Chapter 8 -- In the Army

Paul's hopes to escape the turmoil of war and violence were not realized. The post-war world was becoming one of turmoil and instability. The colonial empires of the European powers collapsed. Many unstable governments emerged in Africa and Asia. The Soviet Union absorbed Eastern Europe and tried to expand its influence over the world. The United States naturally moved to counter these efforts of world hegemony. The Cold War was waged world-wide between the communist and the non-communist powers and their allies.

An avid reader of the daily newspaper, Paul was remotely aware of these new developments and threats to world peace. But suddenly he became personally involved in these struggles. The fragile peace following the defeat of the Axis powers was shattered by the outbreak of the Korean War. The mobilization of the armed forces of America required the reinstatement of the draft. Paul, as a resident alien eligible for citizenship had to register.

The fury of the Korean War expanded with the entry of Communist China into the conflict. Paul's experiences during World War II made him aware of the importance of foresight. At the age of 21 he reached full manhood. He was over six feet tall, though somewhat thin for his size. He enjoyed good health, except that he needed eyeglasses. However, Paul's intellectual interest made him neglect the physical exercise he knew was needed for military service. Consequently, he bought a pair of combat boots, and started to walk home from work every night. The walk took him 45 minutes instead of the usual 15 minutes by street car, but built him up for the exertions he expected.

In the early spring of 1951 Paul received his call-up notice. He had to report early in the morning to the place of his induction. On the appointed date he found himself in a large room with a hundred young men. A quick physical examination was followed by the oath of military service. With this Paul became a participant of a war institution -- the type of organization that he learned to fear in the past. The transportation by bus to an army camp, the cutting of his hair, the shower, the issuance of a uniform, and finally the narrow bed in a cramped room of the military barracks moved Paul's mind back to his arrival at Auschwitz. As night fell he was terrified and scared of the future.

Morning brought sanity to Paul. He was in America, after all. The young draftees were of his age. The non-commissioned officers were gruff, but not hostile. Unlike most of his compatriots he was well-trained for obedience. The type of drill he received in his pre-military training and at Auschwitz was very similar to the Army's methods of moving around bodies of men and enforcing discipline. This was Paul's first realization that militarism was a universal human social institution, practiced very similarly in countries and societies as diverse as Nazi Germany and the United States.

By a mysterious process the Army decided that Paul should be trained as a combat engineer. He was shipped to Fort Belvoir, near the nation's capital. A period of an arduous military training started for Paul. First he learned the basic methods of combat infantry. Marching and advancing in formations, using weapons of all types, digging fox holes and sleeping in tents were the skills he learned. Then came the training in combat engineering. Paul became familiar with methods for crossing rivers, mine laying and removing, map reading, air strip preparation and other construction type activities. From his readings he realized that he was trained in the same skills as the legions of Rome -- possibly the most successful warriors of history. Only the technologies changed -- the methods remained the same over the centuries.

After adjusting to the initial hardships of military training Paul found the Army comforting in many ways. The companionship of a cross-section of young Americans was enjoyable. He met fellow soldiers from the cities and from the countryside; university graduates and high school drop-outs; white and black; Christian and Jewish. Their striving for a common goal obliterated the artificial differences of race, class or religion. Here was an actual implementation of E Pluribus Unum -- One Out of Many. Paul also liked the good humor that pervaded his platoon even under the strain of their rigorous training. He was the subject of one of the many practical jokes. Because of his thirst for knowledge Paul used to read the Washington Post newspaper during the lunch breaks. Using the newly learned infiltration skills one of his buddies sneaked up to him and applied a light to the corner of his paper. "Hot news!" they yelled gleefully as the front page went up in flames before Paul's startled eyes.

On weekends Paul started to visit nearby Washington. He found more inspiration in the monuments and sights of the nation's capital. The White House, the Capitol, the memorials to Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson, the museums and the other sights gave him further insight into the history and workings of America. Here was a nation with a great history, strong institutions and moral values far superior to the decadent countries of Europe with their failed culture and civilization.

Paul's experiences during the Holocaust damaged his self-esteem and sapped his confidence. Now he felt pride and dignity as he marched with his platoon during the graduation ceremony after his training. He came to appreciate the attraction of militarism to many of the participants of the system.

Although much combat was still going in Korea, the Army decided to send Paul to occupation duty in Germany. Here was a good example of human irrationality. In 1944 Germany decided that Paul and his people had to be destroyed. Now a mere seven years later he and other Holocaust survivors were on duty to guard the same Germany against Soviet invasion. First he was a slave laborer, then he became a respected member of the occupation forces that ensured Germany's freedom and prosperity. A scant hundred miles separated the place of his duty assignment with the 2nd Armored Division from the slave labor camps where he nearly met his end. He was glad to serve in this "Hell on Wheels" division, which during the war helped to smash the Nazi armies, and indirectly liberated him from the death camps.

His duty assignment turned out to be unexpectedly easy. The peacetime Army had many trained riflemen, accomplished drivers of vehicles, and other possessors of military skills. What it lacked was -- expert typists! When the personnel assignment officer discovered Paul's ability, he was immediately assigned to the division headquarters as company clerk. He quickly developed his administrative skills. He became responsible for preparing the three morning reports that had to be submitted to Army headquarters every day. The morning report showed the strength and duty status of the organization, and was much in demand for informing higher headquarters about the condition of the military units.

Here was another irony. Both the United States and the Soviet Union maintained large armies in Central Europe, but did not dare to use them. Billions of dollars and rubles were spent to "defend" allies, while the economies of the two superpowers gradually deteriorated. The use of military force could not be considered because of the nuclear war danger. But information about the military forces was important -- so that funds could be justified for the military, to continue the same deadlock and futile waste of resources.

Paul continued his emotional recovery. He was promoted to corporal, and gained confidence in his abilities. He also had a new opportunity for discovery about America. Since the division was normally stationed in Texas, it had a large contingent of Southerners. Waking up in the morning to the sound of "Dixie," and listening to country music broadened his mental horizons. What a diverse country was America! Yet it was possible to fashion unity out of diversity through the right combination of institutions and moral values.

Paul learned something else. In his free time he started to play poker with his friends. He did not have much of a chance against some of the seasoned card sharks. But they played a variety of poker called "dealer's choice." If the high cards did not come his way, then it was possible to choose versions of the game that negated the value of high cards -- such as "low ball" or "deuces wild." Here was another valuable lesson. In America if one had a losing streak, it was possible to change the rules. Americans tended to be winners, not losers. They did not need scapegoats for their problems or failures. Americans usually were willing to take corrective action, or try new alternatives.

His two years of military service was ending. Paul was returned to America and discharged from active duty. As a veteran he was now entitled to certain benefits, which included educational assistance. It was now time for him to continue his formal education.


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