In honor of Veteran’s Day, Denisa and I have been working our way through Band of Brothers, the HBO miniseries based on the book by Stephen Ambrose. It follows the story of Easy Company, a group of American paratroopers who fought in World War II from D-Day through the defeat of Germany. (Tonight I think we might watch Saving Private Ryan, the movie that spawned Band of Brothers. Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg took their experiences filming SPR and decided the subject deserved a more in-depth version. They executive produced the miniseries, and Hanks directed one of the episodes.)
It’s a remarkable miniseries, and an important one for people to watch, I believe. (It’s available on Amazon Prime in its entirety.) Yes, it’s violent and graphic, and yes, it has strong language, but it gives some insight into what war is really like and at what price victory comes. (It’s based on the firsthand experiences of Easy Company members, related decades after the war, so some of the accuracy has been called into question.)
Ten episodes in all. Approximately 10 hours long in total. It shows training camp, D-Day, Bastogne, Berchtesgarden, and more. The acting is sharp, the characters well portrayed, the production values excellent.
Last night, Denisa and I watched the last two episodes. I found “Why We Fight” to be particularly moving. It’s the episode in which the soldiers first come across a concentration camp. Seeing the reactions of the soldiers. The confusion on their faces as they tried to take in what it was they were looking at . . . It’s contrasted so well with showing the rest of the German people to all of it.
I remember being over in Germany and talking to some of the people there who had lived through World War II. I lived in Weimar for 6 months. It was the Culture City of Europe for that year. The home of Goethe. And just up the street from me was Buchenwald. I saw the ovens firsthand. Saw the rooms where the prisoners were shot or operated on. And I spoke to Germans who had been there while that was happening.
As a missionary, I was able to go to people’s homes and get to know them in a way no tourist could do. This was my home as well for that time. I talked to people on the street. In the parks. Everywhere. So I feel like much of what I got to experience was about as authentic as it can get. One conversation stays with me. They said that they didn’t “know” Buchenwald was there. It wasn’t like they could drive there. It was restricted. But the wind blows down from Buchenwald into the city sometimes, and when it did, they could smell the smoke.
They didn’t officially know what was going on. But they knew something was happening, and they chose not to acknowledge it. And that’s something they’ve had to live with all these years now. It’s conversations like that which have made me feel the need to speak out against Trump’s rhetoric. For the majority of Germans, life under Hitler was just fine. It was tons better than it had been without him. He brought Germany back from the wreckage of World War I, and he made Germany great again.
But that greatness was built upon the bodies of minorities, literally. It was built on the deaths of millions. Jews. Roma. Homosexuals. Jehovahs Witnesses. Mentally handicapped. Political dissidents. It was built by labeling anyone different as less, and blaming those differences for the ills of the country.
I’m a patriot. I want America to succeed. But I want it to be with a clean conscience. I never want to be looking back at my life, decades later, telling a young missionary about how I didn’t “know” what was going in my country, even though I recognized it. True, Trump hasn’t done anything yet in terms of policy to even come close to what Hitler and the Nazis were doing, but scroll through the news, and you see the stories of so many racists who have been emboldened by Trump’s victory. My own high school had a story about it today. This is real. This is happening.
And a good man would speak out against it. Would use the enormous following he’s made for himself online to say that it’s not right. To say that people need to stop saying and doing those things, and that such actions will not be tolerated by him or his administration. The people who voted for the man should be calling for him to do that as well. Publicly. Vocally. Because the continued silence by them and him implies acceptance.
I love Germany. I love the German people. They are like any other people, and the mistakes they made are the same mistakes people continue to make on a daily basis. The only difference is a matter of scale.
On this Veteran’s Day, I honor the soldiers who have fought for this country and the freedoms we enjoy. But at the end of Band of Brothers, we hear a speech by a German general to his troops as they surrendered. It could have been given verbatim by an American to his soldiers. The Germans were fighting for their country. Being brave and valiant doesn’t make the country or the cause right. That’s up to the leadership and the people to ensure we always have a strong moral compass.
It’s up to us. Each of us. And we can’t forget that. We can’t forget that just because things are improving for me means they’re better for everyone or, worse yet, coming at the expense of a group of people in particular.