I fancy myself an armchair historian when it comes to military history, specifically World War II. I spent a large part of my youth reading books about the history of warfare and watching any history show available. Of course, this was back in the day TLC stood for “The Learning Channel” the Discovery channel still existed and the History channel was more focused on actual history than whether or not some dude was going to shoot an alligator.
So when I logged on this morning and found this video on Yahoo’s front page, I had to take a look.
This is what Berlin looked like after being liberated by the Russian forces. Not only that, this video shows the origins of what would later be called The Berlin Wall. Fascinating movie, and it’s in color. The sound is a little out of sync, which makes it feel like it was added after the fact. But it could be the real sound.
I have no idea why this movie is so fascinating for me. And maybe fascinating is the wrong word. Humbling, would probably be better. But I do know why I posted it here. Obviously, it’s to share a part of history. But it goes a little deeper than that.
All those burned out buildings? Cars lying in heaps. A man walking with crutches while missing a leg. Maybe that happened at the Battle of Berlin? Who knows? But this is war really costs us, as a species. Conservative estimates put the death toll of World War II at 60 million people. I’ve seen some go as high as 85 million. Tragically, of those number of deaths, only around 20 to 25 million were military. Most of the people killed during World War II never carried a gun.
And I’m not downplaying the military deaths. Far from it. I have a great deal of respect for members of the military. They had a job to do just like when I stocked groceries for a living. A lot of soldiers were simply brainwashed by propaganda. A lot of others simply didn’t have a choice. During the last months of the war, Hitler decreed than any man between a certain range of ages (I don’t remember the exact range, but I believe it was between 16 and 70) had to go fight. That’s why you see so many women repairing Berlin. Most of the men had already been killed.
So why did I post this video? Two reasons. The first is for understanding. I’m not trying to defend the decision to launch a war, but, at the time, civilians were as valid of a target as military structures. That’s the nature of total war. When a government issues a total war declaration and begins to arm and train civilians, they become targets. Strictly from a military point of view, this makes sense. But people still suffer. Which leads me to the second reason I posted this. It’s my belief that, instead of covering up all of these details, we need to bring them into the light. We don’t need to censor what we, as a species, have done to each other. Every ugly, frightening, terrible detail can and should be put in the wide open for everyone to see. Maybe if enough people see the real horrors caused by war, they’d think twice. The more people see what really happens during war, the better. I know it won’t change the minds of many world leaders. But maybe, in time, future world leaders will remember stories of how people watched their loved ones burn to death, or how entire families were wiped out with just one bomb.
These stories are the kinds of stories we need to force ourselves to collectively watch. Every person on that video was a human, with a family, dreams and hopes. War may be necessary in this day and age, strictly in terms of self defense, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be made obsolete in the future.
So, go and watch some documentaries. Read up about the horrific experiments done at Unit 731. Read about what America did to it’s own citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. Read about Bikini Atoll, Kamikaze pilots, the Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown incident and the people who survived both atomic bomb explosions. I don’t know if we could have prevented all of this. But I know that we have the tools now to see that this stuff never happens in the future.
And as always, don’t forget to be awesome
(kinda a bummer post. Maybe tomorrow I’ll do something on comics to brighten the mood)