LAST EDITED ON 01-13-12 AT 10:52 AM (EST)
Let's talk about synthetic comforters.
During World War II, shortly after Germany successfully took France, the German army command discovered a new major cause of death among its soldiers. Not French resistance fighters: it was a problem, but it wasn't at the top of the scale. Not falling into old trenches. Not being slapped to death by the locals after refusal to repronounce a word eighty-five times.
Some businesses boom in wartime, and few see increased traffic like cathouses do. And local standards of health, medical technology, and condom use being what they were, the proud German soldier was marching back to camp bearing a local French vintage in his blood which couldn't be slept off, although they were rapidly proving it was very easy to sleep on. And these diseases were spreading through the troops faster than rumors of a political officer interrogation. Soldiers were missing shifts. Falling down on the job. Sometimes falling dead on the job. You'd think more of them would have turned themselves over to the medical corps when everything went south, but to do so would have meant diagnosis, and that leads to 'There's only one way you can get this', and then you have to explain just how you managed to sneak home for an overnight visit and found out that your good German girl wasn't. Several hundred infantry trying to ride that excuse don't do well, even if it turns out to be the same girl. So if the soldiers went for help, it was often to back-alley medics, which for some of them helped and for others just gave the French resistance one more striking point. And others said nothing -- and some of them died.
The German high command, having identified the problem, frequently in post-mortem, tried to fix it.
They ordered the troops not to use cathouses, street trade, or any other local form of wildlife. This worked exactly as well as it has throughout military history: not.
They tried getting soldiers to keep an eye on each other, even more so than usual. This led to a few turn-ins and lots of buddy systems.
And then they turned to their leader. And as they would have expected, the Fuhrer knew what to do. He introduced them to --
-- drumroll, please --
-- The Borghild Project.
And what did the Project do? It developed synthetic comforters. The German scientists turned their attention to this clear need and came up with something durable, portable, extremely foldable and, just to keep things within the designated framework of acceptability, blue-eyed and blonde-haired.
Yes, thanks to the genius of the Fuhrer: the solution had been made clear. All this crisis had needed for a solution was the creation of the first-ever official military commissioned blow-up doll.
Naturally, there was a testing phase, performed in the field. All went well. The synthetic comforters worked. They were durable, portable, extremely foldable, and not French in any way. So the soldiers assigned to test the comforters reported.
You may be wondering about how the testing was conducted and observed. Continue doing so.
At any rate, once the synthetic comforters had proven viable, they were officially issued. It wasn't one per troop, of course: they still weighed something and you don't want every backpack losing that much space. No, a few soldiers could carry for all. The medical corps, perhaps. Sure, why not? Relief of pressure fell into the medical category. Just approach your friendly neighborhood doctor and he'd lend you a companion for the evening. Relief assured! Not privacy because comforter use was official military business and records had to be kept, but certainly relief! Oh, and please clean the comforter after use: there may be a line.
Or, in this case, not.
As it turned out, the soldiers at the test had used the comforters for the simplest of reasons: they had been ordered to. The average German troop in the field -- did not. In fact, they refused to even carry the things. Comforters were mysteriously lost, or found themselves strangely wandering into minefield, and some just saved themselves the trouble of an excuse by forgetting to file the requisition form. And the excuse was simple. Death was possible for a soldier, sometimes even likely. But so was capture. And when you were facing capture by the Allies with a synthetic comforter in your backpack, death started to look like the better option. As a man, the German infantry simul-rejected the miraculous advance in science, and went back to playing venereal disease roulette. It might be deadlier, but that kind of death was better than an existence where you were forced into wishing for it. By 1942, the project had died, as had a number of project-refusing soldiers, and the German high command sighed and turned its attention to other problems.
But there was a legacy.
You see, any time you let a bit of new technology out of the bottle, it's kind of hard to get back in. The Germans had come up with synthetic comforters: that tech was out there. And the idea survived the war. Even if soldiers wouldn't carry them in public, some of the citizenry would use them in the privacy of their postwar homes, which incidentally did put a very tiny dent in the venereal disease statistics. So synthetic comforters were made in many different sizes and styles, although as it was still Germany, many of them tended to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed. The country got to be very good at it. In fact, they were so good at molding faces and body types that the designs were often stolen, sometimes by rival companies in the synthetic comforter field, but occasionally for other purposes.
And so one day in the mid-50s, a designer looking for a new product to launch sought a fresh source of inspiration: the German synthetic comforter field, where surely a design lurked that could be stolen and adapted for a considerably different audience.
The designer was right. An acceptable style was found. Molded into something solid. Released to the market. And that product survives to this day -- no, thrives. Millions upon millions have been sold. The creation is a cultural icon, classic Americana, present in almost every field of media. You've probably owned one -- or your sister has.
So remember, kids: if it hadn't been for German soldiers contracting syphilis and the Fuhrer's innovative attempt to preserve his troops --
-- there would be no Barbie.
And now we wait to hear how many people just raided their daughter's rooms and started setting things on fire.