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The Myth of the Good War: Band of Brothers "Points"

(To read the rest of our series on Band of Brothers, please click here.)

When I sat down to re-watch the final episode of Band of Brothers--when I went through the season this time, I re-watched this episode first--I already knew what I was going to write about:


More specifically, I wanted to connect the men of Easy Company to this age old tradition of war. In my mind, I had already connected this episode to a picture my dad had emailed to me and Michael C during the summer of 2003 of a soldier leaning back in a giant chair--allegedly in one of Saddam’s offices in one of his many palaces--his feet up on a giant dark-wood desk, smoking a cigar.

The photo offended me.

We invaded Iraq to find WMDs, depose a dictator, and bring democracy to a region ruled by a tyrant, not occupy palaces and light cigars. I can understand a soldier’s desire to celebrate, especially after nearly getting killed in an invasion--I just don’t want to see it. Images like those made the American military look like an invading army. They made us look like tyrants, not liberators.

But when I watched the final episode of Band of Brothers, “Points”, I couldn’t make the connection. First, I couldn’t find the photo my dad originally emailed me. Throughout the entire hour long episode, I googled various terms trying to find the image, but nothing came up. In fact, I couldn’t really find anything about excessive celebration in Iraq, save for a few news stories about General Tommy Franks smoking a cigar in one of Saddam’s palace.

And in “Points”, almost none of the Easy Company soldiers “plunder”. They celebrate, and my favorite character from the series, Captain Nixon, gets access to one of the greatest collections of wine in the world. A few champagne bottles popped here and there, but who can blame them? They’re drinking the very booze the Nazis plundered from the rest of Europe.

(Turns out I wrote the above paragraph too early. In the penultimate Band of Brothers episode, “Why We Fight”, Captain Speirs and other soldiers loot everything they can, Nixon throws a trash can through a store window, Americans quarter troops in the nicest houses in town, and so on. It’s ugly, but not horrifying; our soldiers don’t kill German men and don’t rape German women. Contrasted with the images of a concentration camp, the plundering barely registers on the viewer’s moral radar.)

Now, this could be an unrealistic depiction of Ally-controlled Germany--I doubt the surviving members of Easy company would brag about raping or looting--but for the most part, I think this episode presents the past accurately. German officers graciously surrendered to American officers, American soldiers acted politely, and we kept absolute chaos to a minimum. Hell, in the episode, the only people American soldiers kill are other American soldiers.

If I had to describe the closing chapter of Band of Brothers, the word would be “serene”. Absolutely, transcendently serene. Which brings me to my issue with this episode, this series and American cinema: focus.

American soldiers ended the war peacefully, swimming in rivers and drinking wine. But a few hundred miles up north, that wasn’t the case. The Soviets had just taken the majority of the casualties in World War II and they were out for revenge. That’s why German soldiers desperately wanted to surrender to Americans. For instance...

- The Soviets committed the worst mass rape in history, raping at least 100,000 German women, but more likely twice that amount.

- The Soviets killed over 600,000 German civilians, according to one study.

- In Demmin, 900 civilians committed suicide to avoid the war crimes of the Soviet Army.

- In some cities, the Soviets rounded up civilians and killed them by the hundreds, as happened at Treuenbrietzen.

As I wrote about last week, war is not simple. Most Americans want to define World War II as a battle of good versus evil, but America sided with a totalitarian, atrocity-committing, mass-murdering communist regime to defeat a totalitarian, atrocity-committing, mass-murdering fascist regime.

Since Band of Brothers only follows one company in one battalion in one division in the entire American Army--and since that company didn’t see the atrocities committed by the Soviet Army--the viewer doesn’t see the atrocities either. The episodes “Why We Fight” and “Points” perpetuate the myth of the “good war”. And this “good war” is used and has been used to justify every other American war since.

Except the atrocities of the Russians--who pillaged, raped and plundered to their hearts content--give lie to the good war.

five comments

FWIW, and noting well that I haven’t read it (it’s been on my reading wishlist for a while, but I’m a lazy – and cheap! – poseur) :

(Hellstorm : The Death Of Nazi Germany, ..

Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 (Max Hastings) was a pretty convention shattering book when I read it back in HS.

I was shocked at Allied dithering and our top generals believing it would be “too political” to take Berlin before the Russians. All of this even as the worst civilian maritime disaster of all time was occurring and East Prussian women were being raped en masse. The Nazis in great measure brought it upon themselves, still, no one should have to endure such atrocities regardless of their past inequities.

Unbelievably, I frequently meet people that consider it a virtue that Eisenhower and Marshall didn’t think it correct to risk more American lives for political reasons – I sometimes think the acquaintance of Clausewitz and Huntington should be a pre-condition for opinions on military matters.

I agree with both commenters up until the Clausewitz line (we’ll get to him some more next month). However, the history most people know about WWII is really the American history, and some shocking things happened in the Eastern European theater that even I don’t know well enough.

— I was shocked at Allied dithering and our top generals believing it would be “too political” to take Berlin before the Russians. —

That was not the whole of it. Bad intel on the Alpine Fortress played a role, as well.

Actually, calling WWII AS SEEN BY THE US COLLECTIVE MEMORY a “Myth” is somewhat misgiving; more than a “Myth”, it really is a full-on THEOLOGY : WWII (again, as “remembered”) actually is the equivalent to the Book of Genesis, for the Church of Americana, and its legitimate earthly and spiritual dominion. History needs no apply.

Btw, I get a perverse, masochistic thrill by keeping a check on the pulse of the “Red Meat” USA, through frequent immersion in some popular ‘conservative’ online boards (arfcom, AKA the place where Walt Mitty’s clones gather, and the freepers, notably – breitbart is a tad too… rich for me, even in small doses, I fear), and, you’d be surprized how prevalent WWII discussions are, directly, or bubbling up to the surface at the first occasion.

I mean, it’s really IS the fundation for EVERYTHING. That whole worldview with the USA on top, and everybody else below, that whole hunger for war, wrapped in American Exceptionalism™ and a sense of moral superiority,… it’s all there.
WWII is the corner stone of that “Americana” mindset.

IMHO, the more this sense of US Supremacy is slipping away, the more the actual WWII fades away in History, the shriller the invocations of that founding event get, sometimes to truly perplexing levels; a recent random freeper commented in all seriousness something like “it took 72 years, but the brits surrendered”, after the UK vote on the palestinian UN status – I mean, come on… surrendered? What? To whom? Give me a break.
And I won’t even get into the knowning, deliberate ideological (mis)use of that powerful identity lever by the various pimps at the top, ending up in people wrapped around that idée fixe like the above-mentioned random freeper.

My 0.02, as seen from an outsider’s point of view, who certainly is not given to the same “WWII fairy tale” lense.