Thursday, 5 January 2012

The End Of The World

21 December 2012

“Wake up!” Mrs Mayan Calendar shook her husband’s shoulder none too gently. “It’s your Day of Work, and you’re sleeping in. As usual.”

“Wha...whassup?” Mr Mayan Calendar rubbed his eyes. “Can’t I get a little sleep around here?”

“You’re done with sleeping.” Mrs Mayan Calendar shook him harder. “Up, now. Up.”

“Mmf,” Mr Mayan Calendar said. “Five more minutes. Five more.”

“You’ve been sleeping for a full year now,” his wife reminded him. “You’re always sleeping, never do a lick of work, the roof needs mending and we’re out of bread, you never ask, never wonder how I’m running this place, and now you dare tell me you want to sleep for five more miserable minutes?”

“All right, all right.” Grumbling, Mr Mayan Calendar arose. “Keep a hold on yourself, can’t you? What did you say I have to do today?”

“Nothing much,” the missus told him, not forgetting to accompany it with a nasty look. “It should even be within your capacity. Just end the world, that’s all.”

“Huh? Oh, it’s that day, is it?” Mr Mayan Calendar rubbed his chin, wincing more at the thought of having to shave than at the stubble. Still, it wouldn’t do to turn up at work unshaven, especially on as momentous an occasion as this. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. Unfortunately for you, I’m sure. The people from your office called bright and early to confirm I knew to wake you up, as though I’d forget. So you’d better get cleaned up and off now.”

Mr Mayan Calendar cast a regretful look back at his bed and headed to the bathroom. When he emerged, twenty minutes later, it was with the expectation of breakfast waiting at the dining room table – but there was none.

“I work my fingers to the bone,” his helpmeet snapped, when he dared to mention the fact, “to cook and clean and keep this place going, while you lie in bed all year snoring. If you want breakfast you’ll have to make it yourself.”

So Mr Mayan Calendar boiled an egg for himself (it turned out a mite runny, but he was in a hurry to get out of the house before she ordered him to get into the chores) and had a cup of unsweetened black coffee. He hated black coffee, sweetened or otherwise, but they were out of milk and cream.

All the while his wife was hovering in the background, and now she once again started in on him.

“As if you even care that you have a job to go to, what with sleeping the whole year, and you couldn’t care less what’s been happening anywhere anyway, and...”

Mr Mayan Calendar spooned up some of the egg yolk and slipped in a word edgeways when the lady paused for breath. “So what’s been happening in the world anyway?” he enquired.

His wife paused in mid spate, like a clipper ship whose sails have suddenly run out of wind. “Why are you suddenly concerned with that?” she asked suspiciously. “I never knew you to give a damn before.”

“Well, um...” Mr Mayan Calendar looked into the depths of the awful coffee for inspiration. “I just, you know, wanted to find out what was going on in the world, seeing as I’m going to destroy it today.”

“You sure it isn’t just to get out of being told the truth about yourself?” The breeze freshened and began to fill out the clipper’s sails. “I just tell the truth, and if you don’t like it, that’s just too bad. You’re going to get it anyway. When I think how my friend Mrs Y2K and her husband...”

Mr Mayan Calendar was washing out his cup at the sink when he next got a chance to speak. “And what’s been happening in the world this last year?” he repeated casually. “Since you’ve been so alert all year, you might as well tell me, mightn’t you?”

Apparently the wind died down as abruptly as if someone had closed a door. Mrs Mayan Calendar gulped, like an exceptionally large bullfrog swallowing a dragonfly. “Well, uh,” she muttered. “Where do you want me to begin?”

“Well, how about current affairs?” Mr Mayan Calendar said, rummaging in his wardrobe for a clean shirt. “What happened in politics? Wasn’t there some Emperor Obama of Whitehouse as I recall?”

“Yeah, him. That’s the one who wanted Change.”

“Change? What for?”

“How on earth should I know? Maybe his daughters needed some to buy burgers from the local MacDonald’s. How does it matter either way? But the people wouldn’t give him enough Change, so he made a law allowing him to lock them all up.”

“He did? And then he took all their Change from them?”

“No, because apparently they didn’t have any left. Everyone was very Depressed over it. They kept talking about their Depression but apparently there weren’t enough medicines for it, or something. Someone called Banks was responsible, who lived in a street with a wall. It must have been a pretty big wall because 99% of the people went to occupy it.”

“I remember something about that, vaguely. And then?”

“Well, there was some kind of place called Off Gone ‘Is Tan. Which I assume means someone could no longer pay for a tanning salon. Anyway, Emperor Obama maybe thought he could pay this poor man’s bills, so he went and attacked an Eye that Ran about. At least everyone called this place Eye-ran, and the Emperor went to Occupy it himself. But that didn’t turn out all that well because of something called the Price of Gas.”

“You don’t say.” Mr Mayan Calendar had finally found a reasonably clean and reasonably uncrumpled shirt. “So that’s all about the Emperor?”

“No, because of the Price of Gas, people had even less Change to give him, so he made himself God-Emperor and Droned at everyone who thought otherwise until they all gave up thinking otherwise. It was either listen to his droning on and on and on, or attend some kind of Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, as I gather. Anyway. after that everyone gave him all the Change they had, which wasn’t enough to buy his daughters burgers, either.

“And in the meantime there was Is Real, that place that not everyone accepts is real. Apparently they had a lot of boorish people who didn’t appreciate good things, art and culture and such, so they called them Philistines. These Philistines wanted their own country where they could desecrate art and culture all they wanted.”

“Fancy that. What happened?”

“So in defence of art and culture, the Is Reals wiped all the Philistines out. The Emperor sent them some Change to buy more washcloths to use when they want to wipe out more people who hate art and culture.”

“And what about the rest? You know, like, what was that place called? Europe.”

 “I think it ran out of Grease to lubricate its parts, so its workings seized up something awful. They haven’t sorted it out yet. I heard they’re planning to replace the Euro with the doubloon. Someone said the pirates did well with it. And talking about pirates, in April the Somali pirates registered their business on the stock exchanges. I bought a thousand shares...”

“You what?” Mr Mayan Calendar turned from the wardrobe in righteous anger. “You did what? I worked for that money!”

“...and those shares have appreciated two thousand per cent in value,” his wife went on, unperturbed. “Piracy is a growth industry, and you’ve done precious little work in two thousand years. So just you shut up about that.”

“All right, all right. Enough about current affairs. What about...oh, science?”

“Yes, well, science, yeah. You’ve heard that they finally proved some things move faster than light?”

“Yes? So?”

“So light got angry and went on go-slow. It went so slow that snails were crawling faster than it and travelling back in time, and everything got so screwed up the scientists went and ran more experiments proving nothing travelled faster than light. Then light was happy and went back to its own speed again.”

“Do you think this tie will go with this shirt?”

“No, it’s too reddish. It’ll make you look like a liberal. Wear that one, the conservative dark blue. Next, there was this thing about Global Warming. A scientist said he’d proved conclusively that it was a hoax, but the Nobel Prize people refused to give him it on the grounds that he was microbiologist and not a climatologist. So the industrialists got together and awarded him their Nobble Science Prize, with a gold medal and a statue. Unfortunately the next day someone went and painted LIAR on it.”

“Is the tie on straight? Anything new in religion?”

“Not really, just that a new Prophet is making a lot of Profit in India after declaring himself the New Almighty God. Sixteen churches, eight Hindu sects, and three different schools of Islamic thought have already announced that they are the new Almighty God instead. Here, let me fix your tie.”

“Thanks. So what about culture? Films? Music? TV?”

“You don’t want to know, Trust me. I mean, you really don’t want to know.” Mrs Mayan Calendar paused. “Why are you taking off that shirt and tie? What are you doing?”

“Going back to bed.” Mr Mayan Calendar sighed. “There’s no point in my going to work anyway.”

“What are you talking about? You’re supposed to destroy the world today, aren’t you?”

Mr Mayan Calendar sighed again. 

“The humans have beaten me to it already,” he said.

Part of the Second World War Conspiracy Theory Industry

There's a particular genre of writing, very specifically aimed at amateur history buffs, which focuses on alleged Great Mysteries of the Second World War, almost entirely based on claims that the official fates of certain top Nazis are polite fictions. The pioneer of this genre was Hugh Thomas who wrote two books dedicated to proving that Rudolf Hess was not exactly the same person as the man imprisoned for over forty years in Berlin; his research was laughable, his arguments full of holes, and yet he made a fortune. Soon enough he was claiming that Heinrich Himmler survived the fall of the Nazi state and someone else had committed suicide in his place. Meanwhile, Ladislas Farago "proved" (in 'Aftermath: Martin Bormann and the Fourth Reich') that Hitler's deputy Bormann had fled to Argentina and created a Fourth Reich there amongst émigrés (in reality, Bormann's skull was found in Berlin and verified to be his by DNA testing). And there was Hitler, with an entire mythology already dedicated to discussing his alleged escape and survival. This book (Grey Wolf: The Escape Of Adolf Hitler by Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams) is merely a belated entry on that list.

The book’s theory, if one can put it that way, is that Hitler and Eva Braun escaped from Berlin on 27th April 1945 (by which time it was surrounded by the Red Army and elements of Marshal Zhukov’s forces were already inside the city limits). They were replaced by a “double” of Hitler and an actress, who played Braun, and who went through a sham marriage on the 29th April before being executed the next day as the Russians were approaching the Reich Chancellery*. Hitler and Braun went off to Denmark, returned to Germany, thence left for Spain and finally to Argentina, where they lived near the Andes, had two daughters, and divorced before dying of old age (in Hitler’s case, in 1962 at the age of 73).  

Actually, the evidence - physical evidence, in the form of documents (including Hitler's will and testament), survivor accounts, Hitler's state of mind and health - is overwhelming that Adolf did kill himself on the morning of 30th April 1945. Anyone who doubts this is welcome to read well-annotated (unlike this book) accounts such as Hugh Trevor-Roper's 'The Last Days Of Hitler'. If Hitler had actually escaped, in fact, it's more than likely that G öring or Himmler - both eager to succeed him to the last - would have had him quietly bumped off; and in any case by 1945 Hitler was aged decades beyond his years, a complete physical wreck, addicted to "Dr" Theodor Morell's drugs, possibly suffering from Parkinsonism, and certainly from severe neurological trauma from the assassination attempt on him in July 1944.

Also, Hitler was "historically minded" - he had refused to escape when he easily could have, with the Russians still far from Berlin, and had chosen a "Norse" end in the city - a Götterdämmerung (the Twilight Of the Viking Gods). Determined as he was to die mythologically, it's inconceivable that he would have tried to escape (as I said, he had repeatedly turned down desperate suggestions by his staff that he get away while there was time). Escaping would have been a complete betrayal of his own character. He always thought, and said so out loud and clear, that the German people were "unworthy of his genius", and so he was determined to pull the nation down with him.

Most Second World War Conspiracy Theory Industry books are hung on one minor and essentially unimportant point, which is blown out of all proportion and frequently fictionalised as well. With Hugh Thomas it was a “scar” Rudolf Hess should have had on his chest as a result of a wound in the First World War – but the Spandau prisoner, according to Thomas, did not. In reality, the “scar” was still there, though much faded, and Thomas misrepresented (or simply ignored) the type of bullet which caused it, and therefore its treatment, and its very nature. Bormann’s alleged survival revolved around rumours among Nazi émigrés in Argentina, with a fairly transparent impostor (whom the author Farago interviewed) stepping in to fill the role. Himmler’s case (Thomas again) revolved around the allegedly “incredible” way the man (a notoriously weak-willed Nazi whom Thomas built up into a monster of efficiency) allowed himself to be captured by the British and then committed suicide. And in this case, it turns on the fact that the skull alleged to be Hitler’s and which lies in a Moscow vault turned out to be female. (Actually, it wasn’t the skull the Soviets used to identify Hitler – it was a jaw fragment found near it – which is a point completely missed by the authors, for who knows what reasons of their own. Or, I might say I know quite well...)

These starting points, in the Industry literature, are then built up as the core of the investigation (they have to be, because usually there is exactly nothing else to go on), and other rumours, innuendo, insinuations and fantasies are weaved round them in order to make a whole structure that looks impressive on the outside but stands up to not even cursory scrutiny. Thomas never answers the question, for example, why the prisoner in Spandau prison in Berlin never revealed that he wasn’t Hess, when a word from him would have set him free. Farago never answers the question (which he himself raises) of why the “Bormann” he interviewed never seemed to allude in detail to his life in the Führer’s company, but almost exclusively focused on the Fourth Reich in Argentina. And the authors of this book never even approach the question of why Hitler should have been helped to escape by so many people, when it would have been in their own interests to see him dead and gone.

For instance, for the Nazis, a dead Hitler would have been a martyr and a symbol. A half-mad, cranky old man would have been a security risk, an embarrassment, and an anti-symbol as it were, living proof that Nazism had failed and was a thing of crackpot theorising and insane delusions of grandeur. For the Americans (the book claims they helped him get away in return for weapons secrets) Hitler alive would have been irrelevant to those weapons. He wasn’t a scientist and the Americans and Russians between them recruited the ex-Nazi scientific corps for their own efforts quite nicely without Hitler, thank you very much (check up Werner von Braun sometime). For the Spaniards and Argentines who allegedly helped him along and sheltered him, he would be another security risk and embarrassment (it’s one matter sheltering some relatively minor SS thug, quite another where it’s the Monster himself). And in any case these authors make absolutely no effort to prove, by hard evidence even approaching (let alone surpassing) the evidence proving otherwise, that Hitler got away. And in instance after instance they openly state that certain conclusions are the result of their “intuitive thinking” (a rather Hitleresque term, I find). They do not even attempt to track down Hitler’s two daughters – who would of course be priceless proof of the rightness of their theory, and whose DNA could be compared to the descendants of Hitler’s siblings to confirm their identity.

I’m not saying that Hitler didn’t get away. I suppose it’s possible. But there’s a hell of a distance, measurable in parsecs, between admitting that the evidence for his death (gathered in the ruins of a nation falling to pieces and with the shadow of the Cold War already looming overhead) might have holes in it, and claiming that Hitler actually did get away, had daughters, died at a specific time – and failing to back any of this up with evidence a court wouldn’t throw out in five minutes.

Even in styling the book is badly faulted, with most of the first hundred-odd pages devoted to a history of the Second World War. Pardon me for assuming that anyone who reads this book will already know all about the history of the V-weapon attacks on London, for instance, or the Allied offensives of early 1945. He or she is reading this book to know what the authors claim happened to Hitler. That information, such as it is, is singularly late coming. And when it does come, it is as full of logic and factual holes as the genre as a whole (no pun intended) is.

Verdict: save your money. I'm giving it half a star out of five, and that's because I'm feeling generous.

Go read a good novel instead.

*The "evidence" for this is a claim by a single "facial recognition expert" that some photos of Hitler taken on 20 March 1945 do not in fact depict Hitler, with no other backup of even this claim.

Note: I found an excellent dissection of this figment of the authors' imagination here.

See "Buyer Beware: Fantasy History" by Roger Clark on that page.