Janos Gereben
Janos Gereben

Fellowship Title:

The View from Budapest

Janos Gereben
September 19, 1969

Fellowship Year

September 1969

Lerchengasse 28/43,
1080 Wien, Austria

BUDAPEST – The curtain rises in the small hall of Irodalmi Szinpad (Theater for Literature) on the successful, long-running political cabaret, entitled “Viet Rock: Beat Musical.”

Five men in blue overalls, five girls in black leotards dance to the beat of authentic American rock on the small, bare, “Second City”-style stage.

At the sound of machine guns (which signal each scene change) they all fall down, the men form a line at a small table, and two girls act as doctors at an Army pre-induction physical examination.

Sitting under an American flag, the two “doctors” say only one word as each of the five men step up to the table: “Accepted.”

The scene dissolves to the waiting room outside where two women are talking about their sons who are now being examined.

“They won’t take my son,” brags the first, dressed in feather-covered clothes, signifying that she is a member of the upper class, “I gave them money and we have connections in the Pentagon.” The other woman, obviously poor, can only cry: “My son was at the head of the class in high school, but we didn’t have enough money to send him to college. They will draft him, kill him in Vietnam.”

The five men file out into the waiting room, all in mock uniform, accepted and ready for basic training. The rich woman’s son tells her mother that he asked to be accepted in the Army because he “wants to be on his own.” The two mothers sing about the fate of mothers in America where their sons are used for cannon fodder.

One of the men now becomes the drill sergeant and the other four are marching and sing about the “virtue of the good soldier:”

“He kills if he has to… He destroys his enemies… He is hard in victory.”

The girls now enter the stage in hippie outfits, carrying signs: “WHY?” “PEACE IN VIETNAM!”

”Who are you, my little sister, angel or a girl?” asks this poem of To Huu, published in Hungary’s Nepszabadsag.  The accompanying article explains that Tran Thi Nam (picture), in whose honor the poem was written, is a South Vietnamese “freedom fighter” who was captured by Americans and “tortured with bestial brutality for three and a half years” to get information from her. “She became a 54-pound skeleton in the hands of the Americans, covered with wounds, her head broken in several places.” She was given up for dead, the story says, and smuggled out of the morgue by her comrades. Sent to a Budapest hospital, Ly (her cover name for guerrilla activity) is said to be on the way to complete recovery.

“Your expedition to Vietnam is an excuse for total war,” the demonstrators chant, “It costs $250,000 to train one soldier, why don’t we use the money to eliminate poverty? Have you forgotten your fathers’ war? Remember Nurnberg and individual responsibility.”

The soldiers step over the girls and reply, “We have our orders.” The sergeant says, “I arrest you according to United States law.” One of the soldiers says, “They grow their hair long so they can burn better.”

“Burning Commies,” the sergeant sneers, “damned Commie pacifists. Our sacred war started in Korea and we will now win in Vietnam. Soldiers, show your dead comrades that they didn’t die in vain.”

A Vietnamese landscape is projected into the back of the stage as the five soldiers arrive in Saigon.

“Drink and love, welcome to Saigon,” the girls, now dressed in white. “Vietnamese” costumes, sing to the soldiers who reply, “Truth is with us, we’ll defend freedom.”

Following a choreographed jungle patrol scene, the girls act as the South Vietnamese parliament, discussing exchange of prisoners. “There can be no prisoners,” one of them keeps saying, “because this is not a war.”  Each time she repeats “no war,” a shot is heard and one of the men falls down.

The 10 players now line up, reciting an exchange of letters between American soldiers in Vietnam and their families back home.

“Do you have a good view from the rice paddies,” a mother inquires “give a good account of yourself because they are naming me Mother of the Year.” “I know you have to fight for freedom,” another mother says, “but it looks so horrible on television.” “It’s hot and muddy here,” a soldier tells in his letter, “and we are killing innocent people. I will tell the truth to everybody when I get home.”


”Withdrawal, American style. “

All cartoons from the Budapest magazine Ludas Matyi

Title: “Training of the Green Berets.”’

Caption: “Remember well: We are learning here for real life, not for the school.”

The girls next act as South Vietnamese soldiers, the men as GIs, training them. “They are so small,” one of the men complains to the sergeant, “just like girls. We can never make good killers out of them.” The sergeant replies, “They are the only friends we’ve got,” and takes over the training himself, exhorting the “South Vietnamese to “shoot always into the heart.”

The girls, at the end of the training, kill all the GIs, singing “Shoot into the heart of the aggressors.” The sergeant laments, “I would like to see those bald, yellow-bellied liberals dead in place of my sons.”

To the accompaniment of “When the Saints Come Marching In,” the dead soldiers are carried out. A girl, representing Mother Earth, sings; “This war rots men to return them to me.”

There are about 10 more scenes in-this two-hour show, including interrogation by sadist Americans of the captured partisans and another by sad, soft-speaking Viet Cong officers of captured, brash Americana.

The show closes with a song about the coming victory for “the patriots” against “the bloody aggressors.”

Title: “Nixon keeps his word.”

Caption: “How could you come home from Vietnam if you are still here.”

Caption: “How could you come home from Vietnam if you are still here.”





(Caption: Von Thadden, referring to a headline about Kiesinger’s statement – “If Kiesinger keeps saying that the NDP is not fascist, we will lose our supporters.”

Received in New York on September 19, 1969.

Mr. Gereben is an Alicia Patterson Fund award winner, on leave from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. This article may be published with credit to Janos Gereben, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and the Alicia Patterson Fund.