1. Americans experience the war in Russia, 1941-5; 2. The Cold War and the emergence of a lost cause mythology; 3. The German generals talk, write, and network; 4. Memoirs, novels, and popular histories; 5. Winning hearts and minds: the Germans interpret the war for the United States public; 6. The gurus; 7. Wargames, the internet, and the popular culture of the Romancers; 8. Romancing the war, re-enactors, and 'what-if' history.
The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Cultureby Ronald Smelser, Edward J. Davies ll
Pub. Date: 10/31/2007
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
From the 1950s onward, Americans were quite receptive to a view of World War II similar to the view held by many Germans and military personnel on how the war was fought on the Eastern Front in Russia. Through a network of formerly high-ranking Wehrmacht and Bundeswehr officers who had served on the Eastern Front, Germans were able to shape American opinions into
From the 1950s onward, Americans were quite receptive to a view of World War II similar to the view held by many Germans and military personnel on how the war was fought on the Eastern Front in Russia. Through a network of formerly high-ranking Wehrmacht and Bundeswehr officers who had served on the Eastern Front, Germans were able to shape American opinions into an interpretation of World War II that left the Wehrmacht with a "clean" reputation in World War II history. A broad subculture of German military enthusiasts continues to romanticize the German army to this day.
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In this brilliant book, Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies II, both professors at the University of Utah, examine the role of the German army in World War Two. Many books on the eastern front glorify the German army and cover up its active role in the genocidal assault on the Soviet Union. Many accept the Nazi lie that the German army was fighting a war of defence against the Soviet Union. The Nuremburg and other postwar trials confirmed the German army's links with the Holocaust. Franz Halder, chief of the army general staff 1938-42, noted Hitler's 1941 order, "This is a war of extermination." The Nazi regime conducted racial genocide against Jews and Slavs. The attack on the Soviet Union was a war of aggression, a war of annihilation and enslavement, which killed eight million Red Army soldiers and 22 million Soviet civilians. 3.5 million Soviet POWs died in German custody. Germany's generals all backed the attack. They laid the operational foundations for genocide. Halder's staff drafted the criminal Commissar and Barbarossa orders, which ordered killing all captured Communist Party members, partisans and Jews, and denied that German soldiers had to abide by the laws of war. But after 1945, the US state quickly turned from seeing the Nazi generals as war criminals to treating them as allies against the Soviet Union. The USA backed German rearmament in the 1950s, and tried to whitewash the German army's criminal acts during the war. Too many books on the eastern front omit the strategic level entirely, and fail to ask why the war happened. They look only at the operational and tactical levels, asking only what happened and how. But to focus on the Wehrmacht's courage and sacrifices is to ignore its crimes. These books promote the myth of Germany's soldiers as 'non-political' patriots. The books are part of a whole vile sub-culture which glorifies the Nazis' army. It comprises novels, memoirs, war-games, websites, Waffen-SS re-enactors and Nazibilia collectors. The authors recommend that we should instead read the true accounts of the war on the eastern front, like John Erickson's The road to Berlin and The road to Stalingrad, Omer Bartov's books, Hitler's Army and The Eastern Front 1941-1945, and Alexander Werth's Russia at war.
This author is clearly a hack from a 3rd rate university with an axe to grind. If he would have done any research, he would have found out that the Russian army acted like animals from the 1st day of the war in Russia. Torture, mutilation, and murder of German prisoners was common place. Later in the war the same thing held truth for the civilian population. It was said that the Russian raped every German women between 8 and 80. These are historical facts which cannot be denied. The Myths of the war are that Russians, Poles, Czechs, were honorable free fighter. The Russians exterminated the entire population of Volga Deustche and most of East Prussia. The Poles did the same thing in Silesia and the Czechs in the Sudenland and Bohemia. When did the Germans interpret the war for the US public? Another one of his Myths. Please give me one movie, documentary, or book that romantics the Germans in WW2. The German public has been continually to been brain-washed from people like this author. What I'm surprised by is the restraint of the German soldier in the face of daily atrocities by the Russians in WW2. I could go on and on. But to spend any more time on a hack like this is a waste of my time.
I started wargaming and studying the Second World War about eight years ago. Since early on I noticed a strong bias among some historians and especially the wargamers toward the German armed forces. Anybody familiar in the field would recognize the popular myths: ¿clean and honorable¿ Wehrmacht, the two distinct kinds of SS ¿ the one in camps and the one on the frontline. There is, of course, a great diversity among the ¿romancers¿ of Wehrmacht and SS but they all agree on a few essentials. The ¿romancers¿ argue that whatever crimes Wehrmacht might have committed were isolated incidents attributed to a few sadists and criminals present in all armies. Even so, in 1944, they would say, German military was very different from the one in 1941. By late war, they claim, the Germans were fighting to protect their own country against the revenge of its enemies, almost as if having nothing to do with earning this revenge in the first place. Somehow, the ¿romancers¿ always neglect for whose vision of the future all Wehrmacht and SS soldiers fought the war from the beginning to the bitter end. The second most popular myth attributes all responsibility for the defeats to the Austrian Hitler while giving all the credit for victories to the professional Prussian officers. Today we know that not only were all Hitler¿s decisions not wrong 'e.g. the decision to turn Army Group Center south to encircle Kiev in August 1941, the decision to call of the Kursk offensive in July 1943' but also the extent to which these same Prussian officers were accepting huge bribes from the Nazis on a monthly basis to wage Hitler¿s war. On a personal note I can say that my involvement in the historic and wargaming community never got deep enough, and I have lost almost all the friends I made because of the differences of opinion on these topics. I am very thankful to Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies for this book. It goes in great detail to show how the American perception of the Eastern Front changed after the war ended and what role German veterans played in promoting their war-time views in the west. The Cold War played an important role this process, but it alone cannot explain the willingness of the public to accept German views, in some cases quite similar to the official Nazi lines during the war. As for the Soviets, they were quite uninterested in resisting the acceptance of these myths in the western public. Especially when it comes to the military affairs, the Soviets clearly did not see an incentive to show the truth to the world. If the Americans wanted to learn from the defeated Germans, who failed in their assessments of the Soviet Union from the beginning of the war as well as repeatedly being duped by Red Army¿s deception operations, so be it. After all, for a long time NATO and Warsaw Pact armies stood ready to fight each other in Europe. Certainly, the end of the Cold War did not bring about a major change in attitudes in the wargaming and reenacting communities, which quite frankly have very tangible pecuniary interests in promoting the old myths. Today a lot of truthful books are published about the Second World War, but at the same time it is still possible to find new books by various pro-German ¿romancers¿ promoting old myths and fantasizing about ¿what-if-histories.¿ In an age when the youth learns a lot, if not everything, from movies and computer games this is an indispensable book to have on the shelf in every household. Like so many times before, I wish this book was published a few years ago.