Why do we need to wear masks?
When there are vast global gatherings of political leaders, businessmen, or celebrities, it is usual to attempt to conceal your face behind a sheet or piece of clothing. There are two main reasons:
First, to reduce the potential for fighting between rival groups of people, like in an Olympic final or World Cup match. You can’t see who is shouting and who is jumping for joy and as one guest at the German arm of Davos in 2009 put it: “Once a group of meerkats are cowering, you know they might attack you.”
Second, to avoid intruders who might get nervous and attack with whatever meaty implements they can find. This happened in the 1960s when Oliver Cromwell reigned over France and in the 1980s when members of the US Congress decided that their security agents were better and worse prepared than anybody else’s when it came to their protection. It also happened during the course of the Titanic’s journey when an infamous crew member forgot to remove his disguise before boarding the ship’s lifeboats.
But how does this matter?
The first big case of weapon-wearing came at the start of the cold war, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev tried to squeeze through the thickly-papered French embassy in London (something that later explains the British obsession with embalming fluid). The following year, Nelson Mandela fled into South Africa under a layered toga. When bombing of Berlin began in 1941, Hitler ordered all German soldiers to wear black armbands. On the first war day, 1944, five newspapers printed the headline “Thank God for Black Sunday” because they feared that all the uniformed Nazis would therefore be shot. In 1945, similar treatment was given to any German wearing a yellow star of David.
All of this to minimise the risks of accidents or mistakes, most of which were the other way round.
In 1974 the Israeli car bomb that killed 23 people included among its victims the leading member of the Workers Party of Soviet Russia and two members of the Syrian Communist Party. In 1971 Cuba assassinated a member of the conservative Republican Guard with a car bomb. In 1980 Austria found a dead policeman in the back of a Renault Clio with a flat tyre. This had been used to stop another police car. Last but not least, during World War II six pilots died when their plane collided with an Italian villa with no glass windows.