August 26th 2017


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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED Crikey, is nobody a true dinks Aussie these days?

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Hundreds of doctors call on AMA to withdraw defective statement on same-sex marriage

EUTHANASIA What disability advocates say about assisted suicide by Daniel Giles

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Triggs' one important contribution to rights by Greg Walsh

ENERGY High prices 'destroying the economy': Glencore

ENERGY Renewable energy barely even a fair weather friend

ECONOMICS The world it is a-changin': globalisation in crisis

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Gay Liberals' push out of step with LGBTI realities

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS South Africa is losing its rainbow nation credentials

MUSIC A moral scale: Does 'good' music make us better?

CINEMA War for the Planet of the Apes: Best-laid plans of apes and men

BOOK REVIEW Risk nothing; gain nothing

BOOK REVIEW The most infamous crime in history

POETRY

MARRIAGE The issue, Bill, is transgender marriage

LETTERS

MORAL EDIFICATION A cartoon

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE The media, champions for free speech and rights (for the media), demonstrate predictable inability to contain bias on postal vote

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BOOK REVIEW
Risk nothing; gain nothing




News Weekly, August 26, 2017

HOME FRONT TO BATTLEFRONT: An Ohio Teenager in World War II

by Frank Lavin

University of Ohio Press, Athens, Ohio
Hardcover: 304 pages
Price: AUD$69.99

Reviewed by Jeffry Babb

 

Wars are won, not by the great captains, but by the footsloggers. Infantry – boots on the ground – are the soldiers who win battles.

Carl Lavin was in high school in a small Ohio town at the time of Pearl Harbor. This outraged Carl Lavin, and he immediately wanted to join up. He was too young, but his time would come.

After several years without seeing active duty, Lavin was dumped into the middle of one of the climactic episodes of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s last, desperate bid to push the Allies back into the sea. From December 16, 1944, to January 16, 1945, the United States Army and Germany’s Wehrmacht were locked in mortal combat in the largest battle U.S. forces had ever seen.

The weather was atrocious, preventing the U.S. Air Force from providing air cover. The mountainous Ardennes are full of hills, isolated villages and winding tracks. Had the Germans not run out of petrol, they might have pulled off their audacious gamble.

Lavin operated a Browning automatic rifle (BAR), a weapon developed during World War I and retained in the U.S. armory to act in the role of a light machinegun on the battlefield. The BAR was a heavy weapon, even before taking into account the additional magazines the operator was expected to carry. Lavin’s main qualification was that he was over six feet tall and could handle the weapon.

This book is largely derived from the letters Carl Lavin wrote to his family. He was only in his early 20s when he was in combat. Every letter has almost identical requests – for food and for money.

Lavin was dropped into the Battle of the Bulge as a replacement among men who had been together for years and he had to adapt. Military theorist and historian Martin van Creveld wrote harshly of this: “Perhaps more than any other single factor, it was this system that was responsible for the weaknesses displayed by the U.S. Army during World War II.”

Says one GI: “I think infantry replacement must have been the dirtiest job in the whole war. When we went over with people we had trained with and people we had gone to town with and got drunk with and all that. So we knew all the people we were with … we got replacements in and mostly we didn’t welcome them in, introduce them and tell them what we were going to run into, we just kind of ignored them and stayed with our own … they were just bewildered sheep.”

Lavin writes very well. The letters, collected and published by his son Franklin are the heartbeat of a nation at war. Soldiers are not cogs in a machine, they are individuals. Too few of these sorts of books have been published.

Carl Lavin was never one of the great captains. He was a private first class (PFC) – what we would call a lance corporal – for most of the war. Lavin was, moreover, literate: not a quality usually associated with a PFC.

For an infantryman, combat is hard, dirty, exhausting and commonly terrifying. From an Australian perspective, a comparable book would be A.B. Facey’s memoir, A Fortunate Life (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1981).

Carl Lavin was a man of firm beliefs but he was not a religious person. He was culturally Jewish but it was a matter of inheritance, not religion, though he did gain spiritual benefit from correspondence with his local rabbi. He was a thoughtful man. Like all combat veterans, he believed in luck. Only 15 per cent of his company were not killed or wounded. Lavin says: “I was impossibly lucky.”

When he was, as a Jewish soldier, offered a chance to see a death camp, he declined. He later regretted this decision.

When Lavin returned from the war, he was still in his early 20s. He expected to be diverted to the Far East, to fight in the final battle for Japan. The two atom bombs dropped on Japan made that unnecessary. Lavin lived until a few months short of his 90th birthday. In all the war, he saw five months of intense combat, and some occupation duty, and was then sent home to live out his long life.

If there is one question this book provokes, it is why so many young people, often in their late teens and early 20s, willingly went off to fight a war far from home. One would have to say that it had a lot to do with patriotism and a belief in the justice of the Allied cause. Although he was not a religious Jew, Carl Lavin said that as a private, he was “at the bottom of the social barrel” and although he came from a wealthy family, that experience was good for him. All we can say to Carl Lavin, and the millions like him, is “thank you”.


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