Henno Martin

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Henno Martin (10 March 1910 in Freiburg - 7 January 1998 in Göttingen) was a German professor of geology who, along with Hermann Korn, lived for two years in the Namib Desert to avoid internment during the Second World War.


Sheltering Desert; Union Deutsche Verlangsgesellschaft Ulm (1958)[edit]

Originally published in German as "Wenn es Krieg gibt gehen wir in die Wüste"
  • My first reaction was bitter cynicism and a rejection of all the material and spiritual values which mankind had developed in the course of thousands of generations. But at the same time I felt that I should have to overcome that cynicism if I were to survive here in the desert. Cynicism is a sharp enough weapon in the hurly-burly of an overcrowded town; it gives you elbow-room and it also gives you a satisfactory feeling of superiority. But what's the use of elbow-room in a desert? And what's the use of cynicism when the enemies you have to contend with are the broiling sun and the parching winds? When your only aim is to survive amidst the swift, sure-footed, cruel and lovely animals of the desert?
    • (p. 39)
  • Living and dead matter were so obviously at variance here, and the living matter so obviously triumphant in its adaptability over the dead elements and their rigid laws that the barren wilderness seemed to us more essentially alive than green trees rustling in the wind. How was it possible that for over a century scientists should have regarded nature as a harmonious whole, in itself so divinely complete that it needed no god? As long as the word nature conjured up the green woods and the flower-strewn meadows of our childhood that was understandable and in line with our own feelings. And even long scientific expeditions into the desert had done very little to correct this impression. It was only now, when the desert had become our home, that the old impression slowly began to fade.
    • (p. 87)
  • There were many examples in the history of life to show that precisely the most perfectly adapted, the physically biggest and strongest, the most numerous creatures, the lords of whole periods of life, died out in the end with monotonous regularity leaving the torch of life to be carried forward by smaller, more modest and often previously almost unnoticed forms of life, until they too fell into the trap of all too perfect adaptation.
    • (p. 170)
  • Was there no possibility of saving mankind from self-destruction? The extinct animal species had been forced unwittingly towards elimination, but in man, life for the first time, had mustered sufficient consciousness to recognise dangerous trends in his development. What were these dangers? Progress of science, man's increasing technical mastery? No, the real danger threatening man lay in those gigantic social and political organisations, being an end in themselves instead of means, using the instruments of education and propaganda to suppress individual judgement by creating instinctive mass reaction. These organisations hinder man's spiritual development, reduce the capacity for moral judgement to a low level, and hand over society to the intense lust for power of a few individuals.
    • (p. 180)
  • All power operates on a narrow basis; it rests on a few chosen faculties, and always ruthlessly exploits the weak. But history has shown again and again that the weak of the present have become the strong of the future, whereas power of today has provided the ruins of tomorrow. Who can know today that attributes and capacities will be vital in a thousand years' time? Only the preservation of all our attributes, including our weaknesses, can carry us safely through into the uncertain future. But how can it be done? Certainly not by force which does not preserve but destroys. There is only one thing which preserves all things, including the weak, and that is love.
    • (p. 221)

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