The Revolt of the Hereros (1981)
by John M. Bridgman
The Herero revolt and subsequent genocide by the Germans in the early 20th century is an important part of the fictional universe constructed across all of his novels. In Gravity's Rainbow, the Schwarzkommando are a troupe of African born rocket technicians, survivors of the 1904 Holocaust.
An index for Gravity's Rainbow shows many references to these fictional World War II troops:
74-75; German: "blackcommand"; black rocket troops; credibillity of, 92; 112;found out about a week before V.E. Day 276; Slothrop runs into two dozen on train to Nordhausen, 286; Hitler's failed plan to create Nazi empire in black Africa, training troops in Südwest, 287; "They have a plan. . .I think it's rockets" 288; "we're DPs like everybody else" 288; Herero rocket troops assembling a rocket for one last stand, 326; "it is their time, their space" 326; their mandala is the five positions of the launching switch for A4, 361; digging up A4 in Berlin, 361; "mba-kayere" (I am passed over), 362; why they seek the Rocket, 362, 563; growing away from SS and their power becoming information and expertise, 427; in their own space, 519; Herero village arranged like a mandala, 563; must be stopped before they fire the Rocket, 565; "they have their rocket all assembled at last" 673; the trek to the firing site of the 00001, 726; 12 children at a "children's resort" (Zwölfkinder means "12 children" in German--GET IT?), 725
In V., Pynchon's first novel, the chapters detailing the abuse of the Herero at the hand's of the Germans, prior to the genocide, is embodied by the character of Sarah, who is raped and debased by the callous German soldiers to the point of killing herself. The graphic subject matter of this portion of V. is the most arresting part of the entire novel, and his return to the subject in Gravity' Rainbow shows how deeply the real genocide was deeply embedded in his fictional universe at a time when (as is the case today) the facts of the genocide are little known.
The long and the short of the story is that the Hereros revolted against German colonial rule for the same reasons that many exploited people's revolt- they were losing their land and their property. After a string of early successes, they retreated some distance from the German troops. The Germans dispatched General Von Botha, who mustered his forces and almost entirely encircled the some 80,000 Herero, which included women, children and elderly and a similar amount of cattle. Lacking the forces to completely encircle the group, Von Botha left an escape root to the desert. The Germans allowed the Herero to escape into the desert, but then prevented their return by setting up a series of outposts on the fringe of the desert and publicizing that they would kill any who returned.
I think part of Pynchon's intention is to demonstrate that genocide wasn't specific to the Holocaust of the Jews, and was in fact an important part of Western culture prior to that point.