Band of Brothers (15-41)
Our focus this week is adjusting to the military lifestyle (or not). The military was a very foreign experience for many WWII Americans. Please choose two questions to respond so.
3. Over 16 million Americans served in the military during WWII. Who were they?
The over 16 million Americans who served in World War II truly were a cross-section of the United States population. Some of them were young men (boys) who were off for the glory and adventure they felt war would bring them while others went with nothing but a sense of dread for what they felt was an impending doom. Some tried hard to avoid serving and were compelled to do so while others went with a conviction that the best way to survive a war was to be the best and surround yourself with the best. We don’t like to talk about those who were less than bold. We don’t want to believe that people hated to be there and hated it the whole time. War stories are often about triumph, whether accidental or intentional. We all know from real life that triumph is not always the case. Even within a winning campaign there are many stories that are less than glorious. I know that as Matti and I were examining soldiers for her project we wanted somebody with a “good story.” I found it rather striking that several soldiers had less than spectacular stories. There was a Silver Star recipient that had some of his fellow soldiers refuting the award many years later because act was one of stupidity they felt rather than one of bravery. There was also a General (the highest ranking officer in the Normandy cemetery) who was killed by friendly fire and had recently had his leadership questioned for his poorly executed tactics during the campaigns in Africa. After I read the first two chapters of Band of Brothers I had the urge to watch the first episode of the HBO series again. I ended up watching the first three episodes. I am always struck by the vast variety of characters portrayed in the series. I am also struck by the randomness at which soldiers are killed. Bad luck, dumb luck, good luck seem to determine who makes it through and who doesn’t. That sheer randomness is why I think veterans talk about the true heroes being the ones who didn’t get to come home. You experience all of that and come out alive while the guy next to you doesn’t and you can’t explain what you did differently than he did.
4. Military training was about more than just learning a job. What else did soldiers learn in training? Were these lessons important?
I tell this to students when we are in class and during big projects—it’s not end project but the process to get there that you’ll most learn from in the end. It’s another take on the “It’s the journey, not the destination” philosophy which is true with our experiences and true with the overall experience of life. Military training in general, but especially in a time of war, is about very intense experiences in a short period of time. There are a lot of opportunities for learning at every step along the way and those who learn the wide variety of lessons fast survive while those who cannot adjust do not make it through training. The soldiers of Easy Company learn all the skills of being a paratrooper but they also learn about getting the most out of themselves mentally and physically. Something else they learn is that leadership, while it must be followed, it is not always something you can believe in. While that’s a cynical view, I think it brings soldiers the lesson that there are not always easy to identify principles that you are fighting for. The big picture can get lost when the immediate picture is clouded. When you are around such a diverse group of people with all sorts of different experiences a lot of lessons about values, acceptance, compliance and social expectations come out. Add the pressure valve of war and those lessons are not only magnified but they are contorted.