In my present writing project, a novel named Smoke, the protagonist is a young American, Philip Marlowe. Living in London during the year 1937, Philip finds himself drawn into a terrible vortex of European political currents.
I find that writing this story, which takes place mostly on another continent, and seventy-years ago, is a challenge. Some may think I’m crazy to have undertaken it. We shall see.
For this endeavor, every hour of writing requires, oh, ten or so hours of reading and research to substantiate it. Otherwise the story that I concoct would be implausible and unrealistic. My theory is that search tools on our worldwide web enable new possibilities for global storytelling that are unprecedented. So I’m forging a sort of historical fictional frontier. We shall see, in the next year or so, if I can pull it off.
Anyway, since the whole thing happens in the year 1937, maintaining a credible level of authenticity in the story is a constant challenge, and requires a lot of work.
My character, Philip, although originally a simple fellow from the mountainous region of North Carolina, is nevertheless representing a worldwide tobacco company, and working accounts in London. The story begins May 12, 1937, the day that King George VI, the stuttering sovereign, is crowned in Westminster Abbey.
Out in the crowded streets of London, Philip and his friend Nathan find themselves suddenly witnesses to the untimely death of an old gentleman. One thing leads to another, and a week or so later Philip finds himself on an unusual mission on the Mediterranean coast of France, after a journey that skirts the Pyrennical edges of the Spanish civil war. In the background and underneath it all are the immense political tectonics of communism and fascism that are slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, catapulting the nations of Europe toward a terrible war.
With my meandering plot lines having brought Philip to the southernmost tip of France, and him having an inclination to travel from there all the way to Belgium on the North coast, I am now researching France in 1937. This is hard to do, because most of the documentation readily available pertains to the war which started two years later, in 1939.
I am more interested, for purposes of this story, in learning and writing about what caused that war than about the war itself.
The main reason World War II happened was one evil megalomaniac, Adolf Hitler, who duped the good German people into following down a perditious path of antisemitic racial hatred and obsessive vengeance against the French and other Europeans, most notably the Russians.
After the first WorldWar had ended, the victorious Allies got together and wrote up a treaty, the Treaty of Versailles,that, as time went by, put a severe crimp on German rebuilding of an economy and society. By the early 1930s, Hitler was able to, in his fanatically diabolical way, take advantage of a resentment that had been mounting inside Germany. He absconded what had formerly been a proud Prussian military tradition, and subverted its nobler aspects with hateful plans for genocide and war.
In 1933 Hitler and his band of national socialist radicals came to power. In taking over the German government, they broke all the rules of law and decency. Because of the dearth and extremities of the times, they were able to get away with it.
In spring 1936, Hitler made an arrogant military move that–probably moreso than any other historical event–set the stage for the terrible destruction that followed during the next ten years–the German reoccupation of the Rhineland. This was an area between France and Germany that had been disputed in earlier times.
Because France had been weakened by its war weariness, still hungover from 1914-1918, and also its debilitating internal contention between socialist and nationalistic factions within its own government, France did not prevent, nor resist, the German reoccupation of the Rhineland. There was, in fact, a sizable German population in the disputed area. There was a similarly problematical situation on the other side of Germany–the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.
The choice of the French Third Republic to not stop Hitler and his goons at that point turned out later to be a fatal mistake.
But who knew?
History in the making is only explicable when viewed in hindsight. There were a few who could see, in the midst of what was happening at the time, what was coming–Churchill, perhaps DeGaulle, an American congressman or two.
During my present search to ascertain the character of France during that vulnerable period, I found a very disturbing propaganda film from 1936 Germany. It captures images of that fateful, though bloodless, German advance into the Rhineland, and also the words of the diabolical genius who had ordered it.
It’s creepy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w_8ReKlFVI
Nevertheless, here is a lesson in history now viewable in 2013, but obtained originally from old 1936 film.
Think about this: What is it that is happening now in our world that will inform our grandchildren, watching utube or whatever, decades from now, about the failings of this present generation?
We cannot know until, if human nature remains the same, it is too late to do much besides talking and writing about it, and watch old videos. But that is life and death in a fallen world of 21st-century perplexity.