General Your Tank is A Powerful Vehicle by Bertolt Brecht

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.

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.

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.


General, your tank is a powerful vehicle is from Bertolt Brecht’s A German War Primer. This is a simple poem and the meaning that it conveys is simple yet profound, and it does this with a directness which is both touching and thought provoking.

The poem is addressed to the Generals of war and each stanza begins with General. This is interesting because the Generals hardly ever lead at the front. They are perhaps those that least risk their lives. They plan attack strategies but are distanced from the sordid business of fighting in the war. It is only right that this poem should be addressed to them as it makes a powerful statement against war.

The first stanza deals with the powerful tank which ‘Smashes down forests and crushes hundred men”. Although it can do this, it is nonetheless powerless, because it cannot propel itself. It needs a driver.

The second stanza deals with the powerful bomber that “flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant”. The bomber too, like the tank suffers from the same defect. It needs a mechanic to fly. Note the ironic use of the word “powerful”, in both these stanzas.

The last stanza states that man is useful for he is the one who converts the otherwise powerless tanks and bomber into powerful instruments of destruction. But then even man suffers from one defect. This defect is his ability to think. The use of “defect” in this stanza is highly ironical for this defect is not really a defect but the crowning feature of human beings.

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