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  • Writer's pictureNikko Norte

The death of Winnetou …

German and Dutch publishing houses, I recently learned, put an end to their sale of Winnetou books, for those books possibly grant young human beings born with male genitals the wrong idea of what life is about in case they one day decide to not part with those genitals. Man, how long until my books are withdrawn from the shelves? Winnetou, I admit in those books, was partly responsible for my upbringing.

Winnetou! A proud and self-assured man who was honest and just in his quest for peace among his fellow native Americans and for peace among native Americans and the white settlers that flooded their hunting grounds but who wreaked havoc upon those not abiding by the laws of honesty, justness, and humanity. That eh… that must have a more destructive influence on the developing self of young human beings than Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto.

Winnetou! Without him, I might, still being a child, have succumbed to the pressure of the adults close to me who encouraged me to sacrifice my time on earth on the altar of conformity and obedience to … pondering on Winnetou’s influence on who and what I am today, leafing through a copy of my book Unpredictable Past, I find the page on which I give Winnetou the credits he deserves, and I suddenly remember that, aged seven or eight, I owned a Winnetou book with the title The Death of Winnetou. For all I loved to read, I could not bring myself to read the book, the implications of living without Winnetou too dreadful.

No one stops time, my army buddies, years later, used to remark as we forced ourselves through desperate lows on our way to earning our green berets. I never liked that expression, not even then, when it helped us endure, but true it is. No one stops time, and hence, at long last, even Winnetou, the great chief of the Apaches, has met his fate.

Rest in peace, my red brother ...

... company staff assessed that the enemy would overrun us at five o’clock in the morning, so at five o’clock in the morning, all soldiers in Camp Martello were required to be awake, lying at their designated posts, rifles and Minimis at their shoulders, peering into overlapping sectors of the terrain around the camp. General alert, that situation was called. The first time I experienced a general alert, it felt I played a role in the television series Blackadder. Private Baldrick in the trenches. General alert remained in effect each morning until the company staff radioed the order to stand down.

The morning after my first night at Camp Martello, I attended a company staff meeting. The consensus at that meeting was that digging ourselves in was our only alternative to avoid being overrun by Taliban. Shocked, I sat on a folding chair in a circle of smoking colleagues amidst the hescos that walled company HQ. The idea that I lived in a world ruled by emotion had years earlier occurred to me. Still, whenever it was rubbed into my face like it was that morning, it eh… it shocked me.

Fear is fine. Fear helps us survive, and I was convinced I had struggled with more fear over the years than the fifteen people around me combined. But I did not experience fear as a fearful emotion. Fear instead made the foundation of my existence, was die Mutter der Moral, as Nietzsche put it, human existence but a moral matter in the end. Only the acceptance of my fears allowed me to overcome them. And now, now I was sitting in a circle of real men who would scream from rooftops they feared nothing, meanwhile making decisions unworthy of real men.

Interesting dynamics for the psychologist in Kamp Holland, I decided, wondering at the same time why I always had to be the one whose mother, during an open day of the army unit in which he serves, remarks how remarkable it is that her son is the only one marching in step when the unit demonstrates its marching drills.

My fear in Camp Martello was clear. It revolved around not being able to prevent casualties. Casualties among us and casualties among the few civilians living within the range of our mortars. That fear tightened my throat, but it didn’t restrain me from putting forward that another alternative to avoid Camp Martello being overrun would be to patrol its surroundings by day and to man observation points in those surroundings by night. A heavy silence followed what I put forward, and I remembered the day six classmates awaited me in the yard when I left school one day, malice in their attitude. As fear tightened my throat, threatened to paralyze me, I rushed forward. Not everyone came out of that adventure unscathed, and things escalated when it became clear that no threat tempted me to apologize. Seven years of age, I felt the same contempt for the adults coercing me into apologizing for some blows my tiny fists had dealt, I felt thirty-five years later for the NCO’s and officers with whom I discussed the defense of Camp Martello.

In a fit of nostalgia and with a disturbing sense of reality, I realized I had been brought up by Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, by Harmen van Kniphuysen, cook’s boy under captain Bontekoe on the East Indiaman Nieuw Hoorn, by knights of the round table, by proud Zulu kings defying Boers, by Buck the dog, by Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and by Porthos, Aramis, Athos, and d'Artagnan. The morality those imaginary heroes had instilled in me died a quiet death in the real world.

To flee or to fight? To dig in or to patrol the surroundings of the camp? After the adults quit coercing me into apologizing for something Winnetou would have patted me on the shoulder, I lived through my next five years of primary school without a trace of fear. To dig in or to patrol the surroundings of the camp? Everything in me screamed that we would not see the end of that Martello adventure unscathed should we dig in, and … the company commander asked me whether a message was hidden behind the stupid grin on my face. Resigning to having no influence on our immediate future, I figured that if I would ever write a book about my time in Afghanistan, I better avoided using the word adventure, and no, no message hidden behind my stupid grin.

But I had underestimated my superiors at battalion HQ in Kamp Holland, thirty miles northwest of Camp Martello. Over the radio, they ordered me on daily patrols around Camp Martello, and they ordered the company commander to lend me as many soldiers Camp Martello could spare, two orders less surprising than they seemed, because before the company staff woke up that morning, and before general alert had been announced, I had sent Captain Stoic in Kamp Holland a message by means of a Canadian radio I had found in a command tent. I knew Captain Stoic could draw the maps of the terrain around Camp Martello blindfolded, and I knew he shared my view of the threat the camp faced. Still, it wasn’t until I walked through the front gate of Camp Martello that I realized how scared I had really been since my arrival at the camp. The prospect of waiting powerlessly for our opposition to fire grenades and rockets at us had clashed with my upbringing. Permission to write home immediately, sir, I heard myself think. This is the first cunning plan a Baldrick ever had. Mum will be pleased as punch. I laughed, let the eight soldiers I had been given on loan pass and joined at the back of the line …

Leafing further through the copy of my book, I come across another page on which Winnetou plays a role. I forgot that page survived my publisher’s editing and chuckle when I discover the bit of foresight I had when I cycled to Paris, some fifteen years ago, while on leave from my two-year deployment in Afghanistan.

… on my way to Père-Lachaise, a sign on the façade of a building taught me Marcel Proust once lived in that building. That had prompted me to visit his grave. Pondering, I sat on a tombstone, staring at the grayish black stone that marks Proust’s final resting place. A search for lost time didn’t seem like something to invest my time in after Afghanistan, but to write, like the main character in À la recherche du temps perdu, was something anyone could try, even I.

I once wrote a movie script that was well received in America. I had chosen to write a movie script because I did not dare to credit myself with literary qualities after reading the work of people like Proust. But what if I limited myself to writing and omitted literature? Karl May, Johan Fabricius, Roger Lancelyn Green, August Niemann, Jack London, Mark Twain, and Alexandre Dumas were writers whose work I devoured as a child and who took responsibility for my upbringing. Most of them just wrote, not bothering too much with literature, which was strange. Their work was being read. Proust was being talked about. I often wondered though whether those talking about him had really read his work. The world’s best-selling books seemed to be the least read books anyway. The Bible, the Quran, Atlas shrugged ...

Who was Jesus? Who was Muhammad? Who ís John Galt?

John Galt, a man who refuses to participate in a society that embraces mediocrity in its pursuit of equality. A man who lives free from internal conflict. Oops! A writer in 2007 would not likely get away with that type of main character in a manuscript – and Karl May’s work needed some adjustments to remain marketable ...

Iitschi and Hatatitla stepped freely through streams and over rocks. I felt Winnetou occasionally glancing my way. It wasn’t until sunrise that he asked, ‘What’s bothering my white brother the last few days?’ a question I knew he’d wanted to ask for so long.

‘I don’t know,’ I replied doubtfully, even though I knew Winnetou was not a man for doubt. ‘Since our last fight with the Comanches, I have not been my true self.’

‘Oof … fight, fight. My white brother let the Henry rifle speak before we could see whether the Comanches wore their war colors. They ran like cowardly coyotes.’ Despite Winnetou’s brusque words, I knew I had to keep our conversation going. Winnetou was my blood brother. If anyone would understand me, it would be him. Reassuringly, I patted Hatatitla on the neck, took a deep breath, and said, ‘The chief of the Apaches may be right, but since the Comanches dug up the tomahawk of war, I haven’t slept a wink. Every night when we sit at campfire and I hear something rustle in the undergrowth, I want to hide behind a tree.’

‘My white brother speaks like a squaw, but he should be proud of the candor with which he dares to express his feelings. Howgh!’


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