About the poet:
Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director. Berliner Ensemble – the post-war theatre company – was started by Brecht and his wife, long-time collaborator and actress Helene Weigel.
Brecht was born on 10th February 1898 in Augsburg, Bavaria. He was born as Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht. Brecht’s mother was a devout Protestant while his father was a Catholic (who had nevertheless been persuaded to have a Protestant wedding). Thanks to his mother’s influence, Brecht knew the Bible, and this would have a lifelong effect on his writing. It is also his mother who was the model of the “dangerous image of the self-denying woman” that recurs in his drama.
From July 1916, Brecht’s newspaper articles began appearing under the new name “Bert Brecht”, and his first theatre criticism for the Augsburger Volkswille appeared in October 1919. Brecht’s first full-length play, Baal was written in 1918 in response to an argument in one of Kutscher’s drama seminars, initiating a trend that persisted throughout his career of creative activity that was generated by a desire to counter another work (both others’ and his own work). “Anyone can be creative,” he is known to have said; “it’s rewriting other people that’s a challenge.” Brecht completed his second major play, Drums in the Night, in February 1919.
In November that year, it was announced that Brecht had been awarded the prestigious Kleist Prize (intended for unestablished writers and probably Germany’s most significant literary award, until it was abolished in 1932) for his first three plays (Baal, Drums in the Night, and In the Jungle, although at that point only Drums had been produced).
Brecht’s collection of poems entitled Devotions for the Home was published in January 1927. In 1925 in Mannheim, the artistic exhibition Neue Sachlichkeit (meaning “New Objectivity“) had given its name to the new post-Expressionist movement in the German arts. At the same time, Brecht began to develop his Man Equals Man project, which was to become the first product of “the ‘Brecht collective’—that shifting group of friends and collaborators on whom he henceforward depended.” This collaborative approach to artistic production, along with aspects of Brecht’s writing and style of theatrical production, Mark Brecht’s work from this period as part of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement.
Fearing persecution, Brecht left Germany just after Hitler took power in February 1933. Denmark became the residence of the Brecht family for the next six years. Then Hitler invaded Norway and Denmark, and Brecht was forced to leave and settle in the United States until 3rd May 1941. During the war years, he expressed his opposition to the National Socialist and Fascist movements in his most famous plays: Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children, The Good Person of Szechwan, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, and many others.
In the years of the Cold War and “Red Scare“, Brecht was blacklisted by movie studio bosses and interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The day after his testimony, on 31st October, Brecht returned to Europe. In Chur in Switzerland, Brecht staged an adaptation of Sophocles‘ Antigone, based on a translation by Hölderlin under the title Antigonemodell 1948. This production was accompanied by an essay on the importance of creating a “non-Aristotelian” form of theatre.
Brecht died on 14th August 1956 of a heart attack. He was 58 at the time.
About General, your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle:
“General, your tank is a Powerful Vehicle” is the English translation of a poem by Bertolt Brecht that was originally written in German. Its German title is “General, dein Tank ist ein starker Wagen”. It is thought to be written in the late 1930s.
The Setting of General, your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle:
This poem is set in a battlefield. However, this is not any specific battlefield, but an abstract one that the poet has constructed in his mind. This battlefield is, in fact, representative of all battlefields in general. The poet believes that war (not just one war, but any and every war) is futile.
Stanza-wise Summary of General, your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle:
The poem consists of 3 stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of 4 lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of 12 lines in total.
General, your tank is a powerful vehicle
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.
In this stanza, the poet addresses his words to a high-ranking officer in the army, whom he refers to as “General”. However, he is not speaking to one army officer in general. He is addressing his comments to all such officers who command troops during any war. Returning to the text of the poem, the poet is telling the officer that his tank has more power than one can imagine looking at its metal body from the outside. The tank can demolish an entire forest, and it can also knock down a hundred men in one blow. However, it cannot be operated without a human driver. That is the tank’s only defect.
General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.
In this stanza, the poet once again addresses his lines to the army officer from the previous stanza. He tells the officer that his bomber plane is a very powerful machine. It can fly at a faster speed than the winds that cause stormy weather. It can also carry a load of a large elephant easily. However, it is useless unless a mechanic can be found to make it ready to fly. That is the bomber plane’s only shortcoming.
General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.
In this stanza, the poet addresses his comments to the above-mentioned army officer for the last and final time. He tells the officer than human beings can also be put to a lot of use in a war. Human beings can fly planes, and they can also kill others without hesitating. However, human beings are not without any fault of their own. They have the ability to think, rather than to mindlessly follow instructions, and because of this, they may not turn out to be the army officer’s perfect allies.