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Souveniers taken from the dead in time of war


Beau Geste
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I've received a PM from a pal whose knowledge of The Great War is impressive to say the least. As always, his opinion is worth listening to. He has suggested that although quotes from books and other relevant documents are useful and informative, one can get too much of that sort of input.

I have to say that I too have begun to think along those lines especially when post after post is merely questioning the relevance and authenticity of the other's choices.

Can we focus a little more on what the thread is about, human behaviour, and if one feels that a literary reference is necessary to back up one's argument, brief details of where it can be accessed should suffice.

Kind regards,

Harry

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On the subject of intelligence gathering - and this is related - were Tommies ordered to empty their pockets of personal possessions before they went into action? Using WWII as an example, RAF crews were not permitted to take personal effects into the air because they might be of value to the enemy.

Hello Des, a good question. I have to say thought that I have never read anything to suggest that this happened during The Great War.

RAF crews in both world wars had accommodation where such an act seems feasible. Lads in the trenches were in a somewhat different position and when I read your posting the first question I asked myself was how would it have been organised, what were the logistics of a process, that seems logical and sensible, if indeed it happened ?

Kind regards,

Harry

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Yes Harry, it would have been a mammoth task to keep the personal belongings of hundreds men separate and safe. Even the most efficient company clerk would have been taxed to find a solution. Phil mentions leaving belongings behind during a trench raid and I can see where that would happen when only an handful of men went into action.

What would be interesting is to have a look at intelligence reports written after the analysis of items taken from the dead and wounded.

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In an attempt to breathe new life into the thread I have been going through the excellent postings that have moved it along since it was introduced. Bearing in mind it's original purpose viz. to consider the nature of man, those that were posted early on by PBI really made an impression. He suggested that "in a war situation principles and morals in many cases go out of the window and some restraints no longer apply" (#134); "maybe the nco just enjoyed killing for the sake of it (#145); "I have no time for the romance of war" (#163) and in posting #179, he suggested that "personally, I think that the...hunter killer lurks just beneath the surface in all of us but has been pushed deep into our subconsciousness."

An interesting theory and those of you who have been following this thread will realise that this view of human nature is at variance with my own.

However, it is I think extremely persuasive and worth considering in a little more detail.

Recent postings especially on the "rape of Belgium" have suggested that atrocities committed by German troops in that area during the early years of the war were in many ways worse than anything done by the allies. There can be no doubt I think that these atrocities occurred. Nor can there be any doubt that the allies chose to exaggerate these events for propaganda purposes. Nevertheless this sort of thing did happen and not only in Belgium.

I have begun this posting in this way because there is question that has been in the back of my mind ever since my late father talked about British activities in India where he served with the Border Regt between the wars. He always said that we are no different to the Germans in this respect, that we are just as capable of that sort of behaviour as they are. He was an educated, well read, thinking man and his opinions were always worth taking seriously.

Over the years my wife and I have visited places like Belsen, Dachau, Auschwitz etc and I have always wondered whether he was right that the atavistic reversion that PBI spoke about so impressively in earlier postings, is in all of us and my rejection of this general Hobbesian view of man's nature is misguided. In other words, could places like these have existed in Britain and have been run by Brits or Australians or Canadians etc. Are we all the same after all and it's only the social, economic amd political realities that separate us?

I'd appreciate your views.

Kind regards,

Harry

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Harry, we operated concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War where inmates died. During the American Civil War, the Confederates constructed Andersonville, a camp to house Union prisoners, many of whom were brutally treated. There was no systematic murder of prisoners on the scale of Auschwitz but many Boers and Union soldiers perished from diseases caused by the squalid conditions. The commandant of Andersonville was eventually hanged for his crimes.

During WWII, the American government interned American citizens of Japanese descent as well as Japanese nationals. Camps were constructed in California and other states and the property of those interned was confiscated. Their rights as American citizens, as guaranteed by the Constitution, were ignored and their liberty was taken from them without due process of law. They had to fight long and hard after the war for justice which eventually came in the form of $20,000 payments to survivors. German Americans were not treated in this way, nor were Italians.

As well as "social, economic and political realities", I'd say that there's a cultural separation too.

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Diverting Slightly from the Phsycological Theory that i first expounded Harry,another thought that i have had on the Subject of the Original Post was that if More men had carried Pocket Cameras with Them in WW1 would any Trophy Photos of Slain Enemies have made it into Family Albums and/or Archives and would the presence of more Cameras have encouraged this Type of Image and encouraged a contempt for the Enemy ?.Back to the original Thread..I do feel that many Men in Warfare on All Sides who are suddenly set Free from the Constraints of their Civilised Society,sent far away from their Loved Ones,and given their respective Govts Blessing to Kill,would have entered willingly into a Seperate World that played by a Different set of Rules,of Course many would have maintained their own original Personal and Moral Standards,but without a doubt a Percentage were to become Phsyically and Mentally Hardened and Innured to Pain and Suffering.Another Scenario that i have read about in a Personal account was an Order issued to a London Regt Battalion that they were NOT to take any POWS on the 1st of July,one of the Men involved in the subsequent killing of Surrendering Enemy Soldiers eventually took His own Life after the Battle,others dealt with it by the Fact that it was a Direct Order,others by reason that the surrendering Enemy outnumbered the Attackers and so therefore could have overwhelmed them,and/or slowed down the Impetus of the Attack,by having to Detail Escorts to take the POWs to the Rear.

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Most officers and NCOs are not in a position in which they can influence national policy or the character of the entire army. What they can do is control things within their own commands. An infantry company commander in the Wehrmacht could keep his own company straight but he could not prevent the Final Solution from taking place. Resignations over matters of principle are a luxury for those who are very wealthy.

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Blimey, Harry, you want to delve deep into the human phsyche when all the psychologists and psychiatrists in the world can't give us a definitive answer about ourselves? Oh well, here's my twopenneth.

The modern, and dare I say trendy, way of looking at this is to say we're all cabable, given the right conditions, of taking an active part in things like the holocaust etc. and I must say it's an attractive theory not least because, on the face of it, it has a ring of truth about it. Most of us get pretty uneasy when confronted with this theory, we experience feelings of guilt about such a thing (for a time at least) - but surely, this reaction in itself tells us that we're not all capable of such things? Some people don't experience these feelings nor do they get uneasy about such an idea, some even get a certain sexual gratification from just imagining let alone from practising such evil - so, I would say no, we're not all capable of such acts no matter what the conditions. Of course, there are varying degrees of such involvement between the two extremes.

In my opinion, history proves my point - sure we had concentration camps in South Africa but these were closed when the public found out about them via a free press and the resulting public outcry forced Parliament to act, pretty much the same thing happened to force the abolition of the slave trade. Would anyone think that Gandhi's marvellous passive resistance campaign would have succeeded under any regime other than a parliamentary democracy, what would have happened to this great man under Hitler or Stalin I wonder? (or the Kaiser for that matter) Certain cultures have evolved psychologically as well as materialistically, but this "thinking evolution" hasn't come about by chance; it is the people of that society who have forced this growth in maturity of thought - ocassionally pulled along by their leaders, but usually they've pushed from below. If everyone were the same and capable of evil I would say "evolutionary thinking" would never have happened, we'd all still be thinking like cavemen.

But don't just look to history for evidence of this evolution - combine the present with history and what do we see? We see major elements of Islam preaching holy war, just as christians did a few centuries ago. Islam is around 800 years younger than christianity, is it going through the same evolutionary psychological process our own forefathers went through?

And soldiers reflect their society, they never existed in a vacuum - some will stray to excess and some will never stray, and the majority will fall somewhere between the two, but the percentages of these three groups will undoubtedly vary considerably depending on the kind of society they come from.

Harry, it is my contention that we're not all the same, and not all capable of doing evil, and I rest my case.

Cheers - salesie.

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Yes Harry, it would have been a mammoth task to keep the personal belongings of hundreds men separate and safe. Even the most efficient company clerk would have been taxed to find a solution. Phil mentions leaving belongings behind during a trench raid and I can see where that would happen when only an handful of men went into action.

What would be interesting is to have a look at intelligence reports written after the analysis of items taken from the dead and wounded.

Do they exist Des ?

Harry

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Harry, we operated concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War where inmates died. During the American Civil War, the Confederates constructed Andersonville, a camp to house Union prisoners, many of whom were brutally treated.

Yes Des, I know and, of course there is cobut as you said these weren't concentration camps in the WW2 sense. Is it at all possible that we Brits, or our cultural buddies, could stoop that low ?

As well as "social, economic and political realities", I'd say that there's a cultural separation too.

Can you expand on that Des?

Harry

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Harry, we operated concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War where inmates died. During the American Civil War, the Confederates constructed Andersonville, a camp to house Union prisoners, many of whom were brutally treated. There was no systematic murder of prisoners on the scale of Auschwitz but many Boers and Union soldiers perished from diseases caused by the squalid conditions. The commandant of Andersonville was eventually hanged for his crimes.

During WWII, the American government interned American citizens of Japanese descent as well as Japanese nationals. Camps were constructed in California and other states and the property of those interned was confiscated. Their rights as American citizens, as guaranteed by the Constitution, were ignored and their liberty was taken from them without due process of law. They had to fight long and hard after the war for justice which eventually came in the form of $20,000 payments to survivors. German Americans were not treated in this way, nor were Italians.

As well as "social, economic and political realities", I'd say that there's a cultural separation too.

Thanks again Des. Yes I know and there's also Guantanamo. But as you say they weren't/aren't concentration camps like Dachau or Aushwitz. But why was that Des? Are we different, more civilised or what? You mention that "as well as social, economic and political" differences, there was also a "cultural separation".

Am I being unkind to ask you to expand on this?

Best wishes,

Harry

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Diverting Slightly from the Phsycological Theory that i first expounded Harry,another thought that i have had on the Subject of the Original Post was that if More men had carried Pocket Cameras with Them in WW1 would any Trophy Photos of Slain Enemies have made it into Family Albums and/or Archives and would the presence of more Cameras have encouraged this Type of Image and encouraged a contempt for the Enemy ?.

I don't know Russ but as always, you pose questions that force people to think and above everything else that is surely what The Forum is all about. One question on this point: are you implying that there was a "pride" if that can ever be construed as the approprite word in this case, for the sort of base behaviour we witnessed in the excesses of both world wars?

Back to the original Thread..I do feel that many Men in Warfare on All Sides who are suddenly set Free from the Constraints of their Civilised Society,sent far away from their Loved Ones,and given their respective Govts Blessing to Kill,would have entered willingly into a Seperate World that played by a Different set of Rules,of Course many would have maintained their own original Personal and Moral Standards,but without a doubt a Percentage were to become Phsyically and Mentally Hardened and Innured to Pain and Suffering.

Yes and that does describe, pretty accurately I think, what happened in Belgium and elsewhere during The Great War and in Europe and elsewhere in WW2. Although a significant proportion of troops acted like animals the majority, for whatever reason, continued to behave like ordinary human beings. I think Russ that what I'm saying agrees with you. Most continued to play " by the rules" but some chose, for whatever reason, to kick them into touch. So, a question, are we therefore, all the same ?

Another Scenario that i have read about in a Personal account was an Order issued to a London Regt Battalion that they were NOT to take any POWS on the 1st of July,one of the Men involved in the subsequent killing of Surrendering Enemy Soldiers eventually took His own Life after the Battle,others dealt with it by the Fact that it was a Direct Order,others by reason that the surrendering Enemy outnumbered the Attackers and so therefore could have overwhelmed them,and/or slowed down the Impetus of the Attack,by having to Detail Escorts to take the POWs to the Rear.

I wonder Russ how many ignored (disobeyed) the order?

Kind regards,

Harry

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I say again that Any Man will have a Point where the Veneer of Societys Niceties will be gradually Discarded,it just needs a set of varying Triggers to start the process off,some will take longer than others,but in a War situation were Death was commonplace,and the uncertainty of EVER returning Home to Loved Ones seemed Highly remote,the Enemy Soldier may well have become the Hate Figure on to which the Soldier could Direct His Anger,Frustration,Hate,etc,etc,indeed during basic Training the use of the Bayonet was given a lot of coverage,and if Killing an Enemy at close Quarters did not leave an Indelible Mark upon a Man for Life i dont know what else would.It would be interesting to Find out Mens reasons for Volunteering For Trench Raids,was it the Lure of Souvenirs ?,Booty ?,or simply to get to real grips Man to Man with an often unseen and elusive Enemy ? .I also have to agree with your Thoughts Harry,when all is Said and Done,as you well know it takes All Sorts to make an Army.

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My, oh my! Harry's left the candy-shop unlocked! I am going to brew a tea, and then return to the Forum.

Bob

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Two Sugars Please..!!... :lol:

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Most officers and NCOs are not in a position in which they can influence national policy or the character of the entire army. What they can do is control things within their own commands. An infantry company commander in the Wehrmacht could keep his own company straight but he could not prevent the Final Solution from taking place. Resignations over matters of principle are a luxury for those who are very wealthy.

Thanks Pete for a very interesting posting. Of course you are right. People in positions of "immediate or close control" of men in the field have an important but restricted influence. Fear was a factor too that you haven't mentioned. If higher command, and in this conext one can take that as high as you like, controls every aspect of life, as it did in Germany especially in WW2, but also in the 1914 - 18 period, one either obeyed or paid the price.

Can one visualise that being the case in Britain say or are we so different, so democratic, so special that we can rule that out ?

I ask Pete because I don't "know" the answer any more.

Best wishes,

Harry

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I say again that Any Man will have a Point where the Veneer of Societys Niceties will be gradually Discarded,it just needs a set of varying Triggers to start the process off,some will take longer than others,but in a War situation were Death was commonplace,and the uncertainty of EVER returning Home to Loved Ones seemed Highly remote,the Enemy Soldier may well have become the Hate Figure on to which the Soldier could Direct His Anger,Frustration,Hate,etc,etc,indeed during basic Training the use of the Bayonet was given a lot of coverage,and if Killing an Enemy at close Quarters did not leave an Indelible Mark upon a Man for Life i dont know what else would.It would be interesting to Find out Mens reasons for Volunteering For Trench Raids,was it the Lure of Souvenirs ?,Booty ?,or simply to get to real grips Man to Man with an often unseen and elusive Enemy ? .I also have to agree with your Thoughts Harry,when all is Said and Done,as you well know it takes All Sorts to make an Army.

How right you are Russ. It takes all types and yes I agree with everything you say here

I'm still not convinced, however. When I posted my question (this last one) I guess I was asking if humanity is all the same. Are we and those who, without doubt, perpetrated the worst excesses of mankind in two world wars, the same? If not what are the differences and why do these exist ?

Don't get me wrong guys, I DON'T know the answer to these $64 000 questions. They just appear important to me.

Best wishes,

Harry

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British and American officers and NCOs could passively resist policies they believe to be unethical or immoral but they can't refuse a direct order without suffering the consequences. A professor who taught Russian history courses I took at Virginia Tech said all societies have their share of bullies, sadists, and criminals. Young guys in the army who want to prove how tough they are can be influenced for the worse by the bad apples in the barrel.

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My, oh my! Harry's left the candy-shop unlocked! I am going to brew a tea, and then return to the Forum.

Bob

Hello Bob,

I sincerely do hope that this question hasn't offended you or anyone else. It seems to me that with all the controversy that has circulated around the past dozen or so postings this thread needed a different but relevant focus. I have tried to do this by concentrating on something that I think is serious and worthwhile.

One cannot ignore things that happened in the past Bob . The question I'm posing here is quite clear: in different circumstances could the allies in two world wars have behaved in the same way ?

Kind regards,

Harry

PS Enjoy you tea. I look forward to you rejoining us.

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British and American officers and NCOs could passively resist policies they believe to be unethical or immoral but they can't refuse a direct order without suffering the consequences. A professor who taught Russian history courses I took at Virginia Tech said all societies have their share of bullies, sadists, and criminals. Young guys in the army who want to prove how tough they are can be influenced for the worse by the bad apples in the barrel.

In the British army, soldiers are obliged to obey lawful orders only, whether direct or not - so saying I was only obeying orders is not a defence against atrocity charges at British courts-martial. However, it's one thing disobeying an unlawful order and another proving it to be unlawful.

Cheers - salesie.

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During WWII, the American government interned American citizens of Japanese descent as well as Japanese nationals. Camps were constructed in California and other states and the property of those interned was confiscated. Their rights as American citizens, as guaranteed by the Constitution, were ignored and their liberty was taken from them without due process of law. They had to fight long and hard after the war for justice which eventually came in the form of $20,000 payments to survivors. German Americans were not treated in this way, nor were Italians.

Des;

I do not have the precise numbers, but roughly an equal number of German-Americans and Italian-Americans (together) were put in camps as were Japanese-Americans. Having said that, I must point out that simce there were/are more of the former than of the latter, a proportionaltely larger percentage of Japanese-Americans were interned. The difference is in the presentation. About 1989 ten internment camps were designated as US National Landmarks. The language of the Act of Congress setting up these camps as National Landmarks also stipulated that it would be unlawful for any of the signage at the camps to mention that roughly equal numbers of German- and Italian-Americans were also in the camps.

I feel that there was a difference in that not only a larger proportion of Japanese-Americans were interned, but I feel that there was a racial component. Interned Japanese were given two days to sell their property and settle their affairs before being shipped off. They had managed to take land in California that other ethnic groups had tried and failed to successfully farm, and the Angelos were dying to take their developed farms and businesses at pennies on the dollar.

I know a bit about this as my mother and I came close to being interned. My father was a US citizen, and when the war started had first worked for the US Navy at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, then for the US Army at two Forts in the Maryland area, and then was working in a combat zone building anti-submarine bases for the US Navy. My mother was married to him, had lived in the US legally for 16 years, and I was a four year old US citizen. We were saved by my father's boss, a US Navy Captain and naval base commander, who threatened to put the Naval Intelligence Lieutenant who were sending us off off the base itself to sleep in the rain forest with the giant poisonous centipedes. (Let me know if you want the story in more detail.)

Our family doctor's wife spent the war in a camp. We had our home searched about 50 times, based, as the FBI later told us, on my father being denounced as a Nazi spy by a small Celtic wife-beater and drunk, who tried to force his way in our apartment to look for his wife, and who then made the mistake of assaulting my much larger, fitter, ex-storm trooper father, who applied the appropriate correctives.

These were other things going on. The US was forcing South and Central American countries to turn recent immigrants from Axis countries over to the US for internment. They were then traded with the Axis for interned Americans. Unfortunately, in the process they sent escaped Jews back to Nazi Germany.

About eight years ago the US Congress was going to look into these matters, sponsered by Senator Feingold of Wisconsin. Then 9/11 happened, and the idea was thrown out the window. However, I now understand that Congress may be looking into this, sponsored this time by both Senator Feingold and Senator Schuemer. (I could add that both are Jewish.)

As for the Japanese, the compensation law was passed, but Congress took years to appropriate money to pay the compensation. Any camp survivors who died in the meanwhile lost the compensation, it was not paid to their families.

Bob Lembke

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In the U.S. military one is not obligated to follow illegal orders either. The problem is that many situations are not black and white. Sould an infantryman turn over recently captured POWs to a POW inclosure or intelligence unit where it is known that POWs are being mistreated? What if you're in command of a POW compound that is given inadequate rations, blankets, and housing? I'd try to do the right thing and I'd write memoranda for record stating the facts of these kinds of situations--posterity papers, if you will.

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Harry, we operated concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War where inmates died. During the American Civil War, the Confederates constructed Andersonville, a camp to house Union prisoners, many of whom were brutally treated.

Yes Des, I know and, of course there is cobut as you said these weren't concentration camps in the WW2 sense. Is it at all possible that we Brits, or our cultural buddies, could stoop that low ?

I know little about the Boer war. However, I think that, since the Brits could not catch the Africaaner male gurrillas (sp?) flitting across the veldt, they rounded up the Africaaner wives and children from their farms and put them in camps. I understand that something like 7000 wives and 28,000 children died. I am sure that these people were healthy and as hard as nails when rounded up. They must have been kept in absolute death-camp conditions to die like that. Given any reasonable amount of food, and given half a chance to keep clean, very few would have died. I believe that the Africaaners have documented every one of these deaths by name. I could add that the number of dead, if my numbers are correct, is about six times as many as the civilians who died in "the Rape of Belgium", some percentage (probably quite high) who were either innocent, or denied a fair and adequate trial, and some percentage (probably smaller) who were caught red-handed committing a generally accepted capital crime.

Are my figures correct? Corrections gratefully rerceived.

Bob Lembke

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