Download Full Text (5.0 MB)
World War, 1939-1945; United States--Army
Davis explains to his parents why it is necessary for him to treat the Germans the way he has been alluding to in his earlier letters. He writes that his predecessor was removed for being too sympathetic to the Germans. He writes also that while the Americans are physically superior to the Germans, the Germans have a complete political education which Americans need badly. Davis discusses the differences between going into France and Belgium to liberate and coming into Germany to conquer.
Pfc Robert D Davis
Co. E., I7E3, 3rd ECAR
c/o Postmaster, N.Y.
Mrs. R.L. Davis
28 March 1945
Perhaps you have been wondering about all my allusions to having to push the Germans around. Judging from your references, you regret me doing this, and that is natural. A year ago I would have deplored this development myself; I could not have foreseen the necessity. The change was wrought by conditions by with which one does not become acquainted until he arrives up here.
Primary of these conditions is the association with the actual fighting men here at the front, or right behind it. not that I’ve formed any close friendships with any of them, so that opinions would be changed by conscious argument or conversation. Rather it is the fact of being surrounded by these fighters, of dwelling in an atmosphere of their inarticulate but unchanging hostility to the Germans. For, crudely expressed as it is, it is an instinctive reaction equal to the active, pugnacious force against which it is aimed. And because it is a reaction, it is inevitable and correct. Hitler, underestimating American physical superiority, boasted that his people would triumph because of their spiritual regimen, that when two peoples fought the best disciplined and the most ruthless would win. Ignoring the physical angles of equipment and production, he was right. The Germans lose the war, not because he was wrong, but because in the supreme audacity of the gamble, they overlooked these last two points. And the proof of his vision is the hatred that our own soldiers have mustered against him; it is as important a part of their equipment as the M1, the armor behind which they must fight. The war of gentlemen is a past concept. The war of gentlemen is a past concept. In this war, there is nothing decent except what is the basic self-interest of each side.
Judged from this standpoint, non-fraternization is necessary. Much as we GI’s grumble at not being able to stop and chat with that pretty girl, much as the soldier who has fought for weeks longs for human companionship with people, who to outwards dulge. For when the rule of non-fraternization in broken, it makes a chink in the shield we carry against them. And when you sow them indulgence and consideration, you violate on the spot the attitude which is historically dictated.
Therefore, we are tough with them. Our detachment has a reputation for ruthlessness, to state it plainly. When I first joined this detachment, with no formed opinion on how to react to the Germans, I was surprised to hear the officers’ extreme orders on how to address them. For instance, to eliminate the “please”, with which my college German was splattered. My opinion quickly fell in line.
I don’t suppose it should be any secret that the man I replaced, was removed because he aggressively opposed this usual policy.
Hanes, (the artist of whom I wrote) a talented and extroverted pantominist, has given me pantomines of this man when he talked with Germans. (I know it is true, since Hanes has a flair for imitations that convulses you with its accuracy. Personally, I only met the boy for a few minutes time, as I replaced him.) But the fellow would sit and listen to their complaints, look intensely sympathetic, slightly wag his head from side to side, cluck softly, murmur words of condolence, and sigh deeply as tho’ he completely shared their tribulation. He pampered them. Tho’ as Hanes says, he was a phoney, and his intransigence came from personal dissatisfactions, he was simply selling out his country and buddies. In a word, he was a traitor.
The danger from him, is that there are so many of him. One advantage the Germans had over us was a complete Political education. We need it badly. Our front-line personnel gets the right idea, because of its necessity for them. Other soldiers, not constrained by need, into this frame of mind, don’t have it. Neither does the civilian population. This is bad, because we can lose this war, and here, and now.
We didn’t come into Germany with the object with which we entered France or Belgium, to liberate them. We came to conquer them. American soldiers haven’t died by the thousands to let these people profess to be relieved by the removal of the Gestapo. (A relief they speedily lose when our teams occupies a town.) Military Government isn’t here to take them to the next town to visit sick relatives, to give them their old freedom of peacetime, to make them happier. Fifty percent of the people of France didn’t have shoes, except sandals or clumsy wooden ones. The Russian and Polish girls we have rescued here, are clothed and swathed in rags. I have talked with scores of them, the oldest in their twenties, most of them in their middle teens. Two or three years gone, in a nightmare of mistreatment and cruelty. Their lives ruined, not only in the Victorian sense of that phrase, tho’ that too, but completely blighted. Half of them diseased, an amazing number pregnant. When I see them, I think of their stirring Cossack song, now the Red Army’s song, a rhythmic march of revenge. One of them, an ex-ballerina, sang it for me. To my mind, rather than have many soft Americans reverse the direction we must follow, the Red Army should take over all of Germany.
Against the harshness of this policy, clever opponents aim their arguments. It is unchristianly. But if we must violate the Lord’s Commandment to love thy enemy, let it be said that war is itself a ghastly violation, a monstrous anachronism, unnatural, and inhuman means. If this is a person’s attitude, let him be a conscientious objector, the only logical course to follow. Better that, then “break faith with us who die,” who didn’t want to die, but who fought as their duty.
The educated person, familian with Beethoven and Goethe, believes that the average German is good, and urges that it wasn’t the fault of the man in the streets. To which I reply that I agree: the dignity and goodness of every individual I believe in; that the average man in the streets had no original choice in the matter is less true, but could even be admitted. But this is not germane. If the average person is good, the more bestial the German crime against these other peoples. If the man of the street didn’t choose the war, he was still politically and realistically one of the forces that kept it going, and must share in its conclusion. There is no question, but that this man produced for the war; he is therefore one of its shapers. There is no doubt that he took his share of French wines and leather, of Danish butter, or if her was a farmer or factory owner, his share of foreign slaves: he was, therefore, one of the war’s benefactors, until the tide turned. Did he stop and consider whether his Russian milkmaid on his farm, or the prostitute his son took in the barracks, wanted the war themselves? He did not.
Not hesitating to descend to personalities, a member of the “let’s shake hands and forget it” club then remarks: “Oh, he’s basically a prick. He’s a mean one anyway and just likes to take it out on the Germans, because he’s got an excuse for it.” This is perhaps the most dangerous argument of all, at least potentially so against the enlightened sort of person who must give shape and policy to our retribution. It is dangerous because it can be very true. It is true that one can’t be severe with the Germans without pretty constant effort. So many of their requests are moderate little things in themselves. Take their carts on the roads, to use as an example. They’ve got a lifetime accumulation of valuables, and absolute necessities, they’ve only got a few blocks up the street to travel (they always have only a couple of blocks left.) What would be more human, than to let them go on? For awhile, before I saw for myself the results, I used to do just that. Yet the trucks would jam, have to slow down, dog-tired drivers would have to swerve, and before your very eyes, the slow-moving affairs you expected to turn in just down the street, would disappear from sight around some distant corner, still presumably with “only a couple of blocks to go.” Result, after an hour of going out with the intention of trying to alleviate the situation for the convoy drivers, the situation is not one bit better, as far as the trucks are concerned. So, now I peremptorily get them off the roads, sans mercy, sans delay, and sans argument. It’s the only way; and at first it was tough enough for me. I had to jerk a knot in myself to get the requisite results with the requisite speed. They always plead, argue: they think you’ll give in. So you repeat the order, raise you voice, unsling your carbine. Now this is not being nice to people; its being tough, and there’s no other way. It is in vain to recall the official instructions we have received to “be firm but courteous.” These people don’t understand that you are being firm, until you have a gun in your hand. What infuriates me is that they try to argue back to American soldiers more so than they would have dared to do to a Gestapo agent or a German policeman. Stop short of this procedure, in this case, to continue our example, and you’ve failed in the job. Let them argue, and the cart’s standing there, a motionless hindrance, for as long as they argue. Better get a little tough with them: one’s personality will survive. That convoy might not survive an endless stream of these pilgrims.
This is an important point to consider, because perhaps half of the laxness of enforcement stems from sheer personal inertia. You don’t enjoy being hard to everyone, so you just let it slide. But when you aren’t hard enough, in a case where you have to be you are failing just as much as if you openly broke a law, like non-fraternization.
All these things about war crimes and atrocities aren’t fiction. At an early age I came to disbelieve automatically such stories. But this time, Mother and Dad, I’ve seen them myself. They’re true. These blond bastards have killed, tortured burned and raped their way thru’ all of Europe. My travels thru’ Belgium, France, and Holland have shown me that, and my own work here affords me a close observing post. I’ve already written of the Human wreckage.
I believe these people should be punished. Punished beyond the wrecking of their towns. Punished personally. And here’s one Military Government detachment that is out to do it. Maybe now, you can understand my feelings a little?
Too long a letter to write any more now.
Lots of love, Bob