One hundred years ago: The Last Days of Mankind.
Karl Kraus writes about the sinking of the Lusitania, by a U-boat, on 7 May 1915, several times in the course of 'Die Letzten Tage der Menschheit', usually with words in the mouth of the character he calls the Begrudger, in argument with the Optimist (who always tries to offer at least some justification for the event, while accepting that it is indeed 'unfortunate'). One thing the Begrudger talks about repeatedly, in connection to indignation in Germany and Austria about the possibility of weapons crossing the Atlantic from the USA on passenger liners, to help the Allies (which was true), is clear evidence that German companies in America, run by Americans of German origin who supported Germany, companies with considerable numbers of German investors (including state organisations), companies paying dividends to German shareholders even as war proceeded, were producing arms and munitions for Allied contracts. The only people at all indignant about this were actually Americans, mostly just a few socialists, who were unhappy with the whole arms industry. In Berlin it seemed, newspapers that railed against the possible transport of crates of rifles on a ship had no interest in the German money that was not only funding weapons manufacture for the Allies already, but would be used to ramp it up phenomenally when the USA finally came into the war on the Allied side - in response, in part at least, to the sinking of the Lusitania. But then business, as Kraus points out, is business.
'There's no business like war business, like no business I know!'
The Begrudger and the Optimist discuss the Lusitania, as they walk Vienna's streets in 1915:
OPTIMIST: When it comes to politics I say: success breeds success. That’s why the sinking of the Lusitania continues to make such a great impression.
BEGRUDGER: It’s certainly achieved that. Throughout the whole world, insofar as the world is still capable of any revulsion at all. And in Berlin too.
OPTIMIST: In Berlin?
BEGRUDGER: Well, we do need some evidence to back that up. (Taking out a newspaper, he reads aloud.) ‘At the moment the ship went under, hundreds of people leapt into the sea. Most were pulled down into the maelstrom. Many clutched desperately at pieces of timber torn away by the explosion... In Queenstown, Ireland, tragic scenes could be observed: women searching for their husbands, mothers calling for their children, old women wandering around, their still wet hair hanging down, young women roaming aimlessly, helplessly, their children clasped to their breasts. 126 dead bodies already lay in a heap; among them women, men and children of all ages. Two little toddlers clung to each other in death, in a tight embrace. It was a heart-rending, unforgettable picture.’ There you are.
OPTIMIST: But what about in Berlin?
BEGRUDGER: Ah, in Berlin? Well, in a music hall there, a day after the catastrophe, they were showing a film about it all. The programme read: ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania! Realisitc Scenes! Smoking is allowed during this part of the show!’.
OPTIMIST: Certainly that is a little tasteless.
BEGRUDGER: No, I’d say it’s got style.
OPTIMIST: But I still can’t view the Lusitania business sentimentally.
BEGRUDGER: Me neither, just criminally.
OPTIMIST: People were warned.
BEGRUDGER: To warn of the danger was to threaten a crime; the murder was preceded by blackmail. Surely no blackmailer can look for exoneration because he had threatened to commit a crime that he then carried out. If I threaten you with death in the event that you refuse to do or not do something, that’s not a mitigating factor; I’m blackmailing you, not warning you; and afterwards I’m a murderer not an executioner. So, smoking allowed. And may our dear fatherland not fret itself, thinking of all those dead children!
OPTIMIST: The submarine had no choice but to -
BEGRUDGER: - take the place of the iceberg that two years earlier drove itself into the Titanic, like the wrath of God into some aberrant, overweening, technological excess, to teach mankind fear instead of awe. But now technology acts as its own tribunal; and all that’s all right. Before, we said that God was responsible for the deed. By the way, the name of the hero commanding this submarine is classified; the official report gives history no name. The enemy claims the man has received a decoration; the Wolff Bureau calls this a lie. And with an indignation so full of self-indulgent claptrap and holier-than-thou phraseology that it only serves to expose the complete truth of the accusation.
OPTIMIST: He probably has no claim to a decoration, no -
BEGRUDGER: Why ever not? The deed is exalted. That’s not kept secret.
OPTIMIST: The deed was not noble, of course, simply expedient. The Lusitania had weapons on board, weapons destined to kill German soldiers.
BEGRUDGER: And if there were weapons, we already know they were very likely German weapons as it happens, weapons made by German industries in America to kill Germans here. If war is not always exalted, it is always and always business!