Soldiers, “Who” Are They?

During the last few days I have been busy writing a piece for a work with the title: "Part 2, EXIT: The Rest of the Bastards". On Monday morning (April 4) I reached the point where I wrote:


"It is not strange that criminals, when they come in contact with the police, for the first time, they feel 'comfortable' in that environment. The first thing that the policemen tell a criminal is that things will be easy for him from then on, if he were to become a police informer. Even if the criminal does not accept the 'offer', he had already developed a 'chummy' relationship with the policemen, persons who are not very different from the criminals they interrogate, as they (the police), daily, do the routine torture for their employers; the elites of any given society.


[Note: If the reader considers the last sentence as an exaggeration, he or she is hiding from his own self or willfully ignoring what is happening, every day, in all the world; 'civilized' or not.]"


At that point I stopped writing and I walked the ten blocks (good for the heart) from my place to my friendly newsstand, in the part of Athens that I live, to get "Der Spiegel", the German magazine, as I have being doing each Monday morning for the last 30 years. On the way, I started pondering on whether my view about the police, as expressed in the above text, was "too much" for the average reader.


Back home, I went through the contents-page of the magazine and started reading the most shattering article that I have ever read in my life, which confirmed what I already knew from my experience by living in Greece for 81 years, and which article in a way, also, confirmed the validity of the above sentence concerning the police.


Here is the gist of what I read and some verbatim excerpts:


During the Second World War (WWII) the British and the Americans to gain secret information from the German prisoners, that they had captured, they devised a system of "benign" extraction of such secrets. After all, that was a feud between Anglo-Saxon "gentlemen". They simply bugged with hidden microphones the prison cells of the captured German soldiers and officers.


The result was 150,000 pages of transcripts of overheard conversations between the German military prisoners in their prison cells. These transcripts are now to be found in the British and the American archives and cover the period from September 1939 to  October 1945.


There was a total of 18 million soldiers of the German Army (the "Wehrmacht") and of the SS "pigs", in WWII. That is, more than 40% of the male German population. WWII left 60 million dead, worldwide. Of the 18 million German soldiers and the SS, about one million ended up as prisoners. The "Wehrmacht" was (and is) considered to be "clean", i.e. not that brutal.  


The German prisoners in Britain were mostly the elite German officers and were housed in the "Trent Park Manor", north of London, and in the "Latimer House" in Buckinghamshire. In the US the prisoners were held in "Fort Hunt" in Virginia and they were mostly regular combat soldiers and noncoms, and a few high-ranking officers.


Here are some of the conversations found in the transcripts:


Baeumer [pilot]: "Then we had a two-centimeters cannon up front… With that we had great success. That was very beautiful, that was terrific fun."


Greim [pilot]: "Once, we made a low flight in Eastbourne…there was apparently a ball or something, in any case [there were] many ladies in costumes and an orchestra… then we attacked again and made a clean shooting. My dear friend, that was fun." 


Of course the "color" of the voices on the tapes, that express that "fun", adds an additional dimension to the vulgarity of the noble "Wehrmacht" supermen.


Zotloeterer: "I shot a Frenchman from behind. Who was riding a bike."


Weber: "From very close?"


Zotloeterer: "Yes"


Hauser: "Did you intend to get prisoners?"


Zotloeterer: "Baloney. I wanted to have the bike."


That was the reason for killing a human!


Here is more:


Pohl [pilot]: "…It was our pre-breakfast delight, to chase some [Polish] soldiers through the fields with a machine gun and let them lie there with a couple of bullets on the cross."


Meyer [scout]: " But always against soldiers?"


Pohl: "People also… The machine was shaking… and  then it went off in the left turn, with all the MGs [machine guns]… then we saw horses to fly all over."


Meyer: "What the Devil, this with the horses … No!"


Pohl: "I was sorry for the horses, for the people not at all. But for the horses I was sorry up to the last day." 


We should keep in mind that these conversations took place in a prison cell, in a relaxed manner, between comrades-in-arms, without any inhibitions. Also, that the prisoners were not aware that there were hidden microphones.


On September 7, 1940 the "City of Benares", a British passenger ship, was sunk in the North Atlantic. More than 50 children were drowned. Pfc Solm relates to a cellmate what happened:


"Did all the children drown?"


"Yes, all were dead."


"How big was it?"


"6000 tons."


"How did you know that?"


"Through the wireless."


For the "supermen", the important thing was the tonnage of the ship!


When the Nazis got in power not even four percent of the Germans had a passport. Then the German soldiers found themselves in all kinds of interesting countries.


Mueller: "… I was in a truck everywhere. There one saw nothing but women…


Fausst: "Ah, you shit."


Mueller: "… murder beautiful girls. Then we drove by, we simply snatched them inside, laid them and after threw them out again. Man, what you have sworn against." 


War being a masculine "virtue", no wonder gang-rape has been rampant through history. In the "Der Spiegel" article, by Jan Fleischhauer, we read: "The material [of the transcripts] contains  an entire series of descriptions of violent sexual acts, which in their sadism are for the reader of today still only difficult to tolerate. As a rule, thy are rendered in the third person, through which the narrator tries to distance himself from what he is reporting, in the eyes of  his audience. Some declare unmistakably their disgust  for what they have seen or heard about." 


The reporting of such a case, concerning a Russian woman spy, narrated by a German military man named Reimbold, is too "strong" to be included in this Commentary. The reader can have access to it when an English translation of the German book that contains it, probably, becomes available.


The German book is going to come out five days from today, on April 13, 2011, and its authors are: Soenke Neitzel, a historian, and Harald Welzer, a sociopsychologist. The publisher is S. Fischer Ferlag and the title is: "Soldaten: Protokolle vom Kaempfen, Toeten und Sterben" ["Soldiers: Transcripts of Fighting, Killing, and Dying"].


The transcripts were found by chance 56 years after the recording of the last one in 1945, as the historian Neitzel, in 2001, was researching the British and the American archives in relation to the "U-boat War" in the Atlantic, during WWII.


So, "who" are these soldiers of the Whermacht? Better, why have they grown to become such monsters, who, according to the transcripts, "were particularly proud, if they have killed the possibly greater number of civilians". Who, again according to the transcripts, stated that: " Above all, the shooting of little children was considered a problem, not on ethical grounds, but because they did not stay so motionless as the adults"? Or, who, according to the testimony of the German Army General Edwin von Rothkirch und Trach, he was told by an SS-Fuerer whom he knew quite well: "By God, when do you wish to film such a shooting (of Jews in Poland)?… I mean that makes no difference, the people are shot always in the morning; if you wish, we have some more, we can shoot them in the afternoon"; again according to the transcripts.


The answer in the "Der Spiegel" article is: "Morality is not grounded in men, which defines their behavior, it lies in the structures, which surround them". 


Of course there could be another answer: Yes, the environment (the surrounding structures) plays a role. However, all these monsters knew that what they were doing was wrong. As all their comrades, who did not participate with such glee in the crimes, also knew. We all have the potential to choose what to do.


Take the Sarah Palin case. Had she been a man in the "Wehrmacht", today we would be reading the narrations of her "reloading" adventures during WWII in "Der Spiegel". She chose to be who she is. That is, very conservative, very religious, very patriotic, very "values"-oriented, very indifferent to the pain in the world, very greedy, etc, etc. 


However, at this point, I have to answer about my statements on the criminality of the police. The police are soldiers that have as a (main) task to attack their own people. The only difference with the soldiers of the military is in their fire-power. Also, the military attack the peoples of other countries.


Take the latest example, that of Tahrir Square in Egypt. First, it was the police which attacked, but whose power was  puny compared to a million protesters. So the next step was to "employ" the ordinary criminals, that the police is collaborating with, who were released as "supporters" of the regime or as snipers. They failed , too. So, finally, the "real" soldiers were called in with their huge fire-power.


Here, also, is some experience from Greece on this matter: In 1947 on the island of Yaros (a small island that the millions of tourists who sail to the famous island of Mykonos meet halfway from Athens) the British (and the Americans) had established a concentration camp, a la Nazis, for the Greek leftists. So, the police recruited the criminals in prison, who were collaborators of the police and assigned to them the task of beating (a.k.a torturing) the leftists on Yaros. K… was a kid, a couple of years younger than me, that grew up in the same neighborhood of Athens as I. He chose burglaries as a profession and ended up in prison and then on Yaros as a collaborator of the police. About 25 years later, I met him in downtown Athens. I asked K…, point-blank if he beat up the leftists. Of course, his answer was that he never touched them.


On the night of the November 17, 1973 massacre at the Polytechnic, during the military dictatorship of 1967-1974 in Greece, my wife and I were at the area where the military tanks were ready to move against the Polytechnic. Then, as the tanks passed in front of us, on the opposite sidewalk of the street there was a group of policemen that started applauding the military. They were scared to death because they knew that if the tanks did not intervene, the students could have started a revolution. The weakly armed police-"soldiers" were applauding the real soldiers.


Later on that night, when the tanks attacked, there was a sniper on the roof of a hotel just opposite the Polytechnic, 

who killed quite a few young people and possibly a 15-year-old kid. After, the dictatorship changed into parliamentarian "democracy", the sniper was whisked to London, under the protection of the Greek billionaire ship- owners, where probably he is living in comfort. He was a police collaborator.


Finally, what about Iraq, Afghanistan, etc? It seems that there will never be so valuable transcripts as these of the "Der Spiegel" article. However, there is an equally valuable source: the courage of Daniel Ellsberg, of Julian Assange, of Bradley Manning and of all the honest people of the world. 

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