When I was a little kid, I asked my dad about an image I had seen of really huge numbers of prisoners being marched to their execution in a forest clearing, guarded by perhaps five or ten men with rifles. I wanted to know why they didn’t just rush the guards. I mean, it’s one thing if they were heading to another miserable day at work camp, but these people were being led off to be killed, and they knew it. I mean, for God’s sake, what did they have to lose?
I was six. My dad looked at me. He had served in the latter days of WW2 in Europe as a U.S. Army intelligence officer. No parachuting onto the decks of enemy U-Boats at night to steal Enigma machines — just unexceptional, unheroic, 2nd Lieutenant grunt work. He’d been to the camps though, seen some horrible things. When I asked him why they didn’t fight back or run for the woods, he said, without any arrogance or contempt or jingoism, “I don’t know Billy, I can’t figure that one out myself.” Then there was a long moment. “But I can’t imagine Americans just walking off like that, either.”
Now when he said he couldn’t imagine Americans marching off to their deaths, he meant, obviously, Americans like the ones he knew. Kids who grew up hunting, kids who got a BB gun for their fifth birthday — tough, adventurous, American kids whose mom’s never gave a second thought to them shooting their eye out with a Red Ryder air rifle.
Now before we go any further, I want to be crystal clear about something: I don