I was watching a documentary on YouTube about Colditz castle last night. It was a castle in Germany that was used during WW2 as a prison for POWs who had tried to escape from other less secure camps. It was a “bad boys’ camp.” I’ve written about it before. There were British, French, Dutch, Belgian, and Polish POWs in it. And more or less as soon as they arrived there, they usually started planning to escape.
The documentary, which was actually shot at Colditz, recreated several of the escape attempts, some of which were highly elaborate, and took months of preparation, digging tunnels, making disguises, bribing guards.
Most of the plans went wrong. Something unforeseen would happen. A bribed guard would betray the escapers. A hidden crypt beneath a chapel would turn out not to exist. A locked door could not be opened. A sewer would prove to lead nowehere.
But occasionally a plan would work, and the escaped prisoners would find themselves outside the castle walls, and start heading for Switzerland or some place. And occasionally they would make it there.
But while I found it unsurprising that British POWs frequently tried to escape, I wondered what the point of Polish or Dutch or Belgian or French POWs escaping might be, given their countries were already occupied, and were themselves prisons. Once they had made it to Belgium, wouldn’t they then need to escape from Belgium?
And what did the British POWs do once they had escaped to freedom? Did they live carefree, bohemian lives, doing what they liked. No, they all went back into the forces they’d been fighting in when they were captured, and began living planned and regimented lives as part of the war effort in wartime Britain. For the whole of Europe was effectively one huge prison during the war, Britain included. It only ceased to be a prison when the war ended.
So, did the escaped POWs start living free, bohemian lives – doing whatever they liked – when the war ended? Well, no, they didn’t do that either. They all got jobs in one industry or other, and started living planned lives within a civilian society.
In fact, many of them started making lots of new plans. If they were socialists or communists they’d dream of a planned society. Planning was all the rage after the end of WW2. There were planners everywhere, planning new towns, roads, railways. The European Union itself is one such highly elaborate post-war plan. In the Soviet Union, there were 5 Year Plans, of course.
Public Health is another example of planning. If the European planners have plans for the whole of Europe, Public Health makes plans for everybody living in Europe (and in fact the entire world). The Public Health planners are planning what everyone will eat and drink and smoke. And most likely they have plans for what everyone will read and watch and say and hear.
Planning of this sort precludes any sort of freedom. To the extent anyone sets out to plan other people’s lives, they are planning to remove their freedom. The more carefully planned any society is, the more closely it must resemble a prison. Which is why many people are planning to escape from the prison that is being built around them.
It is as if the prisoners who once planned to escape from Colditz ended up planning and constructing a new Colditz. Once they ceased to be prisoners, planning to escape, they simply became prison guards, planning to keep prisoners captive.
Can we ever stop planning? Can we ever live unplanned lives? As soon as we have had one carefully-planned holiday in the South of France, we start planning the next one in Greece. Is compulsive planning a psychological disorder?
For the planners, planning seems to be something that comes naturally. They seem to spend their entire lives making plans. And the plans always seem to get ever more and more elaborate and detailed. They seem to think that everything and everyone must be planned. They seem to think that anything that happens spontaneously – i.e. unplanned – is some sort of mistake. Perhaps even some sort of catastrophe.
The escape planners in Colditz castle where planning to break free. But none of them ever really broke free, even the ones that made it to Switzerland. They never broke free of planning. Once they’d stopped planning to escape, they started planning doing something else. And the more elaborate those plans were, and the more they reached into other people’s lives, the more they encroached on other people’s freedom.
It’ll never work. For the more elaborate any plan is, the more likely the plan is bound to go wrong. It might be said that the EU is bound to fail, because it is simply far too elaborate. The same applies to the equally (or even more) elaborate plans of Public Health.
And anyway many of the successful escapes from Colditz were unplanned, opportunistic escapes, as a door was left accidentally unlocked somewhere, or an unscheduled event took place.
And the most elaborate Colditz escape plan – which entailed building and launching a glider from its roof – never reached fruition. For in Colditz, escape planning had itself become a highly elaborate process, with escapes being planned and scheduled many months ahead by a multi-national Escape Committee which in some ways prefigured the EU in Brussels. If the war had gone on much longer, there would have been no more escapes from Colditz, simply because the escape plans had all become so highly elaborate, and so carefully planned months or years in advance by the Escape Committee, that the prisoners had become their own most effective guards.
The plan was becoming the prison.