity" of the offending ad (4). Overkill? Not the way Kraus sings it, anticipating the Sex Pistols' formulation of "a cheap holiday in other people's misery" only sans jackboots and power chords. In any event, the following bullet points, all lifted from pages 5 and 8 of Kraus' broadside, will allow you to decide for yourself what a tourist trip to hell might look like:
- You receive a newspaper in the morning.
- You will learn that 1,500,000 bled to death exactly at the spot where wine and coffee--and everything else--are included.
- You understand that all this came about so that some day, when nothing was left of the glory except moral bankruptcy, at least a battlefield par excellence would still be available.
- You realize that what the competition can offer--the Argonne and Somme battles, the boneyards of Rheims and St. Mihiel--is a mere trifle compared with the first-class offering of the Basler Nachrichten. They will doubtless succeed to fatten their list of subscribers using the casualties of Verdun.
- You realize that these nations have criminal laws to protect the life and even the honor of these press scoundrels who make a mockery of death and a profit out of catastrophe, and who particularly recommend this side trip to hell as an autumn special.
- You will have unforgettable impressions of a world in which there is no single square centimeter not rutted by shells and advertisements.
- And if, even then, you have not recognized that your very birth has brought you into a murderers' pit and that a mankind which profanes even the blood it shed is shot through and through with evil, and that there is no escaping it and no help--then the devil take you to a battlefield par excellence!