And “So it goes”: Conclusion

•November 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

In this blog I have written of death from the most abstract of terms to the most concrete.  I have learned many things throughout the semester, but most of all, the Holocaust has stuck in my mind.  Perhaps this is due to the vastness of coverage, or the horrific qualities that demand retention.  Whatever the case may be the images of Alfred Hitchcock’s documentary on the death camps, Primo Levi’s descriptions and Art Spiegelman’s drawings still stick in my mind.  Aside from the Holocaust, I have learned much of what the individual affected by war goes through whether they are a soldier, a wife, a mother, or a girlfriend.  War is hard on all and no one’s struggle deserves to be overlooked.

Throughout the course we have been using RSS technology to keep up to date on recent issues to draw parallels to our readings in class.  While I think RSS would be great for keeping up to date on current events or as a news source, in terms of this assignment it has been farely ineffective.  Often I found myself wanting to write about something that could not be tied into current issues and instead found myself surfing the web for information that would go well with what I was trying to say.  I was usually lucky enough to find recent articles that supplemented my argument well but did not show up on my RSS reader.  Like I said RSS would be great for keeping up on current events, in fact, having an Apple computer I am able to set up my RSS feeds to come right to my Mail program making it very readily accessible.

In terms of blogging, this has been my first experience with it.  While I believe it was a good tool for a classroom setting I do not foresee myself becoming an avid blogger.  At least I know it is out there as a tool for me to take advantage of if I ever feel the need to have my opinions broadcast and the inner workings of my mind studied.

Death of Primary Sources and Deterioration of Language

•November 12, 2009 • 1 Comment

After World War II, much of the war and individual struggle of those affected by the war was documented using letters that had been sent back and forth between the home front and the distant battlefield such as those found in Since You Went Away.  Today, however, letters are far less common due to new technologies such as email, blogs, telephones, and various web chatting software.  The growing fear is that many of these sources leave no historical record of the trials and tribulations faced by these individuals during our current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In class, we have also questioned whether war blogs would take place of these letters and become the historical record of today.  Unfortunately, many of these blogs are written with a sort of rawness to them.  Spelling errors and cussing is not uncommon and many are simply amateur at best.  However, I believe this is due to the deterioration of language over the years.  People spoke much more academically and conservatively, which became evident in their writings.  Today, I believe this explicitness and rawness creates a better picture of the war front because it is not watered down with words and niceties.  You see war as it really is.

Also, there will never be any lack of documentation of the wars of today.  What is lost in the lack of letters is more than made up for by the unprecedented media coverage of the wars.  Reporters and writers put themselves in danger to cover these wars and report back stories, feelings and moods; anything that may be of use as historical evidence.  Picture evidence and video footage does more to supplement this shortage of letters giving even greater coverage of war than in preceding wars.

In class, we read a few excerpts from Colby Buzzell’s blog entitled My War.  I found it to be greatly interesting and even with its raw qualities; I found it to not lack literary merit.  It documents some military protocol that may not have otherwise made it into mainstream media such as the implementation of forced letter writing to family and loved ones back home.  With all these other sources taking up the slack of the letter shortage, wars are being documented greater today than have ever been before and there will never be a lack of information on the issue, lets just hope that this information is preserved and not lost in time or lost in the vastness of the World Wide Web.

Death of Love

•November 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Over this last week we have finished reading Since You Went Away which is a composition of letters from women such as wives, lovers, and mothers to soldiers fighting in World War II.  The book covers many topics but I feel one topic is avoided.  All throughout the book I was expecting at least a letter or two of wives leaving their husbands or girlfriends breaking up with their boyfriends while away at the war.  It made me wonder whether this was a conscious effort by the editors of the book.  It is very possible that letters such as these did not stand the test of time because the keepsake value of such sad memories were not worth holding on to leading to the letters destruction.  In fact, the only way this book even begins to tackle the subject is the death of love through death itself or telling of divorces in the summary of the writer’s life following each set of letters.

With the stress that war puts on a marriage, it would not be surprising for divorce to be more common among veterans or people on active duty.  Adding the prevalence of PTSD into the mix creates a stressful situation even when the tough time of separation is over.  In an Associated Press article entitled Army: Soldiers’ morale is down in Afghanistan, surveys found that

• Junior enlisted soldiers reported significantly more marital problems than noncommissioned officers, stating they intended to get a divorce or that they suspected their spouses back home of infidelity.

• Troops in their third or fourth deployments reported significantly more acute stress and other psychological problems, and among those married, reported significantly more marital problems compared to soldiers on their first or second deployments.

Aside from this article, there seems to be a lack of information on the topic.  Perhaps this survey is just the beginning red flag of a problem in the fetal stage as soldiers experience more and more tours of duty.  It is definitely a problem that needs to be watched and studied because these veterans returning home need all the help and support they can get while trying to reassimilate into the life of a civilian.

Dehumanization: An Extension of Death of Self

•October 29, 2009 • 2 Comments

Throughout Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz: If This is a Man, dehumanization of prisoners is constant and recurring.  The entire process begins even before entering the camp.  Prisoner of war are shipped to the death camps using trail cars designed for livestock and pack them so tightly that one cannot move or breathe.  Upon arrival, they are stripped of all their worldly possessions, including clothing and the first selection ensues.  Assuming one makes it through these selections they are then herded into small rooms where they stand hours on end, naked, awaiting what may come next.  I fail to see any reason for the wait other than to degrade the new inmates.  Next, they are given a tattoo, no longer are they known by name, instead they are but a number.  The clothing they are given hardly constitutes being called such.  They are rags that have absorbed the torment of many a prisoner before them.  Finally, they are given a bunk, barely big enough for one, though two must occupy it.  Nearly every aspect of the death camps aimed in someway to dehumanize the unfortunate souls unlucky enough to call this home.

It is hard to imagine the reasons for any of this.  The only thing I can think of is that, for those in charge, dehumanizing these people must make it much easier to kill them.  By altering the way in which these people live, they are able to create their own misconceptions of the whole and make it easier to exterminate them.  However, any time a prisoner expresses some human characteristic such as knowledge or trade, those in charge fail to see it as such.  Levi is very knowledgeable in the field of chemistry and, upon speaking to a German chemist, he is able to speak on equal terms, but in the eyes of the German chemist and all Germans alike, he is still an inferior being.

Dehumanization of PoW’s is not limited to the past.  Today, even the most powerful country, the United States, is under fire for its treatment of prisoners.  In Guantanamo Bay, Cuba prisoners are mistreated and dehumanized.  The act of be transferred to the prison, like those being transferred to death camps, is torture in itself.  In Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Cuba Exposes America it tells of men being cut off from all external stimuli.  They are blindfolded and blocked from scent, and noise with wrists bound and hand sheathed.  To me this seems cruel and unusual because I fail to see the benefit of transport in this way.  Torture can also be found within the walls of this compound.

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•October 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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The Death of Self

•October 20, 2009 • 3 Comments

People in wartime often experience a death of self or an internal change of some kind in response to traumatic events.  From the Holocaust’s death camps to soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), rarely does war leave anyone who participates unaffected.

In Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, the main character, Vladek, begins in prewar Poland as a very normal man.  However, when the war begins, he is sent to the front and captured by German forces.  From then on, he went into survivalist mode.  Throughout the book, it seems that he has never shed his survivalist instinct perhaps attributing to his poor relationship with his son.

Since Vladek’s release from the camps he has continued to save everything and spend very little.  He sees something and thinks of how it could come in handy in a given situation.  In the book Art often asks himself the question “what made him this way?”  He noticed that none of the other Auschwitz survivors were as he was.  I think the reason he is like this and others are not is because he took a proactive position on his survival.  While many others survived due to luck alone, Vladek relied on his ability to learn skills quickly, scavenge, save and barter.  Had he simply went with the flow; chances are, he too would be among the Holocaust dead.

Even today, soldiers come back from war changed.  The memories of battle weigh heavily on them and can affect every aspect of their private, social and professional life.  In Jeremiah Workman’s article The War at Home, he tells of his sufferings with PTSD.  Both Workman’s marriage and professional life suffered at the hands of PTSD.  He rightfully states, “war doesn’t stop when our boots touch home soil again, it just changes form.”  These soldiers must be helped to absolve their inner turmoil to not only protect themselves, but also others.

There have been many instances of undiagnosed PTSD sufferers committing suicide or violent crimes after their return from duty.  Had these men gotten the help they needed, perhaps these tragedies could have been avoided.  Both Vladek and Jeremiah Workman will never fully cope with what they have been subject to, but with the right help perhaps they can suppress them to a state that minimally affects the way they live their lives.

The Death of Human Compassion in Wartime

•October 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

Allied advances through Germany nearing the end of the war revealed a secret that Germany’s militants and citizens had been keeping since 1942.  Among the reclaimed land there were horrors that no one wished to see.  Specifically, these horrors were the “death camps” that were created for the purpose of “Germanizing” the captured land and systematically killing off the Jews as well as any resistance that arose.  However, the term “death camp” does no justice to the people that had to endure this insufferable place.  A slaughterhouse compared to these camps would have been seen as more humane.  These people were being starved mercilessly to death, gassed, burnt, tortured, enslaved, prostituted, and I am sure far more unimaginable things.  They were in effect being dehumanized and degraded by their captors.  How anyone could bare these circumstances is beyond me, but the real question remains, how could a person treat a fellow human being in such a way.

I feel as though my words are not enough.  To understand where I am coming from, you must first see Alfred Hitchcock’s documentary.  It is a powerful peace and as you will see it isn’t the narrator’s words that give this piece its power.  Its almost like the dead are speaking throughout, if nothing else to say, “look at me, look at what they have done to me.”

Had the Germans been so embedded with the seed of hate towards these people or did fear perhaps play an integral part of this atrocity?  These questions are beyond me to answer, but it is apparent that the soldiers working at these camps knew what they were doing was wrong because, in a last ditch effort, some of the smaller camps tried to eliminate the evidence of what they had done.  This meant the expedited murder of the camps prisoners.  Thousands died, painfully, as the troops advanced towards them.

I believe this documentary to have been made to serve as a reminder and a teachers aid when discussing the Holocaust.  Prior to seeing this all the history books seem to focus on are the numbers behind it all, numbers alone cannot depict the act in its entirety, nor can words.  It is sad to think that mankind has not learned its lesson, but the truth is that we have not.  There has been much genocide committed in third world countries since the end of WWII.  In an article by Scott Lamb entitled Genocide Since 1945, Lamb discusses many instances of genocide since the Holocaust.  He states that there have, in fact, been 37 incidents since 1945 and goes on to discuss a few in detail.  His examples include Bangladesh, East Timor, Cambodia, Guatemala, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.  In all the cases, millions of people were murdered because of religion, political views, and race while the world stood by shaking their heads in disapproval but ultimately failing to act.