Thursday, May 10, 2018

November 14, 1943: War is Hell

Article by Opa in Manhattan, Kansas' Newspaper, The Mercury Chronicle


Nazi Are Masters of Defense Strategy on Several Fronts

By Thomas W Doeppner

Among the things which had to be learned in this war is the surprising power of defense demonstrated by the Germans. The first proof of this was given in Africa. Rommel was beaten as soon as the battle of El-Alamein was finished; Rommel's Afrikakorps retreated almost 800 miles westward, just to make a stand in Tunisia where a defense was put up which cost the Allies more men than the entire previous North African campaign from the time of the invasion on. All this time, Rommel was very probably aware of the fact that his fight would mean nothing but a delaying action.

Something similar happened in Italy. There has not been any news of importance from Italy for several weeks. The defensive measures put up by the Germans have reached here too what might be called a temporary stalemate. It is almost certain that the Allied troops will be in Rome before long, but the amount of men and material lost in this campaign is comparatively large.

Most obvious is the systematic retreat of the Nazis in Russia. Since their puppet offensive last July, an offensive comparable to the August, 1918 German offensive, the Nazis have been beaten back or at least been kept from advancing on all Russian fronts. The Russian troops have been victorious, but it has cost them more blood than during the days of German successes.

The Germans not only set booby traps, and use their artillery to cover their retreat, but many a German soldier shows some surprisingly heroic action in a battle which he knows is lost.

From the experiences during the last war, this seems strange. In 1918, as soon as the German advance was permanently stopped, the morale of the German army fell rapidly. A Stalingrad at that time would very probably have meant the end of the war. Germany never did fight to defend her own soil, but raised the white flag far out in enemy territory.

Myth Exploded Now

What is it that makes the Germans put up such a strong defense now? It is rather improbable that there are many Germans left who still give their lives for Hitler or for the Nazi myth of world domination. The fact that they once did fall for these ideas, though, inflicts the Germans with two kinds of emotions which are cause for severe depression and stubbornness: hate and fear.

They hate the Allies. During the last war, the fighting was done between soldiers, and the German population as a whole did not suffer from but indirectly. This time, the Allied bombings make the German people, civilians and combatants both, a direct target for every kind of war suffering.

The fact that bombings were started by the Germans does not make the slightest difference to the population. That was done in other countries to people whom they did not know. The only effect they see and know of is that 800,000(?) German civilians have been killed and approximately ten times as many have been made homeless by the recent Allied bombings of the cities. (These figures were made public by the British Information Service.) Considering that the population of Germany and Austria is about 80,000,000 in peace time, this means that every tenth person in Germany has been made homeless through Allied bombings. There can hardly be any greater reason for hatred.

Hatred is Keynote

A second reason for the strength and willpower of German defense is a psychological one. The German soldier is fully aware of the terrible cruelties committed by the Gestapo and, on Gestapo's orders, by some parts of the German army, in German-occupied countries. The German soldier is also fully aware of the hatred which exists in these countries against Germany. Germans, and anything that reminds of Germany.

The fear that those feelings of hatred might some day be translated into a terrific revenge is a great contributing factor to German fighting strength. There is a possibility that one of Hitler's reasons for committing these cruelties was this effect it would have upon the German soldier. The more cruelties a soldier would commit against a people, the more he will fear surrender to that people. So it's fear and hatred that makes for the defense of Nazi Germany.

The United Nations have been using some good propaganda techniques to overcome at least the former of one of these feelings. By promising to punish only those responsible for acts of cruelty, they relieved some German soldiers who acted under orders from the consequences of their acts. At present, the United Nations propaganda strategy is directed toward permitting the Allied troops to enter German territory before the occupied people themselves would and could start a revolution, such that law and order could be maintained after the German defeat. Whether or not this propaganda will work depends partly on the way the Axis population is treated in Allied-occupied territory, like Italy and, maybe before too long, Eastern Germany.

Well. I had to read this article a few times to really get a hold on how I felt about it. It is hard to read something in its time without inserting the knowledge of the time after and all the historical analysis of the time before. 

Opa has his finger on the pulse of the German people, though he writes as if he has no connections to the Germans. These are his friends, family, fellow citizens (at least formerly). He has unilaterally rejected all connection to the Nazi reign, but he cannot disconnect completely from his childhood. He knows the trouble of his country after the Great War. He knows the anger, resentment, and despair that came when defeat and financial depression were the primary colors on the landscape of German emotions. Opa grew up with bread lines and rations. He also knew privilege and slight prosperity that came with educated parents and urban living. For many, this never came. 

Hitler was a unifier of a people debased. He brought the downtrodden together and reassured them that not only did they deserve better, they were in their very essence better than everyone else. This meant that they did not have to appease one single person to get what they deserved. They didn't need to ask permission. Music to the ears of someone who felt like they never got their fortune, or at least a chance. Hitler gave them an enemy: the Jew, and anyone else who dared to stand in their way. Then, by a sad series of events, he was given power. In turn, fear and despair were given power to avenge for their rightful life. A life free of hardship, free of anything that stood in their way, free of land constraints, free of niceties and civilities that would hamper their God-given rights. 

So Opa was right about hatred, he knew this hatred well. He knew that if the Germans hated the Allied forces (many of the same enemies in both wars) so much after the first world war when they had not lost as many civilians, than this hatred born of civilian devastation from the same forces- oh boy- that's real hate. Opa knows that the Germans are fiercely for themselves, not noticing or caring that they have inflicted the same pain on other nations (and aren't many countries this way in war?). What matters is what THEY did to US. And the Allies have not been kind.

Let me pause for a minute to say that this war, all war, numbs my mind. When you read "cost more blood" - we normally think in numbers, in swaths of columns moving forward. We don't really think about all the individual lives. The families left behind. War is a decimator of individuality and value. Life is no longer precious on the individual scale, but rather in lump sums and in forgivable sacrifices. This is too much for me to grasp. It is a slashing of humanity every time. I don't understand.

Opa is explaining in this article that the Germans are particularly strong on their defense because of this additional hatred against the Allies. His next hypothesis is that the Germans are fighting so strongly because they fear the revenge of their enemies. Opa connects this to the brutality of the Gestapo and the atrocities carried out by the army. He is careful not to specifically mention the Jewish issue. This is not because he doesn't care, but because he knows many in the US don't care, or might not follow him all the way through if he starts talking about Jewish people. The sentiment in the United States was very sympathetic, but lacked the impetus for action. The US carried its own brand of anti-semitism and Opa wasn't going to open that can of worms when he wanted very much to stay in the US.

I disagree with Opa's argument in the atrocity bit. He treats it almost like a strategy on Hitler's part to keep his soldiers motivated. Opa talks about the atrocities as almost a side thing, rather than a hatred-fueled engine itself. I don't think that the Germans fought hard because they were afraid of the consequences of their atrocities. I think that they fought hard because they didn't want a repeat of the first war. The atrocities were a blip on their conscious. I'm not saying that there weren't Nazi soldiers who were horrified and scared by what they saw their own nation do, some of them were fighting because the alternative was death or a concentration camp. What I am saying is that the atrocities were done by people who did them out of sheer hate and complete disregard for the humanity of the people they hurt. Not for political gain, not for a morale booster, not because they thought the minions would fight harder. They did all that because they bought into the idea that they were better, deserved everything, and that these "others" were not only in their way but not even fully human. 

I think Opa's city upbringing shielded him a bit from the despair and hate of those in rural Germany. I wonder if he was trying to work out for himself some logical explanation for why someone could possibly hate someone like his mother. He could reason for himself that maybe it was just a power trip, and a strategic one. Maybe it was, but it certainly took on its own monstrous character far beyond what strategy necessitated. 

All of this made me think of that iconic photo of the soldier in the Vietnam war who has "War is Hell" written on the helmet.

1 comment:

  1. Your paragraph that starts "Hitler was a unifier of a people debased ..." made me wonder if you were writing of 1943 or 2018...All too familiar! YES, War is Hell.


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