Thursday, May 24, 2018

November 28, 1943: Monsters Within

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


Allies Even The Score For Nazi Cruelty in '39

By Thomas W. Doeppner

In October, 1939, the Polish capital, Warsaw, became the test site of the most modern, most destructive, most brutal, most inhumane weapon which modern warfare had to offer: the indiscriminate, merciless bombing of women and children; of soldiers, citizens, and workers; of ancient buildings, military objectives, and ...?. The entire world was .... Everybody sensed that no military advantage could possibly be derived from such a cruel act.

In May, 1943, the ? Dutch city of R? was destroyed in a similar Nazi fury. Almost 15,000? people were killed, to the greatest extent civilians, women, and children. In the trying days of April and May, 1943, London ... a... of the Nazi wonton destruction.

Allies are striking back: they are using the same weapon. Just harder and even more cruelly. Cologne(?) was the first victim of the so-called ? raids; then Lurbeck?, and Hamburg, and now Berlin. In comparing the figures just published by the War and Navy departments and the figures which came out of neutral European sources, it can be seen that during the Monday and Tuesday raids over Berlin alone more people, mostly civilians, were killed than American soldiers and sailors were lost since Pearl Harbor on all fighting fronts combined. The . is dead .. the ... armed forces were between 25,000 and 30,000 while neutral Swedish sources estimated the losses in Berlin due to the recent raids to be between 35,000 and 53,000.

It is difficult to see the military advantage which might result from such bombing. One thing is certain: it does not aid in breaking down the morale of the German people, but is likely to bolster it. If people have been fairly indifferent toward the war, as much as is possible under the ordinary hardships of war, this indifference is certainly stamped out when their homes are bombed and their friends are killed. Hatred, feelings for revenge, and a strong determination to fight it out are apt to take the place of the previous indifferences. Soldiers at the front will fight harder when they know their immediate relatives are in such terrible danger.

Naturally, many military objectives have been hit in Berlin; railroad stations, government buildings, food supplies, Munition depots (?), and bridges. No attempt has been made, however, to confine the operations to military objectives only, and the destruction of civilian life and private property was undoubtedly intended.

'Peace is Cooperation'

The great danger which lies in these facts is that it will be very difficult for the Allies to regain the confidence of the ordinary people after the war is over. A lasting peace can only be built upon the cooperation of all, including the vanquished. In Italy, the Allies made a very good ? in winning the good will of the peninsula's population; military operations in that country, though, have been confined to military objectives only.

The reason which the high authorities give for the saturation bombings is that they are part of the great softening-up program which is now carried out all over the European continent as a preliminary for invasion. It can only be hoped that the softening-up of the material defenses will not be overbalanced by the will to fight.

(Quick note- this article was very difficult to transcribe because of the quality of the copy, my apologies for the guesses and gaps!) 

What the hell is happening?! We knew this about our history, but to read it in real time is devastating. Opa is careful not to write too emotionally about a topic which had to have been difficult for him. He states the facts and then allows the facts to ask the question. The question for us to explore begins with his statement: "It is difficult to see the military advantage which might result from such bombing." He uses this same statement when speaking of the Nazis and of the Allies. 

"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he does not himself become a monster..." a quote attributed to Friedrich Nietsche. This is what I thought about as I read this account of blind bombing without a care to distinguish between civilian and soldier. I would complicate things to say that there should not be bombs to begin with, and that no human is a monster, and that civilian and soldier lives are equally important. But the fact is, we all have the monstrous within us, and we need each other to help transform our fears and insecurities into love and contentment. 

At the very least, in wartime, civilian deaths should be avoided. Like I've said before, war has changed with lessons learned and technology developed, but we do seem to test the boundaries of ethics at every juncture. It shouldn't shock us. War is the business of killing, of beating the other side, of being the one with power. Why would that endeavor have the greatest ethical records? No matter how true and valuable your cause, war is still a barbaric method of conflict-resolution. 

We haven't yet evolved to move beyond war, and this article from Opa shows me once again just how far we have to go before there is any believable vision of a world without war.

Then I place myself in Opa's shoes. Ella, his Mom. Not only is she at risk of death by Nazis in a concentration camp, she is also a speck on the map of accepted civilian casualties for the Allies and Nazis. I wonder if at some point Opa just assumed he wouldn't see his mother again. If perhaps he just realized the odds were insurmountable and that any word he heard from her was an unexpected miracle. Did he hope that she died quickly, without much pain, in a bombing raid? Rather than face what had been rumored to be deportations and terrible treatment and mass murders? He didn't show any of those emotions in his articles, and didn't write of his thoughts on this to Grandmother in the letters (so far). 

What about Opa's friends? Schoolmates, his Quaker buddies, his neighbors? Who knows where they were, if any would survive. Would he ever see any of them? How about family? His aunt Aanchen, his cousins and others who were second cousins, etc. He didn't know but his maternal aunt and uncle were already murdered. His other maternal uncle interned, and now freed, but no one knows anything yet. 

Opa does his best to lead the question of what good the indiscriminate bombing does. He points out that the Germans will not be beaten into submission by it, but rather emboldened to fight a much more personal fight. It is far easier to fight for your family than to fight for an ideal. Opa raises the mirror on the Allies by allowing them to reflect on how they felt when the Nazis bombed civilian towns in 1939. They were horrified. Now the Allies have become the monster too. 

Opa makes the argument that even strategically, this is not a good move. If we want peace, then we need the cooperation of the "vanquished"- which won't come easy if we bombed their homes with their relatives inside.

1 comment:

  1. Not totally "indiscriminate". The next time you get to visit Germany, go to Heidelberg and Manheim (adjacent cities) and look at the difference. Everything in Manheim is new since the war because it was a manufacturing center and therefore it was leveled. Contrast that to Heidelberg, a university town on the Neckar river. Not touched at all by bombing. It was a cultural center and was respected for not having any war-making plants.

    I'm going to be interested to read about Tom's decision to join the very military (monster) of which he speaks. We served to stop THE monster. If we have to be a bit of a monster to stop Hitler, then that is necessary. We didn't see ourselves as monsters but as liberators.


I would love to hear feedback! Share your thoughts and your stories.