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Band of Brothers I.9-10


On the end of war

Man is the subject of the only military speech about the end of the war. Some German general addresses his defeated troops upon surrender. (A soldier translates it into English for his commander.) The officer says he is proud to have served with his men, that they defended bravely their fatherland, & deserve a long, peaceful life.

The American speech answering it is non-military: Major Winters tells what varied lives some of his men lived, who then reflect on their service in a series of brief speeches. They were soldiers once, in WWII. They desired, earned, & lived lives of peace.

The soldier’s speech is misleading: The Germans turned to defense because their invasions were eventually defeated. Whatever justice or necessity inheres in defense, it fails before the justice & the necessity of the punishment perpetrated on aggressors. Shockingly, the German military elicits sympathy in the end, not long after the death camps appeared.

The sight of the death camps arouses hatred in the best of men even. This alone answers the question: why we fight. Americans had never seen anything like the destruction that the Germans, Russians, Japanese, & Chinese wreaked in their own countries, the murder of millions. Germany received extraordinarily generous terms of peace, whereas she had made peace by extermination, imprisonment, & harsh occupation when victorious. The greatest enemy America had faced had to be humiliated, not merely defeated, before surrendering…

The American defensive war turned into a just conquest of Europe. Subsequently, grand strategy required turning Europe into an ally, because the Soviets became the enemy. Unfortunately, this marred the conquest’s triumph. Misunderstanding the Soviet evil, which made the Cold War a threat beyond tragedy, misled America. Eisenhower’s war did not teach America how to fight anew, though war was more necessary. Exhortations to fight the barbarians fell on deaf ears. An easy peace seemed possible…

Winters alone wants to fight in Japan, so he relinquishes command of the Battalion. The fighting over, discipline breaks down; now soldiers only die in meaningless accidents. Looting increases. The men of Easy Company play baseball.

The German speech, it is suggested, applies also to the Americans. Some had earlier said they understood the Germans were doing their duty, same as them… The soldier’s craft is apparently apolitical. Contrariwise, citizenship is law-bound, divides men into nations, & so gives meaning to warfare. Humanity & craft are apolitical, universal, but they ignore the connection between honor & justice: Unpatriotic, they are impious. The American conquest proved only politics defends humanity.

The soldiers defending America might be said to have defended her cause, thinking that it was well worth defending. Certainly, the American way of life prepared Americans to defend America.