Martin Auer: The Strange War, Stories for Peace Education
The Strange War
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On a foreign planet or in another time, there were once two countries called Over Here and Over There. There were also other countries, like Next Door and Far Away, but this story is about Over Here and Over There.
One day the High and Mighty of Over Here gave a speech to his citizens. He said that the nation of Over Here was being pressured by the nation of Over There and that the Over Herians could no longer sit idly by and watch the nation of Over There use its borders to push and confine the nation of Over Here.
"They are situated so close to us that we don’t even have a place to catch our breaths!" he shouted. "We’re so cramped we can hardly move. They’re not prepared to move even an inch to give us some space, to grant us a little freedom of movement. But if they don’t feel like doing even that little bit for us, then we’ll just have to force them to.
We don’t want war. If it were up to us, there would be everlasting peace. But I’m afraid it’s not up to us. If they aren’t prepared to move over a little with their country, then they’re going to force us into war. But we won’t allow a war to be forced upon us. Not us! We won’t permit them to force us to sacrifice ours sons senselessly, so that our women will become widows, our children orphans! That’s why we have to break the power of Over There before they force us to start a war. And that’s why, fellow citizens, in order to defend ourselves, in order to protect the peace, in order to save our children, I hereby formally declare war on the nation of Over There!"
The confused Over Herians first looked at one another. Then they looked at their High and Mighty. And then they looked at the special police troops with their armored helmets and exterminator-laser blasters. They were standing around the town square and were applauding enthusiastically and shouting, "Long live the High and Mighty! Down with the Over Therians!"
And the war began.
On that very day, the army of the Over Herians crossed the border. It was a powerful sight. The armored vehicles looked like giant iron dragon fish. They crushed everything that got in their way. They could fire grenades out of their canon tubes that tore everything apart, and they could spew poison gases that annihilated everyone. Each one left behind it a 100-yard wide death zone.
In front of them lay a beautiful green forest, and behind them lay nothing.
The sky became dark where the planes were flying, and people standing beneath, fell on their faces, the noise alone filling them with terror. And where the shadow fell, there also fell the bombs.
Between the giant planes in the sky and the armored vehicles on the ground, swarms of helicopters buzzed, like tiny, wicked mosquitoes. The soldiers, however, looked like fighting steel robots in their armored suits that made them invulnerable to bullets, gas, poison, and bacteria.
In their hands they carried heavy individual combat weapons that could spray deadly shells or laser rays that melted everything in their paths.
This is how the unstoppable army of Over Here advanced, ruthlessly intending to crush every enemy. But strangely they found no enemy.
On the first day the army advanced ten kilometers into enemy territory, on the second, twenty. On the third day they crossed the big river. Everywhere they found only abandoned villages, harvested fields, deserted factories, empty warehouses. "They’re hiding, and when we’re past them, they’ll attack us from behind!" shouted the High and Mighty. "Search all the haylofts and all the manure piles!"
The soldiers poked through the manure piles, but the only thing they found in the process were piles of identification papers: driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and passports, shot records, school records; receipts for payment of dog licenses and cable TV, and hundreds of other documents. And the photographs had been torn out of the documents that required photo identification. Nobody could tell what all that meant.
A big problem was that the road signs showing directions had been pulled up or turned in the wrong direction or painted over. But some of them were correct, so that you couldn’t even depend on them being wrong. Soldiers kept getting lost, whole companies were unable to find their way, divisions went astray, and many a deserted general cursed and sent motorcycle drivers in every direction to look for his soldiers. The High and Mighty had to call up surveyors and geography teachers so that the conquered country could be properly mapped.
On the fourth day of the campaign, the soldiers of Over Here took their first prisoner. He wasn’t a soldier, but a civilian who had been found in a wood with a mushroom basket over his shoulder. The High and Mighty ordered the man to be brought to him personally for an interrogation. The prisoner said his name was John Smith and that his profession was mushroom gatherer. He said he had lost his ID and that he didn’t know where the Over Therian army was.
In the next few days, the army of Over Here arrested several thousand civilians. All of them were called John or Jane Smith, and none of them had any identification papers. The High and Mighty seethed.
Finally the army of Over Here occupied their first large city. Everywhere soldiers could be seen painting street names on walls. They had had to have the city maps sent by the secret service. Of course, because of the rush, there were many mistakes, and some streets were named one thing on the right side of the street and something else on the left side and one thing on the upper end of the street and something else on the lower end.
Companies of soldiers were constantly wandering around the city aimlessly, in front of them a cursing sergeant with a city map in his hand. In general nothing worked in the city. The power plant wasn’t operating and neither was the gas company or the telephone company. Nothing worked.
The High and Mighty immediately announced that going on strike was prohibited and that everybody had to go to work without delay.
And the people went to the factories and offices, but still nothing was working. When the soldiers went there and asked, "Why isn’t anybody working here?" the people said, "the engineer is not here" or "the chief technician is not here" or "Mrs. so and so, the director is not here."
But how was Mrs. so and so the director to be found when every woman was called Jane Smith? The High and Mighty announced that those who didn’t use their correct names and titles would be shot. So the Over Therians no longer called themselves Smith but used any old name, but what good was that?
The farther the army advanced into the country the more difficult everything became. Pretty soon they weren’t able to round up any fresh food for the soldiers; everything had to be brought in from Over Here. The railroad didn’t work; the railroaders were either standing around or mindlessly driving the engines back and forth. The conductors couldn’t decide who should be in charge of which coach, and naturally all the bosses who knew how things were supposed to work had disappeared. No one could find them.
Nobody did anything to harm the soldiers. So soon they became careless, walking around with open visors on their armored helmets and chatting with the people. And the people from Over There, who were hiding everything edible from the army’s confiscation commandos, shared what little food they had with individual soldiers or traded fresh lettuce or homemade cake for canned food. The soldiers had plenty of canned food and they were frankly sick and tired of it.
When the High and Mighty found out about it, he flew into a rage, almost foaming at the mouth, and he issued an order forbidding all soldiers to leave their quarters except when out on patrol with their units. The soldiers didn’t like that at all.
Finally the army occupied the capital of Over There. But here, too, everything was like everywhere in this country. There were no street signs, no house numbers, and no family names on the doors. There were no directors, engineers, chief technicians, no policemen and no public officials. The government agencies were empty, and all the files had disappeared. No one knew where the national administration was.
The High and Mighty decided that he would finally have to get ruthless. He announced that all adults would be required to go to their factories and offices. Whoever stayed home would be shot.
Then he himself went to the power plant and ordered all soldiers and officers who, at home, had had something to do with power plants to go there too. He gave a speech to the workers, and then he said that there would be electricity in two hours. The officers gave commands, and the soldiers supervised, and the power plant workers ran back and forth and did exactly what the officers told them to do. Of course the result was terrible chaos and no electricity.
Then the High and Mighty called the officers back and said to the power plant workers, "If there is no electricity in half an hour, you’ll all be shot!" And behold, in half an hour there was light. And the High and Mighty said, "You see, you bums, I just have to put the heat on you!" and with his soldiers he then went over to the gas works to do exactly the same thing.
But the next day there was again no electricity. The High and Mighty was infuriated, and when he and his specially trained liquidation troops, marched up to the power plant to wipe out all of the workers, the power plant was empty, and the workers and staff had blended in with the people who were in the factories and offices.
The High and Mighty then ordered his soldiers simply to gather up a thousand people from the street and shoot them.
But because the people of Over There had been treacherous and cunning by always being friendly with the soldiers, the morale of the troops was so low that no one was prepared to just pick out a thousand people who hadn’t done anything and shoot them. So the High and Mighty gave the order to the special liquidation troops. But his officers let him know that the ordinary soldiers were already very unhappy and that it could even come to a mutiny, if a thousand people were shot.
And the High and Mighty received letters from the people in powerful positions at home, who wrote: "Highest of the Mighty! You have proven your gift as a field marshal and shown your military genius, and we congratulate you on your innumerable, magnificent victories. But now we ask you to come back and leave those crazy Over There people to their own devices. They’re costing us too much. If we have to place a soldier with a sub-machine gun behind every worker and threaten to shoot them, and an engineer who tells them what to do, then the whole conquering business is somehow not worth it all. Please come back home because our beloved country has already been deprived of your shining presence for too long."
So the High and Mighty packed up his army, ordered them to confiscate whatever valuable machines and other expensive objects they could transport, and returned home cursing.
"But we gave it to them!" he growled. "Those cowards. What will the fools do now? How are they going to figure out who’s an engineer, who’s a doctor, and who’s a cabinetmaker? Without certificates and diplomas! How are they going to determine who’s going to live in a villa and who in an apartment, if they can’t prove what belongs to them? How are they going to manage without deeds to property, without police records or driver’s licenses, without titles or uniforms? What confusion they’ll have! And all of that just so they don’t have to go to war with us, those cowards."
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