Tom Hull on "The Good War" by Studs Terkel



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Would not millions have been lost, American and Japanese, in the projected attack on the mainland, had it not been for the bomb?

That is not true. There would have been negotiations for surrender within days or a few weeks under any circumstances. Before the A-bombs were dropped, Japan was a defeated nation. This was realized.

This experience, as a member of the commission, had an enormous effect on my attitudes. You had to see these German cities, city after city, in 1945 and then to on to the utter horror of Japanese cities to see how frightful modern air warfare is. There is nothing nice about ground warfare: twenty thousand men were killed on the first day in the Battle of the Somme in World War One. But this didn't have the high visibility of Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Mainz. And to see Tokyo leveled to the ground. I was left with an image which has stayed with me all my life.

Then the war came home (pp. 500-501):

The first bombings of Hamburg started in 1942. The raids increased. In 1943, Hamburg was practically demolished. In three nights, forty-one thousand people were killed. My mother and I were right in the middle of it. On the street where we lived, there was a public air-raid shelter. Every street had to have a shelter, which you could reach in five minutes.

I remember one night, about nine o'clock, the siren started wailing. We grabbed our suitcases and made it down. We'd been in this same shelter many, many, many, many nights before. The shelter was packed. There must have been two hundred, most of them neighbors we knew. There was not a moment when there was no Allied aircraft over Hamburg. It was an around-the-clock affair. The British would attack us at night and the U.S. air force in the daytime.

That night, about midnight, we heard the bombs dropping. It lasted about an hour. When it was over, we tried to get out, but we couldn't. The building over us was hit by an incendiary bomb and was on fire. The outside walls had collapsed and had blocked the exits. People were running around, getting hysterical. Nobody gets out, they were shouting.

About eight the next morning, we heard digging outside. They were removing the walls. We were half suffocated. We couldn't breathe. When we reached the street, that part of Hamburg where I lived was totally burned down. My mother and I made it to an overpass of an el train. All the survivors went there. We were picked up by trucks and taken out of the city. In those days, refugees -- and we were all refugees now -- could use the trains without paying.

Elliott Johnson (pp. 259-260):

We were so mixed up, Americans and Germans. People were shooting at my dear friend Ed Bostick, our forward observer. This was on the second day or third. He jumped into a ditch on the side of the road. The only thing that saved him was a dead Germany boy who he pulled on top of him. He lay there for hours until he felt safe to move. When he came back, he fell in my arms. Imagine what he'd been through, using a dead boy as a shield.

I went back to my foxhole and I was suddenly drained. It was about one-thirty in the morning. I had to stay on duty until two. Ed was to come and relieve me. I couldn't stay awake. I was just plain exhausted. We never turned the crank or rang the bell on the telephone. When you are an officer -- and this included the top noncoms -- you went to sleep with your headset at your head. Instead of ringing the bell or speaking, we'd just go (whistles softly), and that would waken you from a sound sleep. This voice came on and said, "Yes, El?" I said, "Can you relieve me? I'm just bushed." He said "I'll be right over." He came walking over to where I was and for some reason he began to whistle. I"ll never know why. A young artillery man, one of ours, I'm sure had dozed off. The whistle wakened him. He saw a figure and fired.

I was out and running, and I caught Ed as he fell. He was dead in my arms. Call it foolish, call it irrational, I loaded Ed in a jeep. I had to take him in for proper care. Now! I went to our battalion headquarters, and I was directed to this drunken colonel. He came out and said, "Get that goddamn hunk of rotten meat out of here." You have no idea of my feeling toward him. It's remained with me for a long time, hard to get rid of.

Dr. Alex Shulman (p. 287):

I got to Buchenwald, too. Did you know that Buchenwald was a zoo? On the gate, engraved: Buchenwald Zoological Gardens. The ultimate humiliation. They didn't let us in, but we could look in. The smell and the bodies all were still there. So nobody can tell me it didn't happen. (Laughs.)

Americans have never know what war really is. No matter how much they saw it on television or pictures or magazines. Because there is one feature they never appreciated: the smell. When you go through a village and you suddenly get this horrible smell. Everybody's walking around with masks on their faces, 'cause it's just intolerable. You look out and see those bloated bodies. You no longer see humans, because they've been pretty well cleaned up by now. You see bloated horses and cows and the smell of death. It's not discriminating, they all smell the same. Maybe if Americans had known even that, they'd be more concerned about peace.

Telford Taylor, chief prosecutor at 11 of 12 Nuremberg trials (p. 459-465):

For most people my age, the war and its aftermath were the most intense experiences of our lives. So many crises that overtook me were directly due to the war. I was in no way a military person when I went into the army. I don't think I'd ever seen an American officer in uniform -- except on the Fourth of July -- until shortly before the war. After Pearl Harbor, all officers in Washington were required to wear uniforms. It became a common sight. There could have been none more unmilitary than my generation. The military seemed a world apart.

Through all those years -- the normality of Harding, the boom, the bust -- the army was less than a hundred thousand. It just wasn't part of a normal person's experience. The Pentagon had not yet come into existence. The military budget was, of course, much smaller, The war ballooned the whole thing and it became a major part of everybody's life. The voice of the military, after World War Two, became very strong. [ . . . ]

Why did they do these things? Because it had become the thing to do. People most of them were followers. Moral standards are easily obliterated. Take Eichmann: a minor electrician in Vienna. He joins the SS and he becomes an officer and a gentleman. He likes that. He gets promoted. He never got beyond lieutenant colonel, but that was pretty good for a Viennese electrician. They so very easily fall into the pattern that their superiors set up for them, because that's the safe way. They may be loving husbands, nice to their children, fond of music. They have been accustomed to moral standards prescribed from above by an authoritarian regime. The safe way to be comfortable in life is that way: following orders.

After I came back, I was quite often asked to talk about Nuremberg. Early in 1950, I addressed the membership of a Jewish synagogue in Brooklyn. I said, The idea that these Nazis of the Holocaust were all a bunch of abnormal sadists is not so. Most of them are very ordinary people just like you and me. You should have heard the uproar that went up from that audience. The same thing happened to me last spring. I told the rabbi that my views are a bit clinical and might not be the right thing for his congregation. He said it's a very sophisticated group. Exactly the same thing happened.

If our general population were subjected to the same trends and pressures that the Germans were, a great many of us would do the same. Maybe not as many, because we're not quite as authoritarian as the Germans. But a lot of us would. I think we do still have some built-in political safeguards, but they're not ironclad. If the depression gets worse -- things are already getting more bitter than they were a few years ago -- I can see some of the same things developing.




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