Saturday, April 03, 2010

Google Maps and Genocide (and Trainspotting)

Google Maps (the satellite view) is both a great boon to the armchair traveller and a tremendous time waster - I remember using it when it first came out to trace the long-vanished railway lines from the Clydach Gorge to Abergavenny, and then followed the line at small scale all the way through Hereford to Colwall !

My record time-waste occurred after blogging the Skeleton Coast diamond excavations in Namibia, which can be seen on Google Maps. Bleak and inaccessible places have always appealed to my imagination, and that night I sat up for hours tracing the Skeleton Coast all the way from Oranjemund to Walvis Bay, with frequent stops to zoom in on some remote diamond working. And that's still only half way up the Namibian coast !

Why genocide ? Well, I was reading the wiki for Walvis Bay, as one does.


In Walvis Bay there are different fishing companies like Hangana Seafood,Caroline Fishing, Benguella Fishing Company, Genocide of Namibia, Etale Fishing Company... WHAT ?

Genocide of Namibia ? I bet their produce just flies off the shelves ! A quick Google gave me this, on the events of 1904 when Namibia was a German colony :

On 2 October, Trotha issued an appeal to the rebellious Herero tribe:

I, the great general of the German troops, send this letter to the Herero people... All Hereros must leave this land... Any Herero found within the German borders with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall no longer receive any women or children; I will drive them back to their people or have them fired upon. This is my decision for the Herero people.

Unable to achieve a conclusive victory through battle, Trotha ordered that captured Herero males were to be executed, while women and children were to be driven into the desert. Leutwein complained to Bülow about Trotha's actions, seeing the general's orders as ruining any chance of a settlement and intruding upon the civilian colonial jurisdiction. Having no authority over the military, the chancellor could only advise the Kaiser that Trotha's actions were "contrary to Christian and humanitarian principle, economically devastating and damaging to Germany's international reputation." After a political battle in Berlin between the civilian government and the military, Wilhelm II countermanded Trotha's decree of 2 October on 8 December, but the massacres had already begun. When the order was lifted at the end of 1904, prisoners were herded into concentration camps and given as slave labourers to German businesses. Many prisoners died of overwork and malnutrition.
The whole story is not a nice one, to put it mildly. Which brings to mind something Norman Geras wrote a while back (in a review of the remarkable story of the life and death of far-left academic Malcolm Caldwell - a story worth a post all on its own) :

That Nazi ideology was pregnant with the danger of terrible consequences is true, as virulent racism always is; but it is debatable - and indeed has been intensively debated in the historiography of Nazi Germany - whether the genocide against the Jews was a matter of fixed ideological intention from the moment Hitler took power or rather something that emerged only after the war in the East (Operation Barbarossa) had begun and out of the policy-making interactions of different parts of the Nazi regime. Given Hitler's own obsessive hatred of the Jews, Nazi ideology was bound to have disastrous consequences for European Jewry after 1933; but whether Auschwitz and the Holocaust were an inevitable product of that ideology is more open to question.
I think Norm's point is that Nazism may have been a necessary but not alone a sufficient trigger of the Shoah. I tend to wonder if there's not just a Nazi dimension, but also a German one. Wee Adolf was but a sprog when Lothar von Trotha issued his orders. Obviously not everyone in Germany felt that way - von Bulow for starters - but it was only four years since Kaiser Wilhelm had addressed German troops on their way to put down the Boxer Rebellion in these stirring words:

"Just as the Huns a thousand years ago, under the leadership of Attila, gained a reputation by virtue of which they still live in historical tradition, so may the name Germany become known in such a manner in China, that no Chinese will ever again dare to look askance at a German."

Not exactly a call to moderation, I think you'll agree - in fact almost an invitation to the kind of stuff the Japanese were doing nearly forty years later.

(I would never suggest the Germans had a monopoly on attempted genocide - if not one of the human universals, it must alas come reasonably close. Think in recent years of Indonesians and Chinese, Hutu and Tutsi, Gabra and Borana, Kalejin and Kikuyu. The big difference was that a major 'civilised' state, efficient and mechanised, was doing the killing. I'm sure if the organisation and capability of 20th century Germany had existed in 11th century England, the tolls of St Brices Day and the Harrying of the North would have been higher still.)

I digress greatly from the original theme - Google Maps and armchair travelling.

Mick Hartley has taken a break from attacking the Catholic Church to point out the photographs taken by Jan Smith of the many abandoned vessels around the peninsula of Nouadhibou, at the very top end of Mauretania (NW Africa). The place is a massive ships graveyard, though I'm not sure why. This site says it's cheaper to dump than scrap :

For years, Mauritanian harbour officers were so corrupt, that they let ships be discarded in the harbour in exchange of some cash. Discarding a ship is quite expensive for a company, so during the decades, lots of unwanted ships ended up in the Harbour of Nouadibou. A few years ago, the situation was so out of control, that even Mauritanians started to worry. Nowadays there’s a project from the European Union to refloat all these junk and take them away, or destroy in situ (with explosions) the remaining wrecks.
While Jan Smith says its something to do with insurance - "they are most vestiges of the rampant insurance fraud (where boats are simply abandoned) that takes place in those waters" - how dumping a ship in plain sight makes fraud possible I don't know - wouldn't it be better to sink it ?

Either way, one can waste much time in scanning Google Maps for boats. But what's this on Wikipedia ?

"...the largest industry is processing iron ore transported by train from the interior mining towns of Zouérat and Fdérik. These freight trains can be as much as 3 km long, reputedly the longest in the world. The railway also carries passengers and calls at Choum. "

Another line to follow ! The railway company has a neat zoomable map of the line here. It's easy to find the iron ore terminal on Google maps, and there are railway maintenance sheds just to the north, but tracing the line across the desert is tricky. It can be done, however, and the line eventually ends up in the scarred, nightmare umber open mines at Zouerat and (especially) Fderik. You can spot a few trains en route, but none 3km long - more like 1.5. In Arizona a couple of years back we stopped to film a container train which took 15 minutes to pass.

(For more armchair travelling, samples from John Marsh's The Skeleton Coast, and a little further south and a lot colder(their discoverer, Marion du Fresne, christened them "Iles des Froides"), the full text of No Pathway Here, the story of South Africa's annexation of the remote Prince Edward and Marion Islands, lying in the Southern Ocean halfway between South Africa and the Antarctic. Lots of stories of shipwreck and (sometimes) survival.

Those South Africans call a spade a spade. "Human waste flows into the sea at Shit Creek")