• U.S.

ARMY & NAVY: Odious & Disgusting

5 minute read

Just a year after V-E day, the U.S. Army’s reputation in Europe—once as bright and shining as a liberator’s sword—had disintegrated into disrepute. Last week General Joseph McNarney, commander of all U.S. troops in the European Theater, finally cracked the whip of discipline on the Army of Occupation in Germany (see below). But the situation which called for this action had been worsening for a long time. In the Christian Century, the Rev. Renwick C. Kennedy, an ex-Army chaplain now returned to his pastorate at Camden, Ala. after 20 months in Europe, told the U.S. some sad truths about the occupying U.S. soldier:

“Taking him by & large, making all the allowances for him that you can, he is more than a little pathetic. . . . He is not very clear in his own mind about why he fought, nor about what his victory means. As a matter of fact, he is not much interested in such matters. . . .

“His interests are more primitive. They are chiefly three: 1) to find a German woman and sleep with her; 2) to buy or steal a bottle of cognac and get stinking drunk; 3) to go home.*

“There he stands in his bulging clothes, fat, overfed, lonely, a bit wistful, seeing little, understanding less—the Conqueror, with a chocolate bar in one pocket and a package of cigarets in the other. . . . The chocolate bar and the cigarets are about all that he, the Conqueror, has to give the conquered. . . .

“The average American in Europe was not a bad guy. … He fought bravely. He died by the thousands. … He was generous to both Allied and enemy people. . . . Yet he was a failure as a propaganda agent for democracy, for the American way of life and for himself as an individual. . . .”

The Barbarians. “His attitude was superiority…. It is incredible how naive and stupid he often was, though he never knew it; men judging whole populations by the few harlots, drunks and black marketeers they met; men from tenant farmer cabins in the South scoffing at the rock houses of European peasants . . . illiterates from Brooklyn, Texas and Los Angeles deriding the mellow folkways of ancient European communities. …

“They did not learn much . . . they did not feel there was much to be learned…. It never occurred to them that many Englishmen, Frenchmen and Germans soon came to look upon them as uncouth barbarians. . . .

“The conduct of the average soldier … was at the least noisy and boisterous. At the worst it was criminal. The average was odious and disgusting.

“The G.I..(and officer) considered any young woman fair prey, and did not hesitate to make a pass at her. He chased women openly all over Europe, not merely professionals but any woman. … It was also a heavy drinking army…. He drank not with discretion and good manners, but like a beast. . . .

“Possibly the most irksome thing of all to Europeans was simply the gross bad manners of the Americans. Soldiers expressed their violent, ill-informed opinions of a people, a country, a city, in loud voices anywhere. . . .

“From England to Germany they have had enough of the Americans. It is not that they actually hate us. It is merely that they have had to put up with so much from us. … We have been so loud, so boisterous, so crude and often so obnoxious that they will be glad to see the last American soldier leave. . . .

“The Army did little to control the conduct of its soldiers…. But the individual soldier must bear most of the blame. He lacked the character and pride to make a good showing for himself, his army and his country. . . .”

Mission Misunderstood

Pastor Kennedy’s pitiless report (see above) was not the only evidence of the deterioration of the U.S. Army in Europe.

Black marketeering had grown from a small-time racket to a wholesale business. Venereal disease had reached near-epidemic proportions (as high as 427 per 1,009 in some areas). The number of AWOLs had skyrocketed. Disrespect for authority was rampant.

In Paris last week three G.I. prisoners escaped from a detention barracks, vowed to shoot all MPs on sight. They were recaptured only after a running gun battle in which a French civilian was killed. In Frankfurt, Army headquarters prepared special armbands for U.S. wives, to protect them from the unsoldierly wolf calls showered on German women.

General Joseph T. McNarney’s remedy was a tightening of discipline all along the line. He ordered new training programs, to cut down off-duty time, an 11 p.m. curfew for all soldiers whose previous conduct did not entitle them to late passes. To replace unofficial “clubs,” he directed an expanded Army program of recreation, sports, travel and education. MPs were ordered to better their liaison with German police, to move in fast when U.S. soldiers became involved with German civilians. Not all of the Army needed that kind of medicine. The majority was making the best of a job it did not want and did not understand. The flagrant misbehavior of a noisy minority wrote the headlines. But most G.I.s and officers still did not understand that they had a mission in Europe or that their impact on the liberated and the conquered was crucially important.

Going Down

Fearful of being hoist with their own petard, U.S. scientists and military men who developed the atomic bomb have begun to seek a haven where no other power’s atomic bombs can penetrate. There was only one direction they could go—down. This week, from Carlsbad, N.M. to Howe Caverns, N.Y., experts of the “underground sites committee” were set to go peering around stalactites and stalagmites in search of impregnable hideaways, for communication centers, factories and aircraft hangars. Elsewhere, they would have to dig their own caves.

*The order of preference, according to New York Timesman Raymond Daniell: 1) money, 2) women; 3) liquor.

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