‘Of Mice and Men’ – The End of the World

“In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.”
John Steinbeck 
in his 1938 journal entry
April is upon us and spring is in the air – high time too, following what was apparently the wettest February in living memory. I will be entering the 51st ‘state’ within the next fortnight and thus casting a beady eye about, in anticipation of the imminent arrival of herds of frisky Easter bunnies. Yes, you have guessed correctly, I am still flying solo and enjoying the low life in Alvor city, a.k.a. the Algarve winter equivalent of Dead Man’s Creek!
But let me turn to more weighty matters. In the old days, when people believed that ships dropped into the abyss as soon as their crews lost sight of land, Europe’s most south-easterly point was referred to as ‘the end of the world’. Only later, when Columbus bravely ventured forth and discovered the ‘New World’, was that fear dispelled. Today tourists and residents alike visit Sagres and Cape St Vincent and rather frivolously indulge in the ‘last hotdog before America’.
We, who have chosen to live in the holiday destination Algarve full time, can easily give in to the temptation, much as the ostrich sticking its head into the sand – although they are, contrary to popular belief, actually looking for water! – of seeing our micro habitat as the be-all and end-all while turning a blind eye to events developing further afield. We might be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Self-evidently the world did not end on December 21 2012 – the Mayans got it wrong. However, another prediction relating to this year states: “There will appear towards the North not far from Cancer the bearded star Susa, Siena, Boeotia, Eretria – the great one of Rome will die, the night over.”
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was a man of humble origins who contrived to plunge the world into chaos. Taking advantage of widespread discontent brought on by economic depression, high unemployment and international sanctions stemming back to the break-up of his adopted country’s former empire, he rode to power on a wave of nationalistic sentiment, manipulation of the democratic process and covert domestic terror.
Not content with the attainment of high political office, he then set about restoring former glories by means fair and foul. First off was a neighbouring country sharing a common language and culture. Intrigue and plots sponsored by sympathisers and agents across the border led to political destabilisation, ultimately resulting in military occupation legitimised by a ficticious appeal for help. A subsequent controlled plebiscite, preventing over half the indigenous population from voicing its outraged dissent, rubber-stamped the annexation with 99.7% approval.
As the international community watched helplessly, that man continued to add former lands long ceded to other nations under the pretext of protecting the interests of his countrymen and women residing there. Thus emboldened by his success, as well as the lack of any meaningful opposition other than verbal condemnation emanating from the leaders of other ‘great’ powers, the man finally overstepped the mark by throwing his military might at yet another sovereign state. On this occasion he did not deem it necessary to attempt to legitimise his actions by way of a stage-managed scenario, and the world, faced with such blatant agression, was finally forced to react – the rest is history, as they say.
Does the story sound familiar? It should do. Of course I was talking about Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany, the Austrian Anschluss, Danzig, Sudetenland, the unilateral creation of Lebensraum and the invasion of Poland prompting the outbreak of World War Two.
Let us leap forward by 60 years. Little is known of Vladimir Putin’s ancestry other than the fact that his mother was a cleaner and his father a cook. He rose to power through the ranks of the old communist KGB before becoming President of Russia, currently occupying that office for the second time.
Of similar diminutive stature as Hitler – both men struggling to top 5’7” – Putin has declared that “the greatest tragedy of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union”. Nonetheless, as part of the ‘Budapest Memorandum’, Russia promised that it would never threaten or use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of the Ukraine.
As I write, Ukrainian Crimea has once more become a de facto part of Russia, a move largely unopposed by the US, Britain, China et al, apparently meeting with the approval of 96.5% of the strategic province’s population. Thus emboldened, Putin has pledged to “defend the interests of Russian speakers anywhere outside our borders” – already Transdniestria – a tiny breakaway region on the Ukraine’s southern border with Moldova – foreign minister Nina Shtanski has called on the Russian president to follow his annexation of Crimea with a similar takeover.
Aptly named NATO military commander General Philip Breedlove (I kid you not!) has sounded the alarm over the build-up of Russian forces despite Moscow’s insistence that there is no cause for concern.
Ms Shtanski’s inflammatory proclamation has been followed by well orchestrated pro-Russian protests elsewhere, provoking fresh fears that Putin plans to seize more slices of eastern Europe in the near future. Breedlove reacted by urging NATO to rethink the readiness of its forces in case it needed to defend the Baltic States, which are members of the alliance.
Am I scare-mongering? You decide. Here in the Algarve the sun is still shining but there are storm clouds brewing on the horizon.
In today’s nuclear age one unconsidered push of the button can release an inferno the fall-out of which will affect even the most remote corners of the globe and put an end to our sheltered existence.
By Skip Bandele
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Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 15 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003.
His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.