Operation Ares — a short play

Characters:

Adolf Hitler
Wernher von Braun

The scene is Adolf Hitler’s vast office in the New Reich Chancellery in Berlin, December 1944. The night sky can be seen through the windows. Hitler is seated at the desk. Wearing an SS uniform, Wernher von Braun enters and salutes.

Peenemünde, Start einer V2

V-2 launch in 1943.

VON BRAUN. Sieg Heil.

(HITLER rises from his chair. He will spend much of the play stalking around VON BRAUN, who will continue standing at attention.)

HITLER. Where are my rockets?

VON BRAUN. Mein Führer?

HITLER. My Vengeance Weapons. Where are they?

VON BRAUN. Mein Führer, I don’t understand.

HITLER. It is a simple question, Major von Braun.

VON BRAUN. You have your V-2 rockets, Mein Führer. Several thousands of them.

HITLER. Several thousands.

VON BRAUN. Yes, Mein Führer. They’re being launched daily from mobile sites in western Holland.

HITLER. Several thousands.

1024px-Damage_Caused_by_V2_Rocket_Attacks_in_Britain,_1945_HU88803

Damage caused by a V-2 rocket attack in Whitechapel, London.

VON BRAUN. Raining death upon London, sir.

HITLER. Why have you disobeyed my orders?

VON BRAUN. Mein Führer?

HITLER. Some three years ago, when you showed me plans for the V-2, I ordered the production of hundreds of thousands. Enough to turn all of London into a lake of flame, fire and fury like the world has never seen. You promised exactly that. Raining death, you say? Your rain is but a puny drizzle. Where are my rockets?

VON BRAUN. Sir, we couldn’t reckon on …

HITLER. On what?

VON BRAUN. Sir, the laborers can’t —

HITLER. You have all the forced labor you could possibly need from Mittelbau-Dora.

Hitler_portrait_cropVON BRAUN. Yes, but slave laborers have an unfortunate way of …

HITLER. Of what?

VON BRAUN. Dying.

HITLER. How?

VON BRAUN. Overwork. Starvation. Disease. What have you. Sir.

HITLER. So I hear. More laborers die making the rockets than Londoners die from their warheads! Take more slaves from Mittelbau-Dora. Empty the camp if need be. Then take more from Buchenwald. The supply will be endless, I promise you. You’ll have millions to choose from.

VON BRAUN. Yes, sir. But there is also the matter of raw materials, sir.

HITLER. Materials! Always materials! Are you telling me that hundreds of thousands of rockets are an impossible task?

VON BRAUN. So it would seem, sir.

HITLER. Why did you not reckon this three years ago?

VON BRAUN. A terrible miscalculation, sir.

(Pause)

HITLER. You were jailed in Stettin last March, were you not?

VON BRAUN. Regretfully, yes, Mein Führer.

HITLER. Do you know why?

VON BRAUN. I was never entirely clear about that, Mein Führer.

HITLER. You were suspected of sabotaging your own rocket program. You were also suspected of planning an escape from the Reich. A truly astonishing escape. Not to England, or America, or Russia—but to the planet Mars!

VON BRAUN. Sir, I assure you that I never planned any such —

HITLER. Do know why I’ve summoned you?

VON BRAUN. I received your memo, Mein Führer.

HITLER. And what did you glean from my memo?

VON BRAUN. You want to speak to me about Operation Ares.

HITLER. And what are your thoughts on Operation Ares?

VON BRAUN. Regretfully, I have no thoughts on Operation Ares.

HITLER. And why not?

VON BRAUN. Because, Mein Führer, I have never heard of Operation Ares.

(Pause)

HITLER. You’ve also been overheard making defeatist remarks about the war.

VON BRAUN. If so, my words have been terribly misunderstood.

HITLER. No? You haven’t been repeating vicious lies? That the Reich is crumbling? That the war effort is failing? That the Allies have taken back France? That the Russians are advancing upon us from the east?

VON BRAUN. I’ve said no such things, Mein Führer.

HITLER. But you’ve heard such lies?

VON BRAUN. I give them no credence, Mein Führer.

HITLER. Before you leave this office, I demand a list of every voice you’ve heard spreading such lies.

VON BRAUN. Yes, Mein Führer.

HITLER. The Allies in France are marching into a trap. I am about to spring that trap in the forest of the Ardennes, crushing their armies to death. The Russians, too, will live to regret their encroachment upon our realms. The Reich has never been so close to victory, believe me.

VON BRAUN. I have complete faith in the destiny of Reich, Mein Führer.

(Pause)

marsproject_0000-570x865HITLER. Do you deny that you want to go to Mars?

VON BRAUN. I never intended to escape —

HITLER. Do you want to go to Mars?

VON BRAUN. Yes, sir, I do. Very much, sir.

HITLER. Is it possible to go to Mars?

VON BRAUN. I believe it is entirely possible, sir.

HITLER. Explain.

VON BRAUN. I have in mind a fleet of ten spaceships carrying a total of seventy men. The voyage, if optimally timed, should take thirteen months and six days.

HITLER. Why aren’t we building such spaceships right now?

VON BRAUN. We will if you command it, Mein Führer.

HITLER. And how do you suppose we shall be greeted by the Martians?

VON BRAUN. Sir?

HITLER. The natives. The inhabitants. Will they greet us as friends, liberators, enemies?

VON BRAUN. Mein Führer, it is by no means certain that there is any life at all —

HITLER. There is intelligent life on Mars. My people tell me so.

VON BRAUN. There might be, sir, but —

HITLER. It is a certainty. I have it on good authority.

(HITLER goes to his desk and unrolls a large map.)

800px-Mars_Atlas_by_Giovanni_Schiaparelli_1888

1888 map of Mars by Giovanni Schiaparelli.

HITLER. I have here a detailed map of Mars and its canals—a vast and sophisticated network, a miracle of engineering that could only have been built by an extremely advanced civilization.

VON BRAUN. Sir, I am familiar with that theory, and I must regretfully say —

HITLER. That all this is impossible?

VON BRAUN. Not impossible at all, but —

HITLER. Surely you will not tell me that this map is in any way false or inaccurate.

VON BRAUN. It is a very old notion, sir, and more recent observations —

HITLER. I received it from the Reich’s most brilliant astronomers.

VON BRAUN. Very well, sir.

HITLER. So let me ask again—how will we be greeted by the Martians?

VON BRAUN. I haven’t the slightest idea, Mein Führer.

(HITLER rolls up the map.)

HITLER. Major von Braun, I can’t say I’m at all pleased by what I’m hearing. Surely the world’s other great powers have advanced space programs, while the Reich seems to have none at all. What about the Americans?

VON BRAUN. They’ve scarcely given it any thought, sir.

HITLER. The British?

VON BRAUN. Even less, sir.

HITLER. The Russians?

VON BRAUN. The Soviets have far-reaching hopes for space travel.

HITLER. How so?

VON BRAUN. It isn’t easy to … articulate, Mein Führer.

HITLER. What is its guiding spirit?

VON BRAUN. Sir?

HITLER. The fundamental principle, the single thought, the solitary word that sums up the aspirations and the philosophy of the Soviet space program. What is it, Major von Braun?

VON BRAUN. I cannot say.

HITLER. Cannot or will not? Come, come, Major. I’m not squeamish. I’m prepared to hear any notion, however vile or repugnant or obscene, any sort of sick and depraved Judeo-Bolshevist perversion —

VON BRAUN (interrupting). It’s love, Mein Führer.

(Pause)

HITLER. Love?

VON BRAUN. Yes, Mein Führer. Love and …

HITLER. Well?

VON BRAUN. Altruism.

HITLER. Explain.

VON BRAUN. The Russians’ greatest rocket engineer was also a philosopher.

HITLER. His name?

Tsiolkovsky

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

VON BRAUN. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

HITLER. His beliefs?

VON BRAUN. That Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in the cradle forever. That the Cosmos is perfect, and its cause and purpose is nothing else but love. That the universe is inhabited by untold billions of perfect races, and it is the destiny of humankind to join in their perfection; to resurrect the dead and grant them happiness and immortality; to selflessly spread love among the stars, throughout the infinite and the eternal.

HITLER. A loving Cosmos.

VON BRAUN. Yes, Mein Führer.

HITLER (shuddering). Yes, I have sensed this truth myself.

VON BRAUN. Sir?

(HITLER holds out his hand to VON BRAUN.)

HITLER. Come. Let us look into the night together. Let us talk of Operation Ares.

(VON BRAUN takes his hand; they go to the window and gaze outside.)

HITLER. With every passing night, I believe I see fewer and fewer stars. Some grow dim, some disappear altogether. (pointing) Look, right now, at that one, flickering with its last gasp of light. Last night it was large and blazing. Tomorrow I’ll look for it and it will be gone, just an empty pocket in the sable velvet void. The universe is dying, trudging in the funereal footsteps of its lame and senile God of Love, doomed to share in his wretched extinction. It’s pitiable! The sin of pity creeps up inside of me. But what need has the universe of my pity? It needs rather my fist, my rage, my volcanic cruelty. It begs for conquest, whimpers for a master to teach it strife and destruction, to breathe a fresh conflagration of hatred into its waning orbs. For struggle, not love, is the father of all things—and the more brutal the struggle and the more fierce the hatred, the greater life becomes, and the brighter the heavens.

(Pause)

HITLER. I’ll soon crush Russia with the Reich’s great hatred, and Britain, and America. I’ll teach hatred even to my enemies, those who most profess their love. I’ll make our planet great again. And then … Major von Braun, together we must conquer Mars.

VON BRAUN. Yes, Mein Führer.

(HITLER goes to his desk and spreads the map again; VON BRAUN joins him.)

HITLER. Let us prepare for Operation Ares.

END OF PLAY.

800px-Walt_Disney_and_Dr._Wernher_von_Braun_-_GPN-2000-000060

Walt Disney and Wernher von Braun, 1954.

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The Song of the Hole in the Sky

written for the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump
January 20, 2017

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no truths:
That’s a motto I’ve tried to live by.
But up yonder there’s a hole in the sky;
And you want to hear how it got there.

I’ll tell you now—but don’t expect
The truth to put you easy.
It’s a tale with neither reason nor rhyme,
And never a moral worth learning.

Up on that cliff—see that rubble and glass?
It used to be a lighthouse.
We villagers built her to keep ships safe,
And we took our turns as her keepers.

Don’t take me wrong—we weren’t good souls,
Nor generous nor kindly.
But we took our turns and shared her light,
And her beam shone bright and ample.

Walking one morning where we walk now,
I saw a gang of sailors
Crowding high by the lighthouse rail,
Smashing her windows to pieces.

I stood on this beach and gaped and stared,
Not thinking how to stop them.
I called out loud to ask them why,
And this is what they told me:

“This house is a whore who pays no mind
To what kind of man gets her favors.
This house is a whore who shines her beam
Alike on the good and the wicked.”

“This house is no whore—just a thing,” I said.
“She’s made of rocks and mortar
And means no love, and means no hate.”
That put them in a fury:

“You’ve been to school and read your books
And think you’re better and wiser;
But you’ve not spent your life at sea
So hold your tongue, old lubber.

“Unless you’ve spent your life at sea,
You’ve never had to suffer;
You’ve never been jilted or hurt or wronged,
So hold your tongue, old lubber.

“You owe us your all—your food and your drink,
Your every joy and pleasure,
The love by your side, your child, your abode,
Your every breath and heartbeat.

“We freeze and roast and puke and drown
So you can sleep in satin;
Our arms grow hard and hands burn raw
To keep yours soft and wanton.”

The sailors pulled her lantern loose
And threw it over the railing.
It hit the ground right where you stand,
And smashed into pitiless splinters.

“But the rocks on this cape are sharp,” I said,
“And hidden away at nighttime.
Or don’t you believe in rocks at all?
Don’t you believe in darkness?”

“We believe whatever we choose,” they said.
“And you’d best believe what we do.
We’ve a right to whatever truth we like,
And you’ve got no right to say different.

“The polestar’s got nothing to do with north;
Just choose some gull to follow.
Poxes and scabs don’t come from whores,
But from your books and learning.

“To calm a squall, just whistle a tune;
For a waterspout, snap your fingers.
An iceberg melts with the wink of an eye;
Stir up a fair wind by dancing.

“We’ve been to the edge of this flat world;
Believe it because we say so.
We’ve seen where the ocean drops into space;
Don’t dare to call us liars.”

By then the sailors were smashing the walls
To rubble with their sledgehammers.
As they climbed down the spiraling way,
They ripped up the steps behind them.

“But how will you fare without the light?”
I asked them all. “You’ll surely
Lose your way, steering wild and blind;
You’ll break on these rocks and perish.”

“The light’s no good, it hurts our eyes,
It softens us, makes us feeble.
When we’re not cursed by that blinding glare,
The dark will surely guide us.

“The dark will be true, the dark will stand fast;
The dark never sleeps on duty;
Sailing this way, we’ll look out for the dark;
The dark will lead and we’ll follow.”

They finished their work and left this place
A pile of glass and rubble.
There’s a hole in the sky where the light once shone;
Sailors now use it to steer by.

Is the darkness true? Who am I to say?
The sailors said to believe them.
I’ve never sailed, don’t know what they know;
I’m just a foolish old lubber.

And yet I’ve slaved hard for my food and my drink,
My every joy and pleasure,
The love by my side, my child, my abode,
My every breath and heartbeat.

My heart has been broke and trod underfoot;
I’ve starved, and I’ve been cheated.
Through rotting teeth in its naked skull,
This world tells its lies forever.

And I’m sick of it all, my heart clenches with rage
At legions of apes and hyenas.
But how could I know what those sailors knew?
I’m only a foolish old lubber.

For the dark is strong, the dark stands fast,
And sailors faithfully follow;
And the hulls pile up on these sharp rocks,
And the salt air stinks to heaven.

The hulls pile up on these sharp rocks,
Chewed at by gulls and vermin;
The teeth of the surf bite fast and hard,
And the salt air stinks to heaven.

You and me, we’ve been to school,
We’re deep in books and learning.
The better, I guess, for the work we do now.
But why do you stand there staring?

There’s dead on the beach, more washing in,
And not a corpse fit to bury,
Nor sand enough in this whole wide world;
Keep stacking them high for burning.

© 2016, PlaysOnIdeas

st-george-lighthouse

Cape St. George Lighthouse, Jervis Bay Village, Australia