Doing Battle: The Hurtgen Forest And The Execution Of Private Slovik

Hurtgen Forest was a very important target
of the American army and it was a large a large thing maybe fifteen miles square and
uh General Hodge who was the army uh commander I forget which army it was but it was he did
that he he sent division after division into it trying to to make it safe uh destroy all
the Germans there well the weather turned bad uh a lot of things happened that coincided
to make it one of the great mistake areas of the second World War it used up as I remember
nine infantry divisions without making any progress at all and General Hodge would replace
one division with another and then that would be wiped out and that had to be replaced with
another and so it was bizarre if this had happened in the Vietnam War there would have
been a mutiny or something but nothing the troops didn’t complain uh very much they complained
quite a lot but this was never reported the Battle at the Hurtgen Forest and it’s well
known among among uh survivors one of them I think I talk about this man in the book
The Boys Crusade he was uh he was an officer I think a Major at that time commanding a
battalion and it was Thanksgiving that’s what it was it was Thanksgiving Day and uh General
Eisenhower had ordered that every soldier was supposed to have a turkey dinner on that
day no matter his his situation on the line and at that point a bombing of our own troops
took place to the extent that this officer who’s now probably younger than I am uh survived
and every Thanksgiving Day he can’t stand it he goes out to the back yard and in silence
sort of cries himself into an appropriate elegiac emotion he still cannot get over this
ridiculous wipe out of his unit well this is fairly common because war’s an irrational
performance and even the rules the tactical rules that you follow like always attacking
from the flank if you can find it and so on govern and give the impression that it’s a
rational proceeding like say a football game where there’re followed and so forth and uh
nobody can ever understand that hasn’t been in it because it’s described in books that
have nice pages and the lines are properly the same length and things like that nothing
surprising or shameful in the presentation of it but it is full of shame and outrage
and so on Patton one reason I’m interested in him was his guts in firing generals division
commanders who weren’t any good who were scared to death or who were too complicated or who
missed the point and so on he’d send them back to the States and replace them with people
and he used that he he told people that all the time he said if you don’t capture that
town you’re through I’m gonna get rid of you and replace you and he would annoy them annoy
the subordinate commanders by saying things like would you give me the names of two or
three Major Generals that you’d like to replace you when I fire you and so on in other words
get into action or you’re finished and so forth so there was a lot of that sort of stuff
change of commands that were covered by various uh rational excuses Paul you talk a lot also
about something else that we don’t hear about men running and men deserting in hurt in droves
in the vuls and deserting apparently in droves in Hurtgen where Eddie Slovik the only deserter
shot in World War Two on the American side he deserted in the Hurtgen Forest why don’t
you talk a little bit about this running and this deserting that’s right well poor Private
Slovik was selected to be executed as a morale mechanism because there was so many complaints
and desertions occasioned by the Hurtgen Forest business that Eisenhower realized these have
got to be stopped some how and no deserter had ever been shot in that war they’d been
given you know mild punishment so he said to himself this is the time to invoke the
death penalty for desertion so he had uh he had Danny Slovik uh shot by a firing squad
and he had that news publicized widely in the army hoping to stem this vogue of running
away uh that’s all I know about that because it was that didn’t take place in my unit and
I never learned about that until after the war was over but that’s an example of the
sort of problems faced by high command I mean things that can be solve only by invoking
some solution which you deplore because so many people were running that’s right you
couldn’t kill them all you had to choose an example and so forth that didn’t do much good
This excerpt is brought to you by the Massachusetts School of Law

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