Rod McLaughlin

An impressive customer review of the book "German Atrocities 1914: A History of Denial" (08 feb 21)

I was trying to figure out how much truth there is in claims of German atrocities at the outset of WWI, when I came across this book, and a customer review which really puts them in context, explaining how soldiers nearly always commit war crimes:

"One of the saddest books I've ever read.

I'm going to object to some of the other reviews here, in that the book isn't really, at its core, an indictment of Germany as such, but a kind of examination of what might be called 'war delusional panic' by soldiers improperly disciplined and/or controlled. By this I mean soldiers both left to their own panicky devices to shoot at anything that moves that might seem to be an enemy, and/or encouraged to perform acts they wouldn't normally commit by equally panicky (or delusional) leaders. I honestly don't care what the British did in South Africa or what the US did in the Phillippines, insofar as that really is irrelevant to this study, which isn't a study of atrocities but about the above 'war delusional panic'.

I've had extensive personal experience in this kind of terrifying craziness, in the Balkans in the early 1990s, where it was shocking to see what people were willing to believe when stressed, traumatized, and scared. And it's contagious: stay in it long enough, you'll believe it yourself despite your own best efforts to resist it. This is a good book about that phenomenon.

I've also talked extensively with relatives who served in the US Army WWII in Europe, and they were full of wild tales of civilian ambushes, poisonings, nighttime murders... all of which were utterly anecdotal and patently untrue! But decades later they all still believed them. Another friend is from Pancevo, Serbia, the site of a completely unprovoked massacre by the Wermacht during the invasion of 1941, which itself was fueled by the usual whacked-out tales of the usual civilian treachery. German sources denied the massacre for decades, until a Wermacht cameraman on the scene at the time produced actual footage of the massacre from his closet in Germany, and touched off a storm of controversy. It may sound bizarre, and immoral, but I personally think a lot of the denial isn't really about amorality or anything, but shame and embarrassment at having believed such a load of crap, and doing terrible things, while scared half out of one's mind. It's scary stuff, and terribly sad.

I'm giving it 4 stars not because it's not a good book about a very touchy (obviously) subject, but because I intensely dislike the title. It's inflammatory and doesn't really describe the contents accurately."

Portland London