HISTORY PERSPECTIVES HOMEWORK


A brief note:
So I decided that, history nut and non-conformist as I am, I would create a series of 50-100 word drabbles (internet talk for short, somewhat artistic stories) of a few dfferent events, told from the opposite perspectives that I received them. This is because 1. I’m a history nut 2. I’m better at creative writing than most other types of writing and 3. Much of the history I learned at school was loaded with bias – particularly Western bias – and this was for so many events, I just couldn’t pick one. Sorry. I really, truly tried.
So I present an overview of little-explored perspectives during WWII – mostly from the perspectives of army grunts, who have very little say in anything:
  • The Battle of Iwo Jima as told from the perspective of a Japanese Pfc. – this holds some personal value for me to write, as my grandparents grew up in Japanese-occupied Malaysia and Singapore. As such, it will be the longest. (700 words)
  • An SS colonel in the Einsatzgrüppen (Nazi mobile killing squads) (250 words)
  • A Russian soldier during the Battle of Berlin (400 words)

And then I’m just going to rant briefly about these because they’re perspectives that are usually super glossed over:
  • A Wehrmacht soldier in Normandy on D-Day
  • A “horizontal collaborator” in liberated Norway

Following each drabble will be a brief statement exploring why this perspective was not in the original account of history I received. Note that the drabbles will be in different formats and in vastly varying lengths (e.g. Iwo Jima is far longer than the Einsatzgrüppen story).
And so I don’t have to say it again, no, history isn’t written by the victors, but it is told and taught by them. Everything is out there. Everybody writes their own histories, from which we can deduce what happened, collectively. Everybody is their own winner. But we just choose to be blind to everything bar what we learn from our leaders, and listen to it uncritically. That, or maybe I’m just a pessimist and/or narrow minded.
Iwo Jima
The number of Americans and other Westerners I have come across who have pitilessly condemned the Japanese soldiers – not the leaders, the soldiers – for the atrocities committed during WWII is shocking. From my grandparents and from history days in primary school, I had learned of Japanese atrocities in occupied South East Asia. From resources such as the film Letters from Iwo Jima and from my change in perspective after studying the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich for my IB Personal project, I have created the following drabble as a rebuttal to the idea that all Japanese were brutal killing machines who raped, pillaged and plundered for the sheer hell of it.
The Americans had overrun the beaches of the dry spit of volcanic land that was Iwo Jima. They’d wiped out the first wave of Marines – and another had come right on its heels. They Japanese army had given the illusion of superior strength. In reality, they were hopelessly, hilariously outnumbered. Isolated. The fleet had been destroyed. They were it. For Tanaka Haruto, the machine gun with the single ammo box had looked hopeless to the point of being suicidal. But it was nothing compared to the situation now.
Now, when they were sat in the underground tunnel systems on the southern end of the island. When they were still stuck there, the Lieutenant blocking the way even though Tanaka had brought the message that General Kuribayashi had ordered them to retreat north.
You are all cowards!” spat the Lieutenant. His face was red, tears streaming down his face. “You have all disgraced your Emperor and your fallen comrades! You will die honourably now! You will die with honour!”
Tanaka was trembling. He could feel every vein in his body pumping with hot blood. He could only think of Orihime, sweet Orihime, alone at home, not knowing what had become of him, trying to run the tea shop by herself, what she would think when she heard he had “died honourably” (they all knew what that meant), what would become of her when the Americans – those great, hulking barbaric soldiers – overran the island and headed for the mainland to destroy everything. Then he thought of what would become of him if he refused to die for the Emperor – and the consequences were so much worse. He wanted all that he could not have – to leave the island, to hold his wife, to make the war stop and stand still for a moment and look itself. It was a stupid, idealistic wish. But he wished it all the same.
Saitou was crying too, as he pulled the grenade from his belt. The others did, too. Tanaka put his head in his hands and looked away into the corner, shuddering, unable to cry, as one by one, the men pulled the pins, shouted Banzai!, and exploded into nothingness. Only when he was sure the Lieutenant had ended it did he look up. Suzuki was still there, blood splattered all over him because he’d been sat too close to…what was left of Saitou.
He stood, offering a hand to Tanaka. They moved to the upper levels of the tunnel system, prepared to make their way to the northern end of the island. Something rustled in the entrance. A single American soldier. A radio man. Calling out to comrades, shouting that he’d found a place, searching with a hand over his face when they did not respond.
They fell upon him like wild dogs. Tanaka and Suzuki drew their bayonets, driving the blades in one, two, three, four, five times, one for each man in the squad. The soldier coughed and choked and gagged and screamed, eyes wide open in terror. Tanaka was crying and screaming. It was their fault that their whole squad and all their comrades – Saitou with his plump wife and three babies, Inoue, the kind village doctor, even the Lieutenant, who had been days away from a promotion to Captain – had decided to end it, had decided it was somehow more honourable to end their lives in the name of the Emperor than fight on in the names of their families. It was this man’s fault that they’d had to enlist, that Tanaka had been pulled from his peaceful teashop and his wife and had to leave her to appease the murderous Kempeitai all by herself. It was his fault that they were now doomed to die on the black sands of Iwo Jima, far away from any speck of humanity.
They didn’t stop, even after he was dead. When they did, they took the exit the man had come through, intent on making their way north, because only orders made sense anymore. Everything else – honour, loyalty, humanity, sanity – had been forfeit.
Why wasn’t this explored in class? Because the Japanese were considered the enemy at the time, and due to the fact that they didn’t issue a formal apology, I suppose the Western powers are still a bit embittered. Also, it was good to paint the Japanese as barbarians and not actual people in order to 1. Assist with the war effort and 2. Justify, on a civilian front, the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945.
Einsatzgrüppen Colonel
The Einsatzgrüppe were mobile killing units deployed in Eastern Europe to speed up the execution of the Final Solution, a plan for wiping out all ‘untermenschen’ (sub-humans) formulated in chief by Heinrich Himmler and edited and administered by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann.
Of ten things Grüppenführer Klaus Brandt was sure:
  1. They were losing the war.
  2. He was damn proud of his uniform, of his Hitlerjugend dagger, of the iron cross on his chest, of how he had rebuilt his country with the sheer strength of his back and will of his mind, and of he was the pillar on which hope for their country stood.
  3. He had to keep fighting because if he didn’t, the Soviet hordes would overrun Berlin, murder his wife, rape his daughter, and set fire to the city.
  4. The Führer had decided he wanted the Jews and Slavs out of the picture.
  5. The most effective way to do that, according to SS-Reichsführer Himmler, was to kill them, and Brandt had agreed to that when Obergrüppenführer Heydrich had asked him to command a squad.
  6. His men were untested on the battlefield, and didn’t have the endurance to carry out the massive kill orders on such a regular basis.
  7. Practice, and alcohol, were sure remedies.
  8. Machine guns were most effective, and alienated the men from what was happening
  9. The children had to go too – the innocent things were tainted from birth.
  10. He had his orders.

Of three things Grüppenführer Brandt was not sure:
  1. Whether he could love his Führer as unconditionally as before.
  2. Whether they could be using this ammunition to keep back the Bolshevik hordes instead.
  3. Whether he could face another night with that Slav mother and her child screaming their way into his dreams.

Why wasn’t this explored in class? Honestly, I ask myself that a lot. I don’t really know. Was it too macabre? Perhaps people are too afraid to step into such an alien mindset. Or perhaps, more likely, people wanted to completely and utterly demonise Nazism and Nazis in order to prevent their resurgence, which I suppose is a valid reason. Still. It took me half a year and personal project to begin to learn about how and why they thought what they did. Would have helped to learn a bit more about that perspective in school.
Russian Soldier
Masha sat on the chaise longue, having already smoked her way through three cigars owned by the lady of the house. She, Kolya, and Dima were already halfway through their second decanter of whiskey. The air was heady with smoke. Everybody was smoking. Drinking. Somebody had put on a record of some jazz song. Nice. They hadn’t heard jazz in a really, really, really long time. It drowned out the lady screaming upstairs and the guns firing outside, which was also nice.
In the corner, Volodya was boasting to a bunch of excited replacements about how he’d been one of the guys to hoist the flag above the Reichstag. Idiot hadn’t been anywhere near it. He’d been chucking metal at the little Hitler Youth boys trying to bazooka a tank, refusing to budge although Masha had been aiming for them from her gloriously secure sniper roost on top of a church tower. It’d been the first time she’d actually been secure since…1943. She absently twirled her finger round the muzzle of her rifle, leaning against her knee. Damn, that was a long time ago. She chucked her boots off and began massaging the trench foot out of her feet. Difficult. It had been a difficult winter.
Maria looked around at the unit. Almost all of them were in this room, except first squad (which included her best friend, Sasha – she remembered she needed to see him about the bar of chocolate he’d promised her). They’d arrived in Stalingrad with what, 900 men in the battalion? At Kursk, they’d had maybe 250. By the time they’d reached Berlin they had perhaps 90 left. Now, what, 20? Most of the casualties at Stalingrad were because they’d sent one man forward with a belt of ammo and the other with a gun and hope for the best. Kursk…well, that was a nightmare. And it wasn’t as though the weather helped either. Berlin was tougher than she thought it would be – they were still fighting, those Germans. She had to admit, they were brave.
Masha picked up a photo on the table next to her. Some posh looking army guy with a big hat and lots of medals. A little black tag was hung on the corner. Dead. Ha. Sucker.
She was almost content – tipsy, smoking, relaxing on an actual chair that had actual cushions, with two friends and no guns to bother her. But now she was hungry. She looked at Dima and pointed upstairs. “Reckon First Squad is done with Mrs Nazi Lady yet? I want chocolate.”
Why wasn’t this explored in class? I think it’s because of a Cold War hangover. Despite the fact that around 35 million of the 56 million WWII casualties (including holocaust victims and civilians across both theatres of operation) were Red Army soldiers, most Westerners fail to comprehend the immense loss. Probably because, from the end of the war until 1990 and probably still now (what with Putin and all) it’s been a good idea to demonise the Russians.
BRIEF RANT ABOUT WEHRAMCHT SOLDIERS
Just one thing to say – stop calling them SS because they’re not. Some Wehrmacht soldiers were Nazis – many were not. The head of the Abwehr (military intelligence) secretly endorsed assassination attempts on Hitler. Stop generalising. Ugh.
BRIEF RANT ABOUT HORIZONTAL COLLABORATORS
I just get annoyed that people talk about how lovely the liberations across Europe were but fail to remember the fact that the liberated people then hunted down women and prostitutes (not policemen or anything). In Norway, they tortured and raped the women and put the children of German soldiers in mental institutes. I just think that’s so messed up, and I think it’s wrong that we never address it.