Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Insanity of War.

World War 2 has been an interest of mine since I was still in high school and over time I’ve read pretty much anything about it I could get my hands on. Of all the authors and various books written about WW2 two of the best are arguably Stalingrad and Berlin, which were both written by Antony Beevor. These two books changed my opinion on World War 2 more than anything else because both accurately and clearly detailed the depth of insanity men fall towards in war.

One of the most poignant examples of this was when a group of German soldiers (If I recall correctly, they may have be Russian) were burying one of their comrades. They covered the man with branches collected from nearby trees, when one of the other soldiers cried out that they were “Enemy branches!!” causing the soldiers to fanatically recollect the foliage and burn it. Another example was a German solider facing the huge soviet offenses to charge to Berlin in 1945, comparing the attacking Russian waves to animals that were simply out to be killed or kill him. The Russians of course weren’t terribly better with many Russian soldiers, still incredibly bitter from the siege at Stalingrad, going on a murdering and raping spree against German civilians in order to get revenge.

The violence, inhumanity and sheer disregard for human life demonstrated on the Eastern front of WW2 demonstrates war at its very worst. Russian commanders in their attempts to race to Berlin to beat the Americans, not to mention each other, wasted huge amounts of human life. This is because the Russians frequently chose to attack using large bludgeoning waves of troops against well entrenched positions. Casualties, even considering the small numbers of German defenders, were often extremely high and better firing support, reconnaissance and preparation before attacks Russian commanders could have avoided such high losses.

Adolf Hitler also played his part in exacerbating both the war and the loss of human life. Hitler held to an untenable position where he would not concede even an inch of land that his forces had previously gained. This resulted in long, bloody and most importantly pointless sieges such as Budapest, which I get the impression Hitler thought he could turn into a German equivalent of Stalingrad. Hitler too was also completely deluded, at one point ordering phantom divisions that never existed and engaging in wasteful assaults such as the Ardennes campaign of 1944. Panzer divisions lost in that attack would have been better served on the eastern front, which would have been more useful than simply being easy targets for American and British planes.

Unfortunately, the western Allies are not entirely guilt free from (needlessly) adding to the already horrific death toll of WW2. The fire-bombing of a small German city called Dresden in February 1945 demonstrates a similar mindset in many ways to the revenge rapes/murders on civilians carried out by the Russians. Dresden had no important industry, was not in any area that would be essential for allies to cross and had a small population. The town was almost entirely annihilated by the combined American/British air raid and over 300,000 people were killed. The air-raid was nothing more than a revenge attack for the bombings on British cities (1941) and the V-2 rocket attacks (~1944-1945).

Although I’ll concede that world war 2 was a war that needed to be fought as the evils of NAZI German and Imperial Japan needed to be combated, what never needed to happen were so many incidents where peoples lives (regardless of what side they were on) were destroyed for no purpose. Such are the depths that wars frequently sink towards, where human lives become nothing more than little plastic figurines on a table to be cashed in for more territory, materials and prestige.

Sources: Berlin: The Downfall 1945, and Stalingrad both written by Antony Beevor and more than worth reading even if WW2 isn't your area of interest.