My research is broadening out beyond the partisans in Soviet Moldavia to include stories of other people in other times and places who had to endure what the war threw at them. This is going to be my way of collecting stories. Reflecting on feelings. Experimenting with ideas. And recording what it was like to be a human being in wartime.
Robert Kotlowitz – in his book Before Their Time, a memoir of his life as a teenage infantryman in the US army during WW2 – writes with brutal, poignant, sharp honesty about what it was like to fight and live and eat and sleep and march. You read about the gradual collapse of youthful idealism.
It’s a tremendous book. Read it.
For the next few posts, I will share some of the things he talks about and reflect upon them.
We think of hate in a wartime context as part of the whole “them and us” idea. The enemy. Hate the enemy. Demonise them. De-humanise them. Then we can kill them.
But hate pops up everywhere. It is everyday. Mundane and ever-present. Lurking in the shadows. And it makes no distinction between wartime friend and foe.
Take the example in Kotlowitz book of the time he shared a 2-person pup tent. Once with with Bern Keaton and once with Ira Fedderman. Its a sobering story of how living in close proximity to other humans can lead directly to hate, barely stopping at indifference or annoyance.
In his book he describes it thus,
Sharing a pup tent could do that to you. It put you in someone else’s thrall. It forced you into someone else’s domestic embrace. Suddenly you turned over part of your world, perhaps the essnetial part, to a stranger, an intruder – in Fedderman’s case bulky, twtichy, high-strung and incompetent – with noises, habits and intimate smells of his own; and he returned the favor. (It was hard enough to get used to your own smells, much less someone else’s.) men were not made to live together, I was learning for a second time. It created a false situation, bound by unyielding tension. I would not forget that lesson. It would last for years. (pp.72-73)
This is the side of hate which we don’t often talk about: the hate induced by those whom we are supposed to fighting with and for, not against. It is commonplace to talk about how the ideologies of National Socialism or Italian Fascism or Japanese militarism or Soviet communism created enemies and facilitated the murderous war in the Far East and the Eastern Front. We also all recognise the power of revenge and reprisal to breed hate in our hearts for those who have wronged us.
We seem less willing though to ackowledge the everyday hate which grows in all of us. Living in close proximity to other humans – with all their annoying habits and mannerisms – is enough to do it.
This hate tells us two things.
One, despite their great power, the ideologies of nationalism and the like are limited in their ability to shape how we feel and act and behave towards other humans. We have the capacity to resist the siren song of destructive ideas and charismatic leaders who urge us to hate others and make enmies of those who are “different” from us.
Two, that hate sleeps lightly in our hearts and minds and is easily awoken, and will take up residence in our lives if we give it room and space to grow and breathe.
This is the most important battle in times of war and in times of peace: to fight against hate.