MORE snow is falling and the wind is rising. The fire in the Captain's hut burns warmly and he is sleeping soundly upon the toasts to the New Year. At four o'clock the guard appears with Sgt. Villeneuve to awaken him. G-2 Army has messaged an order to move back somewhere, but fast; the German attack has begun. ( Of course the enemy will gain some ground; how much, nobody knows.) He calls the First Sergeant to reveille the troop. Pitch dark, luminous snow, faintest of lights. As he wades through the snow to find Major Roos, he snaps words into several doors. Roos is up watching the office junk being collected. The Captain will lead the convoy, the Major cover the rear.
Trudging back, De Grazia passes soldiers emerging like maggots out of black holes in the snow. Muttering, grunts, packs being tossed thudding, a couple of men sucking up coffee from a still warm tin of the night before as they dismantle the kitchen. The first motor revs up loud against the stillness of the village. He dumps his stuff in his jeep. Corporal Scott drives it to the edge of the village and begins to wave the vehicles into line. Not lights, but sounds; one after another, now several at a time, the motors sputter and catch, spewing filth from their exhausts onto the perfectly pure snow.
Sgt. Villeneuve has gone to tell the Maire (until lately Bürgermeister), that the troops are leaving.. pourquoi...? orders.. to where?.. I don't know.. But the Mayor and the people -- they are awake, hardly moving -- they know. They are staying. The Americans are going. Will the village see Germans again now? Will it be destroyed? Who will be denouncing whom? The soldiers are sorry to depart, and give their brief friends candy and cigarettes, what else do they have? A few francs, the new Allied franc, to be hidden until the next liberation.
The Captain walks up and down the forming line with a "Let's go," here, a "Come on, now," there and a "Morning," and "How ya doing?" everywhere. Tom Crowell's big trucks are the last onto the road, shambling out of the drifts with some urging. He loves Tom, whose mood is always just right, whose crew is so dependable. It's guys like Tom who make war tolerable. The vehicles are bumper to bumper so as to see one another by their tiny slitted eyes. A damaged truck is hitched to a prime mover. Double check the line, Sergeant: see whether we're leaving some drunk or anything behind. There is no roll-call; every man is connected with another man or several men or a vehicle; so no one can be left behind; and of course here no one will want to hang back. He wonders who is out on a mission; whoever it is will not have a home to come back to; he may find the enemy in charge of things. He ponders sending George Glade on his heavy black motorcycle to the ammo dump to warn the men there. They are back a ways. He can send George when they know where they will be.
Finally, the Captain mounts his jeep, knowing that any lingering vehicles -- and these there will always be -- will fall in frantically as they hear the line beginning to move. His map lays unfolded upon his lap in the open jeep; it catches large flakes of snow that flicker in the glow of his flashlight. He doesn't know where he will be taking the troop; Advanced Army Headquarters will be moving somewhere at the same time; he understands that he should bivouac somewhere in Southern Lorraine, near a village called Herimenil. Good of G-2 to remember to tell them to get out! He pumps his gloved fist in the air and the column staggers out into the country. He feels slightly ashamed at abandoning the village. He feels exultant, too, at the flare-up of battle; the German attack is foredoomed, he knows, but there will be thousands of personal and collective accidents and tragedies now and millions more to come before the end, all to no avail, craziness. Thanks to Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Ley, the Generals, the SS, and the millions of collaborators and minions who do their every last bit as commanded. At this moment somewhere behind him are lines of German troops advancing in the blizzard, who are miserably thankful that the murkiness will not let them be targeted by artillery and aircraft.
He can't see much of anything; but then who can? Certainly no enemy planes, if they can afford such in support of an attack anymore. What is not white is black, but even the black atmosphere is becoming whitish, long before dawn. Already the word has been signalled along the line and other outfits are feeding onto the roads. There are problems: To go in the right direction. To avoid taking roads that dead-end into meadows. Also to keep to the road when circling around tanks and trucks that are stalled. He doesn't want to lose his trucks either, which will happen if some column cuts in or one of his own slides off the road and the others stop to get it back on. Too, recall the land mines: only a fraction of them has been removed. Stay to the beaten path; path? -- the snow fills in tracks as soon as they are laid. Traffic gets heavier, gets slower. It merely creeps. Plainly they are caught in a general retreat. The blizzard flourishes with the dawn. Cold in the open jeep, he wraps himself in his every covering. He uncorks a bottle of schnapps, swigs it and hands it to Scott. He takes out the salami that had cost his mother countless food stamps and been mailed him from Chicago two months ago. Slashes off a piece. Munching on it, he cuts a chunk for Scott, and guzzles more of the booze. The world is not so terrible, or, rather, it is twice terrible, but so what. Very slowly, they edge up to an absolutely congested crossroads. Four, or is it six, columns, tanks, trucks, half-tracks, jeeps jostling for position, snorting, jostling for advantage. Alone there, directing traffic, is a short stocky MP in a greatcoat, with his helmet down to his sweater-collar, his gloves flapping, baton hardly visible, boots shuffling in the freezing muck.
The Captain's jeep noses up to the intersection. He gets out of the jeep, walks up to the MP to say something about the weather and ask permission to turn the column upon a road half-right. The Private looks up at him, a gentle, patient face, swarthy, hook-nosed, its black lashes laced with ice. It is Fred Pera from the University of Chicago. Hadn't seen him in five years. "Hello, Fred, what the hell you doing here, brushing up on Nietzsche? (Philosophy was his subject.) The Private's thin lips smile. The soldiers can't shake hands, they just clap awkwardly at each other and exchange a few words. Want some schnapps? No, thanks. Go ahead, he says in his mild, musical voice, you can go now. The Exec waves his arms and gives his people the pumping `let's go' signal. It is daylight, after all, it is nine o'clock, but opaque white because of the blizzard. The convoy steers his way and files off to the West, solemn, hooded, like a funeral cortege.
No one else has occupied the village of Herimenil, so they billet themselves on the population, Crowell with a couple of his men and the Exec billet in a large loft over a barn, quite livable -- it had been the master bedroom, in fact. Below, next to the stable, the family dwells; their cows smell sweet and warm. The soldiers set up their own army stoves. Crowell brews coffee. The pot will sit there fragrant from now until this town, too, is to be abandoned. A calf is born below them one morning early and the Captain stops on his way out to watch the throes; mama finally reaches around, licks it all over and it slowly pulls itself together and gets to its feet, needing a few more swipes of the tongue to show its big beautiful eyes. Comforting. And we kill them by the thousands and eat them. Oh, well. What can you do? Out into the snow drifts of day. He writes Jill about it:
I assisted in the birth of a calf in the barn below this morning. That is, I stood by and admired the smoothness of the proceedings. The cow was down in labor, amongst a lot of other cows in a dirty drafty barn. And while Barbary ducks and chicken trooped backwards and forwards, she dropped a fine bull calf. Once the head came out, the rest occurred in a minute. The sac was broken and he lay there sputtering and blinking. The farmer's wife and the little boy were also there watching. The old man was visiting at one of the neighbors and arrived after the whole thing was over. The little boy enjoyed it a lot and let out a shout of glee when the calf started to move, almost running over it with the runners of his sled which he was dragging behind him. The only human touch needed was a bowl of salt sprinkled on the calf's glistening body, partly as an antiseptic, I suppose, and partly to give the mother added incentive to lick him. At any rate, she lost no time and a few minutes later, he was stumbling around, brushed well and dried. Tomorrow he'll be running around and nursing with great lust.
The human animal goes quickly from the brute to the sublime:
I've just finished reading Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham which, if you have not read it, is just as well. He is smooth but knocks himself out thinking of dull things to say, a not uncommon faculty amongst modern writers. In one of those very old New Republic's, I read a review of a three-volume work on Greek "culture." [This must have been the translation of Werner Jeager's great work on Paidaia, the ancient Greeks' ideas about culture and education.] It is no doubt most interesting and deep, but sometimes I wonder whether the time spent excavating ancient ideas might not more profitably be spent on exploring modern society, if the problems are approached in the same spirit of scholarship and not as a journalistic exposé. The classics have been a more unfruitful drain on the store of human genius than the priesthood and they have produced nothing that will serve to explain society properly. Only great minds can play chess with Greek ideas and what is left for the masses - nothing, only their prejudices and glimmerings. Sociological data can be assimilable by masses of people, however, and that is another point in favor of sociological education in a democracy. You know, of course, that I am not talking about what you were handed as "sociology" at Smith College, or even what is taught at the U.of C., but of body of data and generalization I am convinced lie before us to dig up. Education on classic Greek culture has always been aristocratic education. Interest in sociology has developed with interest in the common people. The world has always been divided into "us" and the fuzzie-wuzzies. Each "us" group has studied the Greek classics and loved them principally because they were so remote and couldn't possibly have come from "fuzzie-wuzzies." There is no doubt that ninety per cent of American Christians would be shocked into heathenism if they could know at first hand the dirty physical circumstances under which Christ was born - the lack of plumbing, the unbathed people, the cold, the smells and the violence of it. It's just as well. We haven't yet any preparation for reconciling them to it and they would only be unhappier.
The Germans of General Blaskowitz, led by the XIII SS Corps, penetrate ten miles through the Saverne Gap and are stopped; his XC Corps cracks the American lines at Bitche, and the Americans begin to withdraw to a pre-determined position next day. Now it is proposed to abandon Strasbourg because our lines are too long. The Captain and his Team hate the very idea. Strasbourg is practically the heart of Europe, for Europeans of culture an amiable marriage of what is good between Paris and Berlin. The orders are handed down, to evacuate -- it's what the technical manuals of strategy seem to dictate. Even so, it seems absurd. The Team sends its amplifying equipment into the streets of Strasbourg telling the people to evacuate the City if they have anything to fear from a return of the enemy. An ignominious mission. From street upon street families begin to move out by truck, cart, bicycle, motorcycles and on foot. De Gaulle is furious, the Team learns from its French Army contacts. The French Army, to hear them talk, is on the verge of telling General Patch to go to hell, and move in to replace the Americans. It would be little less than a mutiny. The Captain would agree; certainly he would have done his best to justify them. De Gaulle finally prevails with Churchill and the White House. General Devers has to reverse himself and order the City held at all costs. The Captain's trucks are delighted to return along the roads leading out of the city telling the people that the City will be defended and that they may return. All of them are happy, and practically all turn back.
The attack makes some progress. Without being informed they would have been lucky to get away with their skins. A couple of battalions are trapped and lost. Some of the new infantry regiments take a beating. Unit affiliations and commands are shifted around like shuffling card decks. He is bewildered. Is this something new? It has gone on and will go on for the rest of the war, he believes. Somebody upstairs looks at his maps and reports and decides the 398th Infantry battalion ought to be with the 46th division while the 14th special Recce Force Baker should be broken up into three components and sent to relieve the 14th, 779th and 33rd at Grundheim, Gonifsheim, and Weldburg. (I should quote from records instead of using these fictitious names.) In fact most of what is considered news is just this shifting of units around. He wonders how unit loyalty can be built, and experienced collaboration can take place.
What are the Germans up to? They have had almost no effect in relieving the pressure to wipe out the Ardennes bulge, though they have created a Bitche Bulge and it takes quite a long time for the Seventh Army at its leisure to move in upon this. Once the main line of resistance hardens, the propaganda to the Germans increases, with several themes: what's the use, you are not supermen but are being asked to do the impossible, you know now what you are up against, you never had enough backing for an attack, etc. Consideration is given other themes but in the face of obvious contrary directives, they cannot be used: "Surrender to us rather than to the Soviet Communists!" "Home-coming or Siberia Forever?!" "We observe all treaty obligations for fair and decent treatment of prisoners and civilians, unlike the Bolshevists." They would have been highly effective. But without the personal O.K. of the messages by Joseph Stalin himself, they would be also very divisive and prejudicial to post-war cooperation with the Soviet Union. (Or so it seemed to the psychological warriors then.)
The themes listed above that were actually used are for a stable front; strangely, propaganda against attacking and advancing troops is not prepared or even considered.There has never been such. One would excuse this by saying that there never has been a use for it, but here was a case and the Ardennes attack was another. Aside from the confusion of being under attack, and apart from the feeling of shame for considering that we might be retreating, there is the belief that the enemy is immune to propaganda when on the offensive, which in turn comes from the improper notion that the effects of propaganda are limited to cases of crushed morale. Actually the theory of propaganda holds that everyone is vulnerable under all conditions to symbolic manipulation. Here this most experienced of outfits had not, although given adequate notice of an impending attack, prepared messages to be left behind by the thousands in all the positions that were being evacuated. What to tell them: Go slow, everything else is collapsing, your family needs you, you are facing unlimited artillery and mortar fire, panzer divisions just waiting to suck you in, land mines and booby traps by the thousands, we have been prepared (citing early HQ warnings ), with the front loosening up take the occasion to turn yourself in (German prisoners are being kept now in and near Germany): such arguments would have been effective and saved lives and brought in prisoners.
The Americans are not as smart as they pretend to be, and no one higher up has had any experience or paid any attention to such matters. No one and not themselves certainly are asking penetrating questions. There is little concern for recovering immediately the lost ground. The Germans are over-extended, underequipped, under- manned, and can go nowhere, but pretend to be holding their insignificant gains. At Army Headquarters, the Joke makes the rounds that "The Bitche Bulge has become the Patch Pocket." The German Home authorities are desperate "Sieg oder Sibirien!" they paint on the walls. The Death Camps are going full blast, hundreds of thousands of people are being put to death, but the Captain's company does not know this. Death is raining from the skies upon German cities, also. The Russians are encircling and capturing more and more prisoners, and these have a shorter life span on the average of, say, twenty years, after surrender. The Captain's life is not uncomfortable even in the middle of the winter and at the front. Or have his standards been properly lowered by the military life? He has the fine rubber felt-lined boots that his toes swim around in. The food is getting better as the supplies pile up excessively.
Sex, too, peeks into one's life. Lt. Wallenberg casually mentions to the Captain that his landlady, a stocky hearty woman -- is he in with her, no beauty she, but then no beauty he? -- has a sister whom the Captain does not know and she wants to make love to him. Is she pretty? Well, not bad. Where do I meet her? At my landlady's. When? When you wish. Two days later. She walks down the narrow steps from the second floor. She is a peasant-plain, perfectly built, tight-bodied woman, several little lines encroaching upon her uncreamed face, a thin-lipped tense smile: appearing to say, here I am, I offer nothing except I want you to make love to me. But a second visit is expected. Not at all, says the Captain. (He makes up his mind fast, and with his mind, his extremities.) Oh, but she must excuse herself. Her small son just broke his arm, and she cannot be wanton under the circumstances. They make another engagement. In the little room upstairs. She is stiff-backed. He is hasty. Perhaps she is happy. Perhaps she wants a clever, pretty baby. When they say good-bye, it is not to meet again. The troop moves on, and he does not feel like returning the compliment.
The mails speed up. On February 12, he receives a letter written only eight days before in Chicago. He comments on Yalta. It sounds OK, says he. For all he might tell, FDR was in good health and anyhow had a couple of good men around him, and seems to have driven a hard bargain, and the liberties of Eastern Europe will indeed be guaranteed, and all the world will be united thereafter, for they agreed, too, that there will be in San Francisco a United Nations Conference to set the stage for the new democratic world order.
On February 17 he has an unhappy dream to relate about his childhood home on Hill Street: he cannot locate it. The dream is contradicted by a later dream in which he happily brings home to Hill Street a company of men, and when they are settled in he awaits her arrival as well. On February 13 he describes the frustrations of putting through a phone call on an operation. On February 20 he is telling how badly he misses his beloved, and on the 27th composes a poem on the subject, and on March 17 recites a bad dream about losing her. He tells about bed check and guard duty, and sharing the village with an infantry battalion. And one time a story of his landlady:
It's a very quiet afternoon and I don't know what to make of it. The weather is dirty, chilly winds and rain, the remnants of the great snows still here and there, or wherever the careless boot treads - then the helmet rolls down the street and one is gazing with a certain lack of calm at the glowering sky. The arctic shoe-pacs are all rubber and slippery as the devil. I just had one of those rigorous, humorous arguments with the Madame downstairs that the Latins get so much fun out of. She was berating me because I wouldn't give them a couple of gallons of gas to make an essential trip to some town. It seems that the Germans stole all the work-horses in these parts before retreating, and now the government is giving a horse sale at this town. Several of the farmers want to go together to replenish the livestock herd. They have a car but no gas. But we are forbidden to give gas out under any circumstances to civilians. They are supposed to have an allotment which is probably sufficient to get the sous-préfet around in his car but no more. I fully sympathize with the vital need for work horses, but gasoline is something that is dangerous in more ways than one. There is so much stealing of it going on, and just a lot of mistaken generosity on the part of soldiers who bleed for the obvious justice of so many cases. However, I can give them a lift in a vehicle going that way and may do so. Of course, the lady told numerous incidents in which soldiers sold or gave away gas and that makes it harder on anyone who wants to preserve a semblance of honesty. I solved that particular rhetorical dilemma by telling her to find some such soldier and get it from him.
The simple things really count in this war. It is won less by romantic strategy than by gasoline, guts, and organization. Our army ought to be trained better on the conservation of gasoline and materiel than it is. If Gen. Patton's Army hadn't cooked on gas in Normandy they might have gone farther into Germany. Of course, no one ever thought they'd have to get there so fast. We had the same trouble.
Back to my landlady, I told her I was going away for a couple of days and gave her my field jacket to wash. Then she gave me a piece of pie and I came over to write this letter.
The weather is ugly and bitter, working conditions abominable. I feel fine. It's about midnight, I've removed my mud-caked boots, gulped a good strong shot of whiskey and am about to turn in. But, as always when I have any reason to be happy in the slightest, I think of you and feel I must tell in a few lines anyway how much I love you and feel happy thinking of you too. Despite a number of things popping up even at this hour I think I ought to be able to sleep the night through. The only thing that may get me up is a report on one of our soldiers who was stricken with some sort of heart attack and was carried off in an ambulance. I tired myself both mentally and physically today, the latter by the simple method of driving over 200 kilometers in a jeep over some of the most horrible roads ever rutted about by the machines of man. What bomb & shell craters hadn't done, ice, thaw and traffic accomplished. One time we got stuck for a half an hour or more in knee-deep mud. Finally a prime mover was enlisted to pull us out, happy day. I thought we might have to spend the night there. The only nice thing was the weather, and from our mud-bound roost we could see lots of sleek planes dashing hither and yon.
This is February 19, three years after he walked over to join the Army in Chicago; his spirits should long ago have been crushed; but he carries on in his world of epistolation -- how sad the person who cannot put pencil to paper when all else is miserable.
Did I ever finish telling you about my last trip to Paris? The play I saw with Martin was composed of episodes in the life of Molière, who, apparently, was a bad lover and like most comedians (so the saying goes) quite a tragic character - you know "On with the show" and all that sort of hogwash. We walked over a good part of the city afterwards, trying to find a bar open but without success. I find that Martin leads a very dull, busy life there and it's mainly his fault. He hardly seems to go anywhere. Many other officers do worse. They stick together & waste away their time at the bar of their hotel or play cards or go out with Wacs. It's a rare one that gets into Parisian life to any extent. One of that type is old Earl Pittman who used to be with us in the Seventh Army & is now very comfortably set up in the big city. He has a half French, half Indochinese girl as a mistress. She speaks English well and that is fortunate for Earl is unilingual. He is also an incredible wolf - very sultry looking for a blonde. Since he hails from Chicago, you'll probably have the opportunity of judging for yourself some day.
Here is that bad dream that was mentioned above.
I am still shuddering from the effects of a dream about you. We seem to have one great trait in common, that our dreams about each other have a large element of at least partial frustration in them with a resulting overwhelming sadness and perhaps a saving sunniness when we awake to find the dull reality much preferable to the depressing sleep. I dreamt I had come home or at least was somewhere over there and was walking down the street, not thinking of meeting you at all, when, all of a sudden, I looked across the street and my heart almost tied itself into a sheepshank. For there you were, very tailored and shapely. I ran over and swept you into my arms. You were as happy as I was. Then a cloud came over you and you let me understand that this was the End, and then, much to my dismay, you disappeared. I searched frantically for you and finally found you in the company of some detestable boys and girls in the room of some house. I was told by the girls that you felt something had occurred which would make our relationship impossible -- this only a few minutes after a two-year separation. I felt very badly but got you out into the street again in order to get to the bottom of it all. At this point, you changed into a man and apparently I changed into you, because the man was now the person who was explaining why he was incapable of carrying on the affair - - but was half hoping that you would not believe him. He seemed to have various effects of wounds which he thought might be difficult for you to accept in the Brave New World. The final issue was undecided when I awakened. I'm not at all sure of the meaning of this dream or whether it has any sense. I believe that the principal fear of losing you to some unaccountable reason held me unconsciously long ago, in our pre-marital state. I loved you much more than I cared to admit even to myself. I think the war and separation elements are not too significant in the interpretation. They perhaps only increase the insecurity which fosters the dream. Nor does the change in identification mean much, except that I am you and you are me. The main thing seems to be that there exists always this great love which I certainly can never abandon, neither to the obstacles of my dreams or of my real life, and which makes me unhappy only when I'm afraid that I'm losing it. And yet our characters are such that we have these nightmares that show the other person slipping away, and are never so sure of ourselves that we have only pleasant dreams à la fairy tales, without fear, since we have not only our difficult characters but our even more difficult environments of war, work, and society to face and conquer. That we sometimes lose in our dreams is not surprising. That we invariably win in real life is astounding. I never feel the slightest doubt when I sleep next to you, with my arm around you.
But now back to the War -- as if these dreams, by the hundreds and on both sides of the Ocean, were not some of the most poignant bits of the grand fracas.
His support of the Free French for years and his backing of De Gaulle's stubbornness against the evacuation does not prevent a growing disaffection with the General:
I was happy to note in recent French newspaper dispatches considerable disapproval of De Gaulle's actions in international affairs. For example, Franc Tireur wrote: "We should prefer our country to brandish the torch of international democracy rather than to accept the leadership of the small powers as if out of spite at not being a Great Power." Again, "Why oppose the secret diplomacy of the Big Three with a still more secret French diplomacy? Why, in general, give the world the impression that France's foreign policy varies from one day to the next according to mortifying setback, a missed rendez-vous, or an unfortunate phrase?" And Combat writes: "We have no desire to play the oracle at a time when a policy inspired by the obvious French concern for security appears to have received a severe setback. We shall only repeat, however, what we have often said already, namely that it is vain to look for power when we have no force at our disposal and that the only realism which we could afford corresponded to the deep feeling of peoples and that by expressing this we should have achieved real greatness". Thus, a great many French realize that the old French diplomacy of sécurité failed miserably before and it is a mistake for France to try it again.
The French can annoy him greatly. We are all rather crazy, he thinks, but the French even more so. He perceives as early as January that they have won the war in their own minds and can't wait to get rid of their Allies (something that is not realized until De Gaulle quits NATO and sends a few more insulting gestures our way). But they are terribly dependent. The Americans give them everything they have including the reason why they can possess a fighting spirit. The Yanks rationalize the whole war for them. He begins to see how De Gaulle will lead France, on the path of its historical perennial delusions. (He knows all this but is far from revising his romantic notions about the French. It will take him many years before he can utter a new attitude and see the French for what they are and no more than that and capable of no more, but he is the same way for his own America. Indeed he expects and will expect too much from humanity for a long time to come.) How can the French, not to mention the Germans, deny the stupendous American power? (He could not know what the Soviet Army with its immense artillery assemblages and fleets of tanks must have looked like just then as they were moving up to the last great battles in the East; he would have thought them propaganda, just as the Germans up to this very moment had insisted on the evanescence of the American hordes.)
He hears that his brother has lined up a teaching appointment at the University of Chicago. He is glad. Maybe Sebastian can safely resign even before the war ends because he is a civilian with OSS and has a wife and child. The Exec doesn't understand how he manages to escape; maybe they exempt teachers of certain subjects like communications, if they teach soldier specialists in training at the University.
On March 1 he is talking of doldrums. He travels around but not so much, for it is a dull country. He has plenty of help in operations and people who like to drive; he visits Army HQ, also 6 AG, and writes more letters and reads more books. It takes him only an hour a day to manage all his company administrative functions, another hour for operations against the enemy, so he goes back and forth to HQ, holds discussions with Wallenberg and a couple of others, and plans special meals. For all of this, he appears to deserve something, so the Seventh Army decorates him with the Bronze Star Medal; for close support of combat operations, the formula was worded.
Lt. Manning, one of his officers, steps on a mine, gets it in hands and legs, luckily not in the balls, which is the first thing one thinks of; but he is crippled for life. Al sneaks a bottle of Martell Cognac, the best, in to him at the hospital. They have no other casualties in this period. Casualties generally are few and almost entirely of the infantry, for the Germans are giving out of planes and artillery and their supply. They are not coming in waving leaflets, they prefer to wave a white cloth and have the leaflet in their pocket.
The German prisoner of war talks volubly, answers questions readily, is surprised at the educated, perfectly fluent, but differently uniformed sergeant or officer who is interrogating him. But no one has gotten this idea of a sophisticated empirical morale test to apply to a unit. If someone had delegated De Grazia to the job, he would have made some progress in its invention. Herz, Habe, Wallenberg, Langendorf, they were probably the best German morale specialists in the U.S. Army, but not theoretical methodologists, nor had anyone ever suggested to them nor they to themselves that there could be a science of morale measurement that they might develop on the spot. (Fifty years later, there still is no development to register here; although the related sociology and psychology have advanced somewhat and in detail, the application to military conditions has not been made.)
Thus, if the average, quartiles, medians, and extremes of time of soldiers in a platoon and company were known, the resulting figures would help determine the breaking point. But numerous other factors count. Next to Der Führer, the loss of the experienced platoon sergeant is the most severe blow. He has held together the old and new men; he represents the tradition of the company and thence the army. The latest and present moment and predictable front experiences, geographical composition, experience of battle, food, supplies, ammunition, higher echelon leadership, background noise (home news, rumors, pressure along front) -- these and other elements enter the picture.
The German soldiers are in a worse way than the Americans facing them, from every standpoint, though, after a certain point is passed, comparisons are less meaningful, because when you feel rotten you feel rotten, and that's it. Look at the seventeen German soldiers taken captive by the Americans in the general area of the Bitche salient between the 13th and 15th of January, and then interviewed by Technician Third Class Irwin Y. Straus, who writes up a thorough account of them.
By occupation, they had been a textile mill worker, lathe hand, airplane mechanic, mason, merchant, hotel cook, rotogravure printer (he was full of technical advice), a railroad surveyor (so was he), a coal miner, a baker, a fur tanner, a cutlery worker, and a professional soldier. They come from four different units, five, if only the one man could remember his own unit, which he does not. On the average they have been committed to action in this sector of the American Seventh Army for five weeks. Two of them are deserters, one a passive deserter, three were captured on patrol, five were picked up while guarding wounded comrades, four were surrounded with their unit on a hill they were supposed to defend -- "to the end" and "at all costs" were the usual words -- and surrendered with 23 others when apparently surrounded on three sides.
Several deserters, not interrogated, were led by a former Dachau concentration camp inmate, named Wessel, an anti-Nazi, who had been tortured and forced to work on war materiel, and finally was released only to be sent to the front. They were told they would be holding a bunker in the rear of the Siegfried Line, but "smelled a rat" when they found themselves exposed to American fire; they volunteered for patrol, hid their weapons and managed to turn themselves over to American soldiers. The second deserter, Kutzki, said, "I'm no Nazi, I want to be a free man, everybody wants to live, after all... It was quite simple, old man, I was on guard during the night, so I beat it, and reached your lines in the morning." He had heard of reprisals against families of deserters and other shirkers, but had no family, both parents being dead, the father from a bombing.
Sergeant Stengelhofen was pulled out of a non-com school, where they were told that new doctrine called for Officers to stick with their troops up front, then, after Phillipsburg was lost and the Germans counterattacked, First Lieutenant Berg was nowhere to be seen. That pissed him off. When there were no intelligence reports and no orders, and his squad leader went over the hill, he just stuck in his hole with a comrade and waited for capture. Corporal Eberhard had bad feet but had finally been drafted; he fell behind his unit marching near Stollingen and after wandering for three hours encountered an American patrol to whom he surrendered. Two medics stayed with two wounded men to care for them and two corporals, both in their late thirties, did the same with others when their company was relieved.
Sergeant Schlagowski, a veteran of Poland, Leningrad, and Southern France, said it was he who gave the order to the platoon on the hill to surrender, but so too said the other two non-coms of the group who were interrogated. Lieutenant Pottmann and his squad ran into an American patrol and, in the fire-fight that ensued, took one dead and two wounded before calling it quits as hopeless.
Of the seventeen, four said they were Nazis, seven felt hopeless but had belonged to one or another Nazi group, two said they were anti-Nazis, the others claimed to be apolitical. Practically all had fear of reprisals being taken against their families, withholding of mail, rations, living allowances and even imprisonment. Six had been forced to sign acknowledgments of the reprisals-system when they were brought up to the front. Several urged T3 Straus to tell his commanders that they must inform the Germans how to surrender without implying dereliction of duty. It was agreed that guarding a wounded comrade was the best means. (American propaganda was careful always to pretend that a German soldier would be taken prisoner under dire circumstances, yet the very fact of the propaganda itself denied that "dire" would always be dire enough for the Nazi police system.)
Seven prisoners had seen American leaflets, remembering most forcibly the colorful and signed-by-Eisenhower Surrender Pass. Others had been told of the leaflets by their comrades. A couple had read with approval "Frontpost" or an equivalent. Significantly, Wessel, the anti-Nazi, had seen six kinds of leaflets and identified four: "He who seeks shall find." It was hard to get hold of the leaflets when locked into a bunker by orders and enemy fire. Powerful Allied radio broadcasts, American jazz, mail from German PW's in the States, American prisoners of war working (voluntarily, it is presumed) among Germans, and civilians of towns that had fallen to the Americans and been recaptured: these all were positive propaganda for the Americans, one or more of the PW's said.
Bad news for the Americans obtained in the interrogations: despite all bombings, the railroad lines still operated with remarkable efficiency: three days and two nights from Vienna to the Western Front for the unit of one of the men; impressed worker gangs of Poles and Russians kept up the lines. Moreover, a new item of hardware was in readiness, an anti-tank weapon, "Puppchen;" it will replace the excellent old Panzerfaust and sends a projectile accurately to 400 yards and effectively to 750 yards; it can penetrate ten inches of steel armor; it is aimed optically with automatic adjustments.
The men's clothing was inadequate and in poor condition; their promised winter blankets, boots, and clothing had never arrived. Wessel also said that his company counted now 56 to 58 men, had lost 8 dead, 10 wounded, and 30 by sickness (mostly diarrhoea); talk of surrendering was becoming open; they were last located at Pfaelzerhuette. From one or another PW came items of potential use, of a well-decorated First Lieutenant, Giemann, who wears the Golden Badge of the Nazi Party, of another officer who is the son of a regional minister, and so on. The ex-Dachau inmate provided a roster of eight names from Dachau of Germans committing murder and other atrocities against the prisoners.
Soon now, most soldiers seeking to desert will try to disappear into Germany, even though they know that, if caught, they will be executed or put in a batch for the Soviet Front. They don't ask themselves whether they will win, they know better, but ask how to get home and what is the news from home; they feel as safe as the home folks with the air bombings and drastic shortages. Most of the children are in the countryside, here, there, and everywhere, it seems.
The enemy form strong small group bonds as they have always, but now it is practically the only one, and it cements fast, because they have either had much war experience or they are very young or old and docile. Casualties don't affect them as much as they disturb the Americans, who are not used to them. By this time they have suffered, proportionate to numbers engaged, ten times as many dead, wounded and captured as the Allied troops, not from the western combat but from the Soviet Front, and men who have known death and wounds and terror repeatedly are better masters of their fears and that is all-important at the front. (In the so-designated Rhineland Campaign, 8 February to 21 March 1945, that brought the Allied from the German borders up to the Rhine River, only 1,330 Americans were killed. 53,000 German prisoners were taken. The Wehrmacht suffered at least twice as many dead and wounded in the same period. It was a worse period on the Eastern Front where German and Soviet casualties were very high. The killings of civilians of several nationalities, including Jews, were at a peak, as were their sufferings from invasion, rapine, bombings and displacements.)
Facing the German borders, General Eisenhower commanded 71 fully manned and equipped divisions and all the logistical and special troop support that was needed for them. His airplanes were myriad. By contrast, the Provence campaign from St.Tropez to Alsace took the same period of time, suffered the same casualties, captured the same number of prisoners, inflicted the same casualties on the enemy and conquered as much territory: the Seventh Army, too, disembarked to begin with rather than fighting from immense bases and numbered only 10% of the soldiers that served in the Allied armies of the Rhineland campaign. Obviously, the absurdly weak German Nineteenth Army of Provence and Eastern France had been stronger than what faced the Allies inside Germany.
The Allied commanders refused to believe in the German weakness. Their intelligence sections went on finding the enemy in force everywhere. The War was winding down rapidly, but they insisted upon foreseeing new large battles ahead. Only sporadic resistance was being encountered, yet the despatches were using the language of large-scale engagements, viz., to parody a typical bulletin, "The 1012 Inf.of the 217 Division met with stiff opposition in crossing the Main River and was forced to turn South, there to await reinforcements from 141st Combat Engineers."
In hopes of getting across the Rhine at the earliest moment, the Captain is cruising in Third Army Territory. The Third Army is a shiny one, as it was in Sicily; Patton likes spit and polish. Anti-Pattonites, of whom there are many, ridicule this facade. The Captain agrees with General Patton, however, up to a point, and regrets the bespattered banged-up condition of his jeep; he is shaven and clean, though, his guns are burnished, he is ready to confront any superior inquiries as to the reasons for his presence. But, as has happened often before and under stranger circumstances, nobody asks questions. In fact, they are glad to see a vehicle with "foreign" markings. It's like seeing a stranger in Podunk, Ia.
He has not given up the concept of morale, but it has changed its shape in his mind. It has been two years since he has had any faith in coffee and doughnuts, if ever he had. More seriously, he begins to doubt that faith in one's country and in one's form of government matter a damn. The Home Front begins to dwindle in perspective and grow hazy. Religious faith does not dawn upon him nor does it seem to seize anyone in the Company, nor do the Germans talk about the comforts of religion or practice noticeably a religion except National Socialism which, too, is less and less alive to them. In all the hundreds of letters that he sends and receives, no talk of religion consoles them, though the baby is baptized at the nearby Roman Catholic Church after months of hesitation and indifference. He feels that if Jill and his Mother decide to have her baptized, that is O.K. with him. At the Front, God is not conspicuous by His presence. The Exec has not tried to recall a prayer since he watched the French Corporal die, and before then since putting himself to sleep in the first days of the Sicilian landings. When he remembers the hokum, blarney, media splashing of God in the face of the war mobilization on the Home Front -- "God is My Co-Pilot," "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition," he feels disgusted.
So far as he can see, and in every army, and on every side, and in the units from the infantry platoon to the Army Group Headquarters and SHAEF itself, the war is irreligious. God is completely wanting, and perhaps that is just as He would have it. The letters from home will say from time to time, depending upon the family, "God bless you, son!" and "We pray for you at Church every Sunday, John." There is no standard of the Cross leading the battle nor is the Cross anywhere to be seen, except occasionally as an amulet, and of course every man's dog-tag has an indication of his sectarian attachment, should he or his family have one. Wallenberg told him he was a Catholic, though he came from a Jewish family, but that was more for information rather than to indicate that the Exec should bury him beneath a cross if he caught death.
Like the Germans and all other nationalities, the Americans wage battle because they happen to be there by reason of a host of varying circumstances and from having nowhere else to go at the moment and from having a feeling of being wanted by a few men around him and wanting them. The military is a profoundly homosexual experience as it moves closer and closer to battle and death, even as overt homosexual conduct is carefully avoided and penalized. Why were the last words of Admiral Nelson as he lay dying upon his Flagship following the tremendous victory at Trafalgar, "Kiss, me, Gridley," said to his devoted Aide? But read the Iliad, too. It is not much of a puzzle save that myth, wish, prejudice, ignorance makes it so: Faced with prospect of death or wounds, the soldier feels that he wants to die right there in that group and among those men who feel as he do and therefore mourn him properly, although he will commonly not admit that he wants to die and may claim vociferously that he will do anything not to die.
It does not take many whining bullets and screaming and booming shells to give the front line troops an obsession with what they are doing and a conviction that events elsewhere are irrelevant, and that, starting with the regimental staff, the whole string and network of organizations going back to the civil population cannot be trusted and is against him. What he possesses is a negative value of great preciosity, the equality or near-equality of risk-taking of everyone around him, and it gives him a feeling of kinship sufficient to dampen differences of background and attitudes.
This is the way the Captain senses the men's feelings, whatever the Army, whether American, British, Italian, French, German, Austrian, Canadian, Indian, Polish, New Zealand, Australian, Algerian, Moroccan, the Jewish Brigade, the German Cossack Division, these being what he has watched in action up to this point, not too close to the crunch of action too often, else he would not have survived to be telling of them. There is no explaining otherwise than in the mutual affection of their fellows the near hopeless bravery and staunchness of the Polish Corps in their assault upon Cassino, as they go about losing half their force owing to the idiotic strategy of the Allied Commanders, and this mutual love came from the loss of country, family, property, almost everything they had once cherished, and being victims of not one but two most brutal occupying forces. The Lieutenant would look at them, look at them, look at them. Men on their way to death or to be maimed or to at best suffer a hell for a while.
There comes a time when the number of replacements breaks through the remaining cords of morale. A more careful and informed study might devise a formula for this occurrence, but too many unknowable factors are involved to know much more than that the breaking point occurs around and about some kind of situation, with certain types of events and behavior. A large volume of authentic information about the people of a unit exists, but the fluidity and fog of war destroys its most meaningful unit statistics.
Our Exec is writing on Feb 19 about a drive to Paris and makes a prophecy for "ten years from now", to wit:
On the return trip we stopped underway for lunch, and a woman in a café heated our water and C-rations for us. The incident is worthy of comment because she didn't want to take any money. She acted almost as if we had liberated France. You see, darling, the honeymoon is over on the liberation. Ten years from now the French will have liberated themselves. We were very angry today when a small news item reported De Gaulle to have refused to meet FDR outside of France somewhere. What used to be pardonable pride is now only disgusting arrogance, disgusting because it is so ill-founded and short-sighted. The British & ourselves have given them most of their modest reasons for self- aggrandizement. It is disconcerting & disillusioning to keep giving to people who keep nipping at your hand, but I suppose it will be worthwhile if they once become contented & turn to purring. No one should be so naive in politics as to expect gratitude from favors rendered. A tougher attitude on our part might be more impressive. We ought to insist on credit where credit is due.
So much for the French at this moment for we are about to leap into Germany, yet it will not be long before his most important Frenchman of the war shows up, or, one should say, Frenchwoman.
The Casablanca and Moscow Conferences of the year before had announced the policy of demanding the unconditional surrender of the Axis enemies. The doctrine had seemed somewhat abstract at the time, especially since most people didn't feel that it meant much regarding Italy. But now, as the European War was going into a post- climactic stage (though it never did appear to have a climax, on the Western and Italian Fronts, being inclined one way from the start) the doctrine of unconditional surrender aroused more concern among the troops. A letter of a February meeting with soldiers illuminates the point:
My conscience forbad my reneging on a request that I give some spare time to a couple of rifle battalions that someone thought were in need of education; and I was with them part of yesterday. It was no doubt interesting but fatiguing. For example, a couple of companies were crowded into a big, dark hayloft, and I had to stand up and talk them down. One common worry the men have is about the matter of unconditional surrender. A lot of them think that may be making the Germans fight harder. I don't believe it does and make a point of telling them so. Some of them felt that we ought to trick Germany into surrendering and then beat her down, as Germany did with the Czechs. Another company was very much interested in the Crimea Conference. Generally the men agree with its decisions so far as they understand them. I was asked to return, and if I am in those parts the middle of next week and nothing has happened meanwhile, I may do so. Too bad I dislike public speaking; that sort of thing is perfect training for a stump orator: never prepared, conditions always foul, difficult and unknown audiences. You are my perfect audience, toi seule.
It was a difficult doctrine. The Team discussed it many a time. It conveyed a notion that all German leaders were guilty of aggression and war crimes, perhaps a proper attitude for the victors to possess, but received by the German elite as a blanket condemnation (however deserved) to be resisted at all costs therefore. On the tactical side, the doctrine makes the enemy fight harder against the Allies, at least, because it gives him no better future whatever his conduct. He is reminded of what he knows anyhow, of the powerlessness of prisoners of war. The feelings against "a separate deal" and "a break in the ranks of the Allies" were justified to hold the Alliance of East and West together, especially since the Big Three did in fact agree to agree after the War, to the point of setting up a permanent United Nations Organization. However, Stalin, despite every assurance and various proofs of concord from his Allies, would not believe in Allied intentions and in any event was compelled by his paranoia and the logic of totalitarian communism to stretch all agreements to the limits of mutual confidence, lying when convenient. For instance he told General Eisenhower, in reply to a direct personal inquiry, that he would not launch his last great attack upon Berlin until May, and in fact speeded up the attack into April.
SHAEF, under no obligation to refrain from an assault upon Berlin, and actually prepared for the final dash, held back, over the strong objections of Churchill and Montgomery, not to mention many Allied generals and soldiers, because Eisenhower hoped thereby to save many casualties. He realized, too, that the Western Allies would have to give up all the territory gained between Berlin and the Elbe River. Such was the grand directive for the partition of Germany into occupation zones, as contracted for at Yalta. Since the Soviets were to take over this territory, let them fight to win it.
Neither Captain de Grazia, nor his soldiers, -- practically nobody on the ground -- knew of the partition plan. Perversely, a careless Britisher had let the partition map fall into the hands of the Germans; the few top generals who learned of it could do little to turn it to advantage, but perhaps resisted a little harder to surrender, believing a terrible fate would be visited upon eastern regions under the Soviet regime. Possibly Stalin's distrust and haste, conveyed to his chief generals, cost an extra 100,000 Soviet casualties. On the other hand, the month gained by the Soviet sacrifices saved that many and more deaths among the remaining Jews and condemned groups, Allied prisoners of war, slave workers from several countries, and German civilians, all of whom were suffering murder, bombings, and severe attrition from other causes.
Whatever the ramified effects, foreseen and (mostly) unforeseen, the doctrine of unconditional surrender was a myth when postulated, and carried on as a myth working upon a kaleidoscopic reality. The Captain's fellows always knew that the Russians would treat the defeated enemy in ways significantly different than would the Western Allies. The West had not suffered enough, despite the revelations of what had happened to the Jews and Eastern Europeans, to exact cruel revenge. Most of the Western troops had not seen bloody battle; nor had most of the large bureaucracy of officers now readying themselves to govern the Reich.
Twice during 1944 the British and American psychological warfare central staffs attempted to persuade President Roosevelt through his staff to moderate the harsh policy. They were rejected. The policy did not, however, prevent the propagandists in the field from promising the enemy decent treatment if they would give up as individuals. The famous SHAEF surrender pass had been next to every German soldier's boot since Cassino. Leaflets and radio messages spoke to German civilians in "helpful" tones, for instance, to save their families by leaving the cities.
When, on July 20, a top-level conspiracy against Hitler nearly succeeded and was then crushed, there might have been some point to praising the martyrs and encouraging new efforts of the same kind, instead of giving up the military leadership as hopeless. Nor was there any gesture toward forming and assisting a German Government in Exile, granted the troublesome efforts to agree upon and sustain such groups from other countries. The effect, sad to say, was to impress ever forcibly upon the German people that Hitler and the Nazis were their one and only genuine legitimate government. Every last German had to feel that he or she must go down with the ship. Unconditional surrender as a concept was nebulous, abstract, impossible, paranoid, against all reason: as such, it worked rather better than one might imagine. And, had it truly reassured Stalin and his coterie that wartime and post-war cooperation were valid prospects, it would have been worth its cost.
The Captain remembered after his lectures two questions, especially: "Why not give Germany to the Jews and get out?" To which he responded there were hardly enough German Jews to begin with for running Germany, and most of these were now dead. (The query revealed, of course, a twisted anti-semitic logic. And was hard to deal with.) The other was "Shouldn't we keep on going, otherwise the Russians would take over Europe." To which he replied, nothing is sure, but you have to trust the company on your flank; we need to build up mutual trust, else we'll go on fighting forever. And the Russians have done most of the fighting and taken most of the losses and you can forget about just going in there and pushing them around.
There comes the break-out on the West. He experiences it personally as happening on the day after he receives the cheerful letter from Bill Evers that makes him nostalgic and sad; his old Columbia roommate is with the Marines en route to Iwo Jima. Al writes to Jill:
The day has been beautiful, a day when one wants everything to stop and bask. I got a letter from Bill Evers dated Feb.15, which is somewhat ominous, since he is with the 3rd Div., and that was just before Iwo. I hope it was a light wound -- that's about the way I feel on his chances. I know what the CO of a rifle company has on his hands and though it's fun while it lasts, it has no pretensions of being lasting.
And he comments on the fact that two other officers in Bill's Battalion are apparently acquaintances from the University, Lieutenants Reid and Ray Ickes. The date he writes is March 19; Bill is already dead, killed on February 26. Only now, as he writes, is the news being transmitted to Elizabeth. Dearest Liz writes to Dearest Jill, Godmother of her baby Louise, on March 20 upon receiving the report, Dearest Jill writes to Al Dearest the same day, and Al Dearest, copy of the letter from Dearest Liz in hand, replies to Dearest Jill and addresses to Dear Liz his word of sorrow and condolences.
I'm sorry I didn't get around to writing you yesterday, but I've been on the go almost constantly. The first mail from you in several days reached me this evening. I can't say that the news contained therein made me feel less tired. There is such a thing, I suppose, as bracing oneself against the possibility of a dear friend's death, but there is no escaping the incredibility and melancholia of it. I had to read your lines several times before actually fully believing that the words meant Bill was dead, that he wouldn't be around for this or for that, that he had slipped his groove in life and had gone wandering off somewhere. And every time a good man dies, it seems impossible that he can be replaced, personally or socially, that our lives must be less full forever thereafter and that our world must be in straits more dire. The traits he possessed and the type he represented are in many men, for no man is unique in his ideals, and will weave their way into our lives in sublimation and surrogation. Therefore it is true and it is not true. I feel you should not commit yourself to a philosophy of pessimism if he shall have died "in vain". All death is in vain. And wouldn't we be presumptuous to believe that the many millions of dead in history may have been in vain but that here in our year of the Lord, 1945, we shall so manipulate destiny that our cherished friends shall not have died in vain. A man is no more to be mourned because he died in a lost cause. Nor is evil any different when one has not lost some friend to it. Some may claim that to involve oneself is the real mistake, that the struggle is to be avoided, granted the foregoing once one has entered the arena. Even if one accepts the allure of this proposition, however, it has its practical difficulties. The age is particularly severe on innocent bystanders. Life is a continual frustration and fright. Better a decent gamble, accompanied by self- respect and a zest for life.
Apart from these thoughts, there are sentiments I can't express. Bill would never express them about me, and I won't express them about him. I will write Elizabeth tomorrow.
Al learns much later through Ray Ickes that Bill had just leapt ashore and was moving up the beach when a Japanese bullet struck him dead. It would take another volume to tell how this bullet changed peoples' lives. And another fifty million volumes for all the other shot and shell that killed and ruined. Where does one stop? Why does one begin?