It never crossed my mind that I'd end up a military policeman in Germany but there I was standing beside a battered Jeep with the Weser River at my back and the North Sea a few miles away. It was a pretty good life that winter of 1945-46, certainly a lot better than it had been a year earlier. Now when you got cold you could stop at the service club for a cup of coffee and at the end of your shift a warm barrack was awaiting your return. An old slave labor barrack still enclosed by a barbed wire fence, but that no longer mattered. The Jeep was not my favorite because it didn't have a high rod mounted in front of the radiator to cut decapitation wires. Luckily, at least for me, the windshield always did the job. The pinging sound was not pleasant to hear, but better than the alternative.
The best thing about that job was learning about people. Not just ordinary people but former German soldiers who had conquered all of mainland Europe from the English Channel to the gates of Moscow, from the northern reaches of Norway to the sands of North Africa. The Balkans too, and Greece. Now they were civilian guards hired to help us watch over an ordnance depot that had been an aircraft factory.
You don't spend entire nights for seven months sitting in a guardroom with other men without getting to know them pretty well. You hear their stories, see pictures of their wives and kids, listen to them quietly sing old marching songs, talk about every subject under the sun except Adolph Hitler and his cronies. Some would have seen him as a god, some would have hated his guts, all would have fought fiercely because they were soldiers and that's what soldiers do. They lost eventually, but not because they ever encountered better soldiers or better men.
Gradually I came to a realization: hell, the only difference between any of us is the accident of birth. Take that away and take away the politicians, the priests, the preachers and you'd take away the animosity. Only months earlier we had been trying to kill each other, but in order for that to have happened someone had to teach us to hate. The same old stuff handed down through the ages. They don't speak our language, they don't go to our church, their skin doesn't look like ours.
I had seen it earlier during three weeks spent guarding Polish and Russian prisoners who had been coerced into switching sides. It's easy to make men do that when you occupy their homeland - join us or we'll kill every man, woman and child in your family, it's as simple as that. The two groups got along fine, worked hard together unloading trucks, sang the same songs around a campfire every evening, but when the slightest disagreement arose they'd hurl the worst insult they could think of at each other - Polskie, Russkie. Roman Catholic, Orthodox. Hate them, they're different, but not before someone has done the teaching.
So what's the answer? That's easy, there is none.http://www.dickstodghill.com/