Brecht’s verses say uncomfortable truths rather than toe party lines and so offer us a still vital critique of the economic forces behind war, of how wartime rhetoric becomes a lie machine unfairly demonising and dehumanising our foes.
Brecht considered War Primer part of “a satisfactory literary report on my years in exile,” as he wrote in a 1944 journal entry. Since this first English language reception of War Primer on the centenary of Brecht’s birth in 1998, what are we now to make of his poignant modernist epic of four-liner lyrics and scrapbook photos? Today, in our post-crash era, with its renewal of Marxism, Brecht the formalist can be freed from a series of postmodern qualifications. War Primer’s historical intervention can be seen in a new way today. With the far right politically relevant again, Brecht’s image-by-image analysis of social democracy, America, and fascism, which is the veritable heart of War Primer, possesses fresh relevance.
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"I am a city still, but soon I shan’t be –
Where generations used to live and die
Before those deadly birds flew in to haunt me:
One thousand years to build. A fortnight to destroy."
Bertolt Brecht's War Primer is a terrifying series of short poems by one of the world’s leading playwrights, set to images of World War II.