Sunday, 31 March 2013
Sönke Neitzel, Harald Weitzer, "Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying" (2012)
Neitzel and Weitzer have written a fascinating analysis of two significant bodies of long-overlooked edited transcripts of conversations between German prisoners-of-war secretly recorded in the UK and US during the Second World War. The authors conduct a qualitative content analysis of the discussions, arriving at fascinating insights into how German soldiers, airman, and sailors understood their role in the war. Topics assessed range through obvious concerns such as the soldiers' sense-making regarding fighting and killing (as indicated in the book title), but also addresses their perspectives on less-often or indirectly explored issues such as soldiers' perspective on sexual violence, anti-semitism and racially-motivated violence, and the degree of soldiers' support for the Nazi regime.
The book offers a clear and important discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of content analysis, as well of these records. Any discussion of the records cannot be engaged in without the disclaimer that they are transcriptions of select portions of conversations, sometimes between German soldiers who did not know they were being recorded and sometimes between a German soldier and a British or American 'plant' who was seeking information. On the other hand, as the authors point out, the records does provide very unique perspectives from the point of view of 'regular' German soldiers recorded in informal conversations during the war; before the outcome of the war was obvious, and outside of the fear that any dissent or criticism might result in punishment from the regime.
The book offers intriguing insights that challenges some increasingly popular - although contentious - understandings of German society, such as advanced in Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners.