Suffer the children . . .

“Throughout the region, the population was mobilized. All available men and women between sixteen and sixty-five—nearly 200,000—were mobilized in ‘workers’ columns’, organized by their district Party committees. As in Moscow the year before, women in kerchiefs and older children were marched out and given long-handled shovels and baskets to dig anti-tank ditches over six feet deep in the sandy earth. . . . Younger schoolchildren, meanwhile, were put to work building earth walls round the petroleum-storage tanks on the banks of the Volga. Supervised by teachers, they carried the earth on wooden stretchers.” – Antony Beevor, Stalingrad

Borscht on the go

“A regiment of night-fighters landing for the first time at a new base to support the Stalingrad Front discovered that their aerodrome was no more than a large field planted with watermelons and surrounded by tomato plants, which the local peasants continued to harvest even while fighters landed and took off.  The regiment’s presence was soon spotted by a Focke-Wulf reconnaissance aircraft, and when strafing Messerschmitts came in just above ground level, the adjacent peasant market was caught in their fire. In an instant the rural scene became one of total chaos, with panic-stricken horses rearing in the shafts of wagons, children screaming, awnings ripped by machine-gun bullets and stallholders killed among their fruits and vegetables. Less damage was done to the night-fighter regiment, which found itself forced to maintain an exhausting schedule of sorties. Often there was no time to eat at the field kitchen by the side of the runway, so ground crew would bring plates out to the aircraft at dispersal and pilots ate in their cockpit.” – Antony Beevor, Stalingrad

Land of blood and honey

“For soldiers of the Sixth Army, the summer of 1942 offered the last idylls of war. In Don Cossack Country, the villages of whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs, surrounded by small cherry orchards, willows and horses in meadows provided an attractive contrast to the usual dilapidation of villages taken over by collective farms. Most of the civilians, who had stayed behind in defiance of Communist evacuation orders, were friendly. Many of the older men had fought the Bolsheviks in the Russian civil war. Only the previous spring, just a few weeks before the German invasion, Cossacks had risen up in revolt at Shakhty, north of Rostov, declaring an independent republic. This had been stamped out by NKVD troops with a rapid and predictable brutality. To the surprise of a company commander of the 384th [German] Infantry Division, Cossacks remained friendly even after looting by his soldiers. They handed over eggs, milk, salted cucmber and even a whole ham as a gift. He then arranged to purchase geese for two Reichsmarks a bird. ‘To be honest, people give you everything they have if you treat them correctly,’ he wrote in his diary. ‘I’ve never eaten so much as here. we eat honey with spoons until we’re sick, and in the evening we eat boiled ham.’ “ – Antony Beevor, Stalingrad

Springtime in Berlin

“Through the springtime foliage of the Tiergarten the shells burst without interruption, destroying everything in their immediate vicinity, and small-arms fire erupted everywhere. Blinding sunshine lay over a gruesome scene. On the lawns of the Tiergarten under age-old but now mutilated trees, I could recognize artillery pieces, all put out of action by direct hits. The gunners who had not escaped were lying around, hardly recognizable as human remains. Everywhere in the streets, the dead were visible among the piles of dust-covered debris. Empty shoes lay here and there.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker”

Apocalypse then

“By the end of April [1945], we no longer had any chance of defending Berlin. The horrible, hopeless battles in the streets continued. . . . Russian tanks were now driving around the city, German tank-hunter groups were chasing them . . . and both sides were shooting wildly in all directions.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker”

l’état, il était lui

“I saluted, and Hitler walked toward me. As he neared, I was shocked by his appearance. He was stooped, and his left arm was bent and shaking. Half of his face drooped, as if he’d had a stroke, and his facial muscles on that side no longer worked. Both of his hands shook, and one was swollen. He looked like a very old man, at least twenty years older than his fifty-six years. . . . I wondered how it was possible that in only six years this idol of my whole generation could have become such a human wreck. It occurred to me then that Hitler was still the living symbol of Germany—but Germany as it was now. In the same six years, the flourishing, aspiring country had become a flaming pile of debris and ruin.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker” (emphasis in original)

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

“Russian artillery shells were exploding everywhere, causing the earth to tremble and sending dirt, pavement, bricks, and other debris high into the air, where they became weapons dangerous to anyone under them when they fell. The roar of flames from burning buildings and the crunching sound of collapsing walls were terrifying. We dashed from doorway to doorway in short bursts to avoid not only shrapnel and other debris from the shells but also rifle and machine-gun fire.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker”

Asleep at the wheel’s falling off

“There was no such thing as a typical day. Sometimes the Russians would hit us at three in the morning, sometimes at six, and the day just unfolded from there. Our time was spent responding to crises that incessantly occurred. . . . We all caught a few moments’ rest whenever work permitted. Several times I took a call that woke me, listened to the problem of the caller, gave instructions to handle the situation, and then went back to sleep. When I awoke later I had no recollection of the conversation and did not know that I had given such orders, although eventually I would remember it. After that, I learned to put the telephone far enough away that I would have to stand up to answer it.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker”

Opera as a major-league sport

“No one who did not live in Italy before 1848 can imagine what the opera house meant in those days. It was the only outlet for public life, and everyone took part. The success of a new opera was a capital event that stirred to its depths the town lucky enough to have witnessed it, and word of it ran all over Italy.” – John Roselli, Music and Musicians in Nineteenth Century Italy

Nothing at all like what the USA did

“The Great Patriotic War, with its devastation and suffering, colored the strategic thinking of an entire generation of Soviet leaders. Postwar Soviet governments created an elaborate system of buffer and client states, designed to not only expand Soviet influence, but to insulate the Soviet Union from attack. Although the Warsaw Pact countries contributed to Soviet defense and to the Soviet economy, their rebellious populations were a recurring threat to the regime’s sense of security. Outposts such as Cuba and Vietnam might appear to be useful gambits in the Cold War struggle with the West, but these outposts represented further drains on the Soviet economy. In the long run, the Soviet government probably lost as much as it gained from the buffer and client states. In retrospect, therefore, the determination to preserve the fruits of victory and preclude future attacks was a dangerous burden for the Moscow government. This determination, accompanied by huge military spending and ill-conceived foreign commitments, was a permanent handicap that helped doom the Soviet economy and with it, the Soviet state.” – David M. Glantz, Slaughterhouse

Riots in the aisles, chaos in the cheap seats

“Composers of [the early Nineteenth century] seldom saw their work published, royalties were rare, and copyright laws were nonexistent. Various middlemen prevented composers from knowing what their real box-office receipts were. What money they did earn had to be divided with hack librettists. Most impresarios viewed composers and librettists as quickly replaceable commodities—they were far more concerned with the digestion of the prima donna and the mood of the tenor than the quality of the opera. Audiences were usually unruly if not outrageous. Talking, eating, smoking, and screaming over high notes were all good sport. A night at the opera could be pandemonium.” – David Dubal, The Essential Canon of Classical Music

Setting the example

“Jewish communities in Eastern Europe were more civilized—that is, socialized more to civil methods of settling disputes, populated with fewer individuals who were personally violent—than the Germans who assaulted them. They were also more civilized than most of the Gentile societies in which they were embedded. Jews historically had not conducted pogroms against Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Byelorussians, Ukrainians; it had been the other way around.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

You can’t always take one with you

“One of the most painful questions of the Holocaust, raised first of all by the SS perpetrators themselves, has been: Why did the Jews not resist? The question, with its ugly implication that the victims deserve blame—as if they murdered themselves—has many answers. Many victims did not know what was intended for them until after they had been brought under armed guard. Able-bodied men were usually seized first, leaving women, children and the elderly more vulnerable. The path to the killing pit or the transport was a gauntlet bristling with armed guards and vicious dogs, with machine guns positioned on the perimeter. Running away meant leaving family members behind. The shock of encountering the killing pits was paralyzing. Resistance is more difficult stripped naked. It was unusual for Jews to own weapons or to have experience using them. Jewish communities faced with Gentile hostility traditionally negotiated. Mass killing on the Nazi scale was incomprehensible.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

They’re so civilized now

“European society in medieval times and earlier had been dominated by malefically violent nobles who enforced their authority with serious physical violence, which they took pleasure in and celebrated. Homicide rates in medieval Europe even among commoners, who settled their disputes privately with little local interference from the law, were twenty to fifty times as high as in modern Europe. Violence declined across seven hundred years of Western history as monarchs moved to monopolize violence in order to monopolize taxation and thereby limit the power of the nobility and as an emerging middle class sought protection in official justice from the burdens of settling disputes at personal risk. Social controls over violence, primarily increasing access to courts of law, developed in parallel with changes in child-rearing practices away from physical brutalization. The criminal justice system vividly demonstrated this transformation. When official justice began to take control it advertised its authority with public torture and executions, spectacles attended by enthusiastic crowds. As private violence declined—that is, as populations were socialized to less personally violent identities—people lost their taste for such spectacles. Punishment retreated behind institutional walls.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

The servants of Thanatos

“The Nazi hecatomb was not ‘modern’ and ‘scientific,’ as it is frequently characterized, nor was it unique in human history. It was accomplished with the same simple equipment as the slaughters of European imperialism and, later, Asian and African civil war. State-sponsored massacre is a complex and recurring social epidemic. Understanding how its perpetrators learn to cope with its challenges is one important part of understanding how to prevent or limit further outbreaks, and no twentieth-century slaughter is better documented than the Third Reich’s.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

The shooters’ shoulders got sore

“The notorious gas chambers and crematoria of the death camps have come to typify the Holocaust, but in fact they were exceptional. The primary means of mass murder the Nazis deployed during the Second World War was firearms and lethal privation. Shooting was not less efficient than gassing, as many historians have assumed. It was harder on the shooters’ nerves, and the gas vans and chambers alleviated the burden. But shooting began earlier, continued throughout the war and produced far more victims if Slavs are counted, as they must be, as well as Jews. ‘The Nazi regime was the most genocidal the world has ever seen,’ writes sociologist Michael Mann. ‘During its short twelve years (overwhelmingly its last four) it killed approximately twenty million unarmed persons.’ “ – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

Wild strawberries

“Maps in Jewish museums from Riga to Odessa confirm that almost every village and town in the entire sweep of the Eastern territories has a killing site nearby. Two thousand Jews, for example, lived in and around the small town of Tykocin, northwest of Warsaw on the road to Bialystok in eastern Poland, worshiping in a square, fortified synagogue with a turreted tower and a red mansard roof, built in 1642, more than a century after Jewish settlement began in the region. Lush farm country surrounds Tykocin: wheat fields, prosperous villages, cattle in the fields, black-and-white storks brooding wide, flat nests on the chimneys of lucky houses. Each village maintains a forest, a dense oval stand of perhaps forty acres of red-barked pines harvested for firewood and house and barn construction. Inside the forests, even in the heat of summer, the air is cool and heady with pine; wild strawberries, small and sweet, strew the forest floor. Police Battalions 309 and 316, based in Bialystok, invaded Tykocin on 5 August 1941. They drove Jewish men, women and children screaming from their homes, killed laggards in the streets, loaded the living onto trucks and jarred them down a potholed, winding dirt road past the storks and the cattle to the Lopuchowo village forest two miles southwest. In the center of the Lopuchowo forest, men dug pits, piling up the sandy yellow soil, and then Police Battalions 309 and 316, out for the morning on excursion from Bialystok, murdered the Jews of Tykocin, man, woman and child. For months the forest buzzed and stank of death.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

En garde, you swine

“Serious dueling—dueling to the death to settle a conflict or an insult to one’s honor—arose among the nobility in early modern Europe at a time when states were centralizing. In medieval days the nobility had dominated its demesnes with serious violence, enforcing decrees, claiming and defending territory and levying tribute much as present-day mafiosi do. To assert authority and collect taxes, centralizing governments had to limit such private violence. Monarchs did so in part by establishing courts that the nobility had to attend as disarmed courtiers to seek royal favor. Monarchs also outlawed violent personal contests. The duel, a formalized violent personal contest, then developed outside the law as an implicit political protest, an assertion by the nobility that while it was prepared to bend its knee to the monarch in matters of taxation and social control, it did not recognize the monarch’s writ in matters of personal honor.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

Crazy apes beat all

“Many theories have been proposed to explain violent behavior, including loss of control, involuntary impulse, unconscious motivation, lack of conscience, character disorders, genetic inheritance or neurological damage. Some of these theories are anecdotal, based on an observer’s interpretation of a violent actor’s intentions. Others derive from statistical correlational studies, which by definition do not reveal causal relationships but merely identify qualities that may be associated in some way with violent behavior. That people become violent because they have low self-esteem, for example, is a widely accepted theory that minimal interaction with violent people, including violent professionals, quickly disconfirms: violent people usually have overweeningly high self-esteem verging on egomania, because they are confident of their ability to handle conflict and because other people, fearing them, show them great deference. Not all sociopaths are violent; not all violent people have neurological damage; unconscious motivation is by definition unprovable; and any theory of violent development that fails to account for official violent behavior as well as criminal is incomplete.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

A fresh shipment is in on the S.S. Blackshirt

“To say that governments monopolize violence is to imply that violence is a commodity that can be collected and stored. Violence is a behavior. As such, it resides in individuals, people who have experienced it and out of that experience learned to produce it more or less on demand. Weapons enter the picture as tools violent people may or may not use to amplify their violence production. Governments monopolize violence by authorizing some of their citizens to use violence in circumstances deemed legal and official. These citizens may have come to their official duties already experienced with violence, or they may gain their violent experience through official training. However thy learn to use violence, even these violent officials are authorized to do so only under specific circumstances, and if they use violence under unauthorized circumstances, such acts are deemed criminal. Police brutality and military atrocity, for example, are two categories of criminal violence.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

That’s the theory, anyway

“The control of violence is a fundamental responsibility of government. Governments control violence by monopolizing it. They authorize military and police forces to use violence but deem criminal any other individual or institutional use. From this basic division, which evolved across five centuries in the West as governments enlarged and centralized, the common belief has emerged that governmental violence is rational (or at least deliberate and intentional), while private violence is irrational, aberrant, the product of psychopathology rather than deliberate intention. In fact, violence is violence, whether public or private, official or unofficial, good or bad. Violence is an instrumentality, not a psychopathology or a character disorder. Violence is a means to an end—domination and control—one of many possible means. Since its essence is injury, its efficacy in the long term is marginal, but its short-term advantages are obvious.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

Who decided who lives and dies

“I was brought into the secret of the atomic bomb because [Admiral] Nimitz insisted that his intelligence officer be fully briefed as to what was going on. This occurred when Major General Leslie Groves, the Manhattan Project’s director, arrived with representatives of the secretary of war’s ad hoc committee shortly after the first atomic bomb had been exploded in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on 16 July [1945]. After we had watched the movies of the Alamogordo test, I was convinced that if the bomb worked, it would give the Japanese a psychological ‘out’ from the terrible dilemma they were facing. Although they were defeated and knew it, they just could not surrender. I told the team from Washington that it was my firm opinion that only a decisive intervention from the emperor would end the war. The atomic bomb represented a new kind of warfare. It would give the emperor the chance to ‘turn off the faucet’ on the slaughter and end the war without loss of face. When I was asked my opinion of an appropriate target, I named Okura, an army arsenal city that had not yet been raided. Hiroshima, however, was selected.” – Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, U.S.N. (Ret.), And I Was There