Table of Contents


The Taste of War:


LURCHING over a ribbon of timbers that is lapped by the Saar River, he intrudes upon the Third Reich. The Army is on the march again; we get the news from him with the Spring Equinox of 1945, to wit:

We are, of course, in Germany now and we feel fine about that. The civilians are surprised they aren't being killed off and are still half-convinced they will be sent to Siberia. Some of them ought to be, I'm sure. Their standard of living, save where the AAF struck, is higher than anywhere else, but the AAF struck everywhere in the cities & many towns. It is so obvious to all the soldiers that the Germans had no reason to start a war.

The very next day comes the comment:

The Nazi flag at the moment is any sort of white cloth. Sheets and pillow cases wave in the conquerors of the Third Reich. Hitler is unpopular among many civilians now that they are completely crushed. It took all this to make them change their minds. There isn't much difficulty getting things done by the civilians. They will do anything they're told. Unfortunately we don't tell them nearly enough. There just isn't enough that the American Army needs. I imagine the Russians must be doing a much more thorough job of gathering in German local resources. A considerable number of people try to be friendly but so far without any success. The American soldiers are almost unanimous in their support of non- fraternization regulations, even though they are very difficult for the individual to observe. Things that one does most naturally if he has been taught good manners are forbidden. So most offenses against the regulation will be through lack of self-control rather than deliberate non-participation in the spirit of them.

The Captain finds himself in a jeep driving through the destroyed town of Kaiserslautern turning to look at a young German girl, apparently oblivious of the invaders, sweeping with deliberate movements the stone steps of a totally blasted house. What is she sweeping up, he wonders, and ponders too the German mentality; but he thinks, when you can't think of anything else to do, why not grab a broom and start sweeping? Actually ain't that like the Old Army of the USA, an hour before Retreat sounds. "Arms length! Pick up Butts. Route Step! Forward, March!" Or it may be that her sweeping is a pretext to find out what the invaders are like.

In search of targets of opportunity, he turns southward toward the Rhine River roads. Scott and he sleep in the open with the jeep against a wall at their back and an artillery blast hole in front; it is a habit he has developed. As night falls, they can see upstream the enormous fires of the city of Mannheim, set ablaze by the bombers. "God, Captain," says Scott, "it looks like a Hollywood Movie!" It does, and he reflects upon how in these days the media studios set up the scene for man and nature to imitate. Although there is not much information on what lies ahead, he guesses that they can drive a long stretch along the West Rhine road and perhaps find some engineers throwing a bridge across. Soon they come to where Ludwigshaven begins to stretch out on the other side of the River.

On their own side they encounter an American outpost. Apparently it had advanced from the South. They pull up a few yards from a couple of riflemen, and somebody he cannot see yells, "Hey, get that jeep out of there, we're catching fire." So he jumps off, sends it off to hide and skulks over to the river edge. There a rifleman tells him anxiously, Sir, there is somebody sneaking in and out of the warehouse across and he looks like a civilian but maybe he is observing fire. Should I shoot him? The Captain catches the scene and the man in his binoculars. A doubtful case. Might be some old coot scavenging. He queries himself: Should I take the rifle from his reluctant hands and fire at the man, or should I say, yes, and give him the imprimatur of authority to take a life or, even better from his point of view, an Order to shoot, or should he tell him to do what he thinks best under the circumstances. Surely he must have someone in command, who might even resent a seeming interference. The Captain tells him to do what he thinks best, adding, prejudicially, you have to protect your own people, remember that too. And he leaves. Silly, isn't he? Given the unspeakably murderous war, the life of this geezer is a trivium. Yet shooting a person is by all canons of morality a decision of utmost gravity. So much for that. Then, too, consider this: as insufferably elaborate as all this reasoning is, might not there be another level of even more private reasoning, or, at least, motivation: that the Captain both did and didn't want to kill the man and rationalized himself out of the dilemma without permitting himself to believe that he did not want to kill.

I wonder, too, whether the civilized letters of his wife and the talk and photos of his daughter are not keeping him from the fierceness that should long ago have captured him. He still thinks of himself often as a civilian. When his wife disposes of most of his clothes by gift and garbage, he evinces surprise and mock indignation -- or might he not be really feeling hurt: it is a kind of death, isn't it?

Thanks, my Love, for the synopsis of my sartorium. It's nice to know amidst all of this that I am a man possessed of three suits, even though only one is any good at all. Sometimes you are too unromantic. Suppose I like to see an old familiar shirt. What then? Won't you let me? You ought to abet anything that makes one's memory more exact. All I could remember before was a vague, dark closet with some of my clothing in it.

"They really were bad

So don't be mad."

Who said they were good?

So long as they stood

My own unkhakilike array

In disarranged peace

Of inferior fleece

Woman, spare that shirt!

If you want something to hurt

Try selling all those shoes*

That a beggar'd refuse.

(*Including those moccasins)

So he does live part of the time in Chicago, and wonders about a described delay in Kathy's approach to speaking. She says only "mama", "bah," and "yeah" and she is already 15 months old!

Do you think Kathy's speechlessness may be partly a result of your own intelligence. She probably doesn't feel it worthwhile learning the proper symbols so long as you seem to know exactly what she wants anyway. Like the butler we had once in Catania. It wasn't necessary to know a word of Italian, because before you could open your mouth he anticipated what you were going to ask for.

He even concerns himself with his taxes! That makes him feel like a civilian.

I know even less about taxes than you. I assume your missing paying them means

1) that your income alone wasn't enough to pay a tax.

or 2) I don't have to worry, being a soldier just now.

or 3) that your not filing your own return means that ultimately we can file a joint return for that period.

(a) If (3) then: Do we lose or gain by the delay?

or 4) We shall be behind the bars jointly.

Search me, too, but I'd like to know. Incidentally, would you please let me know where you are keeping all our bonds, even if the rest of your financial system defies specification? Sometimes I would as lief bite your ear as kiss you.

He reverts to the War, reporting that the invasion across the Rhine now is spectacular:

I wish that everyone at home could stand along one of these roads and watch the American army move by. It is the gigantic spectacle of history, American to the core and absolutely awesome, unending, stretching on all the roads to the horizon, columns of the most mechanized force of all time, little tanks and big ones, ducks, six by sixes, darting jeeps, huge steel monsters that carry tanks or pull long artillery pieces with flashing lights and shrieking sirens, machines that take up two lanes in a roaring, blinding cloud of dust and that sometimes pull off the corners of buildings where the street is too narrow. No one walks. There is not a single horse. And the whole swiftly moving mass of metal is directed nonchalantly and gracefully by the GI's in the seats and the MP's on the roads with a flick of the wrist. We haven't given to this war our last gasping effort, but what we have given is like the slap of a bear's paw to the biting ant, iron blood worth more than the blood of millions of men towards winning the war, that in addition to the human effort, and our human lives. The weather has been fine for this war of movement.

Where is the Front? What is a Front? It is occasionally what is commonly imagined or played in films: a constant inferno surrounding bunkers or tunnels or holes into which men have dived. However, whatever and wherever it is, it must support the variable possibility that "all hell will break loose." The Front is wherever two patrols clash or where time after time violent exchanges occur, as at Cassino, where a belt of a quarter of a mile along the Rapido River was bloodied repeatedly. The Front is extended sometimes by "carpet bombing," as at the Abbey and Town of Montecassino, or upon the Second SS Panzer Division as it moved up to counterattack at Mortain against the Americans who were breaking out of Normandy. There we consider up to a couple of round miles as the Front. The Front is also where first friendly, then enemy, forces occupy or pass through an area, occasionally meeting. It is a moving border between retreating and pursuing forces, too, who may be in contact or running battle, or may be out of contact.

The Front is also wherever artillery can reach, up to several miles, up to thousands of miles by missiles nowadays, but, fifty years ago, only several miles. There is the Front for bombing aircraft, who could reach the line of troops, if such exists, or in any event long distances beyond the men on the ground, as in the costly battles over England and Germany. The Front can be a large region practically devoid of troops into which anyone might penetrate for days without hostile encounter. Then the Sea Front needs to be defined in terms of the bases available to the opposing forces and the likelihood of encounter on the high seas; the Front is a troopship being observed by an enemy submarine. The "Home Front" can be more than a rousing slogan; it can be disorderly, plagued by police and riotous troops, by resistance groups, and a target for airplane attack or missiles. Often, when not in combat, German and Allied troops were gratified to be whiling away time far from the Home Front.

So, when you reach the nut of the matter, the Front is a quantitative concept: a more than "X" probability that in "Y" time a given space "Z" will become the aforesaid "inferno." Given this concept, you can calculate or guess at the chances of a given space becoming a Front, today, tomorrow or in ten years.

And, of course, while I am at it, I might add that each Front has its Maps, to which you become addicted insofar as you are confined to one or another Front and have to find your way solo around in it. You can imagine that in a Space War, the relevant map may be the Earth as seen from Space. More realistically, it may be the interior plan of a town hall in Belfort. Map-reading of all sorts up to global dimensions took up its hundreds of hours of the Soldier's time from Tennessee to Munich. He was embraced daily by the folds of World maps, Theater maps, Army Group maps, Corps maps, Division maps, Regimental maps, Battalion area maps, Company maps, Artillery maps, Platoon maps, Squad maps, and personal maps, the kind that is being drawn to show or be shown a nearby location not on any map -- where the command post is, where the entrance to the ammo dump is, where civilians are hiding, where the enemy fire is coming from. He never lacked maps of various kinds, as he never lacked a flashlight and a tin cup.

Ironically, the more detailed and closer to your spot the coverage of the map, the more unlikely that you can depend upon it for what you are after, because the stuff you are interested in, that was there before, has often been blown away explosively and the people in whom you are interested are doing their best not to be where your map says they are. And a lot of nasty human and mechanical surprises are lying in wait, unmapped. In this real sense, from one moment to the next, the Front changes.

Ironically, soldiers who were supposed to guide other people as well as themselves were, as often as not, lost. Since everyone wanted to hide, and at the same time be in touch with others, a nice contradiction blossomed. This accounted not only for their being lost and unfindable, but also for their committing amicide all too frequently. Thus, coming upon friendlies unexpectedly is a likely way to die, yet if you announce yourself too visibly and audibly you are likely to get both yourself and them in trouble, and rile them up, as happened in the incident above at the River's edge. As the risk rises at a given spot, the danger thereabouts to anyone not of the immediate squad goes up also. Further, though the risk may not rise, the perceived risk -- panic, that is -- grows: raw troops slaughter themselves and their own, as the ack-acks off the Gela beaches in Sicily did to their airborne buddies.

The need for sensitive troop training regarding topography, demography, ekistics and cultures had always been, was, and still is, poignant and unsatisfied. He never heard of combat troops being taught, whether by lecture, print, film, or action scenarios, the physical contours of the settlements where they might well be dying within minutes or hours of arrival. The Arab, the Algerian, the Italian, French and German cultures and provincial sub-cultures, had their peculiar architecture, living habits, and neighborhood construction, their special by-ways, interiors, staircases, windows and shutters, cellars, barns and lofts. The North African desert was only halfway like the Mohave Desert. The French villages were not at all like the American: most Americans didn't know how to open and close a shutter. One warns here not only of delays, blunders, and deadly ignorance, but of the anxiety of ignorance added to the panic- potential always present in the soldier's breast. The next generation coined the term for this -- "culture-shock" -- but it was for tourists and immigrants.

Now begins his tour of the countryside and of Ludwigshaven, Mannheim, Heidelberg, Darmstadt, Stuttgart, and forty other cities and towns of the Rhineland and Bavaria, Munich, yes Dachau. In Darmstadt he is handed a fluegelhorn by a soldier, who has picked it up as combat pay in a burned out fire station and who admires his playing "Danny Boy," "Return to Sorrento," and "Stardust" upon it. It has sticky valves and a tiny mouthpiece.

In Heidelberg he bursts in with his three soldiers upon a university building that is sheltering displaced persons -- the pathetic D.P.'s -- and a few students. A distinguished-looking Polish army officer has assumed command, and at first denies him admittance and warns against bringing in a company of troops. He says an American officer from Military Government has placed him in charge. The Captain is not to be put off, so the Pole pleads on behalf of his charges. The Captain is touched with this and pulls out some of his rations and schnapps. The Pole does likewise. A large party ensues, going far into the night, with the inevitable accordion playing Polish mazurkas and the Captain blowing his fleugelhorn for all it is worth, and dancers tromping and stomping all about. They all collapse toward morning and as early as he can manage, the Captain rouses his comrades to get out and on their way.

Heidelberg is practically undamaged, therefore crowded, beautiful, very few uniforms in evidence. He is happy about its preservation and considers again, as he gazes at the unsightly bands of freed slave workers, the German civilians, all guilty in some sense of outraging die ganz Welt that they expected to take over: what is the price of people relative to the price of culture, the Cassino dilemma, which proved to be a false dilemma at Cassino, where both art and people were destroyed to no avail? What is human life worth in terms of art? There is no avoiding the problem. Every time a shell smashes into a house, a poor woman's shack, a rich bourgeois' stately townhouse, the artifacts of man spiral like horrible genies out of the smoke, and the people scream and crumple in the dust. Is there a chart to be drawn, where people -- ranging in value from the soldier who must be killed (beautiful and talented a young specimen as he may be) through the ignorant ugly and useless up to the divine humans, the best, the kindest, the world citizens -- are given a score; and, then, a chart of the relative value of the cultural and natural beauties being destroyed -- ranging from the Cathedral of Nuremberg to a rusty scupper and bird nest in a spruce tree. What Mastermind of ethics and aesthetics is to be charged with assigning the charted values, what Genial Surveymaster with the inventorying of the human and natural units, what Mathematics Wizard with the instantaneous calculation of individual and collective sums before a cannon blasts off or a bomb-bay opens. God, of course, but God is so obviously away attending to other matters, without leaving instructions, compelling you to exclaim, "My God!" as you see the steeple fall, and "Oh, God!" as the shrapnel comes to grips with your groin.

At this point in time, Jill, across the ocean, decides that she and her baby will go West to stay with her brother for a while. A quarter of the country is travelling West, another is travelling East: she harries him with the details of readying for the trip and finding transportation. He responds in a surly mood:

Dearest Jill,

As if I didn't have enough to worry about moving myself and the whole ensemble, you present me with a completely nerve-chilling serial on your own movements, Kathy's, two suitcases & the dangling diaper bag. You ask "Can you stand the suspense?" I answer, "Not very well". It's getting me down. I wish to hell I get a letter telling me once and for all that you have arrived in SF. I think that only would make me happy. If, after everything, you didn't go I might be still more enraged! I was glad to know, at any rate, that you and Kathy are feeling well again. I have been bad about writing letters lately, but c'est la guerre. Nothing is describable at all well. As you say, leisure is a condition of art.

Jill has arrived in San Francisco, not without having received his misgivings. He can picture travelling in the turmoil of the war, even without the enemy bombing as here. It is a difficult trip on a crowded train, carrying a baby, two grips and a diaper bag. But there are plenty of jolly sailors around to help her, and she has the earmarks of a faraway soldier's lament, so she gets priority over old ladies, disabled veterans and what not. America is hell bent to mobilize and doing a great job of it, to a degree that neither the Germans nor Japanese have achieved.

She goes riding, is surprised by some Boy Scouts, the horse shies and she is thrown upon her shoulder. A bad fracture, a severe concussion, worse than anything he has received from his old war. So it goes. He writes her more dreams of love. He tells her that he is driven to contemplate volunteering in an infantry division being prepared for the invasion of Japan, which will have a month's leave in the States on the way there, or so they say. All believe that it will take millions of men for the landings and conquest of Japan, given the resistance put up at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

He tells of weapons confiscation and souvenir collecting combined.

Jill, my Love,

As the stereotyped telegram goes, "You are more than ever in my thoughts lately," because I have been seeing your family name plastered all over the place on road signs. That makes me feel very much at home. I only wish you were so near. I haven't yet been to Oppenheim to tell you what it looks like, but the chances are that even though it is a rear area already, I will pass through it some day. I see that Lauterbach is also in our hands and may do the same there. Any more geographical locations in your family? I picked up a souvenir dagger for you yesterday and will send it on in due time. I have another which I will send to Ed and then I will look for one for Vic. Is everybody happy? Your dagger I got from a surreptitious character who sidled up to me and handed me two of them which I threw into my jeep. They are afraid to be caught with weapons. One guy gave Fred Faas a handful of Lugers and rifles in Heidelberg. Fred really should have nabbed the guy to see whether he knew where some members of the Volksturm or Wehrmacht were hiding out in civvies, but he was in a hurry. The trouble is that everybody is in a hurry. There isn't time for anything. I would like to find the guy who had my rooms in this place before me. He is still in the neighborhood since I kicked him out and he can't go far. I had no time to search the place, but had to get out on the road again. When I returned, I found his personal documents torn up and put in the stove, but unburned. He was an SA in 1932 and 1933 and a regular since then. There will be more time later, however. I am sure that there will be enough Germans too for a lot of housecleaning of their own, once they are organized and permitted to operate.

Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau ventured a scheme at one stage of the hostilities that would prevent future German aggression by suppressing its industrialization. The Captain and most others thought this daffy; a machine-less German was an oxymoron. But he says, ironically:

About the bombings, there is hardly any urban life of any consequence any more. I think Morgenthau's plan is practical if only because the stage he wants the Germans to arrive at, i.e. an agricultural nation, is practically achieved already. No superlatives can describe the completeness of the bombing. Many of the people left in the cities are mental cases or perhaps it is that only queer people can remain under the conditions. Pray, sister, that this is the last war. I am also convinced more than ever that there is nothing like a good isolated farm, providing the tactical situation doesn't come your way. Incidentally, all our spare time at this place we're in now is occupied with removing the after-effects of its habitation by a German demolition team. They left odd little knick-knacks of mines, TNT, and booby traps in all the corners. None of them were set for us, however (he said, tapping gently on wood), because they had to leave in a great hurry. Still it was with some bemusement that we stood back and watched the German occupants do a preliminary cleaning of the basement before getting out.

Das ist alles. Always your pal & lover,


And more of the humane gestures of life at war:

Darling Jill,

Just to make a full envelope, I'm sending you a V-mail from the New Yorker cartoonist in reply to my request for the conditions under which I might have the original. You may remember it. A frowsy woman is drinking breakfast coffee, reading a V-mail, and says to her mother, "Of all the dismal, god-forsaken places to spend Christmas -- Palestine!" The other note is thanks for a collection of chocolate and cigarettes we took in the company for a hospital, badly equipped and most dreary, which was just liberated. Most of the occupants were old PW's. ("Mon capitaine et cher camarade, Au nom de tous nos petit Français et alliés malades, je tiens a vous accuser réception de votre colis. Le geste est joli et il est émouvant...") A third thing I want to enclose but which turned out to be too thick was a letter I just got from Hank Dannenberg. He has been in a morass of tough luck for the last couple of months. He exhausted his money paying for treatment of his father-in-law who has been very ill. Millie had a surprise operation for a tumor in the uterus. Then she had a nervous breakdown. Then they doubled the rent on his garage after a lot of controversy. His balance has been bad since his ear operation and he had a bad fall as a result. He claims my letter cheered him up. I don't see how it could do anything else under the circumstances. Unless you object and I think you won't mind, though I can't reach your pearly ear at the moment, I believe I'll send him a loan of $100 from my cash on hand. I know he'll appreciate it physically and morally. I sure hope he gets out from under. He has lots of ability & energy but he is really plagued by tough breaks. Look at me being sorry for a civilian.

His incredulity at German greed is manifest again:

The weather here lately has been cool but bright. At the moment, supper is over and my field desk is receiving the only warmth it ever gets from the setting sun. Otherwise, it is cold in here and I'm glad I don't have to spend too much time indoors. My favorite sport is speeding along superhighways these days. They certainly have a magnificent road system here. How abysmally stupid the Germans were to have started this war. They had more than any other European nation I know of the material goods. If they could have had a developmental socialism instead of their criminal, atavistic, militaristic, tribal socialism, they would lead the world by example today instead of being the dirt trampled by the feet of millions of men. Now that our time is drawing near an end over here, we are noticing with increasing enthusiasm our great victories in the Orient. I feel that the two wars (geographically speaking) will not finish very far apart. Our cleanup job is much greater here, and the basic war potential of Germany has been much greater than that of Japan can possibly be.

The German population continues to get rebuffs from the soldiers in its attempts to be friendly. In individual cases, the policy is untenable, but time & investigation will bring out those cases. The desire to make friends with the troops is a very natural one, to have friendly conquerors if one must have conquerors. Already I've had the cousin in Milwaukee gag pulled on me. That's in the same class with those people who are now conveniently pulling a Jewish grandfather out of the bag in asking for privileges. Granted the degree of personal responsibility for any form of government is small, but it shouldn't be encouraged to be small, and therefore a theory of personal responsibility for the group (a "myth" after Sorel, if you prefer) is needed, except in cases where individuals have actually worked vigorously & consistently against the criminal government. One may say, now, that Italy, Petain France and Franco Spain are of the same category of evil & aggressive governments & their peoples ought equally to be judged guilty with their countries, but I think the difference lies, unfortunately for the Germans, in the teutonic traits of duty-culture, thoroughness, and organization. Taken together with the evil direction, they add up to the greater crime. By their incapacities, these others escape the final penalty. I might add, in the case of Spain especially & with much truth about France, that their peoples put up a noble struggle. The Spanish have atoned already.

In a later letter he will be saying:

The Germans have no conscience about having fought this war, as far as I can make out. They are only sorry that they didn't win. They are already insisting on rights to which they have no pardonable access. And, willy-nilly, we are their liberators, for the most severe measures which we can deal out to them now are nothing compared to the punishment we gave them while we were conquering them. The only thing worse than the Nazi Party, total war, and the AAF would actually be what Hitler promised them, the burning of all their villages, the raping of their women, and the dispatch of a good part of the population to Siberia -- "Sieg oder Sibirien" as it is scrawled on the walls. But, granting that is mostly impossible, what can you do with a people like that? Their ostensible qualities of cleanliness, orderliness, thriftiness, and modernity baffle, as well they might, most people who seek for something tangible to reform in the enemy. It is much easier to wash a boy's face than to develop his character. And civilization for most people (i.e. what we are fighting for) is the opposite from wearing a loin cloth and sporting a spear. That is bad enough, but even for those people who know better, the problem of what to do with and how to handle the reformation of a nation is perhaps beyond their powers. That is one reason for not feeling too badly about some regrettable policies which may ensue. We have no right to criticize many nations and all their millions of people for not performing a clean operation which we ourselves can hardly or not at all do as an intellectual operation.

In Darmstadt, where he had set up the company on the grounds of a red brick factory, he confiscates a well-cared-for Opel automobile and drives it around for a while. Better still, they acquire free a magnificent convertible Mercedes, such as only top Nazis used, polish its black body, oil its seats and assign it to Tom Crowell, theoretically a civilian, and not quite subject to military orders; should some general take a liking to it, he can try refusing and at worst be thrown out by the General's aides. He takes his three visitors for a grand drive.

There had been in the hard past winter these three guys from the infantry replacement depot who were assigned to the Team. The Exec couldn't understand why Roos had put in for them. They were not needed. They were strong, handsome boys, of the same background as Tom Crowell, and he took a liking to them. Then came the big battles and the retreat. The Army sent out a squeeze order, taxing each outfit to replace casualties of the German offensive. Tom spoke to the Exec on their behalf. They're good soldiers. Can't you keep them? Fine, then send back who? The other guys -- public opinion, yes, why not? -- wouldn't like it, even if he sent back Cook, the notorious fuck-up Private Cook. Back to the reppel-deppel they went. They hit it lucky, maybe it was the reputation of the Team that did it and his recommendation, for they weren't sent into the killing slots. The three came back now to visit Tom. The Captain is glad they harbored no ill feelings toward him, and that they have survived without harm.

His taste for parties whetted in Heidelberg, he encouraged the bruiting about of the conception of a big party in conjunction with the girls of various nationalities who had been slave-workers in a nearby factory. He had passed by a group of them and, pausing, had noticed in particular one beautiful brunette specimen, French from the Belgian border, straight out of an academic salon painting of the Nineteenth Century. He had her in mind for the party and more, and when the music (naturally the Team had the best amplifiers and records in Europe) and dancing (at which they were poorer than the average unit, the infantry being the best dancers) were in full swing, he sidled in upon the floor and, half-coaxing, half-compelling, absconded with her around the corner of the factory yard and up a staircase into his private room, where, again, without her saying much one way or another (for she generally was observed to say very little), whether "no" or "yes" was undefinable, but his lust was quite clear and pressing, until she felt that she might as well lend herself to importunity. Perhaps he was half-drunk, else he should (or so it would seem in retrospect) he should have made more of the occasion, for she was truly a superb creature; yet, for that matter, so should she have; but perhaps there was nothing deeper in her than appearances, nor in him than swinishness -- or lusty sex, if you will - - or did he awe her, and if so was she pleased or made helpless to do what she would not really have wanted to do, and what, then, is the meaning of rape, and the line between rape and seduction in 1945, for if you are not scintillatingly definite about it, you ought be let into an interminable discourse that could begin with this particular situation alone, complicated not only by the many circumstances that complicate and befoul such judgements, but too by the laws of war and the compulsions of the war zone -- and need I warn you of the intricate vagaries of Americana where "no" and "not now" were not ordinarily deemed to mean such, rather thought to be normal responses of women who were aiming at guaranteeing their reputations thereafter as normally abstemious sexually and "hard to get." I leave you merely with these paltry considerations in mind, for to carry on my story I must go on to report, that he may or may not also have implanted a hostage upon the French Republic, given the lack of precautions they took, and that he returned her, unruffled, Jeanine was her name, unobtrusively and courteously, to the festivities, from which he soon disappeared, and he heard the trucks with their gay enough loads take off down the road to the ladies' dormitory, with Jeanine in one of the cabs, her prestige enhanced withal, whatever your opinion or mine of the proceedings.

It is April (I should have piled the lusts of Spring upon his apologia, were I not preoccupied with probing into conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman). The Seventh Army HQ has in mind heading through Southern Germany. He readies two vehicles to leave the company at Darmstadt and cruise the area of the fast-disappearing Front. Before he departs, Lt. Jacques Pregre enters, neat, his fat jowls closely shaved, his brown eyes snapping, his cigarette dangling. Let's move to Ulm, says the Captain, come along. No, says the Lieutenant, the French First Army has just taken it. How can they, exclaims the Captain, it was already liberated by the Seventh Army! It makes no difference, Pregre calmly pronounces. Napoleon scored a great victory in battle at Ulm. Entendu! The French must now take the city again; it is their historical mission.

The Captain, marveling without grieving, goes cruising without him and in good time comes upon a castle southeast of Augsburg. As imposing as Wuthering Heights, had you seen the movie. (He didn't think that way, for everything that would have let him play Hollywood to a Fare-thee-well was scratched and discolored by his limbic homesickness.) It was so fancy, so groomed of roof and garden. Untouched by war to outward appearances. Quiet. Inside, a subdued splendor in the best of taste, fifteenth to nineteenth century all-inclusive, time spiraling gently among innumerable artistries. A proper group of aristocratic Germans living as if on a long week-end. They appear to be lolling about as he enters, as if they were expecting him for tea. The Lady of the Castle lean, tall, elegant, cordial, superficially fearless. Alongside her an old man who could have been anyone, if not a Chief of Staff retired, at least a Captain of Industry: he was leaving the reception up to her; he might be asked difficult questions. A Hungarian count, who could not keep quiet: he played about her flanks like a cavalryman, which he probably was. Complete with the beautiful castle maiden; the Captain looked her up and down; they should have hid her away; how could they know he was bent upon non-fraternizing, even as he said, when he heard her speak English, "How nice, you can teach me German," and looked keenly at the old lady to catch the flash of alarm traverse her face. Meanwhile his men have been surveying the grounds. French slave workers, Captain, fifty of them. Inform them that of course they are free to go or not as they please, and send the wagon tomorrow morning for rations. Find some place in the slave quarters for the family tomorrow. Sleep, sleep, the day has been long. Where to sleep, but in the room of the Hungarian count, who has already shown it politely. Its centerpiece is a smallish grand bed of the Sixteenth Century, canopied in silks, embroidered with dumpish nude maidens of the age floating about, seeming on the verge of precipitating themselves upon the occupant of the bed, tonight the Captain, the Count is informed and crestfallen, no cordial tale- swapping comrade-in-arms this lad. In the morning, the soldiers excitedly report a treasure discovered in the great cellars, silverplate, gilt-framed marvelous paintings, you have to see it, Captain! What is wrong with him? He says, I know what it is, the main thing now, before this place is overrun, is to report it to the Cultural Preservation Team of the Army so they can take it over and maintain guard. So far as we are concerned, men, we're moving on, except you Discoverers; you stay until the Culture guys arrive and return then to Darmstadt; we can't hold a place like this. Some General and his Staff are going to pull their rank on us. Adieu, beautiful castle, castle maiden, mama aristocrat. What was it she said while offering the hospitality of the manse: "I know Der Führer. He is very nice. I am certain that if you were to meet him, you would find yourself much in agreement."

The ranging party crosses the valley and comes upon a warehouse of finely bound copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf intended for Bürgermeisters to give to newly married couples. The thought of each little couple of newlyweds, beset by all the problems of a likely living hell, receiving this as their wedding gift drives the American soldiers into a fit of insane laughter. Still, it is a genuine token of the bizarre social order that the Germans have accepted without the faintest revolt. As soon as the Captain returns to camp, he calls in Lt. Little, who has recently joined the Team, and asks him to go burn the books. Lt. Little protests the order. He argues that it is morally outrageous to burn books, no matter what kind of books they are. That's what the Nazis did. That's what we are fighting against. The Captain is probably one of the few officers in the American Army who would not now be kicking him in the ass. Instead, he expresses himself as agreeing in principle, but tells him that countless millions of copies still circulate, and unless Lt. Little will burn them, they will have to be handed out forever at weddings, or as souvenirs, or in schoolrooms or in stores, and there won't be much room for other books. Books are trashed, Lieutenant, if there is no market for them. Keep a copy for yourself; I am. And he did and so did the Lieutenant. But it was a matter of religion for the Lieutenant, and others had to set the match to the heap.

Lt. Little is a very ethical person generally. One morning, he turns himself in for failing to have awakened during the night for guard duty; the Captain soothes him and orders him to serve as Officer of the Guard for two straight weeks in consequence. He protests, asserting that he had, after all, been honest in turning himself in. I know, replies the Captain, and I respect you for it, but the offense still demands its penalty.

He goes out cruising again with his artillery old-timers Charley Wagner and Corporal Stubbs, together with now-Captain Villanave, and Blackie driving in the command car, and spots several Germans cutting across a field. He mutters to Blackie, stop quick, let's get' em, drops off the right side, and levels his automatic rifle at the group yelling "Halt!" They do. "Hands auf!" They do. "Kommt hier!" "Langsam." He has them draped over the hood like dead prey, orders the truck to start up and carries them that way as far as a blasted house on the road ahead. They turn out to be SS, which makes him think of shooting them, but he is afraid that he will be court-martialed if there are witnesses. Also they deserve to be interrogated, if only to see whether they are among the majority now being pressed into SS uniform. He is relaxing upstairs, smoking a cigarette and thinking over the issue, when Villanave comes rushing up excitedly; "Stop Sergeant Wagner, Mon Capitaine! He is beating the prisoners!" De Grazia wonders what the hell he is so excited about, and walks down the stairs, "What's up, Sergeant?" "That young punk had a gun concealed on him, Sir." Good reason, the Captain feels; he is wondering about Villanave, who looks cold with his thin mustache, beady black eyes; how can he be kind-hearted; he was Alsatian, joined the Resistance, when?..a sympathizer, a neutral, a pacifist, what? He finally gives the prisoners over to Corporal Stubbs to drive them to the PW compound, offhandedly adding, "I don't care if they ever arrive safely." Stubbs gives him a quick alert glance to catch some meaning in the words. They do arrive.

The cruising continues. Investigate a farmhouse. Discover a young man, not really trying to hide, claims to be Jewish. He wears clothes that fit him, no weapon or uniform to be found. Marvelous if true. Ironic, if not true. The householders look like decent folk as they plead his case. It has been known to happen. Let him go. Why? Because maybe he was actually Jewish: Germans are not so unanimously Nazi as people think. If he wasn't, maybe for the rest of his life he could contemplate his good fortune at being considered a Jew.

The Captain leads his party out to the jeep. A bullet whistles past his right ear. He wheels around to the left. Connie Wilson is staring at him horrified, paling. Blackie has nearly blown his brains out uncocking his weapon. (About now, on April 6, off Okinawa, seven U.S. ships are damaged by "friendly fire" during a Kamikaze attack.) He puts him on two weeks of extra guard duty and sentences him to lessons in handling weapons. The Captain registers Connie's look forever: he doesn't want me to die. He recalls it when a promotion opens up and several close good men put up their comrade, a fine soldier, for T3. He refused to pass over Connie. They couldn't understand him. You know, Captain, he has said some bad things about you. I know, said the Captain, but here's the way I see it. He does his work well. He is off his rocker. He is full of prejudices. Still, he has been overseas more than two years, he has a wife and child at home. It would kill him if I put him down on this one.

The next country villa they come upon looks prosperous. Search reveals nothing suspicious, nothing of interest. Leaving, notes a space without a corresponding door. Break it open, men; the Germans stand there in dismay. Inside, a great cache of liquor -- cognacs, wines, the best of brands. Everyone regards liquor as legitimate plunder, whatever you can eat and drink and employ to survive at the best level of the aboriginees. German loot becomes American loot. The truck is loaded up, enough to last out the war if it is measured out appropriately and imbibed normally and the war ends soon. Each officer is issued several bottles of hard liquor and one of champagne and wine. Each enlisted man of the Team gets half a case of excellent wine. Not quite equal, but it all equalled out in the process of consumption. And "the Army is not in the business of setting up communism," as the Captain once told his men when he was altering in favor of the officers an arrangement of quarters, fixed by the first men into them. (The beneficiary was Major Roos, so he was obviously acting on principle.) "Except," he stressed, "for the sick and disabled."

There is anxiety over the possibility of last ditch resistance to be undertaken by the Nazis in the Bavarian Alps. Hitler's mountain residence at Berchtesgaden would serve as the Headquarters for an Alpenfestung of vast extent. The fear of another Cassino may be haunting Intelligence. An expectation prospers in the Seventh Army, at SHAEF, at home and abroad, that the Nazis will fanatically retreat into the Bavarian fastnesses, and there in the mountains, where they are believed to have constructed impenetrable defenses, will hold out for a long while. Even as the Soviets closed in on Berlin, the whereabouts of Hitler were unknown. They would remain so until the German radio itself announced his death. Meanwhile, the Allies were expecting to hear at any time that he would address the world from his "Alpine Fortress."

This was one of the great myths of the War, and one day would hardly be understood, and passed over in embarrassment, although it was not only passed along as gossip but related in one report after another to be a most realistic scenario of Götterdammerung. Interestingly, for those who would pursue manias, madnesses, myths, rumors, psychopathology, and the science of intelligence as practiced, the Germans seem to have played no more than a bit part in the enactment of this phantasmagoria. Typically, the very absence of news from within the area of this mighty Redoubt lent credence to the idea of a defensive system so well organized and guarded by a great many special forces that information could not be expected to leak out. A veritable "Black Hole" it was, sucking in rather than giving out intelligence and materiel.

A map of some thousand square miles of terrain showing supply dumps and artillery positions occupied wall-space at Eisenhower's Headquarters. Misinformation came from every usual source, intelligence operatives in Switzerland, the War Department, OSS, and, to the discomfiture of Captain Alfred de Grazia, his respected G-2 Chiefs of the Seventh Army, who, on March 25, imagined "an elite force, predominantly SS and mountain troops, of between 200,000 and 300,000 men," and reported the continuous arrival of supplies in the Redoubt area, including new types of artillery and a put-it-together-yourself Messerschmitt aircraft factory. There are indications that a belief in the Redoubt had some influence in the decision to hold the Seventh Army on its Southeastern course, therefore thinning the main spearheads of advance farther North, therefore helping to rationalize the decision of Eisenhower to hold the Allied forces at the line of the Elbe River, where the Soviet troops would be awaited.

As for the Captain, he could boast (not that he did) that he had ceased to consider seriously the story by March and by May was prepared to traverse the Redoubt by jeep. Which he did, as will be told.

On April 12 the morning news is that FDR has suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and is dead. The Captain did not know, the Seventh Army Command did not know, Supreme Headquarters and General Eisenhower did not know, Prime Minister Churchill did not know, the Press, the Enemy, the Congress were unaware, that FDR had been downed by a serious cerebral hemorrhage March 30 upon his arrival at Warm Springs, Georgia, for a rest. One of the greatest decisions of the War had to be made without his effective participation: the decision to withdraw from the race for Berlin.

Captain Hans Wallenberg and several of the soldiers are positively sick at the news of the President's death. Most of the troop are downcast. Some are indifferent, not a bad sign for a government struggling to live according to republican non-monarchic principles. Wallenberg cannot eat breakfast. The Exec does, though seriously concerned; he always eats. Roos has never liked Roosevelt and is mainly indignant that "that pipsqueak Truman" has to be now sworn in to replace the dead President. The republican character of the government is what inflates the Exec and he takes it upon himself to reassure the others that what makes the Constitution great, among other things, is that it provides for the ready succession to the Office of the Chief Executive in such cases as this. The others are not theorists of government, or rather, like most people, including the political science professionals, are as sad and anxious as the Democratic ideologues in general.

Even some Germans are affected, the Captain writes, on the day of the news:

There is an ancient German man whom we have tolerated to live on these premises while we are camped here. He is silent, grim and formidably entrenched in the world that follows this one. This afternoon he straightened his old hulk and spoke to us: "I have learned that Roosevelt is dead. That is terrible, terrible. He should have lived." I believe he gave the eternal judgement, from an awful depth of experience, despair and wisdom. It was an eerie wind of unexplainable origin blowing across a forlorn prairie. No one was cheerful today. The President, with his fine sense of humor, would probably have chuckled over the consternation in the ranks of his foes as well as his friends. But now he is gone and the responsibility for the future rests very heavily upon his critics, a turn of fate they will feel more and more. There is no more Roosevelt to pass the buck to, to accuse and to denounce. They have their own chance to be great now - the whole motley assortment and may the best men win. I know little about Truman save that he will not win the peace by himself. He will need a working plurality of politicians to succeed. He will be able to use personally only a fraction of the power Roosevelt wielded. If he defines his own scope properly, I think he may be actually much better than generally estimated. I'm sure his past machine activities won't enter into the incomparably larger situation in which he now finds himself.

He speaks of the new President next a few days later:

Our radio monitors had Truman's speech to the armed forces written down this morning and I thought it was about equal to the task, neither more nor less. The Lincoln quotation was a good one, even because everyone knows it. Truman seems to be proceeding, as well he might, cautiously and conservatively. There will be time enough to express his originality, if he wishes ever to do so, after the country has gotten used to him. He is not a fairy tale's answer to calamity, a knight in shining armor, and I believe that he knows it.

The effect of Roosevelt's death and of Truman's accession is quite out of mind in a few days. The immediate concerns deal with how a great War comes to an end. The U.S. Army is so well organized, "untouched by war" relatively, if ironically, and well-supplied, that it is turning into a thousand islands of self-containment and peace within an ocean of sturm und drang, practically a chaos. A letter shows this, even though it deals with guilt and punishment, one of many, and of the DP's:

Today was an easy one; yesterday was tiring; tomorrow promises to be the same. What the hell, huh? The war here seems to be on its last legs. I have a physical repulsion against moving. I have the same against staying still. I loathe the Germans who have no consciousness of their crimes. But I am equally repelled by the necessity for treating men as scum, even if they are scum. It speaks too much for the devil within us. I feel that I might trust myself with any excess but know that as a social policy it might well be bad. Perhaps it is only an apology for my severity that I say I don't hate the German people, but I really believe it. I am surprised at the passivity of so many of the released PWs and workers. They behave better than they ought in respect to the civilian population. I would prefer our having to restrain them somewhat more. The Russians, particularly, seem in many cases to be deprived of all spirit; so long have they been abused and suppressed, that they are demoralized and inert. No wonder Uncle Joe promises a period of relief and rehabilitation for all his returned Pws and workers. They need it. There are some of the most amazing sights in the roads and in the cities. I have seen sights from Fantastic Stories' most lurid days. The corpses of cities, ghastly rubble piles, alone, still, with figures of men darting in and out every so often, a drunken Russian careening amid the chaos, waving a long sword at the moon.

The theme of the DP's runs through other letters. His troop has liberated a thousand Russians who have suddenly therefore become their responsibility; these are the countless faces of the gloomy factory of whom something will be said later.

On April 28 Benito Mussolini, Godfather of Fascism, Falangism, and Nazism, is lynched by Italian communist partisans, along with his lover, Clara Petacci. The Americans feel that justice has been rendered, though the sight of Petacci hanging upside down with her skirts blowing to the breeze is disgusting to the Exec.

On May 1, near midnight, the German radio station begins to play long stretches of Wagnerian Götterdamerung music. Soon enough, the monitoring truck has alerted Captain Wallenberg and the others. They understand that Der Führer has died by his own hand, with Eva Braun, and in his Berlin bunker, leaving to Admiral Doenitz the Keys to the Kingdom.

There is to be no Redoubt around Berchtesgarten, no more, no more. Roos has been transferred on "temporary duty" (TD) to Denmark. The Exec has become Commanding Officer in name as well as in fact; he will have only brief occasion to put into effect his ideals about the governance of a military company..

On May 2, two days before the German Nineteenth Army facing the Seventh Army, the German Armies in Italy surrender. The Captain takes Lt. Albert Constantine with him in a jeep and drives South. He heads straight for the Brenner Pass; he is emboldened from remembering passing through it as a student tourist before the War. Near Innsbruck they come upon an airfield with the first jet airplanes they, or practically any Allied soldiers, have seen. The air force personnel has fled. Here would be the Redoubt's doughty "air fleet." After traversing Innsbruck without incident, he turns into the Brennero.

Hardly a soul is to be seen. No fusillade pouring from the elite troops of the Redoubt above. Half-way through the Pass something like a command car comes rushing at them. It roars by as he whirls in a double take. It was filled with German officers in full regalia. Too bad, he curses; but there had been no time to react. There hadn't been even a road block that might have stopped them from turning off and burying themselves in an Austrian village.

The next thing the American jeep strikes upon is an Army that is dressed for an Operetta by Franz Lehar. These are Czechoslovak troops, allies of the Germans, which could not be trusted for combat in Italy.

Ultimately they slow down as the road nears Bolzano, for there is a bad traffic jam of German infantry and artillery, managed by German MP's, who guide the American officers as if these belonged to the Wehrmacht. Not an Allied vehicle to be seen. Circling through the city, they eventually encounter several Americans leaning against their jeeps, spooning food from C-ration cans into their mouths. "How ya'doin?" "Ya really made it here from Germany? Damn! That's sompin." There isn't much more to say, it seems. Watch the scene a while longer; it gives you an absurd feeling, all these enemy soldiers with their burp-guns and artillery pieces marching hither and yon. Probably looking for places to bivouac. They can't seize Italian homes and buildings just like that any more, can they?

The Seventh Army officers turn their car back toward Germany. It is so silly: this German horde; they would give anything to be heading up the Brenner Pass. Yet all the Captain needs to do is to turn the head of his jeep and step on the gas. No one dares to interfere with him. He would have been blown away had he been here a couple of days earlier.

This may have been the first juncture of the Allied forces North and South: the Seventh and Fifth Armies; the otherwise uncontested claim of the Chronologist of the U.S. Army Historical Center is that on May 4, soldiers of an "Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of the 349th Infantry, 88th Division" of the Fifth Army of the 15th Army Group (you remember them!), "establishes contact with the U.S. Seventh Army at Vipiteno, S of Brennero, on Austro-Italian frontier." The Seventh Army contact is said to be of the 411th Infantry Regiment of the 103rd Infantry Division. The Captain had no intention of making the record books, but he did talk about the strange encounters at mess when he got back home. Anyhow the main point was not in the chronology: Churchill's so-called soft underbelly of Europe took as much time to conquer as the bristling backbone of the Nazi swine.

A couple of days later C.D. Jackson shows up from SHAEF with Major Roos and asks the Captain to take them to Dachau. They proceed in the outfit's command car along the autobahn. On the way they come upon a bad truck accident, two huge cargo trucks entangled and tipped over, a couple of black guys prone maybe dying, their comrades around them wondering what to do. The Captain

pulls over, stops a vehicle with hospital markings and nurses and officers. They seem reluctant to help. He insists they do something. They promise to send help from nearby and scoot off. He delays, talking to the men; it's a matter of internal injuries and concussions; their eyes roll out of control. Roos and Jackson want to get away from the scene. C.D. is irritated; their fault, of course. A third truck has promised to get help, the men tell him. We cannot move them, he says, and they agree. It would make matters worse. Best wait for the ambulance. Back on the road, he sits severely, disliking Jackson: these men have been driving their trucks like crazy ever since the landings in Provence.

At Dachau, as you enter by way of the wide-open wire gates, you are confronted on the left by an enormous mound of corpses disintegrating in lime. Crowds of emaciates shamble around not knowing what to make of it all, smoking American cigarettes. They cannot eat much, just soup like before; but the soup is thicker and better now, says one man, contentedly. When the Captain throws a butt down and moves to crush it out of habit, he almost steps on a man's hand bending to snatch it. He apologizes and gives him a full cigarette. As he had promised a French officer in Augsburg, he leaves gifts of tobacco and soap for two French political prisoners, Vincent Badie, a former Socialist Deputy, and François Michelet; they were out somewhere, scrounging around the town, helping themselves to such food and drink and clothing as they might come upon. A large fat SS guard has been uncovered hiding and is dragged past, being bludgeoned, rather feebly thinks the Captain, by the inmates. "Should I interfere?" he asks himself. He does not.


Table of Contents