Thursday, 13 April 2017

09:25 – It was 48.1F (9.5C) when I took Colin out at 0715 this morning, partly cloudy and breezy. Barbara just called to check in. She’s due back from Winston around mid-afternoon, so Colin and I need to get things cleaned up a bit before then. We’ve been wild womening and partying since she left.

I watched several more WWII propaganda films last night. Of course, everything was slanted into an us-versus-them perspective, as one would expect of propaganda films, but despite the slant the underlying reality was there.

I thought the one on Japan did a pretty good job of pointing out the differences between the two cultures, ours free and theirs utterly subordinate in all things to their emperor. Interestingly, the film took pains to point out that the differences weren’t racial. The scrolling text that opened the film extolled the loyalty and bravery of the Nisei, people of Japanese heritage who had been born in the US and were citizens and who fought valiantly for the US in both Europe and the Pacific.

The film also demonized the Japanese in Japan as vicious, mindless thugs, whose highest aspiration was to die in battle for their emperor, a true representation of the way things were. One factoid I wasn’t aware of was that the average Japanese soldier was 5’3″ tall and weighed 117 pounds, about the size of the average American woman at the time. The Japanese soldiers were little bastards, but vicious.

Both that film and the one about the Nazis made the point that both of their educational systems were designed to indoctrinate rather than educate, and that the primary goal of both was to raise children who would unquestioningly obey orders and do nothing on their own initiative.

And that had a big effect on their respective armies. When I was college, I met a man about my dad’s age. He’d been a junior officer in the 1st SS panzer division in France just after the Normandy invasion, and had also served on the Russian Front. I asked him about the differences between the various armies, and what he had to say was fascinating.

With regard to the German versus Russian armies, he said that decision-making authority was at a much lower level in his army than in the Russian army. As a company-grade officer, his superior officers told him what goal he was responsible for achieving and in broad-brush terms how to go about getting it done. From that point, he made the decisions as to how to employ his company to get the job done. He made decisions like calling in artillery, air, or armor support that he said in the Russian army would be made by a field-grade officer, if not a general officer. That meant the German army was much more flexible in responding quickly to enemy action.

Then, after D-Day, the high command rushed the 1st SS panzer division west to counter the landings. What he found there was that Allied units, particularly US ones, shifted responsibility for tactical decision making even lower. He was stunned to learn that in US units decisions like calling in artillery/air/armor support that in his army would be made by officers of his rank or higher were often made by US enlisted men, sergeants or even privates. In short, US forces at all levels took the initiative rather than just following orders. Of course, in large part this was because the US forces were able to be so flexible because of their overwhelming superiority in materiel.

Which takes me to an interesting comment he made. In the German army, hand grenades were issued almost exclusively to specially-trained grenadiers, and were used sparingly. In the US, essentially every soldier might as well have been a trained grenadier because they’d all grown up playing sandlot baseball. They all carried grenades, and they used them lavishly. Rather than send a guy in the door of a building they had to clear, they’d toss in a grenade (or several grenades) before risking a man. And they never seemed to run short of grenades, he said.

I remember thinking of that conversation when I saw the movie Kelly’s Heroes, which involved a bunch of US soldiers forming an ad hoc unit on their own initiative to go and loot a pile of German-held gold. An early example of how socialism, National or otherwise, can’t compete with the free market and the profit motive.


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