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The Brutalization of the American Soldier

James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Part III
The Brutalization of the American Soldier

(7 January 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 1, 7 January 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

What is the reason for the boorish and brutal behavior of so many American soldiers in Europe? Joe Weston, writing in Life magazine, accuses

“... American educators and American parents and American propagandists – the movies included – of selling an America which does not exist, not only to the world but, what is worse, to Americans as well. When, if ever, the time comes that we Americans can see ourselves as we are rather than as we ought to be, then stories like this will never again have to be written.”

In other words, American soldiers behave despicably in Europe because Americans today really are a debased people. Fortunately for humankind, this is a lie. If it were not, how explain that Americans when in the United States do not behave in a similarly primitive fashion?

The blunt truth is that the blame must be squarely laid upon capitalism, which in its nurturing of the individual member of society, its nationalism, its military system and its wars debauches the human personality to the low level we are witness to in our time.

The Economic Basis of Morals

United States capitalism, like all capitalism, is unplanned. As a consequence, even in what capitalist economists call “normal” times, millions of persons are unemployed and further millions exist on a terribly depressed economic level. And almost everybody, except the inaccessible, shadowy titans who really control the country, lives under the constant, wearing threat of unemployment.

Money becomes the be-all and end-all of existence, for money means security. The acquisition of it, in normal and perverse forms, is the theme of a major portion of the movies, books, pulp magazines and radio serials produced in this country.

It should not be a cause for wonder, then, that almost every soldier, supported by official propaganda as to the guilt of the Germans, and made uneasy by the recognition that he would have very little money when he was discharged from the Army, looted watches, jewelry, money, bolts of cloth or almost any portable object of value.

The Virus of Nationalism

In order to preserve and extend its profits, United States capitalism must export. In doing so it inevitably comes into conflict with other capitalist countries such as England, Germany or France. Many times this conflict rests on the plane of economic struggle. Often it breaks out into war.

In either case the economic or actual warfare is accompanied by official and less conspicuously organized propaganda whose aim, in one degree or another, is to discredit virtually every aspect of the life of the opponent country and to exalt one’s own. The intensity of the propaganda varies, of course, with political necessity. England, a capitalist ally, for example, currently enjoys the wry blessing of American friendship. Nevertheless, along with other countries, England is subjected to the corrosive action of American propaganda, chiefly transmitted through the press and the radio. In the end, the dislike of foreign countries attains the ingrained strength of an eleventh commandment, as unquestioned and as unquestionable as the other ten.

It is this seed which grows so violently when the American soldier comes in contact with the “Limies,” the “Krauts” and the “Frogs.” Additionally handicapped by the reactionary barrier of language, contemptuous of the low standard of living of foreign countries in comparison with the United States, convinced that he is risking his life because of quarrels between foreigners in which he has little visible interest and angered by the oftentimes unfavorable rate of exchange, the American soldier is led into excesses over which foreigners are justifiably indignant.

Debasement of Women Under Capitalism

Foreign women must endure not only the nationalist contempt of American men but must bear the burden of the inferior status which capitalism ordinarily assigns them.

Nature has given women the task of bearing and bringing up children. Since capitalism cannot raise the average income to the point where all children can be raised in scientifically organized nurseries and schools, they are customarily brought up at home by the mother. For the same reason, much of the drudgery of housework, such as washing and ironing clothes, preparing meals and washing dishes, which under socialism will be done outside the home, is now done by the housewife.

As a result, the average housewife under capitalism becomes the household drudge. She works long hours, becomes prematurely old and, because she lives a life so limited by the walls of the home, inevitably becomes one of the more backward, conservative members of the population. She is, too often, merely the bed companion, the household servant, and the mother of her husband’s children. Seldom does she become a real intellectual and social companion.

As a result, she is commonly considered an inferior being. The double standards of conduct which exist for men and women, of which most men do not have even an awareness, are clear enough proof of this fact.

It is this reactionary concept of women which is the root feeling which, further distorted by the army atmosphere and the brutality of warfare, produces the disgusting, regressive attitude of so many American soldiers toward European women.

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