“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.”
Death makes this observation near the end of Part Two, right before the bonfire of banned books is lit as part of the celebration of Hitler’s birthday. The quote shows Death struggling to understand the crowd’s frenzied desire for destruction and also suggests that it is human nature to destroy things. More notably, it foreshadows the coming destruction that will sweep across Europe as the war intensifies. In the quote Death suggests that the war arose out of the same desire that leads people to enjoy seeing sandcastles demolished and books burned. This desire, Death implies, may even be benign when it stays on the scale of sandcastles and houses of cards. The trouble comes when people are no longer satisfied with small, harmless acts of destruction and crave bigger, more dramatic demonstrations. In other words, the trouble starts when things escalate, and here that escalation clearly indicates the coming war. When Death calls the capacity to escalate a skill, he is clearly being sardonic. Instead, Death is mocking humanity and its appetite for destruction.