Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, September 9, 2013

In The Company Of Evil

Well, I've been busy taking pics since the last blog. I'm getting my feet wet, figuring out the smartphone and thinking of photographic subjects. My next blog will feature a few more shots, and I'm thinking that I'll definitely go ahead and join in on daily photoblogs, in a seperate blog from this one, spotlighting my home town of Ottawa and beyond. Keep an eye out here for further developments as I go along. If you'll have a look over at Norma's blog, you'll see her response to my now getting my mitts on the smartphone (yes, I was dragged kicking and screaming into it, but that's beside the point).

Today, however, a bit of news occupies my attention...

Last week, news came out that the last surviving witness of Hitler's final hours had died. Rochus Misch, an SS sergeant, had been a loyal bodyguard for much of the Second World War to the most evil man of the 20th century. Misch was unapologetic to the end, suggesting that Hitler was no brute or monster. He sidestepped the issues of guilt or responsibility, claiming he knew nothing of the Holocaust, thinking of those days as just doing a job, not asking questions. He insisted Hitler had been a wonderful man, describing the events leading up to the suicide of the dictator and his mistress turned wife. Perhaps it is because of his lack of remorse about it all that the end of his days is being treated from various quarters with derision. Where the country itself has accepted the past and taken responsibility, this man never did. This is a man who's seemingly spent most of his life not atoning for the past, never accepting what most reasonable people understand: that Hitler, and the Nazi ideal by extension, was pure evil, walking the earth.

From the point of view of the writer and the reader, the news occasionally provides inspiration. And stories from the war, even seven decades on, can provide us with fodder for writing. Jack Higgins, the great British spy writer, is an influence on me as a writer and as a reader. True, I'd say his work has been declining in recent years- he really should have stopped several books ago, but it's not the huge plunge off the cliff in quality that Tom Clancy's work has taken (side note: Tom Clancy hasn't written anything of value since The Bear And The Dragon). Higgins is known for writing pot boiler thrillers, both set in the Second World War and the contemporary world. He's best known for The Eagle Has Landed, a thriller about German plans to send an operative against Churchill, through the use of an Irish operative. The book was later adapted into a movie starring Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland, one that I liked.

Most of his current work centers on Sean Dillon, a former IRA enforcer turned British operative, a hard man who can be both ruthless and yet utterly charming. Dillon started out as the villain, in a book which set him as the man responsible for the mortar attack against Ten Downing Street during Desert Storm, and yet Higgins found the character so compelling that he turned Dillon into the protagonist for his next book, Thunder Point, which draws on secrets linked to those last days of the War. It begins with the Nazi Martin Bormann escaping Germany at the end of things (making use of the rumors that persisted for years that Bormann survived), taking a submarine for sanctuary in South America. He carries pivotal documentation, including the names of those friendly to Nazi interests in Britain and America, and a document that could prove critically damaging to the Royal Family (another nod to the history of the Duke Of Windsor, who seemed entirely too comfortable around Nazis). The sub goes down in the Caribbean while Bormann is away, and decades later, the fact of its existence is uncovered, and a British intelligence officer, faced with an unknown enemy trying to reach the sub, enlists Dillon under the notion of set a thief to catch a thief, and starts the former terrorist out on the path to becoming a better man. The book remains a personal favourite, and it wouldn't be the last time Higgins made use of the war to tell a story in the present, later using a German baron starting out in the war as a young man, gradually rebuilding his life through the years after, ultimately becoming the villain in a later book, tangling with Dillon and his associates.

From the writer's point of view, I have ideas that come out of the war as well. I've mused on writing a thriller set squarely in the war. And I've also thought of using the war as part of the backstory for a book set in the present, for a villain whose family escaped to South America after the war, still holding onto Nazi ideals, still part of that legacy.

As writers, we find inspiration in some strange places. With the death of Misch, we have the end of an era, the last witness of those days in that bunker. It speaks volumes that he never made amends for it, that he still thought of that most reviled excuse for a human being as a wonderful boss.


  1. Love the World War II period. And you're right: Higgins should have quit a while back. As for Clancy, I haven't really enjoyed much of his work after the first couple of books.

  2. I think a lot of writers' work suffers with advancing age and declining health. It's hard to step away from work one loves so much, but sometimes we have to step out of our fictional worlds and face the real one, difficult as that can be.

  3. Norma is right. Writing becomes an automatic thing to do. You may even know it isn't as good, but you will write it anyway. I'm beginning to think maybe I should step away, but that hasn't happened. I started on something new. It may wind up in the trash heap, but then maybe it will work into something different. How that man did not know is impossible.

  4. Looking forward to seeing your photos! It's tough converting over to a smart phone for lots of reasons, but think they're ultimately very useful tools.

  5. My grandfather liberated some concentration camps during WWII so I'm not going to comment on Hitler. I'll just sit over here and growl.

  6. @Cheryl: I thought when he killed off Hannah Bernstein, that a big part of the heart of the books went with her.

    @Norma: quite true. Accepting it can be difficult.

    @Mari: he knew, but to actually say it...

    @EJ: I'm learning my way through it.

    @Kelly: my family comes from Holland, so there were stories about the war and occupation. If any war was nessecary, it was that one.

  7. Sweetman loves to read things on WW II.

  8. Great post. Personally, I thought Clancy should have given up after Red October.

  9. Some excellent books mentioned here--a few I'll have to check out. I love WWII as a setting. As for Misch, I find him just baffling. One hopes he's enjoying time with his boss again :)

  10. If there hadn't been Hitler (leans to the side and spits) there would have many willing to do the same .
    Jane x

  11. I may write an unauthorized biography (my mother). She's dead now, died at age 64 of Anaplastic Thyroid Carcinoma. On her death certificate, cause of death ...atomic radiation and a 62 year duration. She was 2 and a half years old when the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima. They lived 30 miles away.

    Atomic radiation is known to cause this type of cancer, so I guess that's why they put it on her death certificate.

  12. The last of the Monster's right hand men finally has left this World.

  13. I'm looking forward to your pictures!

    I enjoy learning about that time (WWII) in history. I loved the movies The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Reader and Schindler's List. It's amazing how many people claimed to be oblivious to the atrocities that transpired. My uncle was a Liberator, btw.

    One day I plan to write a Holocaust novel.

  14. I read the news of this guy's passing too - what a horrible person he sounded. (And even more tragic when his own wife was Jewish and his estranged daughter has spent time on an Israeli kibbutz + doing work at synagogues.) I too am fascinated WWII, a rich mine of potential for all writers! (I also look forward to more glimpses of Ottawa:)

  15. @Shelly: it's a compelling subject.

    @Roger: it would have been ironic of him to vanish after that feat!

    @Meradeth: one would hope so...

    @Jane and Chris: quite true, and it might have been someone more competent who could have extended the war a few more months.

    @Diane: and that's the flipside of the war experience, even today.

    @Cindy: good riddance to him.

    @Maria: my parents knew a man who was in the Dutch resistance during the war. It was only in the last years of his life that he was open about his experiences, including the fact that he had to kill people. I'm fascinated by the story of the resistance movements, and the idea of special operations groups that the Allies used in cooperation with them.

    @LondonLulu: it's sad to go to the grave never making the penance you need to make. "I was just following orders" excuses too much.

  16. Wow what a stubborn bastard.

    Looking forward to your photos, William! :)

  17. I've just read your last post also William...I think its a fantastic idea, I would love to see Ottawa through your's an idea, you could call it 'Ottawa Daily Photo' :)) just a thought!
    I feel the same about Wilbur Smith, I looked forward to every new edition, but eventually it became clear that the formulae he used over and over was getting a little stale!


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