Let's see. Where are we?
Dow up 88 yesterday. Gold up $22.
What's pushing up the Dow? A lot of chatter about a "new American century"… and an apparent recovery.
You know our position: Recovery isn't possible. Drug addicts do not recover by taking more drugs. They may get high again… but that's a different story.
The "new American century" theme is based largely on greater output of energy. The US is once again the world's largest producer. But we don't recall that being a big energy producer did much for the people of Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Venezuela. Sucking more hydrocarbons from the rich earth of North America may not do much for the average American, either.
Gold, meanwhile, may have put in a bottom. Or maybe not. We will have to wait to see. If you believe that Ben Bernanke and other central bankers have things under control, you have no reason to own gold. If, on the other hand, you think they are driving toward a brick wall, you are well advised to buckle your seat belt and hold onto your gold.
But enough about money. Let's talk about heroes. For thousands of years, people have sat around campfires and told the stories of their heroes. Leonidas at Thermopylae… Horatius at the bridge… Stout Cortez on a hill in Darien.
But a real hero gets little notice, few poems and no statues. If he is lucky, someone lights a candle in his memory and he feels the brush of angel wings on his face.
Real heroes do not don their armor to protect the realm; instead, they take up pens to criticize it. They are not defenders of the law, but lawbreakers and iconoclasts. They are not True Believers, but heretics, dissidents and corruptors of the youth. Like Sophocles. And Edward Snowden. From the Financial Times:
In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama called upon "We, the People" to preserve America's ideals of individual freedom and equality. When Edward Snowden disclosed the National Security Agency's secret surveillance programs, he was rising to this challenge. Like the nation's "founding fathers," he was also defying the usurpations of an increasingly intrusive government. Mr. Obama should therefore call off the campaign to apprehend him and offer Mr. Snowden a pardon instead.
Dieter Markmann – True Hero
Today, we give a little credit where it is due. In our new series, True Heroes, we tell the short story of another hero, Dieter Markmann. If we read German, we might be able to give you more of the real details. Since we do not, we will have to make them up.
It was the Easter season, 1944, on the Eastern Front. Germany was already defeated but didn't realize it. The invasion of Normandy was coming; North Africa and Italy had already been lost.
Meanwhile, the Soviets were outproducing Germany in all the key elements of war – soldiers, arms ammunition, energy and food. They were also receiving help from America's vast industries. Their soldiers rode in trucks manufactured in Michigan and their pilots flew planes built in California.
The Germans were outnumbered, outfought, out of time, out of money and out of luck. The gods of war had gone over to the other side more than a year ago… and now mocked the Teutonic warriors on every step of their retreat back to the Vaterland… the Heimat… the homeland.
But of delusions, they still had plenty. And their central planners decided that they could collect "racially correct" orphans from Soviet territory still under Wehrmacht control and send them back to Germany. These children were to be raised to become the overseers of this new territory Germany had conquered.
Dieter Markmann was a lieutenant in the German army, stationed near Zhlobin on the Dnieper River. He had heard about the program of sending children back to Germany. He had not believed it was true. Instead, it must have been one of those dark rumors that circulate in wartime.
Besides, it was obvious to him, as it was to all those who had served for any length of time on the Eastern Front, that these conquered lands would not remain conquered for long. With every month that passed, Germany grew weaker; she could not replace her losses either in men or in material. But with every month that passed, the Soviet Union grew stronger.
In this Easter season, the roads were drying out. Troops were massing for a huge attack. The Germans might resist… for a while. But not for long.
A local woman came into Markmann's office. She spoke Russian. She was dressed as any peasant woman would be – simply, rudely. She had blond hair. Markmann noticed she would have been pretty had she been dressed and coifed like a lady in Berlin. But there was no point in noticing such things.
"I have to talk to you," she began. And then the words kept coming. A torrent of them. Without pause. But with tears.
"They are going to take my only son, Tomas. They are going to take him to Berlin. Please, he's all I have left. My husband is dead. My other two children are dead. Tomas is all I have. And he's not strong. He won't survive… Can't you help me?"
Markmann realized the rumor was true. This sobbing woman's "racially correct" son, Tomas, had fallen into the Nazis' net.
"I Would Be Shot. I'm Sorry"
"I'd like to," he replied. "But I am a German officer, not a social welfare agent. I follow orders. And if I were to undermine an order from the Fuhrer, I would be shot. I'm sorry…"
The woman sobbed. She rose. She turned and walked to the door.
When she had left, Lieutenant Markmann went to the window. He pushed aside the lace curtain that had been put there by the former occupants. He saw the woman cross the street. There, in an alley, beside another house that had also been turned into German officers' barracks, was a boy of 11 or 12. Blond. He was tall but thin. Markmann liked his looks.
"Shame. This war has taken so many young men to early graves," he said to himself. "It will surely take me too."
He returned to his desk. He studied his papers. But his mind stayed on the woman… and her son. He had already spent two years on the Eastern Front. Most of the men who marched with him to Smolensk and then all the way to the suburbs of Moscow were now dead. He had been lucky so far. He had been wounded twice. One bullet took off a finger. A second time, a piece of shrapnel lodged itself in his leg.
Neither wound was fatal… though the second might have been, if a medic had not acted promptly to stop the bleeding. Most likely, in the big push that the Russians were planning, his luck would give out.
Markmann stood up quickly. He crossed the room, opened the door and looked down the street. He walked quickly in the direction the woman and her son had taken… and then spotted them on a cross street.
"Come…" he motioned to them, looking in both directions. "Bring the boy to the office at 4 p.m."
"But I'm supposed to bring him to the town square at 3 p.m.," she protested.
"Then bring him to me instead."
He walked back to the office and waited. In a couple of hours, the boy arrived with a small bag. He was prepared for a long trip.
"Here, stay in here," he pointed to a closet. The boy got in.
For two days, the boy stayed in the closet. The SS troops charged with the roundup left. Then the boy was reunited with his mother.
Markmann waited for the Soviet attack. When it came, in the summer of 1944, it rolled over all the Germans' firepower. Markmann was taken prisoner.
Like all prisoners, he was interrogated.
"Are you Lieutenant Markmann?" the Soviet officer demanded. "Well, you're a lucky man. There's a woman in Zhlobin who says you saved her son. You'll live to see your country."
Markmann was lucky. Of all the Germans taken prisoner by the Soviets, half died in their Siberian prison camps. Markmann survived.