Friday, 25 June 2021
Wednesday, 23 June 2021
Book Review: Soldiers of Barbarossa by Craig W.H. Luther and David Stahel (2020) and An Englishman at War by Stanley Christopherson (2014)
Letters sent by about 200 different soldiers are used in the book, and perhaps only a handful of individuals could be described as anti-Nazi or neutral. The vast majority are enthusiastic in their loathing of Jews and Russians, approving of executions of the same, and almost uniformly in thrall to Hitler and Nazism. Although the editors of the book point out that only a minority of German soldiers, usually belonging to specialized units, took part in mass, organized killings of Jews and Russian, these letters make clear that most would have been fine with lending a hand. The myth of the "good" German soldier takes a battering here.
An Englishman at War is the memoir of a British tank officer who fought in North Africa and Europe. Over the years I've read a lot of memoirs of this type, and while it doesn't offer anything unique, it's a fascinating counterpoint to the letters found in Soldiers. Politics and ideology are almost entirely absent from Christopherson's book, and that's true of the vast majority of British and American war memoirs I've read. There's lots of talk about the creature discomforts of war, the terror and confusion of battle, and the cruelty of what war does to men's minds and bodies, but the visceral hatred of the Other and the mindless, true believer worship of a political/racial ideology as shown in Soldiers, is absent from Allied memoirs.
The term "radicalization" is used to describe the process that's created today's white supremacists and far-right groups, and that term fits perfectly for what's revealed in Soldiers. By 1941 Germans had been subject to eight years of Nazi indoctrination and propaganda, and the words of the fighting men show how successful that effort was, and all without the help of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Tucker Carlson.