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August 1914: The Beginning of a Century of Disasters

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The Austrian Declaration of War against Serbia

“No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” Carl Von Clausewitz

It was a war that should never have happened. It was a war for which the belligerent powers could boast many causes but for which few had any real objectives. Ninety-nine years ago this week the nations of Europe were hell bent on waging a war that all thought would be short, decisive and end in victory for their side. They were wrong and nearly a century later the world still pays the price for their misplaced beliefs and hubris of those men.

It was a war in large part brought on by the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire’s fears. Fear of neighbors, ethnic minorities and its place among regional and world powers led the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to decide for war when the very unpopular heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of the recently annexed province of Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 28th 1914.

Baron Conrad von Hotzendorf

Conrad von Hötzendorf: War was the only means of politics

 It was a series of decisions by those in the government of the Empire that brought Europe and the world to war, a war which we still feel the effects of today. In particular it was the decisions of the Austrian Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Foreign Minister Leopold Berchtold and the aging Emperor, Franz Joseph which plunged the world into a world war which spawned revolutions, regional wars, a second world war, a cold war and countless other wars. The decisions were based on the belief, still common today that war is the only means of politics.

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Emperor Franz Joseph: “If we must go under, we better go under decently”

 Hötzendorf had been a continual advocate of war in every situation. He lobbied for war in 1907 against Italy and Serbia, in 1908 against Serbia, Russia and Italy, in 1909 against Serbia and Montenegro, in 1910 against Italy and the list increased in the years leading up to the war. He fervently believed that “the use of armed force alone could retard the centrifugal forces of nationalism in the ‘multinational empire’; war was the only means of politics.” The Emperor, Franz Joseph was of the same mindset by 1914 and in the days following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand he gave his approval to the actions of Hotzendorf and the diplomacy of Berchtold which doomed the Austro-Hungarian Empire and would destroy and remake Europe within a span of four years.

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Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg: The Blank Checque

 The leadership of the Empire had decided on war within days of the assassination. Berchtold dispatched an emissary to Kaiser Wilhelm who decided in counsel with his Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg gave the Austrians a “blank cheque” of unconditional support for war against Serbia. Berlin was confident that “the Balkan crisis could be localized” and “advised Vienna to “proceed with all means at its disposal” and that Germany would support Austria-Hungary “come what may.” In doing so they willingly ignored the wise counsel of Otto Von Bismarck who considered the Balkans “not worth the life of a single Pomeranian Grenadier.

After they received German support the Austrians did everything that they could to ensure that war would occur. Their demands of Serbia were intentionally designed to be unacceptable to that country and they held key information from their German allies in the three weeks after they received the unconditional German support.

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Helmuth Von Molkte: “no alternative but to fight a preventive war…” 

 German militarists, particularly the Chief of the General Staff Helmuth Von Molkte the younger saw the coming conflict in racial and cultural terms. Von Molkte said that the coming war   would come “sooner or later” and be a war “primarily a struggle between Germans and Slavs” and compared Serbia to an “abscess.”  As the war cloud built Von Molkte told the Foreign Secretary von Jagrow that there was “no alternative but to fight a preventive war so as to beat the enemy while we could still emerge fairly well from the struggle” ignoring the advice of the Iron Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck who counseled “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

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Austrian Reservists going to war

 The Austrians felt that the threat from Serbia combined with internal political factors related to the Hungarian and other Slavic regions of the Empire, and the increasing influence of Russia and Germany in the Balkans was an existential threat. At the same time they were poorly prepared for war. Their military was large but poorly trained and equipped.  Their national infrastructure, industry and railroads were ill-prepared for the demands of war. Their German allies had not planned for war either and were critically short of the required stocks of ammunition needed for a general war in Europe.

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Cheering crowds in Petersburg

 The Russians were heavily invested in the Balkans linked to other Slavic people by culture, language and religion. The French were bent on revenge against the Germans for the debacle of 1870 and had no stake in what happened in the Balkans. The British a few years prior to the war had told the Belgians not to expect support if they were invaded by Germany, but declared war to “protect Belgian neutrality.”

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German wives and girlfriends walking alongside the Landser…

 The Austrians thought that with German support that even if Russia intervened that the war could be limited to Serbia. They were wrong. Just as the Germans had given the Austrians a “blank cheque” the French, both officially and unofficially were giving the Russians their own blank cheque. French Ambassador Maurice Paleologue assured Russian Foreign Minister S.D. Sazonov of the “complete readiness of France to fulfill her obligations as an ally in case of necessity.

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French Soldiers being cheered

 Austria declared war on July 28th, Russia followed by a partial mobilization to support Serbia on the 29th. Kaiser Wilhelm attempted to avert war at the last minute but Czar Nicholas II wrote “An ignoble war has been declared on a weak country. The indignation of Russia, fully shared by me, is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by pressure to which I am exposed and compelled to take measures which will lead to war.”  This was met with German mobilization on the 30th and the French on August 1st. Declarations of war were exchanged and on August 4th in response to Germany’s refusal to respect the neutrality of Belgium Great Britain declared war against Germany.

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A final kiss from a British Soldier at Victoria Station

They were fateful days. Only the Austrians entered the war with any positive objectives, military or political goals. Every other power lurched into the war without clear objectives or end states. One writer noted that the war had “causes but no objectives.”

The world again finds itself perched at the edge of the abyss of war. There are people, smart and otherwise reasonable people who believe that they can wage “preventive wars” and rely on brute military force to solve nearly any problem. There are others that suggest that we should not criticize “allies” even when their decisions could be disastrous to them and the world, much as the Germans gave their Austrian brothers a “blank cheque.”  I wish that they would just look at the consequences before they commit nations and the world to more war that can only result in calamity and great suffering without benefit for anyone or any nation involved.

Those that counsel “preventive wars” need to remember the words of Otto Von Bismarck that “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under History, Military, national security, Political Commentary

Days of Disastrous Decision Making: July 28th – August 4th 1914

The Austrian Declaration of War against Serbia

“No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” Carl Von Clausewitz 

It was a war that should never have happened. It was a war for which the belligerent powers could boast many causes but for which few had any real objectives.

It was a war in large part brought on by a declining empire’s fears. Fear of neighbors, ethnic minorities and its place among regional and world powers led the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to decide for war when the very unpopular heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of the recently annexed province of Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 28th 1914.

Conrad von Hötzendorf: War was the only means of politics

It was a series of decisions by those in the government of the Empire that brought Europe and the world to war, a war which we still feel the effects of today. In particular the Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Foreign Minister Leopold Berchtold and the aging Emperor, Franz Joseph.

Emperor Franz Joseph: “If we must go under, we better go under decently”

Hötzendorf had been a continual advocate of war in every situation. He lobbied for war in 1907 against Italy and Serbia, in 1908 against Serbia, Russia and Italy, in 1909 against Serbia and Montenegro, in 1910 against Italy and the list increased in the years leading up to the war. He fervently believed that “the use of armed force alone could retard the centrifugal forces of nationalism in the ‘multinational empire’; war was the only means of politics.” The Emperor, Franz Joseph was of the same mindset by 1914 and in the days following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand he gave his approval to the actions of Hotzendorf and the diplomacy of Berchtold which doomed the Austro-Hungarian Empire and would destroy and remake Europe within a span of four years.

Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg: The Blank Checque

The leadership of the Empire had decided on war within days of the assassination. Berchtold dispatched an emissary to Kaiser Wilhelm who decided in counsel with his Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg gave the Austrians a “blank cheque” of unconditional support for war against Serbia. Berlin was confident that “the Balkan crisis could be localized” and “advised Vienna to “proceed with all means at its disposal” and that Germany would support Austria-Hungary “come what may.” In doing so they willingly ignored the wise counsel of Otto Von Bismarck who considered the Balkans “not worth the life of a single Pomeranian Grenadier.

After they received German support the Austrians did everything that they could to ensure that war would occur. Their demands of Serbia were intentionally designed to be unacceptable to that country and they held key information from their German allies in the three weeks after they received the unconditional German support.

Helmuth Von Molkte: “no alternative but to fight a preventive war…” 

German militarists, particularly the Chief of the General Staff Helmuth Von Molkte the younger saw the coming conflict in racial and cultural terms. Von Molkte said that the coming war   would come “sooner or later” and be a war “primarily a struggle between Germans and Slavs” and compared Serbia to an “abscess.”  As the war cloud built Von Molkte told the Foreign Secretary von Jagrow that there was “no alternative but to fight a preventive war so as to beat the enemy while we could still emerge fairly well from the struggle” ignoring the advice of the Iron Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck who counseled “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.” 

Austrian Reservists going to war

The Austrians felt that the threat from Serbia combined with internal political factors related to the Hungarian and other Slavic regions of the Empire, and the increasing influence of Russia and Germany in the Balkans was an existential threat. At the same time they were poorly prepared for war. Their military was large but poorly trained and equipped.  Their national infrastructure, industry and railroads were ill-prepared for the demands of war. Their German allies had not planned for war either and were critically short of the required stocks of ammunition needed for a general war in Europe.

Cheering crowds in Petersburg

The Russians were heavily invested in the Balkans linked to other Slavic people by culture, language and religion. The French were bent on revenge against the Germans for the debacle of 1870 and had no stake in what happened in the Balkans. The British a few years prior to the war had told the Belgians not to expect support if they were invaded by Germany, but declared war to “protect Belgian neutrality.”

German wives and girlfriends walking alongside the Landser…

The Austrians thought that with German support that even if Russia intervened that the war could be limited to Serbia. They were wrong. Just as the Germans had given the Austrians a “blank cheque” the French, both officially and unofficially were giving the Russians their own blank cheque. French Ambassador Maurice Paleologue assured Russian Foreign Minister S.D. Sazonov of the “complete readiness of France to fulfill her obligations as an ally in case of necessity.

French Soldiers being cheered

Austria declared war on July 28th, Russia followed by a partial mobilization to support Serbia on the 29th. Kaiser Wilhelm attempted to avert war at the last minute but Czar Nicholas II wrote “An ignoble war has been declared on a weak country. The indignation of Russia, fully shared by me, is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by pressure to which I am exposed and compelled to take measures which will lead to war.”  This was met with German mobilization on the 30th and the French on August 1st. Declarations of war were exchanged and on August 4th in response to Germany’s refusal to respect the neutrality of Belgium Great Britain declared war against Germany.

A final kiss from a British Soldier at Victoria Station

They were fateful days. Only the Austrians entered the war with any positive objectives, military or political goals. Every other power lurched into the war without clear objectives or end states. One writer noted that the war had “causes but no objectives.”

The world again finds itself perched at the edge of the abyss of war. There are people, smart and otherwise reasonable people who believe that they can wage “preventive wars” and rely on brute military force to solve nearly any problem. There are others that suggest that we should not criticize “allies” even when their decisions could be disastrous to them and the world, much as the Germans gave their Austrian brothers a “blank cheque.”  I wish that they would just look at the consequences before they commit nations and the world to more war that can only result in calamity and great suffering without benefit for anyone or any nation involved.

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under History, Military, national security, Political Commentary

What if Hitler was assassinated in 1943? An Alternative History of Kursk and the End of World War II in Europe

This is an alternative history of how the Germans might have avoided the disaster at Kursk. It looks at what might have happened if an actual assassination attempt on Hitler had succeeded in March 1943 and how Manstein might have been able to execute the “backhand” strategy that he favored using a mobile defense.  This is predicated by Hitler’s death, based on Hitler’s actions and control of operational decisions Manstein would never have been allowed the freedom to conduct operations in this manner.  In eliminating Hitler I have also included personnel changes and the overall strategy for the German High Command, and the probable response of Stalin to Hitler’s death had it occurred in the spring of 1943. I have tried to be faithful to known historical opinions and actions of the participants and likely reactions to such a situation although one cannot predict precisely what people would have done.  Thus I have documented the article with footnotes as if it were an actual history. It would have been interesting to be able to lengthen this and included sections on tactical actions based on memoirs of German and Russian soldiers. I wrote it as at the behest of one of my Master’s Degree Professors and first published it in August of 2009 on this site under the title of Operation “Dachs” My First Foray into the Genre “Alternative History.” I believe that history is history and this despite what the term “alternative history” implies is fiction.  Though it is based on my belief of how German leaders might have reacted in the spring of 1943 and references actual events that I have altered for the sake of the story it is not history. But one has to wonder what would have happened had the plot to kill Hitler by blowing up his aircraft on its return to Germany from a conference with the commanders of Army Group Center succeeded.

 

Background: The Strategic Situation Spring 1943

In April 1943 the German High Command faced a decision on which the fate of Nazi Germany would hinge, but for the first time in the war it was not under the thumb of Adolf Hitler. Following Manstein’s counter-stroke following the Stalingrad disaster there was considerable pressure to follow up with that success with a continued offensive. Manstein himself had proposed this but Field Marshal Von Kluge refused to agree to an immediate offensive because he felt his troops needed rest and refitting.

Hitler’s Fw-200 “Condor” before its fatal flight

On March 13th Hitler flew out to meet with Von Kluge at Army Group Center HQ at Smolensk.  On the flight back Hitler’s FW-200 was racked by an explosion crash landing near Minsk, taken down by a bomb planted on the plane by Colonel Henning Von Trescow of Kluge’s staff.[i] While Hitler survived, he remained in critical condition, barely alive at a SS hospital until his death on 20 April 1943, his 54th birthday. The crash landing was reported by the escorting ME-109s of JG-53, and a Alarm Company from a Security Division at Minsk rescued Hitler but were driven off the crash site by a large force of Soviet Partisans who destroyed the aircraft and any evidence to the cause which the escorting fighters attributed to mechanical problems. 

There were no other survivors. Von Kluge, expecting to be implicated the Fuhrer’s death committed suicide after visiting troops on the front line, and was succeeded at Army Group Center by Field Marshal Model the commander of 9th Army. The other conspirators were frozen into inaction when Hitler survived the crash and made no attempt to take over the government, realizing that “our plans for seizing power in Berlin and other large cities were still not adequate to the task.”[ii] In the absence of Hitler Reichsmarschall Goering, Hitler’s designated successor, took action to secure his power and using contacts in the GESTAPO accused Himmler of treason for making contact with Neutral intermediaries in Sweden[iii] and replaced him with SS General Kurt Wolfe, and reappointed Rudolf Diels, the former head of the GESTAPO when it was still under his control[iv], to head it again.  Himmler attempted to flee and was caught near Luneburg when he committed suicide with a cyanide capsule before he could be interrogated. Other potential rivals were eliminated; Martin Bormann, who Goering hated, was arrested on charges of exceeding his authority, embezzlement, and harming the war effort and was executed.[v] Joseph Goebbels swore his loyalty to Goering even before Hitler’s death.  He and Albert Speer were directed to arrange the state funeral for the late Fuhrer. Berlin Radio announced the Fuhrer’s death on the 21 April, Hitler’s body was prepared and lay in state at the Chancellery.   A period of mourning was declared 21 April to 1 May on which the State Funeral took place. On 2 May Goering announced that Field Marshal Von Rundstedt was the new Chief of OKW and would coordinate strategy on all fronts. The next day Goering called together a meeting of the heads of OKH, OKW, the Inspector General of Panzer Troops, and the commanders of the Eastern Front Army Groups, Western Europe and Africa as well as Reichsfuhrer Karl Wolff, Admiral Donitz and Field Marshal Von Richthofen[vi] representing the Luftwaffe to decide on a course of action for the summer. It was the first time that all had been called together to discuss the overall situation since Barbarossa began in 1941, and the first true attempt to formulate a grand strategy during the war.

Options and Decision: The Zossen Conference 3 May 1943[vii]

Goering meeting Diplomats following Hitler’s State Funeral

Herman Goering looked up from the maps spread out on the conference table.  He looked surprisingly fit, somehow between the crash of Hitler’s aircraft and his death he had pulled himself together and out of his drug induced malaise.  It was as if he again had a purpose. Field Marshal Von Rundstedt now Chief of OKW following Goering’s relief of Field Marshal Keitel, and General Jodl had just finished briefing the situation in western and southern Europe, following briefings by Colonel General Zeitzler of OKH, the Inspector General of Armored Troops, General Guderian and Field Marshal Von Manstein of Army Group South.  Albert Speer briefed tank and aircraft production numbers while the Chief of the Army personnel office noted the requirement for 800,000 replacements “but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000.”[viii] Looking from the table he spoke: “Gentlemen, the situation is critical and I have to admit that I have thought so for a number of months but have been unable to speak out.   Our political situation is perilous, the Italians are ready to abandon our cause. Our forces in North Africa will soon be unable to hold out as our Italian friends have let us down again.[ix] I expect that if Jodl and Kesselring are right about Allied intentions that we will have our hands full in the west shortly.  Kesselring and Arnim, you need to evacuate as many German soldiers from Africa as possible,[x] use all air and naval forces that you can, I know it will be difficult, especially with the heavy losses we have taken in transport aircraft and the pathetic Italian Navy.”  Goering paused, his gaze passing around the room.  “In the west we need to assume that the Allies will invade and the ‘very real danger that the enemy may turn against Brittany and Normandy,’ Field Marshal Rommel will take command of OB West to build up the Atlantic Wall in these sectors.”[xi] “Zeitzler, Manstein, we need to shore up the eastern front.”

“Herr Reichsmarschall, the Fuhrer had approved the plan called ZITADELLE, to attack the Russians here in the Kursk salient.” responded Zeitzler.[xii] “We should be ready to begin the offensive this month.”  Goering raised his hand stopping Zeitzler.  “I know, but I have considered that plan and I cannot support it. Richthofen briefed me on it prior to the Fuhrer’s death and general, we must have another plan, and an attack on Kursk is so obvious the Russians will be ready to meet it.  I have considered what the General Guderian and Minister Speer said regarding tank production and the state of the Panzer arm.  I cannot approve Zitadelle, but we must find a way to deal the Russians a defeat without squandering our strength attacking such an obvious target. Model too is dubious of the prospects; he believes that the Russians know our intentions and has requested a delay to strengthen his forces.”[xiii] “Reichsmarshall.” chimed in Jodl. “You are correct, the premature commitment of central reserves in such an offensive will not help our cause, in fact only local success is what can be expected from Zitadelle.”[xiv]

Colonel General Heinz Guderian 

“But Reichsmarshall, we must recapture the initiative in the east, we must take the offensive!” retorted Zeitzler. “Our new units of Panthers and Tigers will give us a decisive technical advantage.”[xv] Guderian now joined in. “But the Panthers still have many technical problems, it would be better to wait until they are worked out before we commit them to a major offensive, and besides, how many people do you think even know where Kursk is?”[xvi]

“Zeitzler, I appreciate your zeal.” Interrupted Goering, “But Jodl and Guderian are correct, even a successful attack at Kursk will not alter the strategic situation. We must work to stave off defeat.  Manstein has a plan that may help, there is some risk, but I see no other way. An offensive at Kursk would require tanks and aircraft that must be used to combat the Allied bombing of the Reich and to safeguard withdraw of our units from Africa, it would force us to commit everything with little gain.” Goering paused and said to Manstein, “Go ahead Manstein.”

“Reichsmarshall, Gentlemen.  Our situation in the east is not hopeless, in March I felt that an immediate offensive would succeed in pinching off the Kursk bulge, but I think now that the moment of opportunity has passed for such an attack.  Instead we should fight a defensive battle of maneuver as called for byTruppenführung that we have developed from the days of the Reichswehr.  We should build up our forces; give ground where we can, and when we have the chance strike the enemy on the backhand, as we did at Kharkov.”[xvii]

Zeitzler jumped in. “But how can we do that? If we don’t strike now while we have the opportunity the Russians will grow stronger, and how can we know where they will strike?”[xviii]

“General Zeitzler, the Russians are already building up heavy armored forces in the area of Kursk, and diverting forces from other sectors of the front to that area.  The south offers them the best opportunity to finish what they started in the winter.  They will come and it will be in the south, they will want Kharkov and they will again attempt to envelop our forces in the south. If they succeed they will follow up and rapidly move into the Balkans, Romania and Hungary will turn on us and it will be a disaster, we cannot afford that.”  Manstein looked up, Jodl nodded and Model said “Once that is done they will push to Kiev and Poland.” Goering interjected “Thank you Model, you are right, Field Marshal Manstein; please go on with your plan.”

Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein at the Front

Motioning to the map Manstein continued. “We will concentrate the majority of our Panzer forces here, just west of Kharkov and another group here west of Orel.  We will also build fall back positions for our infantry forces here along the Dnieper.  We should be ready to withdraw from the Crimea should the need arise, we cannot afford another encirclement.  When the Russians attack we will give ground, even Kharkov if needed. Our infantry divisions will fight a delaying action supported by Jagdpanzer and Sturmgeschutzen, the Luftwaffe will need to give us good close air support from Stukas and as the Russians outrun their supply depots and their offensive loses momentum we will attack, like a badger defending itself.  Our Panzers will cut off their spearheads west of Kharkov while we bleed them dry in the north; we will then roll them up, stabilize the line and prepare for the winter.”  Manstein sounded confident; those in the room began to sense that his plan could work.  Rundstedt spoke up: “That will give us the chance to transfer forces to other fronts and, maybe, since Hitler is dead there might be a chance for Reichsmarschall to negotiate a settlement,[xix] otherwise gentlemen the Allies will destroy our cities from the air and grind our armies down until we have no recourse but surrender.”

“Right” added Goering, making eye contact with each man in the room. “We must have success in the defense, we must buy time and we must work to end this war before Germany is destroyed. ‘We will have reason to be glad if Germany can keep the boundaries of 1933 after the war.”[xx] He paused and said “General Zeitzler, you are relieved of your duties at OKH, General Guderian, you are now the Chief of OKH.[xxi] Manstein, you will command the East, General Hoth will take your Army Group. You will work with Guderian and Model to flesh out this plan.  We must get the Panther, Tiger and Ferdinand units operational as soon as possible.  I believe that the Russians will attack by June. Richthofen, I need you to look to the Luftwaffe. We have not had a good year and we have to succeed in defending the Reich from Allied bombers and provide support to the ground forces. Of course flak needs to be built up. The Luftwaffe Field Divisions with the exception of the Fallschirmjaeger and Herman Goering Panzer Division need to be transferred to Army control.”  He looked at Speer: “Herr Speer, the Fuhrer entrusted you with our war production program, you must increase production of tanks and aircraft. Speed the production of the ME-262 and cancel all programs that take away from the panzers, fighters and ground support aircraft that we need now.” He put his hands on his hips and took a deep breathe. He looked at Wolfe, Himmler’s successor.  Wolff, the Reich needs the Waffen SS, the Panzer troops are exceptional, but I want all Waffen SS Formations, with including the Panzers turned over to Army control, we cannot keep dividing our resources. With the personnel from the Luftwaffe Field Divisions we should be able to provide the Army with excellent troops to rebuild experienced formations.”  Goering looked around the room; “Are there any questions Gentlemen?” Putting his arm across Manstein’s soldier and said: “I think that Badger is a fitting name for your plan. Our little Dachs will tear them to pieces.”   Later, Goering met with Foreign Ministry officials emphasizing the need to strengthen German Allies and seek peace with the west. He “admitted that he was worried about the future. ‘It’s not quite clear to me how we are going to end this war.’”[xxii] Those present could not believe how Goering had conducted himself, and all left the meeting thinking that it might be possible to stave off defeat.  It was an incredible performance. After Hitler’s crash he had secretly undergone a “systematic withdraw cure which had ended his drug addiction.”[xxiii] The change was marked.

STAVKA Headquarters Moscow: 7 May 1943

Josef Stalin was ecstatic.  His agents reported that Hitler was dead even before the announcement from Berlin.  Partisans had confirmed that it was Hitler’s aircraft that they found and recovered some of Hitler’s personal belongings, including his cap, which they presented to Stalin.  Intelligence reported that Goering had taken power, and Stalin was sure that his position was weak and many believed that Goering, was not up to the task, and that a renewed offensive could bring down the Nazi regime.  Now was the time to bring the Nazi terror to an end and Stalin called his key leaders together.  While Stalin wanted an immediate offensive his generals wanted to wait just in case the Germans attacked Kursk.  “Zhukov, Vasilevsky, and various General Staff officers urged caution and recommended that the Red Army remain on the defensive until the Germans expended their offensive strength.”[xxiv] Stalin supported by commanders, like Vatutin, “argued for a resumption of offensive action in early summer to preempt German action and regain the momentum lost in March 1943.”[xxv] In the end a compromise was reached and despite the temporary defensive stand “Russian strategic planning in the summer of 1943 was inherently offensive in nature.”[xxvi] The new offensive would be launched on 15 June if the Germans had not attacked before.  It would be named Operation Kutuzov[xxvii] and be aimed at the Orel salient and Kharkov.  The northern prong under Rokossovsky’s Central Front would destroy the Germans around Orel and drive west while Vatutin’s Voronezh and Konev’s Steppe Front would take Kharkov and drive toward the Dnieper.[xxviii] The Southwest Front and South Fronts would attack and destroy the German forces along the Mius, the goal: “collapse of the German defenses and an advance to the line of the Dnieper River from Smolensk in the north southward to the Black Sea.”[xxix]

Sturmgeschutzen and SdKfw 251 APCs moving into position

Manstein met with Model, Hoth and Guderian to develop DACHS. They had  to play for time and deceive the Russians as to their true intent so they could build up their forces.  Deception operations were mounted on both sides of the Kursk bulge to give the impression of attack preparations.  1st Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf  were to launch a diversion called Operations HABICHT and PANTHER southeast of Kursk  “designed to push the Soviets back from the industrial area of the Donets River.”[xxx] The defensive plan called for the infantry supported by tank destroyers, assault guns the heavy Ferdinands as well as mobile Pioneer units to conduct a withdraw to delay and disrupt the Russian attack.  Bridges were prepared for demolition, defensive positions constructed at choke points which would be defended and then abandoned when no longer defensible, and minefields laid to slow the Russian advance.  This was critical for 9th Army now commanded by General Henrici in the Orel salient north of Kursk.  Henrici, a defensive master constructed a series of defensive belts to allow his army to withdraw from the bulge without being cut off and inflict heavy casualties on the Russians through skillful deployment of anti-tank weapons, especially self propelled guns.[xxxi] In the south 4th Panzer Army, now commanded by SS General Paul Hausser[xxxii] and Army detachment Kempf made preparations to allow the Russians to advance past Kharkov using the same defend and delay tactics and then counterattack. As the armies prepared, Speer and Guderian’s efforts to rebuild the Panzer force were bearing fruit.  By 15 May the first brigade of Panther tanks was activated and began training west of Kharkov.[xxxiii] Two battalions of Ferdinands, one for 9thArmy and one for 4th Panzer Army were activated.[xxxiv] Sturmgeschutzbattalions were assigned to each infantry corps. Panzer divisions built up so that all had an average of 130 tanks, with the SS Divisions and Gross Deutschland receiving more.  Tiger battalions were assigned to each Panzer Corps.

The Summer Campaign

German Infantry

On 1 June Operations PANTHER and HABICHT hit the unfortunate Soviet 6thArmy, which had been victimized by Manstein’s counter-stroke in March.  III Panzer Corps of Army Detachment Kempf supported by Corps Raus (IX Corps) linked up with 1st Panzer Army at Kupiansk on 3 June.  The Russian counterattacked with 8th Guards Army and the 2nd and 23rd Tank Corps. The battle of Kupiansk resulted in the destruction of 6th Army and the 23rd Tank Corps which was surprised by the 503rd Panzer Detachment’s Tigers. 2nd Tank Corps received a similar mauling at the hands of the 6th Panzer Division.  On 9 June the Germans returned to their start positions.

Soviet Tanks and AT Guns at Kupiansk

The attack at Kupiansk surprised STAVKA which had been deceived by the build up of Panzers around the Kursk salient.  Stalin continued to hound his generals to begin Kutuzov on time, but the generals were “chastened” by the defeat at Kupiansk and “earlier experiences”[xxxv] and wanted to delay. Stalin forced them to begin Kutuzov on 22 June, the 2nd Anniversary of Barbarossa.  Manstein and his Eastern Front commanders held their breath.  Teams of Brandenburger commandos operating in the Soviet rear and Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft reported Russian units moving to advanced positions to the north and south of Kursk.  Vatutin commanding the Voronezh Front was ambushed and killed by a Brandenburger detachment supporting Ukrainian irregulars[xxxvi] as he returned from visiting 69th Army near Prokhorovka station on 19 June and was replaced by Lieutenant General Katukov of 1st Tank Army.  Katukov “was one of the Red Army’s most accomplished and experienced armor officers.”[xxxvii]

Manstein with Tigers

In the north Rokossovsky’s Central Front and Popov’s Bryansk Front supported by 11th Guards Army[xxxviii] began concentric attacks on the German 9th and 2nd Panzer Armies and ran into Henrici’s labyrinth on 22 June.  They hit the first line they found it empty, the Germans having repaired to secondary positions,[xxxix] German 88’s and self propelled guns took a heavy toll on the tanks of 2nd Tank Army.  The 3rd Tank Army under General Rybalko’s army committed after the initial assault “attempted a fresh penetration instead of exploiting the earlier efforts of the 3rd and 63rd Armies… Rybalko’s force included 698 serviceable tanks…but lacked the artillery and engineers for such a deliberate assault.”[xl] Popov telephoned Stalin at noon on 25 June “to report that Rybalko was practically stalled and suffering heavy losses in tanks.”[xli]The Germans committed the 5th and 8th Panzer divisions[xlii] against 3rd Tank Army. The fresh Panzers inflicted painful losses on Rybalko.  On 27 June Stalin called to complain about the handling of the army, demanding a direct assault.[xliii] The battle turned into a “grinding battle of armored attrition.”[xliv] After “a few bloody days bereft of any success, Rybalko’s tank formations had to be pulled out of the line into reserve.”[xlv] The “battle for the Orel salient ended three weeks later with a German defensive victory, as Army Group Center extricated its two armies from the box prepared for them while inflicting heavy casualties on three Soviet Fronts.”[xlvi] The Soviets lost over 629,000 men and 3,500 tanks.[xlvii] In comparison German losses were light and by falling back they shortened their line freeing units for other operations.  Stalin had Orel but failed to destroy the Germans and lost heavily in the attempt.

Panzer IV’s engaging Soviet forces

In the south Konev’s Steppe and Katukov’s Voronezh Fronts prepared their assault on Kharkov.  They attempted to deceive the Germans by simulating the massing of a “notional tank and combined-arms army” in the western side of the Kursk bulge.[xlviii] The deception was unsuccessful as reconnaissance by Luftwaffe aircraft and Brandenburgers failed to uncover any troop concentrations and Russian deserters, talked of a strike at Kharkov. The offensive “Rumiantsev” was opened by the 5th and 6th Guards armies supported by 53rd and 69th Armies on 21 June; a day later 7th Guards Army jumped off, two additional armies supported the west flank of the offensive.[xlix] The Russians in the two fronts began the operation with 980,000 men and 2,500 tanks.[l] Opposing them were 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf’s 350,000 men and 1,750 tanks and assault guns including 100 Tigers and 192 Panthers.[li]

T-34 towing disabled T-34 near Orel

STAVKA “chose to strike the strongest portion of Hoth’s defense head-on, to engage and defeat the German force and avoid the problems of flank threats.”[lii] Unfortunately they complicated the attack by focusing it at “precisely the boundary between the Voronezh and Steppe Fronts, causing increased coordination problems from the start of the operation.”[liii] The Germans used Ferdinands, Jagdpanzers and Sturmgeschutz in a mobile defensive role, as infantry fought delaying actions as they withdrew to successive defensive lines, inflicting brutal losses on the Russians.  Aided by massive artillery preparation the Russians broke through the weakened Army Detachment Kempf near Belgorad[liv] taking the city on 24 June.  Corps Raus’ 167th Infantry Division was taken on its exposed left flank forcing Raus to “fight a delaying action…until the withdraw reached Kharkov.” [lv] The Germans reacted to the threat by committing the “veteran 5th SS Panzer Grenadier Division Wiking” to reinforce Army Detachment Kempf.[lvi] Despite the success “the German defenses proved so tenacious that the leading brigades of the two tank armies had to enter the fray.”[lvii]

Destroyed column of T-34s

As the Russians advanced the German fell back.  Hoth directed Hausser to wait before counterattacking with XLVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps.  Katukov pushed the 1st and 5th Tank Armies into the hole in the German lines and moved toward Kharkov which was liberated by the 89th and 183rd Guards Divisions[lviii] on 2 July.  The liberation of Kharkov and Belgorad while exhilarating had cost Katukov over 250,000 casualties.  Skillful employment of mobile defense and local counterattacks by mixed Panzer battlegroups, such as one by Grossdeutschland on the flank of 5th Tank Army caused panic and some units withdrew “leaving behind masses of equipment of every description.”[lix]The tank armies had lost upwards of 50 percent of their tanks, infantry divisions were now down to half strength, some down to 3000 men.[lx] Yet the Soviets attempted to drive south to trap the Germans.  They were hit by XLVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps, both of which had seen little action thanks to Hoth’s conservation of strength. XLVIII Panzer Corps hit the 1st Tank Army at the “key road junction of Bogodukhov, 30 kilometers northwest” of Kharkov “severely mauling the leading three brigades”[lxi] forcing 1st Tank Army to withdraw towards Kursk. 5th Tank army moved to support but was taken in the flank by II SS Panzer Corps.  The SS Corps encircled the remainder of 5th Tank Army. Hunted by the SS on the open steppe the survivors slipped through gaps in the encirclement but both armies were ravaged.  By 15 June 1st Tank Army was down to 120 tanks and 5th Tank Army had “50 of its original 503 tanks and self-propelled guns serviceable.”[lxii] XLVII Panzer Corps took Kharkov on 18 July.

SS Panzer Grenadiers and Panzertrüppen Tigers of 3rd SS Panzer Division prepping for battle

The victory paid dividends for the Germans. The Front held and the Russians had taken nearly a million casualties and lost almost 6000 tanks and self-propelled guns.  Three Tank Armies had been smashed, 5th Tank Army would not be fit for field duty for two months.[lxiii] 3rd Tank Army earned a Guards designation but was withdrawn from combat.[lxiv] 6th Army, victimized by PANTHER was destroyed while the 5th, 6th and 7th Guards Armies were shattered. Additionally, the Germans decimated two independent tank corps.  Stalin reacted by halting operations, cancelling follow on offensives and rebuilding the Red Army’s tank armies and mechanized forces.  He realized that his Generals had been right in not wanting to undertake offensive operations until the Germans had been weakened, but the German insistence on not going on the offensive caused him to ignore their arguments. He decided to wait until winter to launch his next offensive, but that offensive would never be launched as by the time he was ready the war was over.

German Tank Commander as Panzers mop up

The elimination of the Russian threat enabled Italy to be reinforced as well as the reinforcement of the Atlantic Wall.  The Salerno landings were a disaster, the Allies driven into the sea by Panzer Divisions released from the Eastern Front.  The disasters at Salerno and the Russian debacle brought overwhelming domestic political pressure on Roosevelt and Churchill to end the war. Clandestine talks began in Switzerland between Avery Dulles and Karl Wolff[lxv] while Walter Schellenberg met with Count Bernadotte.[lxvi] Despite the previous demand for unconditional surrender the Allies decided to negotiate with the new German leadership might end the war in Europe.  Goering surrendered power to General Beck and gave himself and other accused war criminals up to the Allies. Beck took power, withdrew to 1939 borders, dismantled the death camps and disbanded the Nazi Party, and its police apparatus.[lxvii] Peace came to Europe on 9 November 1943, 25 years after Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdicated his throne.

Goering Surrenders to the Allies


[i] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian German Conflict, 1941-45. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965. Pp.307-311. There was an attempt on Hitler’s life on his return from Kluge’s headquarters.  Only the bomb did not go off, all components had worked but the detonator did not fire.  Clark notes that “the Devil’s hand had protected Hitler.” (p.311)

[ii] Galante, Pierre. Operation Valkyrie: The German Generals’ Plot Against Hitler. Translated by Mark Howson and Cary Ryan. Harper and Row Publishers, New York, NY 1981. Originally published as Hitler est il Mort? Librairie Plon-Paris-Match, France. 1981. p.167

[iii] Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York. 1990. p.474.  Himmler had a number of contacts and intermediaries who he used to attempt contact with the Allies as early as 1943.

[iv] Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966.  Diels remained an ally of Goering even marrying his sister in 1943.

[v] Von Lang, Jochen. The Secretary: Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler. Translated by Christa Armstrong and Peter White. Random House Inc. 1979. Originally published as Der Secretär. Deutsche-Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart. 1977 p.9.  At his trial Goering remarked to other defendants. “If Hitler had died sooner, I as his successor would not have had to worry about Bormann. He would have been killed by his own staff even before I could have given the order to bump him off.”

[vi] Irving, David. Göring: A Biography. William Morrow and Company, New York, NY 1989. Richthofen had succeeded Jeschonnek in March when Goering relieved him. Goering believed that Jeschonnek “was too pliable at the Wolf’s Lair.” Goering had actually considered this a number of times but postponed it several times. p.388

[vii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.244  Hitler conducted a similar conference involving many of the same people in Munich.

[viii] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 336

[ix] Ibid. Irving. pp. 377-379.

[x] Ibid. Guderian. p.243

[xi] Ibid. Irving. p.378

[xii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. pp.21-25.  Operations order 5 had been approved by Hitler on and issued by OKH on 13 March. It was followed by Operations Order 6 on 15 April.

[xiii] Ibid. Clark. p.324.

[xiv] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.334 These objections of Jodl were from June, but indicate the feeling of Jodl for the Zitadelle as planned and when would have likely been his response in such a situation.

[xv]Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157 Zeitzler had been a consistent advocate for Zitadelle since he heard Manstein’s initial proposal in March.

[xvi]Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xvii] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xviii] Ibid. Clark. p.323.  Zeitzler made this argument with Jodl during a briefing in April 1943.

[xix] Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960. p.1115.  Hitler had told Keitel and Jodl that “When it comes to negotiating [for peace]…Goering can do much better than I. Goering is much better at those things.”

[xx] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970. p.245.  From a conversation with Speer in late 1942.

[xxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. pp. 216-217. Hitler would replace Zeitzler with Guderian in June 1944.

[xxii] Ibid. Irving. p.379 From a conversation with State Secretary Ernst von Weizäcker 11 February 1943.

[xxiii] Ibid. Speer.  p.512. The ending of the addiction took place at Nurnberg and Goering surprised many of his co-defendants with his “remarkable energy.”

[xxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.28

[xxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.28.

[xxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.264

[xxvii] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.211

[xxviii] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.76

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.265

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.23.

[xxxi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.215  Henrici describes the methods that he used in 1944 as Commander of 1st Panzer Army and as Commander of Army Group Vistula during the defense of Berlin.

[xxxii] Hausser would actually command 7th Army in Normandy in 1944.

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House Kursk. p.53 This was the 10th Panzer Brigade assigned to XLVIII Panzer Corps.  Additionally Clark notes production figures for Panthers from Speer that indicate that 324 Panthers would be available by 31 May. (Clark. p.325)

[xxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.52.  At Kursk the two Ferdinand detachments were both assigned to 9th Army.

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.28.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.510.  Vatutin was killed by Ukrainian irregulars in April 1944.

[xxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.62

[xxxviii] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. p. 256

[xxxix] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.215.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.236

[xli] Ibid. Erickson. p.113. At Kursk the call took place on 20 July when Rybalko was in this situation.

[xlii] Ibid. Newton. p.256

[xliii] Ibid. Erickson. p.114

[xliv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.236

[xlv] Ibid. Erickson. p.114

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.256

[xlvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.345. The actual losses were 429,000 men and 2,500 tanks against a German force significantly weakened by Zitadelle.  Had the Russians attacked the Germans rather than receiving the German attack first their losses in men and machines would have been far higher.  I have reflected that in the alternative numbers.

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.168  The Soviets did try this in their counter offensive following Zitadelle.

[xlix] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.169

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.344. Actual figures for beginning of offensive.

[li] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.338.  Figures from beginning of Zitadelle.

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.244 The actual text reads “Manstein’s defense” not Hoth’s.

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.244

[liv] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.286

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.214

[lvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.247

[lvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.169

[lviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.121  These were the actual divisions that liberated Kharkov.

[lix] Ibid.  Von Mellenthin . p.287

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.252

[lxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.170

[lxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.252

[lxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.252

[lxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.237

[lxv] Ibid. Hohne. p.572

[lxvi] Ibid.  Hohne. p.570

[lxvii] Ibid. Galante. pp 69 and 207

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian German Conflict, 1941-45. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 1965

Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983

Galante, Pierre. Operation Valkyrie: The German Generals’ Plot Against Hitler.Translated by Mark Howson and Cary Ryan. Harper and Row Publishers, New York, NY 1981. Originally published as Hitler est il Mort? Librairie Plon-Paris-Match, France. 1981.

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999.

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966.

Irving, David. Göring: A Biography. William Morrow and Company, New York, NY 1989

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005

Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945.Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997

Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York. 1990

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960.

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970.

Von Lang, Jochen. The Secretary: Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler. Translated by Christa Armstrong and Peter White. Random House Inc. 1979. Originally published as Der Secretär. Deutsche-Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart. 1977

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964.

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Filed under alternative history, Military, world war two in europe

An Unnecessary Condition of Affairs

“The war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” Robert E. Lee

I am always attracted to military leaders with a tragic and honorable history, men who maintain honor and humanity even when the nations that they serve was on the wrong side of history.  There have been such men in almost every war and I admire them even in defeat more than I do those that win victories at all costs and in the process lose their souls. This puts me in a select minority and minorities are not always appreciated we tend to make people uncomfortable just by existing. Since I have been threatened by threatened by Neo-Nazis, called weak, a heretic, apostate and sometimes worse by fellow Christians even being tossed from my former church for now being “too liberal” I am now officially used to this even when it comes from friends Romans and countrymen and the occasional nutty European, Asian or Islamist from abroad.

Today we stand at a political divide not seen since the days leading up to the American Civil War but it didn’t have to come to this had our political and corporate leadership been responsible and acted with wisdom the past 40 years or so. Robert E Lee a man unquestioned integrity was torn by his desire to see the Union preserved and his allegiance to it and his loyalty to his own family and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Lee is a tragic figure a true man of courage, faith and decency, a man of moderation who maintained a profound respect and love for the United States even while leading the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.  He had his flaws as well but on the whole he was one of the truly great men in American history. When the war was lost he was an advocate of reconciliation between the deeply divided North and the conquered South.

In an age of bitterness brought about by defeat and the repression of the draconian measures of Reconstruction Lee was a man that understood that as Americans it was necessary to put aside bitterness.  After the defeat he was accosted by a woman professing her hatred of the North. His reply to her would be a good start for all of those today who hate their fellow Americans be they Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or Tea Partiers on the basis of political ideology and the raw quest for power.  Lee said to this woman “Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.”

Unfortunately among certain parts of the electorate the Government of the United States is detested and some even call for revolution if not at the ballot box if need be by violence.  The rhetoric is certainly pointing that direction as conservatives and liberals alike turn up the heat on this witches cauldron that our country has become. Compromise is considered anathema by both sides especially by the Tea Party movement and the fact is that we are at war with ourselves the national fabric is broken even worse than or economic state or moral state.  We may not be shooting at each other yet but unless we see some kind of national decision by all Americans to stop the political fratricide and work together to solve the problems that have been festering for decades it may come to down to bullets and the tragedy will be worse than that of the Civil War because despite the tragedy of it some good did come, the end of slavery and an understanding of being Americans rather than simply New Yorkers or Virginians. Lee writing about the war said “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

This political fratricide is in large part due to the manner in which our politicians, political parties and even religious institutions are the servants of multinational corporations and financial groups. When everything comes down to it all of these institutions are deeply subservient to the whims of special interests especially multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It is no wonder that leaders as diverse as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Napoleon Bonaparte recognized the threat that they pose to nations and in the case of the United States to democracy itself. Jefferson wrote “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

Roosevelt noted quite rightly, much to the chagrin of his fellow Republicans “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of today.” While Napoleon cut to the heart of the matter when he wrote “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”

Yet in the midst of our political fratricide there seems to be one special interest group above all which always seems to win even when the people of the country suffer. That group is the multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It doesn’t matter what party is in power they somehow come out with a big fat profit margin and get treatment that regular people could never hope to get. Now since the Supreme Court has ruled that big corporations (and labor too) now have no limits on what they can contribute to political campaigns you can bet your ass that politicians of all ilk’s will be suckling lucrative money milk from the tits of these corporations which will dispense billions of dollars to political campaigns in the coming year and a half leading up to the 2012 election.  We expect this of Republicans and Democrat but rest assured my friends that even Tea Party candidates will line up for their turn in order suckle at this tit to keep their newly acquired offices or gain more in the coming election. Such is the nature of politics in our fair country.

Meanwhile both parties dither about a budget that if they had been doing their jobs would have been completed months ago had Nancy Pelosi bothered to submit a budget for 2011 while Speaker of the House.  Now about three months into the new Congress both parties are posturing on the next year’s budget all the while the government lurches toward a shutdown of unpredictable consequences.

Yes we have to deal with the mess that these same people of both parties aided and abetted by their special interest group supporters have made over years to get us in this mess. Administration after administration and Congress after Congress have kicked this can down the road and now they have kicked it and the country into the ditch. Now something has to be done and Democrats seem loathe to step up to the plate and take political risks  while Republicans, particularly the Tea Party leadership are acting like the Jacobins during the French Revolution even threatening even their own party leadership if they don’t get everything that they want. All seem to ignore the fact that the vast majority of the country just wants both sides to figure the damned thing out and fix the problem for real even if it means personal sacrifice rather than seeing these people pursue the policy of mutually assured destruction.

Why does this seem so personal to me? Let me tell you. When I came back from Iraq after seeing the results of unbridled hatred in that country and having travelled in the Balkans after the Yugoslav Civil War I became frightened when I saw politicians of both parties speaking with the same invective as I saw in those countries. Nothing like seeing the effects of a real live shooting civil war to give one pause when political enemies threaten to cross that same line in this country.  Don’t dismiss this out of hand. For years certain pundits, politicians and preachers on both sides of the political chasm have been dehumanizing their opponents and once people are no longer seen as human it is very easy to resort to violence against them. Just take a look at the ordinary Germans who took part in the extermination of the Jews under the Hitler regime.

Am I forgetting something here? Yes I almost forgot, in 2008 we saw the housing crisis in which the very institutions caused the crisis were bailed out by both President Bush and President Obama with Congress willing and lovingly joining in to approve billions and billions of dollars for them. This included huge amounts of money which went to foreign financial institutions. Meanwhile regular people had their home value and credit slashed even as unemployment skyrocketed and in the following years we have seen the same banks seizing the foreclosed homes in record numbers while millions of others now owe far more on their loans than their homes are worth. It’s a great deal for the banks. Approve loans for people who will have a hard time repaying them, crash the economy have the government bail you out and then take the homes and sell them while still collecting the cash from the unfortunate former owners. Well to quote a great line from the Roman Empire segment of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy History of the World Part One

Leader of Senate: All fellow members of the Roman senate hear me. Shall we continue to build palace after palace for the rich? Or shall we aspire to a more noble purpose and build decent housing for the poor? How does the senate vote?
Entire Senate: F*** THE POOR!

It’s funny how a comedy from the late 1970s offers such remarkable political and social insights for us today. But then Teddy Roosevelt said of the Roman Republic as a warning to us back in 1903 “The death-knell of the republic had rung as soon as the active power became lodged in the hands of those who sought, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others.”

Well if these present rulers don’t get their act together parts of the government will shut down and your military which is currently involved in four wars, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the nearly forgotten War on Terrorism in lots of places that the media doesn’t mention will not get paid. Ain’t that a hoot?  But mind you as military personnel try to salvage the wars that our politicians have plunged us into we still serve even if we won’t get paid.  Yet when push comes to shove we are cast aside by the political ruling class for their short term political gain.  I remember a quote of Robert E Lee which speaks volumes on this subject. Lee was besieged at Petersburg, his haggard and outnumbered Army deprived of food, ammunition and replacements was dying in the cold mud of the trenches when he went to seek help from the Confederate Congress. After his visit he remarked “I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.”

Seems that nothing really changes, does it? This unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides. When will we ever learn?

God help us all,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Contemplating the Past, Present and Future: The Third Anniversary of Leaving Iraq

 

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it.” Robert E. Lee

I began my flight home from the Middle East three years ago today. Three years ago I could not imagine what has transpired in my life since neither my return nor the situation that we see developing in Egypt.  It has been three years but it feels longer.  I have recounted my PTSD and psychological collapse as well as my crisis of faith which for nearly two years left me a practical agnostic numerous times so I will not say much about them in this article except to say while I still suffer from the effects of both I am doing better and faith has returned.

The war in Iraq changed me. I saw the suffering of the people of Iraq that the conservative media to which I had been wedded for years ignored or distorted.

Likewise when I came home to the nastiness of the 2008 Presidential Election I was unprepared for it. To see my countrymen tearing each other apart with increasingly violent rhetoric as well as the militancy of some was deeply unsettling and was a part of my collapse because I felt like my country was plunging into the abyss of hatred.

Since I have seen the tragic and long lasting effects of the unbridled hatred among former friends and neighbors in the Balkans as well as Iraq I know that anything is possible when we make the subtle shift from viewing fellow Americans as political opponents to mortal enemies to whom we equate every vice and evil.  What has happened to us?  Last night I responded to a dear family friend who has kept sending me e-mails of such intense anger and even hatred regarding those that he believes are destroying the country. I had to tell him that I could no longer go to those places and told him things that I have experienced after Iraq. He is older and both he and his wife have been sick and are isolated.  They are good people but I have not heard back from him.

Likewise the sense of abandonment I felt from my former church as well as many clergy and chaplains did nothing to help my faith. For the first time I realized how deeply that I needed other Christians and for the most part few were there for me, my brokenness made me radioactive to many.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”


Despite this healing came but also change which I think actually has been good for me and for the ministry that I am called to as a Priest and Chaplain.  While healing has begun I am cognizant of my own wounds and how they affect how I deal with life and others. I pray that they have made me a better vessel of the grace of God and his love.

Tonight I am somewhat contemplative. I have turned off the news and I am watching a movie called Lost Command starring Anthony Quinn.  It is an adaptation of Jean Larteguy’s novel The Centurions which is about the French Paratroops in Indo-China and Algeria.  These were men who after surviving Viet Minh prison camps after the fall of Dien Bien Phu were almost immediately redeployed to fight the insurgency in Algeria, sometimes against former Algerian comrades who were now part of the Algerian independence movement. Algeria was brutal and though the French had militarily defeated the insurgency they still lost the war, and for many soldiers part of their souls which were sacrificed for their country.

It has been three years since I stepped on the aircraft to come home and in some ways miss Iraq and my friends American and Iraqi. I watch as that nation and its people struggle.  I watch the continuing war in Afghanistan and emerging danger in Egypt and much of the Arab world I wonder what further sacrifices our Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen will have to make if the chaos spreads and if the violence will again come to our shores.  I wonder if our politicians from both parties will support us or abandon us even as we fight.

I remember my time in Iraq well. I can see the faces of my friends; remember the hospitality of the advisors that I spent my time with and the friendship of Iraqi Officers.  Sometimes the memories seem so real especially when I look into the eyes of those that served in Iraq. Fallujah, Ta-Qaddum, Habbinyah, Al Asad, Al Waleed, Al Qaim, Korean Village, Ramadi and its various neighborhoods, Hit, Baghdadi, COP North and COP South and what seems like a hundred more locations in Al Anbar Province from villages to small outposts.

I remember thousands of miles in helicopters, C-130s and in convoys, the smell of Jet Fuel, Diesel and hydraulic fluid which always seemed to find me in any helicopter I rode in.   I hear the helicopters fly overhead, some even tonight. I close my eyes and it feels like I am in Iraq again.

I am somewhat melancholy tonight, that war is never far away and unfortunately there are more to come.  But tomorrow is another day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Political Commentary, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Christmas at the Front 1776-2010

Note: I wrote most of this on Christmas but didn’t finish it until a bit after 1AM on the 26th.

Today as on so many Christmas Days in days gone by military personnel serve on the front lines in wars far away from home and sometimes not far from their homes. Today American and NATO troops engage a resourceful and determined enemy in Afghanistan. To the west Americans support our Iraqi allies in their continued battle to end terrorism in that country while in many corners of the globe others stand watch on land, at sea and in the air. Unfortunately wars continue and until the end of time as we know it there will likely be war without end.

I have done my time in Iraq at Christmas on the Syrian-Iraqi Border with our Marine advisors and their Iraqis.  Since returning home have thought often of those that remain in harm’s way as well as those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, American and from other nations that have spent Christmas on the front lines. Some of these events are absolutely serious while others display some of the “light” moments that occur even in the most terrible of manmade tragedies.

In American history we can look back to 1776, of course we could go back further but 1776 just sounds better. On Christmas of 1776 George Washington took his Continental Army across the Delaware to attack the British garrison at Trenton. Actually it was a bunch of hung over Hessians who after Christmas dinner on the 24th failed to post a guard but it was an American victory. In 1777 Washington and his Army had a rather miserable Christmas at Valley Forge where they spent the winter freezing their asses off and getting drilled into a proper military force by Baron Von Steuben.

While not a battle in the true sense of the word the Cadets at West Point wrote their own Christmas legend in the Eggnog Riot of 1826 when the Cadets in a bit of holiday revelry had a bit too much Eggnog and a fair amount of Whiskey and behaved in a manner frowned upon by the Academy administration. Needless to say that many of the Cadets spent the Christmas chapel services in a hung over state with a fair number eventually being tossed from the Academy for their trouble.

In 1837 the U.S. Army was defeated at the Battle of Lake Okeechobee by the Seminole Nation, not a Merry Christmas at all.  In 1862 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other across the Rappahannock River after the Battle of Fredericksburg while to the south in Hilton Head South Carolina 40,000 people watched Union troops play baseball some uttering the cry of many later baseball fans “Damn Yankees.” In 1864 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other again in the miserable trenches of Petersburg while General William Tecumseh Sherman enjoyed Christmas in Savannah Georgia after cutting a swath of destruction from Atlanta to the sea. He presents the city to Lincoln who simply says “nice, but I really wanted Richmond.”

Napoleon had something to celebrate on December 25th 1801 after surviving an assassination attempt on Christmas Eve and 1809 he was celebrating his divorce from Empress Josephine which had occurred on the 21st.

Meanwhile in Europe the 1914 “Christmas Truce” began between British and German troops and threatened to undo all the hard work of those that made the First World War possible.  Thereafter the High Commands of both sides ensured that such frivolity never happened again.

U.S. Soldiers and Anti-Tank Gun at the Battle of the Bulge

World War II brought much suffering in 1941 after Pearl Harbor the Japanese forced the surrender of Hong Kong and its British garrison while two days later the Soviets launched their counterattack at Moscow against Hitler’s Wehrmacht and the British were retaking Benghazi from the Afrika Corps.  A year later the Americans were clearing Guadalcanal of the Japanese and the Red Army was engaged in a climactic battle against the encircled German 6th Army at Stalingrad. At Stalingrad a German Physician named Kurt Reuber who is also a Lutheran minister draws “The Madonna of Stalingrad.”

The drawing which was taken out of Stalingrad by one of the last German officers to be evacuated now hangs in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Reuber would draw another in 1943 while in a Soviet POW camp in which he would die in less than a month after that Christmas. Reuber wrote:

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”
“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St.John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

In 1943 the Marines were battling the Japanese at New Britain while the Red Army was involved in its winter offensive against the Wehrmacht. In 1944 the Russians were advancing in Hungary, the Americans were engaged in a desperate battle with the Germans in the Ardennes with the German 2nd Panzer Division running out of gas 4 miles from the Meuse River and were destroyed by the American 2nd Armored Division. In the Pacific McArthur’s forces were battling the Japanese in the Philippines.

French Chaplain and Soldiers in Indochina

In the years following the Second World War Christmas was celebrated even while armies continued to engage in combat to the death. Christmas of 1950 was celebrated in Korea as the last American forces were withdrawn from the North following the Chinese intervention which the 1st Marine Division chewed up numerous Red Chinese divisions while fighting its way out of the Chosin Reservoir.  In the following years a stalemate along the front brought no end to the war and In French Indo-China the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu celebrated Christmas in primitive fashion unaware that General Giap was already marshalling his forces to cut them off and then destroy them shortly after Easter of 1954.   In 1964 the U.S. commits to the war in Vietnam and for the next 9 years American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen will battle the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong with Marines fighting the North at Khe Sanh during Christmas of 1967.

Christmas on the Syrian Border with USMC Advisors

In the years after Vietnam American troops would spend Christmas in the Desert of Saudi Arabia preparing for Operation Desert Storm in 1990, in Somalia the following year and in the Balkans. After September 11th 2001 U.S. Forces spent their first of at least 10 Christmas’s in Afghanistan and in 2003 begin the first for at least 8 Christmas’s in Iraq.

Today Americans serve around the world far away from home fighting the war against Al Qaeda and its confederates and some will die even on this most Holy of Days while for others it will be their last Christmas.

Please keep them and all who serve now as well as those that served in the past, those that remain and those that have died in your prayers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Base at War: First Impressions of Camp LeJeune Nine Years after my First Tour

This is just a brief post on some first impressions on my assignment to Camp LeJeune after a nine year absence from the base. When I left LeJeune and my assignment with the Second Marine Division I had just completed twenty years in the military though I was not even three years into my service as a Naval Officer.

Today I was part of a Casualty Assistance Team meeting with the family of a young Navy Corpsman and Afghanistan veteran who killed himself in his apartment last night.  The Corpsman was part of a family with a long tradition of Naval Service who in his time in the Navy had gone to war with a Marine Battalion in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and returned home changed by the war and struggling with PTSD and all the related symptoms of it.  This is something that I can understand having come back from Iraq in a rather bad way about two and a half years ago.  In my time with this young man’s parents today I found a young man that loved life but was wracked by his experiences of war.  He was well liked at his Marine Battalion as well as at the hospital and his death shocked the community almost as much as it did his family.  The sad thing is that this young man is emblematic the suicide problem in the military.  He is not alone, far too many Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen on active duty, in the Reserves or those that have left the service suffer so much from the unseen wounds of war that they commit suicide.  Since I have been here just a bit under two weeks this was a confirmation of what I knew just walking around the hospital, getting around the base and the local area.  Camp LeJeune is a base at war with Marines and Sailors fighting in Afghanistan and unfortunately many suffering from deep wounds of war at home living with physical, psychological, spiritual and moral injuries that don’t go away just because they return home.

When I left LeJeune in compliance with orders to the USS Hue City CG-66 in December 2001 we were just 3 months into the current war and barley two months into the Afghanistan campaign.  Marine morale was high though most Marines had not been to combat and those that had were veterans of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Somalia or the Balkans. Of course none of these actions lasted as long nor caused the amount of deaths as either the campaign in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Marines wanted to get a shot at the Al Qaeda terrorists that had attacked the United States and killed nearly 3000 Americans.

The Marines answered the call and have performed magnificently in every theater of the current war but the Corps has changed. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s the Marines had a swagger that was typical of the work hard; train hard and play hard attitude of the Corps.  The Corps is now composed of many battle hardened veterans that have made deployment after deployment to the hottest combat zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan in which they took the initiative in both offensive operations in taking the battle to the enemy and employing solid counterinsurgency techniques especially in Al Anbar Province where the Iraqi Army performed quantitatively better under their tutelage in helping to turn the tide during the Anbar awakening.  Navy Corpsmen, Doctors and Chaplains serve alongside the Marines as they have done throughout our history.

I served with Marine and Army advisors in Al Anbar in 2007 and early 2008 in many of the remotest parts of the province and have dealt with individual Marines since. The Marines still have much of their swagger but it seems more fatalistic now.  An expert in trauma and moral injury told me of a recent visit to Camp Pendleton where Marines referred to themselves as “the walking dead” in an almost cavalier manner. The sad thing is that for many Marines this is only half a joke. The Corps in 2009 had the highest suicide rate in the military at 24 per 100,000 and suicides continue at a similar pace in 2010.  http://www.yuma.usmc.mil/desertwarrior/2010/03/11/feature6.html One occurred on Camp LeJeune where a Marine Sergeant pulled out a pistol and shot himself after being pulled over by Military Police in front of the base Fire Station.

As I made my way around the base the past week or so, I saw a lot more Marines with canes and obvious physical injuries from their combat injuries incurred in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Marines as always were professional but appeared to be much more serious than 9 years ago, many seeming to be old beyond their years. I love serving with and around Marines because they have a unique sense of professionalism combined with humor that is unlike almost any found in any part of the United States Military. However that positive is sometimes offset by a need to maintain an image of toughness even when they are dying on the inside which leads many not to seek help because it might make them look weak or broken, terms that no self-respecting Marine wants associated with his or her name.

In addition to the obvious injuries I noticed that while there was a much more serious tenor around the base that the Staff Sergeants and Gunnery Sergeants are a lot younger than they used to be back 9 years ago. With the war lasting as long as it has and the coupled with the expansion of the Marines during the war coupled with casualties and attrition by other means these young men and women are being promoted sooner than they were in the prewar days. Their leadership experience is mostly combat-related and they are in general superb combat leaders. However, this does not always translate well in a garrison setting especially if they are dealing with their own untreated PTSD or TBI nor is it helpful on the home front. As a result many of these young leaders are suffering the breakups of families at a record rate as well as substance abuse when they return home.

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted in a speech at Duke University on September 29th of this year:

“There are a number of consequences that stem from the pressure repeated of deployments – especially when a service member returns home sometimes permanently changed by their experience.  These consequences include more anxiety and disruption inflicted on children, increased domestic strife and a corresponding rising divorce rate, which in the case of Army enlisted has nearly doubled since the wars began.  And, most tragically, a growing number of suicides.

While we often speak generally of a force under stress, in reality, it is certain parts of the military that have borne the brunt of repeat deployments and exposure to fire – above all, junior and mid-level officers and sergeants in ground combat and support specialties.  These young men and women have seen the complex, grueling, maddening face of asymmetric warfare in the 21st century up close.  They’ve lost friends and comrades.  Some are struggling psychologically with what they’ve seen, and heard and felt on the battlefield.  And yet they keep coming back.” http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1508

These young men and women have forged a bond in combat and in many cases multiple combat tours. The have served well with honor and many don’t feel that people who have not been “in the shit” understand them or what they have been through.  There is a comradeship that comes out of war. There is segment at the end of the Band of Brothers mini-series where a German Commander is speaking to his soldiers after they have surrendered to the Americans. As the German Commander speaks to the survivors of his unit Corporal Joe Liebgott is asked to translate by another American. As he translates the German officer’s words the Americans know that he also speaks for their experience of war:

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

I think that sums up what many feel today except unlike the Germans our war drags on with no end in sight.

The Marines are still tough and a force to be reckoned with on any battlefield. They, especially the Marine Divisions are an elite force but I believe that many are losing some of their resilience as the war goes in Afghanistan goes on.  Many from reports that I have read as well as those that I have talked with are concerned that much of the country doesn’t support the war nor appreciate their sacrifice. Many are concerned that their sacrifices as well as those of their friends, those killed and wounded will be wasted and the suffering that goes on after the war will be swept aside by politicians, the media and the public at large. They are also concerned that the people that they have worked with against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and those that they have tried to protect and care for will suffer even more if the Taliban return to power.  I can say that I worry about my Iraqi friends and fear for them when I hear news of more attacks.

In the midst of this war we went through a number of elections and it troubles me that in the last election that the war and those fighting it were hardly ever mentioned by candidates from either party.  We mentioned it was usually for show to help politicians gain favor with voters.  We deserve better, we are not just a something to talk about at political rallies that when the election is over simply budget item to be slashed because the country is in a mess. These young men and women, as well as old guys like me are the sons, daughters, husbands and wives and brothers and sisters that have volunteered to serve this country.  The wounds that these young men and women, their experiences in combat that have left their souls scared will not go away when the last American leaves Iraq or Afghanistan.

This young man that we lost last night will be buried by his family and we will have a memorial service in his honor.  His many friends will grieve and those of us who are caring for his family will not forget them. I don’t want this young man or any other to be forgotten like so many who have returned from war before them.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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