Where Have All
The Soldiers Gone?

The Transformation of Modern Europe
James J. Sheehan
(Houghton Mifflin)
  • Eighty European colonial territories were set free between 1940 and 1980. This move to independence involved almost 40% of the world's population.

  • Austria's declaration of war against Serbia in 1914 set the stage for World War I. Sigmund Freud called it "a bold-spirited deed" and said "All my libido is given to Austro-Hungary." Max Weber wrote, "No matter what the outcome will be, this war is great and wonderful."

  • Despite their defeat and the Versailles Treaty, Germany emerged from WWI with "greater relative power" on the continent than before. The reason: imperial Russia disappeared, as did Austria-Hungary, and Italy and France lost a greater percentages of their population in the battles during the four years of the war.

  • Poison gas was used more extensively after the end of WWI than during the conflict. Examples: The British in Afghanistan (1919) and in Iraq (1920), the Italians in Libya (1923 - 1924) and in Ethiopia (1935) and the Spanish in Morocco (1921 - 1927). In 1920, Winston Churchill said, "I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes."

  • And at the beginning of the Soviet-German conflict in 1941, Senator Harry Truman said that the United States should support "whoever seemed to be losing,"
      so that the Nazis and Communists might kill as many of the other side as possible.

  • World War II was the first "war of no boundaries." No one suffered more casualties than the Russians.
      The figures are necessarily inexact, but close enough to suggest the magnitude of the tragedy: 6.8 million military dead, about 16.9 million (and perhaps as many as 24 million) civilian dead.

  • By the end of WWII, only 40% of SS divisions were German nationals. "When Himmler began to expand the Waffen SS, the SS's military component, he formed ethnically based units both in occupied areas and from the citizens of allied states,"
      with particular emphasis on "Germanic" races like the Dutch, Danes, Norwegians, and Flemings, but also including Latvians, Ukrainians, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims.

§     §     §

Sheehan's thesis is simple but no doubt true, especially for those of us who recall the Cold War Years 1945 - 1990. The military horrors of WWI and WWII were so startlingly awful that when the United States and Russia squared off in 1947, the Europeans were able to give up military adventurism, leave the warring to the two great powers. Despite continuing crises in Berlin (and Cuba, and North Korea, and Viet-Nam), and while no one was looking, they created "the largest economic bloc in the world," the European Union. Its members now create

    one quarter of the world's gross national product and one fifth of the world's commerce.

This wonderful novel's hero (and Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? has a narrative style and flow as rich as a great novel) is a man now barely remembered, Robert Schuman. Not the composer, dummy. His name was spelled "Schumann." The inventor of the European Union was a French foreign minister with only one "n" and no lieder at all to his name (although we might offer the thought that he was a leader to his people).

By 1949, he and many of his peers knew that Germany's recovery "was unavoidable." With this --- and the history of so many wars --- how could France remain secure in the mid-twentieth century? The answer was simple ... and relatively small potatoes, to start with. A cartel was created to control the heavy mining and production of six countries, what was soon to be termed the Inner Six: France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy.

This association of nation-states, technically known as the European Coal and Steel Community, was to change the face of European power (and power-politics) forever. According to Sheehan, the ECSC created an "institutional template [that] expressed a radically new approach to the European order."

A concurrent organization, the European Defense Community, was designed as part of NATO. It was, as one commentator opined, "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down."

§     §     §

Sheehan is a spirited and inspired writer. I can't think of a contemporary historian --- outside of David M. Kennedy, Brian Lapping, Niall Ferguson, and Eric Hobsbawn --- who can take such a mountain of facts and personalities and make a coherent system out of it all, all the while injecting delicious bits and pieces (see the quotes above from Freud, Churchill and Truman). Tiny facts that can take the breath away.

This book is a summary, and a very concise one, of recent European history. As we read along, we note --- as we have in the margins of our copy --- "yes" and "right" and "ah-so." Like this on Berlin, 1945 - 1989: "Even when the Cold War's epicenter shifted away from Europe, the border between the two German states was haunted by the constant danger of an armed confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union."

    But the intra-German border connected as well as separated the two superpowers, joining them in a common defense of the bipolar system on which the post-war order depended.

Our only complaint, put as an afterthought, is that Sheehan assures us that the coming of a more peaceful Europe flowed directly from the Cold War and Robert Schuman. Media, communications, and television, we believe, had something to do with it too. When you see someone getting mauled, beat up or shot down in your own living-room, it can, at least for some people, induce some questions as to why governments are spending so much money to brutalize other people. Thus the effect of television nightly news that came to us direct from Birmingham, West Berlin, Hanoi, Tiananmen Square.

The military rigorously prohibit videos being shot in "war zones;" and, even more vehemently, ban videos of bodies being returned, piecemeal, from the front. Try it yourself. Ask permission to photograph one of those late-night, shrouded arrivals from Afghanistan. Not only will you be turned down, the very arrival will be hidden from all interested parties, even the family involved.

According to Channel 10, San Diego, during the war in Iraq, many bodies were "arriving as freight on commercial airliners --- stuffed in the belly of a plane with suitcases and other cargo." So much for honoring the fallen.

--- Pamela Wylie
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