Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

Out of Space

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

by Revilo P. Oliver

DR. HERMANN OBERTH, a German born in Romania, was one of the first men to use his scientific knowledge to invent a technology that he finally saw fully realized when he witnessed the launching of the rocket that first carried men to the moon. It is possible, indeed, that if his early experiments in 1930-1937 had been adequately financed, the great catastrophe of 1945 might have been averted by early use of the weapons that were at last employed too late.

He is now 94, and one of the books he wrote late in life has just been published in an English translation, Primer for Those Who Would Govern (Clarence, New, York; West-Art, 1987 [=1988]). His prominence obliges us to notice the book.

Hermann Oberth

It will be valued for its frontispiece and the last pages. The first is a reproduction, unfortunately in black-and-white, of a portrait of Dr. Oberth as he must have been in his forties, by the well-known American artists, Margaret Stucki, who has added symbols of his work on craft that move in the space that surrounds our world. The last pages contain a chronology of Oberth’s life and achievements, compiled by Hans Barth.

In the 272 pages of intervening text Dr. Oberth reports and, I am sorry to say, endorses prolix advice for “all mankind” which was given to a woman named Barbara Troll by Schea-Tal-Wir, Tao-Ni-Tas, and other benevolent Uranopolitae, who dwell on a planet called Gralo that is located in an unidentified galaxy in an indeterminate part of the universe. For all their kindness, the Gralians did not give Miss or Mrs. Troll a sightseeing jaunt on a “flying saucer,” such as more than two hundred of our contemporaries have enjoyed; they communicated with her imagination by telepathy.

What the invisible and oddly philanthropic representatives of an “advanced civilization” have to say does not essentially differ from the old bunkum and raucous spiels about “One World” that have obtunded our ears and insulted our minds for decades.

For that matter, this book could have been written by a lady whom I knew. She was a graduate of one of the most highly reputed women’s colleges, but when I first knew her, she always rushed to her radio to listen, with the wide-eyed wonder and faith with which she had heard fairy tales in the nursery, to the oleaginous gabble of our great War Criminal in spiels which were publicly called “Fireside Chats,” but more frankly described as “Hog Calling” by the inner circle in Washington. And she never learned to control the imagination and sentimentality she had brought from the nursery. Thirty years later, I saw her staring fixedly at the screen of her television set, watching and hearing humorless clowns prate in the “United Nations,” while she was in an agony of suspense, anxious to learn whether they would approve or disapprove some meaningless “resolution,” which would serve only to dirty newsprint.

Young Tennyson, in the famous poem in which he demonstrated his mastery of the trochaic octameter, portrayed vividly a disappointed lover who sought to distract himself by speculating about the future of the world, and imagined a time when wars would be fought in the air and become even more destructive,

Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle-flags were furled.
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

But even then the impassioned young man sensed that he was probably spinning fantasies about an unimaginably remote future. And sixty years later he, like the poet, grown wise by experience, remembered his youthful fancies about a warless world and foresaw clearly the effects of the then still impending overpopulation of the planet:

Warless? when her tens are thousands, and her thousands millions, then —
All her harvest all too narrow — who can fancy warless men?
Warless? war will die out late then? Will it ever, late or soon?
Can it, till this outworn earth be dead as yon dead world, the moon?

In 1830, when the Napoleonic Era was past, idealistic young men could still have pipe dreams of reviving the old scheme of the Abbé de Sainte-Pierre to form a league of nations that would insure la paix perp‚tuelle en Europe. The good Abbé was not foolish enough to imagine that his projected pacification could be extended to other climes and races. Neither was Tennyson. If one reads on in his youthful poem, his opinion of Orientals and the lower races assure us that his “Parliament of man” was to consist of Aryans, representatives of Aryan nations that jointly held dominion over the entire planet.

In his palinode Tennyson took account of the terrible pullulation of the non-European races, caused by our race’s disturbance of the ecological equilibrium in Asia and Africa. And the warning was made more emphatic by every year since the aging poet wrote the second “Locksley Hall” more than a century ago. We should have learned something in a century, but we have been childishly unwilling to face reality.

It is certainly odd that Schea-Tal-Wir and his do-gooding fellows on their cosmonautical yacht should not have observed that earth closely enough to perceive that its only conceivable future is one in which nations and races must fight desperately and ruthlessly for survival on an overcrowded planet.

As I have said, Dr. Oberth, whom we must respect, presents the superlunary babble abut what he frankly calls a “world parliament” with an air of high seriousness, but let’s hope it’s only his little joke.

* * *

Source: Liberty Bell magazine, February 1989

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