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6 December 2008

Rasch

I was watching the news today and I thought of Rasch and how he told me 63 years ago that all this was going to happen.

Rasch wasn’t his real name. It was as phony as everything else in that godforsaken garbage dump. But it was the only name I ever had for him.

He entered my life in Frankfurt, Germany, on a night in the fall of 1945, when a cold, wind-driven rain lashed the rubbled streets. I was a 22-year-old case officer on a counter-intelligence sting codenamed “Nursery,” and I was returning from a grueling week of cat-and-mouse in Munich, some 350 miles southeast. As I reached Frankfurt it had begun to rain, so I had ducked into one of those dank cellar dives the Germans called “night clubs,” mainly because the wipers on my little Opel weren’t working and I decided to wait out the storm in something resembling indoors. I took a corner table, asked the waitress to bring me a beer, and sat back to listen to an elderly couple with zithers twanging their way through saccharine Rhineland Volkslieder.

“All the tables are taken. Mind if I join you?”

He was a squarish man. Square face, square neck, square shoulders, seeming all the more square thanks to the long, blue-dyed Wehrmacht overcoat that framed the rest of him. He held a tatty fedora in his hands, turning it slowly with his square-tipped fingers, and he was smiling that stock smile Germans were using in those days to signal polite neutrality. Overall, despite his sodden seediness, he was a pleasant-looking fellow, and he spoke cultivated Hochdeutsch.

I waved him to the other chair, and we traded some awkward banalities about the rotten weather and the weakness of the beer. Then he surprised me when he switched to English and gave the conversation a quick turn. It can’t be verbatim after all these years, to be sure, but notes I made that night after returning to my apartment on Vom Rath Strasse remain in my files today, and they provide a pretty accurate paraphrasing:

“You are Hans Jäger, then.”

“And you speak English.”

He shrugged. “I speak many languages.”

“Have we met before?”

“Not in the usual sense. But I know all about you. I know your real name, and I know you are an American. I’ve found you to be interesting and promising. And, face to face, you look even more promising than I thought.”

“How so?”

“Most men in this business tend to be older, more tired, jaded. You are quite young.”

“It’s my cover. I’m really 73 years old. So who are you?”

“Rasch. Helmut Rasch, according to the Kennkarte in my wallet. Like so many in these times — like you yourself — I must play the chameleon. And so tonight it’s Rasch.”

I offered him a cigarette, which he accepted with a nod of thanks, then placed neatly in a silver case he drew from his jacket. Cigarettes were currency in 1945 Frankfurt, and he re-pocketed the case slowly and carefully, as if it contained jewels of the empire.

I cut to the chase. ”You’re one of Heidemann’s hit men. And you're about to pull my plug. Right?”

Rasch’s pale blue eyes turned from me to the zither players, and he seemed to listen to their music for a time. Then, having apparently made a decision, he said, “Nothing so melodramatic. Heidemann and his Nursery organization are political onanists. They are arrogant dilettantes with extreme tunnel vision. They give much lip service to the Nazi idea, but, in truth, they are are simply out for self-gratification. They were mesmerized by Hitler, not knowing that even he had only the faintest glimmer of what lies ahead.”

“And you do?”

“One-world government is in the offing, Herr Jäger. The war just ended is nationalism’s last hurrah. The only major obstacle remaining is the United States.”

“Obstacle for whom?”

“The Consortium. The group working to establish one-world government.”

“The United States is a pretty big lump to swallow. And you’re forgetting the Soviets. They’re planning to take over all of Europe — all the way to the channel, even as we speak.”

“Quatsch. That’s nonsense. The Russians are all talky-talky, plotty-plotty. They shot their wad defending themselves against Hitler. The only people who really believe they’re still capable are the Soviet collaborators in the American government and their self-deceiving bosses in the Kremlin. And now, with your atom bomb, you are — what is the saying? — the big boy on the block, and will remain so for at least two decades to come. Eventually, though, your hedonistic citizens will piss away their advantage, and that’s when my employers will begin openly to assert themselves. Eventually assume control.”

The zither players withdrew, leaving the spotlight to a gaunt woman in a threadbare, sequined evening gown. Accompanied by a fat piano man who played a truly nice, subtle background, she began to moan, Dietrich-like, unintelligible lyrics to unidentifiable ballads.

“So why are you telling me all this, Herr Rasch?”

“I want you to work for us.”

“Now why would I want to do that?”

“You are well-placed in Eisenhower’s headquarters. You have handled yourself well there. You are young, and show promise.”

I remember feeling annoyance. “You’re wasting your time. I’m not a traitor.”

He laughed softly. “Who said anything about treason? We don’t want you to be a traitor. We want you to be a good American — an American who, as he matures, understands the need for world government and demonstrates a willingness to play an important role in it. The rewards will be far-reaching and lasting.”

“And what would they be?”

“It’s too early to say. Rest assured they’ll be commensurate with the audacity and enterprise you bring to the movement.”

I remember my effort to contain the need to laugh. This pompous ass was verging on the comedic. “Which,” I said, my sarcasm breaking through, “will be required in huge amounts if the United States is to be brought to its knees. Like it or not, Herr Rasch, it’s the most powerful nation the world has ever seen.”

“To be sure. But historical precedent and human nature give it no more than fifty, maybe seventy-five years remaining. And by then it will be so drained, so enervated by its own hedonistic excesses, its political obesity, it will be unable to resist the one-world gravity. It will fall, along with the whole idea of nationalistic democracy, into subservience to a single world order established under the cover of a universal religion.”

“I can’t believe that.”

Rasch lifted his stein and took a sip of beer. Then, fixing me with those stony blue eyes, he said, “Believe it. There’s no way a democracy can endure beyond two hundred years. Any democracy begins when the people involved realize that they would rather die than to continue living under oppression. Having nowhere else to go, they gather about them a driving idealism and spiritual faith. From there they openly revolt against the tyranny that oppresses them. When their spirit-driven, idealistic revolution finally produces freedom, they and their progeny work hard together and create great material wealth. And here’s where the rub enters. With wealth, the following generations lose the sense of idealism, no longer feel any spiritual needs, and a smug self-sufficiency comes into play. Which, in turn, progresses into apathy and political indifference. Along the way, when the people discover that they have access to the public coffers, they vote blindly for those politicians of any party who will make the most money available to them by way of lavish programs and outright handouts. This, naturally, generates a huge dependence on the big teat of government, and, inevitably, a return to oppression by a tyranny. The United States will be two hundred years old in 1976. From then on, its people will be deep into dependence on a swollen, grossly inefficient government. As the national tyranny takes shape, the Consortium will step in and, under the guise of religious fervor, replace it with the single world order we have in the works.”

“The greatest tyranny of all, eh?”

“Tyranny is in the eye of the beholder, Herr Jäger. The religionists speak of ‘paradise,’ a place of unending peace and contentment. The supreme tyranny: eternal life, in which all of our needs and all of our hopes and pleasures are fulfilled with no effort on our part. Can you imagine even considering an escape from such bliss?”

“Sure. The boredom would drive me nuts.”

To my surprise, Rasch laughed outright. “Ah, yes. The human dilemma. The yearning for perfection in all things, and when all is perfect, the need for change.”

“So it seems to me that your world order carries the seeds of its own destruction, eh, Herr Rasch?”

“Eventually, I suppose. But, as you Americans did in your own experiment, we’ll have great fun getting there.” Abruptly, he pushed back his chair, stood, and gave me one of those German half-bows. “I’ve enjoyed our chat, Herr Jäger. I expect great things from you in the coming years.” He put on his hat and turned to go.

“You don’t seriously think that I won’t report this conversation to my superiors, do you?”

“I expect you to. Indeed I do. I also expect that nothing will come of it. Those few who listen will think you’ve been drinking too much. And I expect that eventually you will become so angry about this and other signs of indifference you will most earnestly search me out and become one of us. Good night.”

He tipped his hat and disappeared into the tobacco nimbus.

Well, I never did become “one of them.”

I went the other way.

Weary, disillusioned, heartsick, I didn’t want to put anybody in his place, ever again. I just wanted to go home and forget. So I left the army and went home and spent the subsequent decades trying to blot out those rotten years, yearning for some kind of absolution, striving singlemindedly to be nothing other than a good provider, a good husband and daddy, dismissing Rasch and his wild-ass prognostications as a sore loser’s daydream.

But then today, a tired old man, I watched the news, and it all sort of came together, and I felt ice on my spine.

Jack

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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