Monday, February 24, 2014

Hitler's Struggle (Mein Kampf) is a struggle to read

The former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill reportedly said after Adolf Hitler came to power that his autobiography Mein Kampf (My Struggle) needs intense scrutiny than any other book. Unfortunately, as William L Shirer also pointed out in his ‘The Rise and the fall of the Third Reich’, it was an unfortunate incident in history that no one gave serious thought for what Hitler had stated in his book. Not many people even bothered to read it, perhaps because it was a struggle to even read it.

The writing style did not allow smooth reading and it was too vitriolic and one sided to many people. Furthermore, until the Great Economic Depression of 1929, the Nazi Party was never strong enough to come to power and therefore almost everyone outside the party dismissed Hitler as just another political upstart. Germany had enough such people, both inside and outside the Nazi Party.
Mein Kampf dust jacket (1926-27)
Hitler started work on the book while in prison. On November 9, 1923, he led the abortive coup known as the Beer Hall Putsch, an attempt to seize power in Bavaria. He was arrested and imprisoned in Landsburg Fort in Bavaria, where he dictated the first volume of the book to Rudolf Hess, who did the job as secretary. The second volume was written after he was released from prison.

In this book, Hitler speaks about the hatred he has for the Jewish Community and his belief that they are responsible to many ills of the society. He attacks Marxism as a challenge to national development and as a creation of the Jewish ‘conspiracy.’ Hitler espouses his ideas on the supremacy of the German race and also the need for living space (Lebensraum). His idea for capturing living space was simple; invade the vast lands to the East, Poland and Russia. Although many are amazed by the sheer brutality unleashed upon the peoples of Europe by Hitler’s Nazi regime, one should not be too surprised. He had more or less indicated many of his intentions in his book.

Although it was meant to be a political manifesto as well as an autobiography, not many people read Mein Kampf before they were forced to do so after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. After Hitler came to power, he attempted to Nazify everything in German society including literature and religion. In 1933, public book burnings took place in Germany where tens of thousands of books by ‘dissident’ writers were burned in huge bonfires. Any book which was not palpable to the Nazi ideology suffered this fate. They were replaced by the nationalist literature including Mein Kampf. In fact, the Nazi regime wanted to create a “National Reich Church” with the bible replaced by Mein Kampf. However, after the fall of Nazi Germany the book was banned in Germany.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 03: World War I

November 11, 2013, was the 95th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Over a period of little more than 4 years, mankind was involved in a terrible massacre seen never before. Many important world powers involved in this war where the ‘Central Powers’ led by Germany fought with the ‘Allies’. At 11am on November 11, 1918, Germany signed the armistice, ending the war. The First World War was meant to be ‘the war to end all wars.’ But it ended up prolonging animosities since the world powers could not manage the peace created by the end of the war. This ultimately led to a much more terrible carnage during the Second World War.

01. On June 28, 1918, the heir to the Austro-Hungary throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, were assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist. Sarajevo was the capital of Bosnia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Serbia was accused of supporting Serb nationalist group “Serb Black Hand” which was suspected of planning and carrying out this assassination. One event led to another and eventually the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. This was the beginning of the First World War.
Who shot the fatal bullets which killed the Archduke and his wife in Sarajevo?

02. The First World War was the war in which several novelties were introduced. One was the large scale gas attacks. Chlorine gas was used to attack unsuspecting troops who suffered from respiratory problems and irritation in the eyes as a result. Chlorine was first used in a large scale by the Germans in April 1915. It was then employed by the Allies. As a result, gas masks became an essential part of a soldier’s equipment, especially in the Western Front. In which battle, fought in Belgium, was large scale gas attacks first employed?

03. July 1, 1916, was a dark day in British military history. It was the day when British Armies suffered the largest number of casualties in a single day. At the start of a great battle, the British subjected the German positions to intense artillery attack and thought the German defenders could not escape the bombardment. Then the British charged. But, the Germans had sheltered themselves and were ready to hit back. Their machine guns created havoc among the British troops. About 55,000 were either killed or wounded on the first day of the battle. What was this battle?

04. At the start of the war in 1914, Germany had four colonies in Africa. Allied forced led by Britain occupied three of them with little trouble. But the German commander in Tanganyika had no intention of surrendering. The Allied forces could not defeat him and he surrendered only after hearing about the armistice in Europe. Therefore, it could be said that the First World War really ended in Africa a few days after the armistice in Europe. This German General died in 1964, aged 94. Who was he?
Signing of the armistice in 1918

05. The armistice was signed in a railway carriage in a forest area on November 11, 1918. German nationalists considered this to be the greatest humiliation. In 1940, when France was defeated by the Germans at the early stages of the Second World War, Hitler wanted to re-enact the scene. He wanted the French to sign their surrender in the same place, in the same railway carriage. Therefore, the carriage was brought there and France signed its surrender in the same place as Germany surrendered in 1918. In which forest did these events take place?

Answers to Quiz 02

01. Kerala

02. Manuel I

03. Afonso de Albuquerque

04. 1961

05. Macau

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A motorcycle trip that changed history

Many young people, by nature, are yearning for adventure. This has given rise to ‘commercialization of adventure’ through adventure parks, white water rafting, bungee jumping and other activities, for which people are ready to spend money. This gives a sense of difference and liberty to the lives of the participants.

Travel is also an adventure. If someone chose to travel in a motorbike, across countries or even continents, it will be looked upon by some people as madness, even now. Fifty years ago, many more people would have said the same when two friends from Argentina embarked on a trip of Latin America in their motorbike dubbed La Poderosa (The mighty one).

Alberto Granado and Ernesto Guevara were training to be doctors and were from extremely privileged families. They had seen the wealth of Argentina, which was, and still is, a relatively rich country in Latin America. In their country, they could not see the plight of the native South American (Amerindian) people, simply because their forefathers had ‘eliminated’ those people centuries ago.

Alberto Granado and Che (R)

Their voyage took them across Argentina to Chile and then to Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, ending in Miami before they flew home. Their vehicle, “the mighty one” broke down for good in Chile and they completed the tour basically by hitch-hiking. This helped them interact with the people on the ground. As Alberto Granado told to the Irish Times in 2004, it gave them a chance to “become familiar with the people. We worked, took on jobs to make money and continue traveling. We hauled merchandise, carried sacks, worked as sailors, cops and doctors.” What started as a adventure trip ended up being a lesson in life.

Guevara’s introductory lessons in Communism were in Chile, where he witnessed the suppression of the Communist Party members, whose protests against consistent hunger had transformed into “a love for this strange doctrine.” Later in the trip, they saw how introvert and negative the Peruvian Aymara Indians looked. They had been under the tutelage of colonial and then local masters for centuries. The situation was the same until very recently, decades after Guevara’s murder.

The lessons continued as they went to a leprosy colony in Peruvian Amazon region. He saw how even simple gestures of kindness meant a lot to those people who had been discriminated from society.

By the time he went back home to Argentina, Guevara knew that he was not the one that left on the journey several months ago. He was sure that “when the great guiding spirit cleaves humanity into two antagonistic halves, I will be with the people.” He had not become the Pan-Latin American, Communist revolutionary leader. But, by the time his trip ended, his journey in the revolutionary path had started.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 02: Portuguese Empire in Asia

Quizzing is a fun hobby. We engage in quizzing not only to win, but also to learn. Therefore, in this quiz, we include a lot of background information with every question. From this information, you can learn many other things related to the question.

On November 9, 1505, a young Portuguese captain named Laurenco de Almeida landed in Galle, Sri Lanka, becoming the first Portuguese to land in the island. Thus began the Portuguese conquest of Ceylon, which saw a considerable part of the island being occupied by them. Portuguese Ceylon was an important part in the Portuguese Empire in Asia. But there were many more domains.

Calicut in 1572

1. In 1498, Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama landed in the Indian city of Calicut, ruled by the Zamorins. Today, Calicut is called Kozhikode. In which Indian state is Kozhikode located?

2. Laurenco de Almeida was the son of the first Viceroy of Portuguese India, Francisco de Almeida, who was appointed by the then king of Portugal. Who was this Portuguese king?

3. This Portuguese naval commander was instrumental than anyone else in the initial Portuguese conquests in the Indian Ocean. He conquered the Socotra Island, Goa and Malacca among other places and was the first Portuguese commander to enter the Persian Gulf. He shares his surname with a city in New Mexico, USA, although this city was not named after him. Who was this Portuguese naval officer?

Vasco da Gama lands in Calicut, 1498

4. Despite losing many of her Asian domains to other rival powers during the 16th century and afterwards, Portugal held its Indian domains including Goa until recently. Even when India gained independence these lands were under Portuguese rule. India took Goa, Daman and Diu after a minor war against the Portuguese. In which year did this war take place?

5. In December 1999, Portugal handed over the sovereignty of a small territory to China, after 450 years of occupation. The transfer of power took place in the “one country two systems” method, like in Hong Kong. What was this former Portuguese territory?

Answers to Quiz 01

1. Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting

2. Lee Kwan Yew

3. Mozambique

4. Goa

5. Mauritius

Originally published in The Nation newspaper.