At the outbreak of the Second World War, the then South West Africa (now Namibia) was under South African administration, the former German colony having been declared a League Of Nations mandate territory after the First World War.
South Africa, being a British ally, started arresting and detaining many local Germans in internment camps.
Two German geologists working in the country at the time decided that:
"We wanted no hand or part in the mass suicide of civilized peoples"
"... we were determined to maintain our personal neutrality and to defend our independence to the best of our ability ... If war comes, we'll spend it in the desert".
'The Sheltering Desert' is the amazing story of how the author, Henno Martin, his friend Hermann Korn and their dog, Otto, survived for two and a half years in the harsh desert landscape of Namibia's Kuiseb canyon.
I've just finished re-reading this story.
It appeals to me because often when I'm in the desert, my fantasy-mind works overtime and I evaluate places, imagining how I could survive in that environment if I were to find myself a fugitive or, if civil society were to break down, à la 2012, ... but there's a vast difference between fantasy and the real deal, as the book's author notes:
"We had always known that life was a hard and bitter struggle and that those who survived did so only at the expense of others. But until we went into the wilderness to live, that knowledge was abstract, theoretical, a reasoned conclusion; and sentiments of a sheltered childhood told us that is was really all quite different and much nicer.
Now the truth was hammered into us pitilessly. We had to kill in order to live - and our supply of ammunition was limited, so that more than once we dared not waste the bullet to give a wounded animal the coup de grace"
Although life was harsh, the two men had much time for reflection and philosophical musings regarding evolution and Man's present state of being:
"We had slid so readily into the life of primitive hunters that we came to the conclusion that underneath the veneer modern man still had a 'Stone-age Soul', which was difficult to reconcile with the civilized life he was leading. Could this contradiction be resolved? In view of man's steadily increasing powers of destruction it was a vital question."
Living as hunter-gatherers, the author talks about the (then) lifestyle of the San people:
"Bushmen had no possessions that a child could break, and all educational rules arose out of danger or necessity, ... as a result children never felt themselves at odds with their environment, which naturally included the world of the adults. In consequence they developed no vices or destructive urges. You never heard a child being scolded and you never saw a child spanked ...
... we found nothing surprising in the fact that this simple but logical form of living had survived for hundreds of thousands of years down to our own day. But what had forced development to go beyond this hard but blissful life?"
When I'm in the desert I often wonder about the strange sense of 'power' or 'freedom' I feel. Martin asks and answers basically the same question:
"The magic of the desert is hard to define. Why does the sight of a landscape of empty sand, rocks, slab and rubble stir the spirits more than a view of lush green fields and woods? Why does the lifeless play of light, colour and distance have such an invigorating, fascinating and elating effect?
Perhaps because no limitations are imposed by other forms of life; perhaps because the mind of the beholder is presented with a fata morgana of unlimited freedom."
After more than two years in the desert, the two men speculate about the future of humankind and come to this conclusion regarding our survival:
"... only the preservation of all our attributes, including our weaknesses, can carry us safely through into the uncertain future.
But how can this be done? Certainly not by force which does not preserve but destroys. There is only one thing which preserves all things, including the weak, and that is love.
The truth which we had felt vaguely all along had become a reasoned certainty: man could command the future only by love."
The book was originally published in German as 'Wenn es Krieg gibt, gehen wir in die Wüste' and the English translation may be ordered and purchased online ... or, better still, maybe it's available through your local library.
The images I've posted are of the general area where they lived out their adventure - I snapped them a few months ago on a road trip ...