Another history instructor I know is transcribing her grandfather's diary from WWII. You can access the entries at Nite_Sheigo, they start in 2005.
Recently, I've been watching Band of Brothers, the HBO miniseries that focuses on the Easy Company of the 101st. First, it is remarkably well filmed, and, I believe, historically accurate. As historically accurate as it can be made based on the memories of members of the 101st Easy Company and government records.
A few things come to mind while watching this series. 1. World War II seems to have been the last "civilized" war the U.S. has fought. As civilized as war can ever get. 2. How amazing it is that anyone that goes to war can come back whole. 3. How dangerous, but necessary, beliefs are when it comes to wartime and combat situations. The troops have to have some level of belief that what they are doing is right and vital in order to continue doing it. When one starts to question the "why" of military action, it can create a very bad situation.
I also mused on how my perceptions have changed with the advent of the current war (because it can be called little else) in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a scene in Band of Brothers where a woman is standing by the side of the road, holding an infant or toddler. My first and immediate thought was "why aren't the troops shooting at her?! Don't they know she could be a suicide bomber or bait to set off an IED?" And I have to stop and realize... That was not the way of warfare in WWII.
Neither one of my grandfathers saw combat in WWII, as far as I'm aware. They both had skills needed stateside, and they were also in their mid to late 30s when WWII started. They were too young for WWI, and too "old" for WWII. But yet, I have friends whose grandfathers served in the European and Pacific theatres. I have friends whose grandfathers were "detained" at Dachau during the war (if I remember the conversation correctly, as we only had it once or twice, the grandfather in question was imprisoned at Dachau because he was of German descent, fighting for the Americans, and was there for "crimes against the Fatherland"), and I have other friends who never knew their grandfathers because they were KIA. One for certain at Iwo Jima, another in Belgium.
It never fails to make me stop when I watch well executed programs on WWII. ...How basic the war was. How the troops were lucky if they had someone that could play the role of a competent leader, whether they were CO or not. How little tactical training mattered in the immediacy of engagement.
How they would think they were done for the moment and able to relax for a few moments, only to see the guy next to them slump over dead from sniper fire.
And yet, I also wonder how the German soldiers that were drafted into service viewed their role. Did they stop and wonder why they were in this situation? Did they muse, as I do today, over the confusion as to why one man, or a group of men, can declare war that makes sense only to them? At what point did "logic go boom"?
But my biggest question is "how did these men come back whole?" My only answer is "they didn't." And that concerns me for my friends that are currently in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the ones that have already come back. I know of one friend that did his time in Iraq and since he's gotten back, he doesn't have a single night where he sleeps through, free of nightmares. I have a friend that's currently over there, and what his emails home don't say speaks volumes.
Perhaps history will show current events to be more clear-cut than they appear today. Perhaps not. I'm sure there were people in WWII that were asking, at the time, "would it really be so bad if Hitler was in power?" We know the answer today to be a resounding "yes"... Perhaps, in time, logic will prevail and the accuracies of what has gone on will be known.
1The label of "War - what is it good for?" is in reference to the song, but unlike the song, the answer is not always "absolutely nothin'". Sometimes war has its purpose, but sometimes not. I am attempting not to make a judgment call on either the current conflicts or past conflicts. For both, I am not in a position to do so outside of a historical context because I did not/have note served in combat. For past conflicts, the only reference I have is historical. For current conflicts, all the information is not available.