How Nazi Germany is like a beloved children’s book

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Today I’m going to show you how a popular children’s picture book is really an allegory for Europe during the years leading up to World War II.

Before I do that, we’ll need to backtrack to the end of World War I. On June 28, 1919, Germany agreed to the Treaty of Versailles, which effectively ended the war between the Germans and the Allied Powers. While Germany got to remain a country, the treaty stifled any ability they had to govern themselves and to grow their economy over the next 20 years.

ImageA few parts of the Treaty of Versailles:

  • The German armed forces would number no more than 100,000 and the draft would be abolished.
  • German naval forces could only include 15,000 men, six battleships, six cruisers, 12 destroyers, and 12 torpedo boats. Submarines were not allowed.
  • Germany was prohibited from having armed forces in the Rhineland – basically the area closest to France.
  • Germany had to pay reparations that would equal $442 billion in today’s dollars. At the time, noted economist John Maynard Keynes predicted the treaty was too harsh.

The treaty was brutal, especially when you take the Great Depression into account. In America we learn about the Stock Market Crash and the Dust Bowl and John Steinbeck novels as if we were the sole sufferers in the 1930’s. It was a worldwide Depression and Europe, particularly Central Europe was hard-hit. Germany, in particular suffered unemployment as high as 25 percent.

In steps Adolf Hitler.

After all of the punishments from the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler came into office and ushered in a wave of German nationalism. In a way, you can’t blame the Germans – they’d been blamed for every bad thing that had happened in Europe during World War I, but they were still Germans and they were still proud.

Hitler began building up the army, contrary to the Treaty of Versailles – and this is where the children’s book comes into play.

ImageLet’s take a break from fascism and examine the book, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie,” by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond.

If you aren’t familiar with the book, it’s a cute story about a boy who gives a cookie to a mouse. The mouse then wants a glass of milk to go with that cookie, then a straw, then a mirror (so he won’t have a milk mustache), then scissors and a broom. Then comes a nap, a story read to him, to draw a picture and to hang that picture on the fridge. By the end of the book, the mouse has gotten everything he wanted and the little boy is run ragged by the endless wants of the mouse.

Now let’s say the mouse is Hitler and the boy is Europe and their policy of appeasement in the mid-1930’s.

Britain and France were basically in charge of keeping Germany in check, but not everybody thought that the Treaty of Versailles was fair, especially the land and military restrictions imposed by the terms of the treaty. Thus, when Hitler ordered the army to re-arm and to begin conscription, France and Britain looked the other way.

The mouse had his cookie. Now he wanted milk.

Then Hitler moved troops into the demilitarized Rhineland near France in 1936 and again the Allies did nothing.

The mouse had his milk.

From there, Hitler kept taking and Europe kept giving (perhaps the Giving Tree would have been appropriate as well?)

The biggest kicker came in 1938. Hitler declared that he wanted the German-speaking portion of Czechoslovakia called Sudetenland. By actually invading a foreign country, Hitler would be inviting war – his boldest step by far.

In steps British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. He, along with a few French leaders tried to “appease” Hitler. Their (mistaken) belief was that if they gave this to Hitler, he would finally be happy and he would leave the rest of Europe alone. In fact, Czechoslovakia was not even allowed to participate in the Munich Conference that decided this. Britain and French gave Sudetenland away.

ImageChamberlain was so sure, that when he talked about it later, he said the concession meant “peace in our time.” Chamberlain was bad at telling the future, apparently.

The mouse had the run of the house now. Soon, Hitler had his eyes on the rest of Europe, primarily Poland and France.

The slippery slope that Europe had allowed Germany to begin in 1935 had now allowed Hitler to claim part of another sovereign land. In Numeroff’s kid’s book, the mouse became so comfortable in the house that the boy was allowing a nap and actually read a book to the mouse. Hitler had achieved the same on the European continent.

While Chamberlain and Europe thought Hitler was a rational human being, they were wrong. He was simply a mouse that wanted a cookie.

NaNoWri-Whoa

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This has been an interesting month. 
November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I endeavored to participate this year. Only really hearing about it for the first time last year, I decided I might as well give it a go with the sequel to my debut novel Dead Sleep, that will be titled Dead Sight

When I wrote Dead Sleep, I started in January and went through June. Some days I wrote a lot and with a flurry, but other days went by without anything being written. In fact, there was a 3-4 week time period in March and April that I just put the book aside completely. My work as a teacher required my focus at the time, so I put it on a shelf. When I got back to it, I was determined to finish, but I had forgotten so much. I had forgotten a bit of the tone of the novel, certain attributes of characters that I had set up on a whim, and other random aspects of the book. A huge portion of my time in April, May, and June was simply going back over what I’d already written and figuring out how not to drop my characters into a gigantic plot hole. 

For that purpose, NaNoWriMo has been an amazing success. I’ve been able to juggle more and multiple characters with various locations and I haven’t lost my sanity! My own personal memory can go back 30 days, so I am quite able to recall what I wrote not only yesterday but also two weeks ago. 

Those that argue that this month teaches poor writing habits may think they have a point, but for me, I’ve learned I need to write a little everyday. I did miss one day this month, but I’ve written at least a few hundred words each day besides that with some days going upwards of 3,000 words. 

I have enjoyed the month and learning about myself and about my writing ability over the course of the month. I’m not as prolific as some other authors (cough, cough Hugh Howey) but I still am impressed with myself. 

Right now, I’ve got about 2,000 words a day to finish up by Saturday. I don’t know if the story itself will be finished, but I should hit the 50,000 word count goal set forth my NaNoWriMo. If all goes well, I’ll have a new novel out by spring. 

Down below is my current NaNo chart — right short of 42K. 

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On Middle School Misery

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I’ve posted a few times here about bullying. It was a major part of my adolescence and now I know it was a significant part of many other peoples’ as well. I can’t just forget about it, but John Green takes a good look at it and shows there are more sides to it than just “bully” and “the bullied” and also how the teen years, which are billed in society so many times as the “BEST YEARS OF YOUR LIFE” are often the weirdest, strangest, and most awkward. If you are bullied, please remember life is great after you turn 20 and it will continue to get better if you let it.

Sneak peak at DEAD SIGHT

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For NaNoWriMo, I’ve been working on Dead Sight, my sequel to Dead Sleep. I just passed 20,000 words. I decided to reward my readers with a sneak peek of the novel. If you’ve read Dead Sleep, this will make a little more sense, but you may get a sense of how this novel will operate. I’ve had fun writing this one so far and I’m hoping to continue my NaNoWriMomentum and pound out a lot more this week. 

Well, without further ado, the Prologue to Dead Sight. (Bear in mind this is very rough and NO ONE has seen this yet except myself. I hold every right to change or discard anything you see before the book is finished). 

 

PROLOGUE

Thomas Hendrikson braced himself against the door frame between the dining room and kitchen of his home knowing his time was limited.

Within a few years, he would be sent off to war. War hadn’t yet been declared by the United States government, but it was only a matter of time. The signs were on the wall each time the newspaper came and with every radio broadcast. If that wasn’t enough, Hendrikson knew that once the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor in five months, the U.S. would be thrust into the war it had tried to avoid since Hitler began rampaging all over Europe.

For Thomas, death was almost certainty to meet him head-on in late December 1944. On a muddy battlefield with a gun in one hand and a letter to his wife in the other, he would breathe his last. When that moment came, the epiphany he felt while in his Midwestern kitchen wouldn’t matter at all.  There was almost nothing he could do to avoid his fate. The fear – not of the unknown, but of what was certain – controlled Thomas. It had entered through the backdoor and drifted through the house until it found him, about to enter the kitchen after a long day in the fields. It was fear that kept him rooted to the dark-stained oak floors as sweat stained his white, button-down, cotton shirt in the July heat.

Thomas’ wife, Julia, had left that morning to see her mother in Hurdsfield. Julia and Sue Ellen, their two year old daughter, packed for a week away from home. His mother-in-law was just 10 miles away, but he didn’t expect them back for seven days – possibly more. He didn’t mind Eleanor White, his mother-in-law, but he had other things to do. As a farmer in the middle of North Dakota, there was always work to be done. Even with rain on the horizon, there was plenty for Thomas to keep himself busy at the farm.

Taking a step back, Thomas found the desk in the adjoining room. Julia had always wanted the dining room to be just that – a dining room, with the clean formal table, lacy tablecloth and china cabinet. She’d put all that in the room, but Thomas insisted on keeping a desk in the corner for his personal space. Their home was spacious for a North Dakota farmhouse, but he liked to be near the kitchen while Julia was cooking. She didn’t like it, but she allowed it.

Rummaging through a few bills and invoices stacked together on top of the desk, Thomas found some blank sheets of precious white paper. Nearby, a half-sharpened pencil was ready for his use. He grabbed it while the thoughts that were tormenting his mind were still at the surface, ready to boil over. He needed to get these memories – his memories…or is it his future?… on paper before he forgot it all for good. Some of the images he saw were clear, recognizable – understandable, but most of the thoughts swimming around in his brain were beyond any comprehension he could muster. Thomas had always strived to be a progressive farmer, including the latest technology and techniques on the farm, but what he saw – what he knew to be true – was so unbelievable that the city folk of the 1940’s wouldn’t even understand his visions.

Without Julia on hand to nag him about cleaning up before sitting down to the table, Thomas straddled a chair at the solid cherry table in the dining room. He and Julia had purchased the immense table the year before in Fargo on a trip to see her sister. If Julia had been in the kitchen, she would have yelled at him to sit at the desk. That’s what he’d put it in there for after all. Somehow he knew that he’d need more space than the surface area the desk could provide. 

Thomas Hendrikson collected his thoughts. He was used to farming. The consistency of the annual plantings and harvests. The daily grind of milking the cows, feeding the livestock, and checking on his fields. Wheat, corn, barley and sunflowers. He tried out some oats last year, but it didn’t go as well as the salesman promised, so he went back to the basics and was determined to stay with them as long as they worked for him. He knew what worked in the fields of North Dakota and what didn’t.

This? The words and images that flashed through his head were foreign to him. He had no concept of how to handle this. He didn’t plant these seeds. He didn’t know how to harvest this crop.

All he could do – all he could even think to do – was to put pencil to paper and hope to rid himself of the confusion rattling around in his head.

But, when he finally had the pencil at the top left corner of the paper, he was at a loss. How would he start? What would he say? He knew the words he would write tonight and the next few days would affect his great-grandson and hopefully any great-great-grandchildren he might have. To ensure the continuation of the family, he began to write:

 

Dear Jackson Ellis,

At some point in time, you will be lost. You will not know what to do. The future will be blocked from you and the contents of this letter and the subsequent writings will be vitally important to your survival. As I write to you, the date on my calendar is July 14, 1941.

My name is Thomas Jackson Hendrikson and I am your great-grandfather. I already know that I will be long dead by the time you read this. You see, I share the same ability as you – I can see the future. I’ve known about my ability for some time, but only tonight was my destiny revealed to me. 

My future is destined to end on a battlefield in Europe in a few years, but your destiny is still wide open. I don’t want these letters to end up in the wrong hands, so after receiving this, there will be some tasks required to find the others. I believe in you, after all, you are my great-grandson. You are the only hope of keeping the family legacy.

Here is what you need to know right now…

 

Thomas Hendrikson wrote deep into the night, stopping only when the radio in the living room stopped playing its nightly variety of music. Waking up the next morning, he paused to eat breakfast and then continued, a man on a mission, possessed of the need to protect the child of his own grand-daughter. He continued writing, using up all of the plain white paper in the house. When that supply was exhausted, he used the scraps of paper left on the desk – old invoices, receipts and bills. Somehow his penchant for saving anything and everything over the years came in handy when the future most depended on it.

After that, he sealed the envelopes and made the arrangements that would need to be carried out over 70 years in the future. He couldn’t control the future – it was out of his hands – but the farmer knew he’d done what he could for Jackson Ellis, his great-grandson. 

Bullying Incognito

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote a short story and posted here. The story was not all autobiographical, but there were certainly elements that happened almost word for word from my junior high days. Most notably was the final scene where Scott tries to stand up for himself to the bully Randy Weber. I’ll come back to that in just a bit. 

But let’s switch gears slightly and talk about Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, offensive linemen for the Miami Dolphins. I follow sports, especially football and this has been getting a lot of attention this week. Let’s break it down. 

The story first came to light last week when Martin suddenly left the Dolphins. The first media reports noted an “emotional breakdown” and the football team claimed he had an “illness” at the time, but there was clearly more to the story. Over the course of a few days, it came out that Richie Incognito had been harassing Martin. Here is a voicemail left by Incognito to Martin back in April:

Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of [expletive] . . . I saw you on Twitter, you been training ten weeks. [I want to] [expletive] in your [expletive] mouth. [I’m going to] slap your [expletive] mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face (laughter). [Expletive] you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.

That apparently was just the tip of the iceberg with verified text messages showing similar slurs and threats. We can only imagine what Richie Incognito did in person. But, apparently the stress of it got so bad that Martin felt the only way out was to simply quit. This is a man who was a 2nd Round draft pick last year by the Miami Dolphins, making millions of dollars to play a game who decides the best course of action is to quit. 

I heard Dan Le Betard from ESPN Radio and based in Miami say something great about this. There are a lot of people saying that Martin should have stood up for himself, perhaps just punched Incognito in the face. Perhaps. Le Betard said that this man — a Stanford graduate — looked at his options and felt that his best option was to quit the football team and endure personal and national shame as a quitter. That shows how bad things got. 

Should he have gone to the coaching staff with his complaints? Could he have stood up for himself? 

Let’s take a look at both of those questions. 

The Miami Dolphins don’t have team captains, but named a six-player “leadership team” before the season began. Incognito was one of the representatives on that leadership team. Another media report surfaced that the Miami coaches personally asked Incognito to “toughen up” Martin. If that’s the case, any complaint he had would have fallen on deaf ears. The coaches already had a perception that Martin was weak. Any complaints by him towards a player attempting to “toughen him up” would have been perceived the same way. 

As for standing up for himself, I’m going to bring it back to that story I wrote last week, which mirrors a moment from my junior high years. I was bigger than the bully (in the story named Randy Weber — thankfully I don’t remember my bully’s name from junior high) and theoretically had no reason to fear him. But I did. Bullies have a way of inducing fear and logic is tossed out the window. On a Friday night in 7th grade, I was at the school with a couple hundred other kids at a dance/activity function. Randy was playing ball and was bullying me every chance I got. Finally, I did stick my foot out as he was running past me and he tripped, falling to the floor. 

I didn’t know what to do next, but tried to stand up for myself. Unfortunately, that also included Randy punching me in the stomach. 

And yes, I did have a friend who diffused the situation, but the bullying didn’t end that night. It continued through that entire school year and well into 8th grade as well. Just because you stand up once doesn’t mean it’ll stop. Not by any means. And bullies are really well versed in the art of deception and hiding (which is why I find Incognito’s name SO appropriate in this instance). 

There was another time in junior high where a bully was trying to trip me from behind in the hallway. I tried to stop it by turning around quickly, swinging by backpack to hit him. The principal didn’t see the tripping, but did see by backpack swing. Guess who was disciplined? 

I’m not in any way trying to compare junior high to a professional football team, but those people who think it’s so easy to just “stand up for yourself” or to go to the coach, don’t understand bullying. They don’t understand the fear that grips a person and the helplessness they feel. Even for a guy who stands 6’5″ and weighs 312 pounds — it isn’t always that easy. 

Bullying is bullying, no matter what age. It doesn’t stop in junior high — it just takes on different forms. 

 

NaNoWriMo — Five Days In

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I’d never heard of NaNoWriMo until probably about this time last year. I remember reading how Hugh Howey was writing Third Shift during November, but I couldn’t figure out why he would cram all that writing into just one month. I kept seeing this nonsense phrase over and over — “NaNoWriMo.” It took me a little while, but once I figured it out, I was intrigued. 

Writing a novel had always been a lifetime goal and now I find out that thousands of people write one in A MONTH?! Unfathomable. Incomprehensible. Impossible for me, I thought. 

Well, fast forward a few months and I end up starting my first novel. The process took from January to May to finish, but in retrospect, I certainly took a lot of time just putting it off and obsessing over details. The more I wrote over the summer, finishing a few short stories and novellas, I realized I am certainly capable of writing a novel in a month. With November looming, I decided I would write the follow-up to my debut novel this month. I’d written a short synopsis and a bit of a prologue back in July, but completely re-wrote it and started over on November 1. 

As of this writing, I have 9,882 words in the bank. I will go over 10K later today. So far, so good. 

My first novel was 67,000 words and I anticipate this one will be about the same size — perhaps a little shorter. Since NaNoWriMo has a 50K goal, I am shooting for that right now. 

ImageThe book is called DEAD SIGHT and will be a direct sequel to DEAD SLEEP. The story continues the fight of Jack and Kristina against her former employers/controllers simply called The Company. Jack has the ability to see into his future and Kristina can die and come back to life thanks to nanobots coursing through her veins. I’m really liking how this one has started and look forward each day to my time to write and add to it. 

I got nearly 9,000 written in the first three days knowing there would be some days this week where writing would be a challenge. I suppose that is part of it — writing when you can. 

I no longer doubt my ability to finish a novel in a month and instead savor the challenge to do so. 

What about you? Anyone else doing NaNoWriMo and want to share?