Consider our readings from Vasily Grossman, Gottlob Bidermann, and Richard Holmes. Judging by the evidence in these texts, how did men deal with the stress of war?
The iconic “thousand-yard stare”, a far-off, unfocused gaze characteristic of soldiers who had succumbed to the trauma of war by dissociating from it, emerged with its name through the chilling photos of soldiers who were overtaken by these symptoms in the wake of World War II. It’s no surprise that war takes a toll on the psyche of all those affected by it. Given the brutality and scope of World War II, which began only 21 years after World War II (a war that had already ravaged the landscape and people of Europe leaving high estimates of the death toll at 65 million deaths), civilians and soldiers alike were engulfed in total war. As Hitler and the Nazis’ ideology was based on “A War of Extermination” fueled by a racial ideology that sought for the ethnic cleansing and complete reengineering of the social population of Europe, the massive amount of Soviet soldiers that perished as they were thrown wave after wave in order to slow the Nazi war machine, and the general cruelty that was apparent in this war, soldiers upon soldiers grew appalled by the nature of the war. As one soldier confesses in The Italian Job, “After three months, it was demoralizing… it was every night, every night everybody was hunting Germans, everybody was out to kill anybody… we was insane… We did become like animals in the end… Yes, just like rats… It was far worse than the desert. You were stuck in the same place. You had nowhere to go. You didn’t get no rest, like in the desert. No sleep… You never expected to see the end of it. You just forgot why you were there” (Addison 208). Often times, the amount of effort put into it and the lives sacrificed seemed to far outweigh the benefits reaped from both; Gottlob Herbert Bidderman, a German soldier that was present on the Eastern Front reflected on “the insignificance of twelve kilometers: twelve kilometers—in an endless land, where unbroken fields stretched to the horizon before us from sunrise to sunset. I wondered how many more twelve-kilometer battles lay ahead of us during our march away from the setting sun” (Bidderman 23). However, like anything that people are overexposed to, these men slowly grew accustomed to and desensitized to the atrocities and horrors of the war. Human beings are naturally adaptive beings and history has shown time and time again that they do what is needed in order to survive. It would be simplistic to classify each of the nations and their armies as being uniform in their coping with the war – due to the specific nature of some of the problems and solutions that emerged from belonging to that particular nation (such as the Soviets reveling in their loyalty and the cult-like worship of Stalin and the Nazis racial ideology being one that ensured in their mind their victory), but many men, regardless of their affiliation, handled the war similarly. Some treated the time on these fronts as a long extended workday, disassociating from the acts they committed and the sights they witnessed as simply being a part of a job. Others turned to their families away from home – brothers and sisters, who through their common experiences, pains, and moments of hope, stood together in solidarity. Others turned to the bottom of a bottle to ease the pain; while others turned instead upwards to a higher power, or at the very least began to frequent religious services. Those who were not willing to look quite so loftily turned to their superiors and leaders for guidance and bravery; while in the case of the Soviet soldiers, glanced fearfully backwards as the higher-ups pushed them forward to their death. Far away from home and under harsh conditions, food and other chanced upon provisions and commodities would often serve as a best to moral. Due to the sheer breadth of stress embodied in being a soldier in any...
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