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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

My grandfather on my mother’s side (I never knew my other grandfather) was a grumpy, stern man. I can’t ever remember him smiling. Even his wedding picture looked grim. This manner, I always attributed to that famous Germanic humorlessness. As Robin Williams once said, “They killed off all the funny people.”

However, I came to realize that perhaps this brusque, unfriendly manner had its source in something else.

He grew up on a farm in Austria, about 25 miles outside of Vienna. Not far, as it turned out, from my grandmother, whom he met only after coming to this country. My grandparents spoke both German and Hungarian since their territory switched hands so many times in their youth. They acquired English later, here. They both came over on the boat after World War I. My grandfather had been conscripted and fought on the Eastern front on the German side. He was probably 18 at the time. He was captured by the Russians, who, not known for their hospitality towards their enemies, imprisoned him in Siberia for several years. He didn’t like to talk about it. I always pictured an interminable train ride across a bare, forbidding landscape, followed by a long internment in a snowy place far, far from home. I think all he ever said about it was that they cut down trees, and it was cold.

When my giant family (there were eventually 13 in all, including my parents) would visit, we would sleep on a pullout couch, a bed, and cots spread all over the dining/living room of their tiny one-story home.

During the day, my brothers and I would occupy ourselves with riding my parents old balloon-tired bikes, playing wiffleball in the yard, and our all-time favorite, pushing each other in my grandfather’s green wagon with the ball bearing wheels. It was amazingly fast, and steered easily, and we would careen around the tiny sidewalks that skirted his gardens of flowers and vegetables and wended the passageways through his perfectly manicured hedges. It was a blast and we would howl with delight. Grandpa, on the other hand, would yell at us to slow down and watch out for his borders and hedges that we were always crashing into. One time he caught me by the hair, and then shook me by the shoulders after we bashed into and made a serious dent in the front hedge.

In the evening, we would watch TV. My father, who always took over wherever we went, commandeered the recliner. The rest of us would be on the floor, dining room chairs or pullout couch.

One time we were watching a war movie about World War II. My father loved to watch these. He was a signalman in the Navy in the South Pacific during the latter part of the war. However, he was fortunate never to have seen any action.

“Grandpa, why don’t you sit down and watch TV with us?” My father said, with that magnanimous ‘your house is my house’ tone of his.

My grandfather refused, turned around, and headed back to the kitchen. As he left, he spoke in a typically grumpy tone, this time tinged with pain, “I’ve seen enough war.”

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I did a little research when I wrote the last post. I wanted to be able to say that the Allies, after the Second World War, followed the Geneva Conventions at the Nuremberg trials. To my dismay, I discovered that the trials did not follow international law. Another item I found dismaying was that American treatment of German POWs immediately following the war, was not up to very high standards either. A disputed but excessively high number, by some accounts up to 20%, of German prisoners died during internment in American camps in Europe. In spite of the fact that there were plenty of supplies and accommodations, prisoners were extremely undernourished and were kept in camps where there was barely enough room for them. Apparently Eisenhower wanted them punished with some of the same harsh conditions the Germans inflicted on others. Oddly enough, 98% of American prisoners returned alive from German prison camps (See paper).

War brings about atrocities from all sides. This is not to exonerate the Germans or Japanese whose behavior was hideous; the Allies had every reason to seek revenge. It’s just that war brings out the worst in all of us and should be a last resort. The Second World War had to be fought to save the world. WWI and the Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars seem to have given us nothing but death, dismemberment, paralyzing grief, and mental anguish.

I like the idea of a Nonviolent Peace Force  that can go into volatile areas to help deal with problems at their root before they erupt into violence. We spend just the tiniest fraction of our budget on prevention as compared to our military budget (by some accounts, over 50% of the total national budget) solely for putting out fires after they’ve already started or paying for the consequences of our past wars. If what we want is world peace, this is a tad backwards.

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