Saturday, December 11, 2010

Letter 280- February 24, 1946

Giessen/Lahn- Gross Hessen
24 Februar 1946

Liebe Mutter und Vater-

Na, heute ist Sonntag und hier bin ich jetzt in Deutschland. Jeder Tag sage ich zu mir, “Wie lange”. Immer noch weiss ich nichts. Ich will zu Hause komen. Das ist all und das ist alles. Vielleicht habe ich zu viel Ungedulden.

Ju, heute ist Sonntag aber ich muss noch arbeiten. Es gibt drei Berichter dass ich muss vor zehn Uhr schreiben. Die Arbeit des Oberfeldwebels nie endet. (Ha! Ha!)

Now don’t laugh. I’m doing the best I can. It’s common knowledge that I’m an expert at murdering the English language so you can imagine what kind of torture I can impose on the German language. Honestly though I get quite a kick out of this. I like German much better than French or anything else I’ve studied and I’m going to take it when I get back to school. An old German University professor here in Giessen told me yesterday that it would be worthwhile to learn German if for no other reason than to read Goethe. I do like it and I’m making at least a little headway with it so I think I’ll keep right on with it when I get home. When I get home you’ll probably be surprised by the different things which interest me now as compared with what I thought about before. For one thing there is one thing that I’ve been interested in ever since I got over here and that is economics. It always seemed like something good to know but boring to me before but after watching the European muddle for awhile I decided that it’s really important and that all people ought to have a better knowledge of it than they do. I’ll tell you something. It may seem silly to you but ever since the war ended I’ve been trying to get the slant of the average European on everything in general. I believe that the average GI will leave Europe knowing no more about these people and their problems than he ever did. That’s not so much a tribute to American ignorance as it is to American arrogance. One thing that I hear so much is, “These Limeys or these Frogs or these Krauts or these Polskies or Russkies are so damn dumb.” Sometimes I wonder if we’re not the dumb ones. Anyway it always gets back to the same old story—economics. I know that I’m not making any revelations as this stuff has been hashed over a thousand times by everybody and his sister but everyday now I read about this political mess with its spheres of influence talk stressing national characteristics as opposed to the “common brotherhood of man” etc. and I realize more and more that all the talk that is going on is nothing more than rather skillful evasion of the real problem. The other night I heard a translation of a speech by Joseph Stalin. Among the mountain of bullcrap which he threw was that old pearl of wisdom about the causes of war being the unequal distribution of raw materials and markets in the world. So as not to sound like a Communist I’ll say that I’m not opposed to the economic “stranglehold” as long as it gets results, but it doesn’t. There is the trouble—there I go again. Maybe I ought to get a soapbox. I think about this stuff a lot these days and somehow I can’t seem to write a letter without getting this stuff in. I’m sorry but when I was fighting I figured that I was fighting for some kind of a better world. I suppose that I had to think that I was fighting for a little more than the right to go home as did most fellows up there and now when I see all this I feel a little bitter—not cynical as most GI’s mind you but nevertheless bitter.

I don’t know what you’ll think about what I’m going to say but I’ve given you a dose of my philosophy in nearly every letter that I’ve written lately so I might as well tell you everything I know and think for once and for all. There are a lot of things that I’ve seen and done in this war that I’ve never mentioned to you because I thought that you’d rather not hear about them but now I’ll tell you the whole story insofar as it concerns what I believe.

One day last April I stood on a street in Stuttgart with a group of the fellows and saw a French soldier hit a pregnant German woman in the belly with the butt of his rifle. A couple of men in our group laughed but most of us were horrified, yet none of us did a thing. From that day until this I’ve felt like a rotten coward for that one thing. We all said among ourselves that the bastard ought to be strung up but none of us had the Moral Courage to do a damned thing about it. I thought up on line that I had guts because I could face machine-gun fire but 99 men out of every hundred have that kind of courage. It’s a rare few that have the other kind. Also I liked to think that I was a civilized human being because I could kill and yet detest killing but now I realize what a rotten egotist I was. I still don’t know whether what I did was right or wrong but I don’t believe I have the right to pat myself on the back. I believe that this is true of all men including Germans and Japs. We actually live in an ideal situation so we have a tendency to think that everyone else is a rat if they show weakness toward their own sins. Here in Germany I’ve talked with a lot of people and I did the same in England and France and my conclusions are always the same. That is that people in general everywhere are pretty much the same. But also everywhere people are morally weak. Just as I deplored what that French soldier did and yet did nothing myself for fear of getting in trouble the Germans deplored what some of their own people did but did nothing. One German said to me, “Yes, I knew that such and such was wrong but I had my wife and children to think about.” I was about to make a remark when it just struck me. Just what would I do in such a spot? Nothing. There are things that American soldiers have done that you can be sure I will never tell my grandchildren about. More than one German prisoner captured by my outfit was told to run then was shot down “trying to escape”. At the time I tried to tell myself that he probably deserved it or something of that sort but wasn’t that the same thing the Germans told themselves? Yes, and it was still murder, and I condoned murder because I didn’t have the guts to say anything.

Well now to get back to what I was talking about in the first place. Just as Germany tried to conquer the world by force of arms we’re trying to do the same economically. Oh I’m not well enough informed to say whether this is true everywhere but I can see it here. It’s always been England’s big stick (no German ever told to me just in case you believe the newspapers when they claim the GI’s are being swayed by the Frauleins). Anyway I don’t think it’ll work. It just stirs up the same old hate and drives people into the arms of guys like Hitler. In the twenties the Nazis use to say times must get bad or the cause is lost. We’re well on our way toward making bad times here in Germany already and paradoxically it seems we’re even supplying the Nazis if what the Reader’s Digest is true. Anyway I’ve learned from living over here that a hungry man is a dangerous man no matter whether he’s a German or a Russian or an American. If he sees his children go hungry he’ll do anything or accept any scheme to save them. I don’t believe it would make any difference what nationalities were involved. In fact if Germany or France or any of these other hemmed-in countries were populated or over-populated with Americans instead of the ones who are here there would even be more hell to pay. But there you are—economics.

I’ll tell you something that I’ve noticed here in Germany. Even though they’ve been utterly crushed in this war they are the only people I’ve seen in Europe who actually aspire to a better life. By this I mean they are the only ones that I’ve seen who really seem to want those things that we are always working for like automobiles, refrigerators, new clothes, homes, etc. If you speak to them about such things their eyes light up like electric lights. You won’t find that among the French or English or anyone else over here for that matter. They’re satisfied with what they’ve got and I believe that fact irks the Germans a great deal.

In short I wonder if we’re doing the right thing over here. It’s very easy to sit back in Washington and write off millions of people as scum unworthy of anything better in life than the role of a dangerous prisoner. I don’t say that we should just step out and let everything go to hell again but it seems to me that lowering the standard of living is just asking for trouble.

I probably didn’t get over the way I wanted to but soon now I’ll be coming home and I’ll be able to talk it over with you anyway.

I guess you can get out the shovels now. Anyway I promise that I won’t write anymore of this stuff again. I’ve got it pretty well out of my system.

I’ll try to write you a really good letter tomorrow night so for tonight I guess that’s all.

Best Love,

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