Brecht’s enforced journeying during the years of Nazi rule go some way in explaining the context and the form of War Primer. After the Reichstag fire in 1933 he wandered from Prague to Paris, from London to Moscow; settled in Denmark; onto Finland and Leningrad and Validivostok; found refuge in Los Angeles and New York and, after the war, left the USA the day after testifying before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Responding to the chilling rapidity with which the Nazis were conquering Eruope, allied to the growing exactness and concentration of his poetry, Brecht developed a practice that would lead to War Primer. He began cutting out particular photographs from newspapers and magazines and then writing lapidary verse to go with them: ‘at present all [he could] write [were] these little epigrams, first eight-liners and now only four-liners’, he noted in his journal in the middle of 1940. War Primer was not finally published until 1955 and, in an afterword to his translation for the Verso edition, John Willet outlines the genealogy of the work. Walter Benjamin also...
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