My father, the rule-follower. At least now I know where I get it.
“It will always be a source of regret to me that I followed Army regulations and failed to keep a diary of my days in Europe from Jan 1945 to June 1946.”
Pud wrote that in the Preface to the journal he started well after the war, in February 1953, while employed as a research associate at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass. Though this journal focuses on his efforts to complete his doctoral dissertation, his interactions with other scientists and their research projects, and his introduction to academic and work-life politics, he is nonetheless just a few years removed from his march across Europe as a lieutenant in Patton’s army.
Every now and then, wartime memories would interrupt his typical journal remarks about New England weather or frost heaves, with no elaboration. The specific horrors or searing experiences that prompted a terse reference were not permitted to stain these pages.
For example, here is how he opened his post on 31 March 1953:
Eight years ago about this time I was crossing the Rhine at Mainz.
This afternoon about 1600 the sun broke out and stayed until sunset. We’ve had about a week of lousy weather—rain or cool and cloudy. Rain gauge showed almost 3 in. for last week. Worcester had 8 in. rain in March—more than any March since 1936, the year of disastrous floods. Last weekend the Conn. and Saco Rivers were on the rampage.
After crossing the Rhine to Frankfurt, Pud and his unit would follow Germany’s 6th Infantry Division east to Mühlhausen, south to Erfurt, through the Thüringer Wald to the Danube at Regensburg, and eventually on to Austria. They encountered increasingly demoralized enemy forces and human atrocities unlike any the modern world had seen. My father witnessed all of this first-hand.
As an intelligence staff officer and a battalion S2, Pud was responsible for relaying to his commander the threat that lay just ahead: the number of and preparation of the enemy forces, the terrain and battlefield conditions, and the risks to a successful completion of the mission. The accuracy of his assessment and the clarity of his communication could save—or cost—American lives.
Amid the chaos of war, the Allied forces had one goal: the defeat of Hitler and the forces he had aligned behind the Nazis. The enemy was so clear, the purpose so important, that young American men, including members of my family, eagerly volunteered to fight, sometimes before they were of legal age to join the military.
I recall this family history, of course, as Vladimir Putin sends Russian forces westward into Ukraine. Putin has his own reasons for this aggression, claiming, falsely, that the democratically elected Ukrainian government grabbed power illegitimately. Putin wants us to believe he is fighting the Nazis--“like 80 years ago.” He is not. But he believes that he can win support among Russian people if he resurrects the horror inflicted on millions of Russians during the Second World War. The Nazis were the clear enemy then, so they will be a convenient enemy now.
We have all seen the rising influence of Nazi sympathies in recent years. It is a cancer that seems to metastasize unchecked in dim corners of civilized society. I expect Ukraine, like most Western countries, has some number of Nazi sympathizers. It is not, however, a nation ruled by Nazis.
Our parents and grandparents fought the evil that was Nazism. As did the parents and grandparents of Russian citizens. And Ukrainian citizens. Putin’s forces today are not fighting Nazism. They have been conscripted to fight Putin’s war to realize his fever dream of an expanded Russian state. It is Putin who is using Nazi tactics like disinformation and a nationalistic love for the motherland to further his own totalitarian ambitions.
We see this clearly. We ache for the Ukrainian and the Russian citizens; the refugees and the nations that have opened their arms to them; the Russian soldiers who are being sent to fight their neighbors and their family members; the Ukrainian forces that are withstanding the assault of a larger, better equipped opponent; the Ukrainian citizens who are fighting back in the streets; the Ukrainian officials who are standing strong in the face of mortal threat and the physical destruction of their cities and their homes.
Experts tell us this tragedy is still in its opening act. It’s hard to know how it will play out. We can only hope, once again, that the rest of the world can find the courage to stop a madman.