Friday, April 23, 2021

Despair

(Source)

By dawn of the second day, SS-Sturmmann Rainer Bodenschaft could see that SS-Scharführer Ernst Schneider's right hand was badly infected. The hand was swollen, badly, and two of his fingers were turning black. Though Schneider denied being in any pain, Bodenschaft could see the man wince whenever his hand brushed against something. He had also taken to carrying his rifle in his left hand. Bodenschaft wondered if Schneider was still capable of even firing his weapon.

Schneider was indeed in intense pain, he couldn't feel the tips of his ring and little fingers any more, his hand throbbed constantly. As he sat there, absorbing the pain and trying, in vain, not to show it, he told the last two Volkssturm men to go home.

"Wolf, Johannes, you're old men, you fought your war thirty years ago, this one is ours. Go home to your families." Both men lived in a small town 15 kilometers north of the Harz.

Johannes Beck looked at the gaunt SS sergeant and said, "Come with us Scharführer, you need a doctor for that hand." He had wanted to say something about the hopelessness of their situation, but the SS man made him nervous, spouting Nazi slogans one minute, acting like a normal human the next. Beck was convinced that Schneider was insane.

Wolf Meyer stood up, "You're not coming with us, are you?"

Schneider shifted the position of his hand, winced, then said, "My duty is here Wolf." Turning to look at Bodenschaft he said, "Rainer, dump your tunic and smock. Go with Wolf and Johannes, you've done enough for the Reich."

Bodenschaft looked down at the ground then back up again, staring at Schneider, "I'd be dead if you hadn't pulled me out of that trench just before that Russki T-34 collapsed it." He turned to the two Volkssturm. "My right leg was badly injured, I couldn't walk, I could barely crawl. The rest of the squad left me, Ernst came back and saved my life." He looked at Schneider.

"I won't leave you to fight alone Ernst. Not in this lifetime."


2nd Squad of 3rd Platoon was on the far left flank of the company as they swept the woods, looking for werewolves.

"They ain't no such thing as werewolves, right Sarge?" Pvt. Rufus Curry was from the mountains of Arkansas, he didn't have much schooling, but he possessed a wealth of common sense.

Sgt. Ed Russell shook his head, "Nope, Rufus, no such things like you hear about in scary stories. These werewolves are Nazis left behind to terrorize the rear areas. Mostly SS from what I hear, scary bastards if you're unarmed."

"Sarge, I heard..." Pvt. Melvin Gonzalez was interrupted by a noise just ahead and off to the left. The entire squad immediately went down, ready to engage whatever was making the noises off in the brush.


Meyer hissed at Beck, "Can you make any more noise? We might as well have a brass band. Be quiet you old fool."

Beck hissed right back at his old comrade, "Old fool? Who saved your silly arse at Verdun? Was I an old fool then?"

Meyer was ready with a retort, then stopped and held his hand up, "Listen."

Both men watched as an American soldier advanced in their direction, rifle at the ready.

Beck slowly stood up, hands raised over his head.

Meyer watched in shock as the American fired a single round, which hit his friend Beck square in the chest, knocking him back into the brush.


"Goddamn it! Hold your fire! Hold your fire!" Sgt. Russell came up, he saw that Pvt. Oscar Combs was still pointing his rifle at a small clump of low evergreen bushes. Russell thought he heard sobbing.

Advancing carefully, rifle at the ready, flanked by Combs and Gonzalez, he pushed aside the brush, he could see a man on the ground, with another man kneeling over him.


Meyer was holding one of Beck's hands in both of his, "Stay alive Johannes, Gerda needs you. Damn it, I need you."

Beck was bleeding badly from a bullet wound just above the heart, he knew, deep inside, that he had but seconds to live. His eyes went to the three Americans standing over them. One of them, a very young soldier, still pointed his rifle at the two men, but tears were running down his cheeks.

Beck wondered for a moment if this was the soldier who had killed him. He supposed that it didn't matter. He looked once more at his old friend Wolf Meyer, he had known the man since 1904. Boyhood friends, they had served in the same regiment in the Great War, the same company in fact.

Meyer couldn't restrain the tears any more, they poured down his cheeks as he held his friend's hand. "Stay with me comrade, stay with us."

Beck coughed, blood came from his mouth, he was starting to drown in his own blood. He managed to say one last thing, "I'm sorry Wolf, tell Gerda, won't you?"

Then he died.


The morning of the third day, Bodenschaft woke up to find that Schneider had died sometime in the night. As he sat up, he saw his friend leaning against the side of the trench, his weapon on the lip of the trench in front of him.

At first he thought Ernst was still keeping watch, then he noticed that his sergeant's head was tilted slightly forward, as if he was studying the earth upon which his rifle lay. Bodenschaft got up, he realized that Schneider's eyes were glassy and unfocused.

Placing a hand on Schneider's shoulder, he shook him gently. It was then he realized that Schneider was dead.

Bodenschaft spent the next hour burying Schneider in the trench. Then he put his soft cap on, then tossed his helmet and rifle into the brush. He stripped off his camouflage smock and tunic. As he still had his blanket, he cut a hole for his head in the middle, then draped it over himself.

He started to walk, then had a thought, he took his cap off and looked at it. The SS eagle and Death's Head were too obvious, so he tossed his cap into the brush as well, then he began to walk downhill.


Russell had noticed that both of the older men were wearing Volkssturm armbands, though he was tempted to let the surviving man go, he had his orders. He sent the man, under escort, back to the Company CP, perhaps the Cap'n would know what to do with him.


Meyer looked one last time at the body of his friend, then he turned and let the Americans take him wherever they wanted him to go.

His sons were all dead, all three of them, last month his wife and daughter had died in a bombing raid. He had nothing left to live for, despair was all he had left.


SS-Sturmmann Rainer Bodenschaft was captured by a patrol from 1st Platoon near sundown. He had been walking down the road shouting in broken English, "I geef up, don't shoot!"

Pvt. Billy Pires nearly shot the German as his squad rounded the corner. But the man had his hands in the air and was clearly giving himself up.

"Handy hock!¹" Pires shouted out, a phrase he'd learned at the Repple Depple. The man who taught him that didn't know how to pronounce it either.

"He's already got his hands up numbnuts." Pfc. Zachary Beach pushed past Pires, who was all of seventeen years old.

Sgt. Francis Baldwin examined the prisoner, no pay book, tunic gone, belt gone. Most of the men who'd surrendered had kept all of their clothing and their pay books. This guy didn't even have a hat. He also seemed ignorant of the English language, other than what he'd been shouting as he came down the road.

Eventually Cpl. Woodrow O'Neil and Pvt. Curt Hoffman from 2nd Squad joined them, Baldwin had sent one of his scouts, Pvt. Jerry Santiago, to fetch Hoffman, who spoke German very well, having grown up in a German community in Texas. O'Neill came along to see what all the fuss was.

"Hoffman, you speak Kraut, right?" Baldwin asked.

"Yes, Sergeant, I speak German. Want me to talk with this fellow?" Hoffman nodded at the prisoner.

"Yeah, find out what his story is, uniform pants and boots but no tunic, no pay book. Something's fishy here." Baldwin said.

Hoffman turned to the German and spoke, "Krempel deine linken Ärmel hoch.²"

The German went pale and stuttered, "N...n..nein."

Hoffman pointed his rifle at the German's belly and barked out, "Sofort!³"

Reluctantly the German pulled his left sleeve up to about the elbow.

Hoffman barked again, "Mehr!4"

The German sighed and pulled his sleeve all the way up, revealing a small tattoo on the inside of his left bicep.

"He's SS Sarge, that's his blood group tattoo. Probably ditched his stuff hoping to pass himself off as Army." Hoffman spat in the dirt at the German's feet.


Bodenschaft knew that the game was up when the blond American had ordered him to roll up his sleeve. After he heard the American say "SS," true despair come over him. He stopped paying attention to the Americans and looked around.

The deciduous trees were starting to bud, birds were flitting from tree to tree. He could hear them twittering in the trees. It had been a cloudy day, but as the sun set, the clouds in the east opened and brilliant sunlight flooded through the tops of the pines.

He thought back on his life, there were many things he regretted, now he regretted that he'd never see home again. A slight breeze started, he could smell the pine woods, even the snow on top of the Brocken.

He supposed that there were worse places to die.


"He's SS, Cap'n, probably one of the guys who killed those two G.I.s from 8th Armored." Hoffman had the temerity to protest Cpt. Hernandez' order to take the prisoner back to battalion.

"At ease Private." Hernandez snapped. "Haven't you figured it out yet? We're not like them. He's a prisoner, he gave himself up."

Turning to Cpl. O'Neill, Hernandez said, "Get this man back to battalion, alive. Are we clear on that?"

"Yessir." O'Neill said.

"Beach, go with Cpl. O'Neill, Hoffman report back to your squad. Move!"


As they led him away, Bodenschaft couldn't believe that the Americans hadn't killed him. It's what his old unit would have done. But for now, he was alive. Maybe he would live to see home again.

Hope returned.



¹ "Hände hoch!" - Hands up.
² Roll up your left sleeve.
³ Immediately!
4 Further!

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.

72 comments:

  1. Mercy for those who deserve no mercy? What separates us from them.

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    1. Dunno if it's "mercy" so much as not being cold-blooded murderers; but whatever it is, it's a distinction.
      BG

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    2. That's why I don't know who people are anymore. The folks I grew up with would stop fighting if someone gave up. Now, it's a fight to the death, and if one gives up, they are ripped apart. I don't recognize my fellow citizens as Americans... Weird times, man.

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    3. very weird and bass-ackwards in so many ways - I keep waiting to see Rod Serling any day now

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    4. StB - Who decides who deserves mercy and who does not?

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    5. BG - Rather an important distinction in my mind.

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    6. STxAR - A brave new world...

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    7. Tom - I've been waiting on him to pop up since about 2008...

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    8. Many in the SS were there for service. Not total psycho nazis.

      And, well, his Naziism was broken, he was no longer a superhuman, just a human.

      Humans deserve chances.

      Superhumans don't show regret or friendship. He, at the end, did. Give him mercy.

      (Computer crashed, got new used one, am back on line. whew!)

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    9. Never know how much you miss beans until they aren't there anymore. Welcome home, buddy.

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    10. Beans - Very true. Glad you're back, was starting to think of sending out a search party.

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    11. STxAR - Yup, place wasn't the same.

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    12. "StB - Who decides who deserves mercy and who does not?" - I feel like a wise wizard once made similar remarks in Khazad-dum...

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    13. I was reduced to reading a Kindle book. Sooooo last century, dontcha know... Or it felt like it.

      Now I have to get used to the new teeny tiny keyboard. And different layout of all the various action keys. Though I do have a number pad back again.

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    14. Teeny tiny keyboards, the bane of my existence...

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  2. The two surviving Germans were lucky a couple of Americans had some compassion left, hate born of armed conflict destroys so much. Ya STxAR, I agree.....I just want to be left alone but the other side won't do that.

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    1. We live in interesting times...

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    2. Nylon12 - I’ve noticed sniping from both sides.
      It seems the extremes are immune to one another.
      The middle are the ones who seem to suffer damage.
      Sadly, there seem to be some who’ve achieved a “bully pulpit” and can spew just about whatever they wish, without any consequence to themselves.

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    3. I don't care for either extreme.

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  3. I gotta tell ya, Sarge, you have a way with words. Damned if I didn't have pangs of empathy for the Germans as I read this last installment. Maybe there's a reason I was raised KNOWING Americans are and always will be the guys in the white hats. Thanks.

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    1. Same way I was raised. You are most welcome.

      And thanks.

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  4. another stellar installment. wide range of emotions here.

    one nit: "I'll won't leave you..." -->

    I won't leave you..
    I'll not leave you...

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    1. D'oh! Fixed it. (Sometimes my brain changes the sentence in mid-typing and I get weirdness, like this...)

      Thanks Richard.

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  5. Mercy is by definition undeserved. It is inherited favor. We do not seek God's justice but rather beg for His grace. LarryK

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    1. Stupid autocorrect ... I put UNMERITED i.e.undeserved. But it changed it to inherited.

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    2. It's alright, I knew what you meant.

      His Grace is the key.

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  6. As to the prisoner, I would interrogate him and then throw him in with the other SS scum POW's. I'd also let the SS POW's know that he was found as a deserter as he didn't have his full uniform and pay documents. I'm sure they will take care of him.

    Spin

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    1. Damn, Spin. Did you used to be SS yourself, or what?

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    2. Not SS but evil, wicked, mean, nasty and rotten. I was also taught by a bunch of WII vets and knew how to make IED's by the time I was 13. Most of my neighbors are afraid of me, this is a good thing.

      Spin

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    3. Remind me not to make you angry.

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  7. Sad endings.

    And blood poison is a helluva painful way to die.

    Schneider atoned for some of his sins by letting the two Volksturm leave.

    Bodenschaft atoned for some of his sins by acknowledging that the Nazis were done. And being loyal to his comrade, not some wigged-out insane neo-socialist with dreams of godhood.

    As to him stripping all SS paraphernalia off of him? Sure, it marks him as ex-SS, but it also gives the GIs a few seconds to start questioning him, rather than shooting him outright.

    Not all SS were insane child-killing ubermensch. And even ubermensch can realize they are wrong.

    The world is shades of grey, not strictly black and white. Jesus died to give us the ability to see the shades. To throw it away as "Nazi bastard SS Scum, must kill" is to throw away humanity.

    It's one of the many reasons I am so glad for the atomic bombs that finally knocked some common sense into the Japanese. If we had invaded, it would have ended up very much a black/white solution. Jap alive? Kill it. And that's wrong. In so many ways. By reducing our fellow man to 'it' and treating it not as a human, we devalue our humanity. We would have lost our humanity on those mountainous isles. We would have won, but we wouldn't have been us afterwards.

    The war was over for all purposes. He gave up. He surrendered his superiority before he surrendered his physical body. He now will have to live forever with what he and his fellows did. Forever locked up in a solitary prison of his own making, only coming out when he becomes more 'human' and starts living as a mere human.

    This, this unwillingness to dehumanize our fellow humans is, I feel, the only thing holding the conservatives and right-wingers from crashing down upon the leftists like a tidal bore. One of these days, the bad people will push too hard, and the wave of retribution will roll over everyone. I hope, when or if it happens, the wave doesn't forget it is composed of humans, and the individual humans won't forget their humanity.

    Good posts these last two days. Definitely gives one something to think about. Who gets mercy, who deserves mercy, who dispenses mercy, what is mercy? All good questions. And, though I want to be the better person and say give him and his people mercy, there's that black part of me that wants all evidence of him and his to be burnt off the face of the earth. Which begs more questions. Like, is it more merciful to exterminate completely, cut out all the potentially 'infected' flesh, or go by a case-by-case basis.

    In happier times I might answer one way. In these fallen, dark, despair-ridden times? I just don't know. It's one thing to be 'merciful' from on high and from an armchair quarterback position, yet another thing to be faced with handing out mercy at the sharp end.

    Dang. Here I am, fluttering all over, as I head into an existential crisis over two day's worth of really good posts.

    You, sir, write extremely well. I would have loved to have you as a teacher, as the discussions would have been wild and ranged everywhere on the map.

    Double your Muse's fee. Triple it. And tip her lavishly.

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    1. Beans, I am with you. "Dang. Here I am, fluttering all over, as I head into an existential crisis over two day's worth of really good posts."

      The landscape is foreign country now. I don't recognize it. It has forced me to face certain questions. What is my line, what is too far? Like the Irish cop in "Untouchables", "How far are you prepared to go?"

      If you don't have a line, folks will be across it before you even know they are there. It has been unpleasant, but probably needed for a long while. I still have gray areas that I'm not sure about, but it has hardened my resolve in others that needed the pondering....

      My recent history, this story, current events..... They are all lining up and it's kinda strange to see everything relating so... perfectly. When God repeats Himself in Holy Writ, you MUST pay attention. It's important. I see these "corellations" the same way. It's sit up and sniff the wind time.... Think hard about it, make the decisions now, and prepare so you don't pirouette when the chips fall.

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    2. Good to have you back buddy.

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    3. STxAR - I like how Beans' comments spark other comments.

      Definitely time to keep one's head on a swivel.

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    4. Beans - And I think Sarge does a marvelous of job of this - the waves of dehumanization come when we see people as types or classes or groups, not as individuals. It is easier to have compassion on an individual than it is on a group, if for no other reason that they are real to us.

      Groups can act in foolish and hurtful ways, and say things about other individuals as groups that creates an atmosphere of distrust at the very least, hate at the very most.

      Even the wise, as Gandalf said, cannot see all ends (Wow, two Gandalf quotes in a day. Thanks to you, Sarge). But I would somehow, and sorrowfully, predict that unless groups can start seeing each other as individuals, this whole thing ends poorly.

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    5. That's what keeps me awake at night.

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    6. Good old JRRT saw, as more saltier people here, some serious sh...tuff happening in his formative years. He survived WWI. He saw the rise of National Socialism both in his own country and in Spain, Germany, Italy and other European nations. And, well, being a Norse/Scandinavian/Icelandic/Dane (the 'Viking' people) hustorian, he saw patterns from ancient times that pertained to today.

      Tolkein is very relevant. Down to those who saw the elephant, so to speak, not being able to rejoin society well if at all.

      People just don't see the warnings he showed in his works. Sadly. Too many think it's just a series of adventure tales, kind of boring really, that were made into some ponderous movies...

      Glad to be able to add my two cent's worth.

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    7. Beans, while I was thrilled when The Lord of The Rings was made into passably good movies (finally, I was hip about something!), I think it did create the situation where Tolkien the individual lost luster. Which is the detriment of all of us. People like The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings not only because they are well written but because good triumphs (more or less) over evil. Few read The Silmarillion, which was his writings about the Wars of the First Age. It was much more grim and much less hopeful and good did sort of win in the end, but only at the cost of almost everything.

      Someone else who also in WWI and an associate of Tolkien but I think much less valued (again, sadly) is C.S. Lewis. Most know him for the Chronicles of Narnia or his Christian writings (which are all brilliant, of course). One of his under-rated writings but one of my favorites are his science fiction (Out of The Silent Planet/Perelandra/That Hideous Strength). They are all written pre-space travel of course, and so would qualify as much as fantasy at this point, but they are rather insightful books into the nature of humans and their seeming continual desire to ruin everything. The last book, That Hideous Strength, is really a sort of retelling of The Apocalypse (in a very small sense); Lewis' writing of a society that has become controlled by "modernization" and "good ideas" and "progress" probably shocked his readers as fantasy then; they are quite ordinary today. Worth your time if you are looking for some well written fiction.

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    8. Beans - Tolkien was brilliant.

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    9. TB - I wasn't aware of that side of Lewis' work, I'll look into those.

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    10. TB - I read The Simarillion. It was depressing reading to the very end. While in the other books there are many notes of the imperfection of the High Elves, it is taken to a higher order in the horrible jealousy and strife surrounding the creation and possession of the Simarils. Armies of elves were sacrificed in battle over what amounted to no more than toys over which the spoiled children fought. Perhaps it was a realistic reflection of the nature of many sentient beings, but I found it disturbing. Maybe it was because I had read the other stories first, and had developed a fondness for the elves and the lightness and cheerfulness of their existence. I didn't like them being portrayed as essentially spoiled brats, though I suppose it is not uncommon for the "Aristocracy" to behave so.

      As to Lewis, I don't think he is so much undervalued as he is an acquired taste. Dark forebodings lurk in his writings, and the sort of education they are intended to convey is troubling to many an otherwise merry soul.

      Didn't care for "1984", either. Extraordinarily troubling to me at that early time in my life. Not pleasant sometimes, the reading of the cautionary tales.

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    11. I too read The Silmarillion and agree with your characterization of it.

      Cautionary tales, to some humans they're not a warning, they're a "how to" manual. Depressing indeed that over the millennium our species has evolved no further...

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    12. Dang, Beans! That is one of the best expositions on humanity that I have ever read. Thank you.

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  8. Ah, but for the Grace of God go I...

    Whether you know it or not, you have already resolved your own existential crisis. The fact that you stop long enough to question your motis operandi is evidence of your humanity. Whatever decisions you ultimately make will now be primarily based upon reason, rather than purely emotion, or conditioning. That's what sets us apart from the beasts, Beans.

    Many of us wonder if it wouldn't be best to just scour from the earth all evidence of those we feel are evil. Therein lies the trap, because it has us taking up the mantle they leave behind. You can't eliminate evil, you can't kill it. You can only hope to convert it to something more human.

    My own inclination toward self righteousness tries to convince me that my definitions of right and wrong are absolute. My own humility however, instructs me that there are no absolutes, and that my definitions should be subject to scrutiny. Reaction to immediate circumstances is a necessary survival skill, but when the opportunity for contemplation exists we must remember, judge not, lest you be judged.

    Struggle with it every day, Beans. The berserker deep within me wants to rid the world of evil, but the hint of humility says, "wait, think about your own motivations..."

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    1. "Judge not, lest you be judged..."

      Aye, there's the rub.

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    2. Oh, I hear the siren song of Ragnarok singing through my body way too often. It is only the knowledge of how my actions would affect my family and friends that seemingly keeps me from going down fighting Dark Elves and Giants.

      Part of me wishes Mother Church still had Orders Militant...

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    3. Beans, you are not the only one.

      "And how can man die better
      then fighting fearful odds,
      For the ashes of his fathers
      and the temples of his gods?"

      - Thomas Macauley, Horatius at the Bridge (Lays of Ancient Rome)

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    4. Beans - There are times when Valhalla calls.

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    5. Yes Beans, our associations hold us back, they ground us. Social affiliations temper our behavior, and help us to maintain moderation. That is why, when great conflagrations begin, they escalate so quickly. Loss of so many of those that have such great meaning to us tends to remove that moderation. Privilege is a similar set of circumstances. We do not want to be seen as disrupters because it may cost us loss of our privileges. When we are already losing them, we get angry, and become more inclined to smack the dragon. It seems to be coming toward that time....yes, Ragnarok!

      As to The Orders Militant, they were certainly guilty of no small measure of injustices, irregardless of the (presumably) sincere intentions with which they were formed. No, I think religious groups are better off without their own armies...jihadis, and what have you.

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  9. I guess I put that in kinda the wrong place, but y'all should be able to figger out that it was a response to Beans comment...

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    1. Contextually I knew where you meant to put the comment. But it stands alone pretty well on its own merits.

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    2. Thanks, Sarge. I appreciate that.

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  10. Felt bad for the old Volksstorm man

    Wonder how many times that happened?

    I never had to see combat but I wonder how many units are just chattering away oblivious to the sounds around them until they kill them?

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  11. Among other notes, children, this is reason number 275 why indelibly marking your body is not always a grand idea.

    The Volkstrum - that is up there as one of your most poignant ends, Sarge. At best, these were defending their country as they understood it to be needed, perhaps unwillingly.

    Bullets, like words, can never be called back once they have issued forth.

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  12. As to body markings, the most chilling tattoo I have ever seen was on the spouse of an Italian friend. One of her sleeves rode up her arm one day and I spied her concentration camp number. It was six digits given to her as a child in a Jewish camp in Italy. She carries that mark to this day. So you tell me where mercy lies.

    Spin

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    1. I, too, have known people with those arm tattoos.

      Sadly, too many people, especially the leaders in New York and New York City, seem to want to repeat it all again.

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    2. Those who do not learn history...

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    3. Semantics, I suppose, but I believe the historical quote was, "Those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it." Means the same thing I guess. If you don't learn it, you certainly can't learn from it.

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    4. Yup, left out a word, but the meaning got across.

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  13. To me the most tragic figure in this episode is SS-Scharführer Ernst Schneider. He retained, or maybe rediscovered, his humanity as we see in his telling his comrades to get out, but he himself is trapped by his own sense of duty and honor.

    He sees that it is hopeless, and likely would admit that the crimes and atrocities of his outfit, and possibly of his own, ARE crimes and atrocities, but he swore an oath and he will fulfill it, drinking it to the dregs.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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