Thoughts That Never Occured to Me… before

Veterans Day Parade in Branson, Missouri - 2009

My bride and I are planning a trip to Germany in the not too distant future. To prepare myself, I’ve been listening to a radio station in Munich. (My computer picks up the signal far better than my short-wave radio!) The station I’ve settled on has an interesting format; similar stations in the U.S. (which are difficult to find) call it “The Music of our Lives.” It’s a step beyond the “Oldies but Goodies”. Most of the music played was recorded in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. There’s some Rock n’ Roll, but most of the songs would remind the listener of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Dinah Shore, Doris Day, and the like.

I’d estimate that eighty percent of the songs are sung in German; another ten percent are instrumentals, and the remainder are in English. Many of the songs are well known, but the English versions are not always by the original artists. Of course, I’m assuming the songs sung in English were U.S. originals. Based on what I’ve recently learned about German technology and a rich history of creativity, perhaps those songs originated in Germany and not in America.

Right now I’m listening to “Please Mr. Postman” and I think the group singing the song is the Carpenters. Go figure!

I was born in 1944 – about a year before the end of World War II. As a young boy, I would go to the neighborhood movie theater and cheer for John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Aldo Ray and others as they fought and defeated the Japs and Krauts.

It’s strange that I grew up considering anything labeled “Made in Japan” as junk, but had no similar opinion of German products. My memory tells me that the first products I recognized as having German origins were the Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen automobiles. One I saw as very high quality while I perceived the other as a pregnant roller skate of little value.

Today, it seems that the Japanese and Germans, along with the Koreans, are teaching Detroit how to make high quality vehicles. But that’s a story for another day.

Yesterday was Veterans Day. I always thought the U.S. did a fine job in recognizing the members of our “Greatest Generation”. As for our Vietnam vets, that’s another story, but it has improved.

On November 11, 1998, I was working in London, England. I was stunned when all activity in the office came to an abrupt stop at 11:11 AM. An announcement was made on the public address system and we were all asked to stand and observe a moment of silence. World War II had a much stronger impact on the British Empire than it did on America.

The victors certainly take the time to honor their soldiers, but what about the losers? Do the Germans and Japanese have parades to honor their citizens who fought so bravely, albeit for a losing cause?

I was recently told that the swastika can no longer be found anywhere in Germany; that it has been outlawed. However, another source tells me there is a museum in Berlin that displays many items of historical significance to the Nazi party, including the swastika. However, according to this source, there is very little to do with Adolf Hitler. If I was a German, I’d probably want to forget he ever existed.

Because of the war movies of my youth and the carry-over of anti-Japanese and German propaganda (that continues today in Hollywood) in my mind’s eye I see the enemy as blood-thirsty brutes who committed inhumane acts on our soldiers as well as on many innocent civilians. Let’s face it, it’s extremely difficult to view pictures of the Holocaust and see the German people in any other light.

And yet, I do. I’ve known a number of German nationals in my life and they are good fun loving people. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Horst, Chris, Joe, and my other German friends committing any act as brutal as those depicted in the historical documentaries.

“I was only following orders” is a defense that continues to be used to this day. Without having any factual information, it is my guess that the majority of the German and Japanese soldiers of World War II were fighting for a number of very simple reasons. First, they were drafted into the military and if they decided to go AWOL they could be shot. Second, they had to follow the orders of their superiors… or be shot. Third, when they faced the allied troops, they had to fight for their lives… or be shot.

It’s also possible that there were threats such as, “If you fail to follow orders, your families will be put in concentration camps or… be shot.”

Thus, I’m guessing that many of those soldiers were fighting because they had no choice. I’m sure each country had a number of combatants who bought their leaders’ propaganda completely and would be glad to shoot their fellow soldiers if that was necessary to insure the purity and harmony of their units.

But all of this is speculation on my part. I would love to sit down and talk with a German old enough to have been a part of the war effort… even if he or she was simply a teenager who gathered scrap metal for the war effort. As Americans who have never known a war on our own soil (in our lifetimes), it’s impossible to imagine how it felt to experience the exhilaration of the early Nazi victories, and how terrifying it must have been when the bombs started destroying their homes and cities. What were they told of the brutality of the allied soldiers? How much fear did they experience in the face of total surrender?

As for the Japanese, once again it is impossible for us to imagine two of our cities being totally destroyed by single bombs.

We lost the war in Vietnam – not because of any failure on the part of our military – but due to the ineptitude of our politicians. That ineptitude continues to this day.

In our country, it appears that we have finally learned to appreciate the efforts of our soldiers regardless of the situation that got us into war and the outcome of any military action. But how does a country pay homage to a military that failed to protect the homeland?

Again, I can only speculate. I would simply blame the political leaders who got us into the war to begin with. Then, I would honor and thank the soldiers who fought so bravely when they really didn’t have much of a choice.

I realize I did quite a bit of rambling with this, but it is an effort to wrap my arms around a subject that had never crossed my mind until I began listening to this German radio station.

The questions that gave birth to this blog entry were in regards to the music. So much of the music this station plays were popular songs in war-time America. Were those same songs played in war-time Germany? Or were they banned because they were American?

For that matter, were German songs banned in the U.S. at the same time? Prior to the war, Germany and the U.S. had many things in common. Was World War II like a divorce? All of a sudden, I will dislike everything about you simply because it reminds me of you? I will overlook all the good times we had during our life together simply because we’ve now discovered some basic areas of disagreement?

It seems to be such a shame. Perhaps all sides should listen more to the music than the rhetoric. If we can get everyone to agree on the same tunes, maybe world peace isn’t so far away.

Yes, I am a dreamer.

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2 Responses to Thoughts That Never Occured to Me… before

  1. Klaus says:

    I was born in Feb. 1947, less than 2 years after the end of the war in post war Germany. I can’t tell you what all the Germans were about, but I can tell you what my father was all about during that time. The first thing one need to understand is that NAZI is an acronym for National Socialist Party and was not the only party in Germany prior to the war, but became the dominant party. The Social Democratic Party, Centre Party, German Democratic party, German People’s Party, Independent Socialist Party and Communist Party were all after the Weimar Republic 1933. My point is that many German civilians were not Nazi’s and neither were many soldiers. My father was drafted into the Wehrmacht (regular army) not only physically but also had to donate both of his trucks (he had a small trucking business) to the government with the promise that once the war was won, he would be compensated for it. There were no choices, like you already mentioned, to refuse service meant a firing squad or on the spot execution. He began his service as part of the occupation in France 1939 and remained there and was transferred to the eastern front (Leningrad) in 1941 – 1944 at which time he and his non-commissioned officer (who I later addressed as Uncle Karl) decided to surrender to the Americans by driving west. This was the deciding factor of how they both survived, because to be taken by the Russians was a death sentence either immediately or in a Gulag in Siberia. Neither my father nor anyone in our family was ever a Nazi or voted for them.
    One also has to understand the state of the economy being the driving force for the Nazi’s gaining the momentum they did. After WW1 Germany suffered immensely from inflation. In January, 1921, there were 64 marks to the dollar. By November, 1923 this had changed to 4,200,000,000,000 marks to the dollar. By 1932 over 30 per cent of the German workforce was unemployed. People were ready to listen and Hitler was a master architect of communications. Unless you speak German he appears like a lunatic and you cannot begin to see how powerful his speeches were, but his power as an orator was incomparable. If you’ve seen films of him giving speeches you will realize from the large crowds how receptive people were. The propaganda made people proud and most of all gave them hope. The following website is a good reference for you to learn some of the things that lead to Nazi Germany.
    http://www.rpfuller.com/gcse/history/5.html
    By the time I was born and what I still remember seeing as a small child to this day is the devastated city I was born in, the rubble everywhere, and how fast it all disappeared because of reconstruction. I left the country in 1958, and there was absolutely no sign of it left.
    In addition, I would like to say that War is a terrible thing and certainly brings out the worst in people. I have also found that to generalize on anything is usually done because of lack of information on the matter. To put it simply, it’s easy to be a Monday morning QB.
    In conclusion I will tell you that you will find me one of the most avid believers in our way of government, but never to the extent where I will compromise my soul. Now for my country I will give it all. God bless.
    P.S. we will never have world peace, UNLESS the Lord honors us again.

  2. jimsjourney says:

    Klaus,
    Thanks for your comments. That’s precisely the sort of perspective I was looking for.

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